Purchasing and playing DRM-protected songs from the NPGMC in Mac OS X 10.4 with a dial-up connection

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Macintosh, Microsoft, Music, Technology
September 6th, 2005 • 4:48 pm

It has always been a big challenge to purchase and play DRM-protected songs sold by Prince’s NPG Music Club through its Musicology store with a Macintosh computer.

(I have already discussed the “political” issues surrounding the fact that the Musicology store uses DRM-protected Windows Media. Basically, it all boils down to this: As long as Apple doesn’t license its DRM scheme so that other on-line stores can use it, independent artists who do not want to be tied to Apple’s iTunes Music Store will have no choice but to use Microsoft’s DRM scheme, however lousy and unpopular it is.)

Until recently, I believed that this stuff simply did not work at all in Mac OS X 10.4. I had sort of managed to make it work in Mac OS X 10.3, but my experience with Windows Media Player 9 and DRM-protected files in Mac OS X 10.4 was that it simply did not work.

Then a couple of articles—“Windows Media Tip” and “Windows Media: reloaded”—by François Joseph de Kermadec at O’Reilly inspired me to give it another try.

I recommend that you read both articles before even trying to buy and play tracks from the NPGMC’s Musicology store. Then you should definitely try following the steps outlined below. They are based on a combination of François Joseph de Kermadec’s recommendations and my own experience. I am not sure that all the steps are required, but I don’t have time to test all the possible scenarios to see which steps might not be required.

  1. Erase remove all traces of Windows Media Player from your startup volume. This includes a few preference files in your home folder’s “Preferences” folder, as well as the folder called “DRM” in the “Preferences” folder in the main library folder. Trash them all!
  2. Make sure the Classic environment is installed on your startup volume, and works as expected.
  3. Make sure that Internet Explorer is installed in your main “Applications” folder. I have version 5.2 in there.
  4. Re-install Windows Media Player 9 using the original installer. (Make sure you are using the latest version available from Microsoft’s site. My version has a creation date of August 17, 2003.)
  5. In Safari’s “Preferences” window, set the default browser to be the copy of Internet Explorer that’s on your startup volume.
  6. Restart your computer.
  7. Launch Explorer and go to the Musicology store. Select the track or album download you want to purchase and click on the button to purchase it. Please note that this store has high bandwidth requirements (there is a constant stream of music, even if you are not listening to any), which make it difficult to use with a dial-up connection. When you click on the button to make a purchase, the store opens a different window in Explorer for the purchase itself. You can close the main Explorer window with the Musicology store immediately after that. This will cause the constant stream of data coming from the store to stop after a few seconds, and will enable you to continue with your purchase, even with a slow dial-up connection.
  8. Once you’ve purchased the track, you get taken to a page with the download itself. Where it asks you to right-click on the download to save it, use control-click and select the “Download Link to Disk” command in the contextual pop-up menu. This will start a download called “metagen,” which will be your purchased file.
  9. Once the download is over, select the “metagen” file in the Finder and change its name to the title of the song followed by “.wma,” so that it will be recognized by Windows Media Player as a valid file.
  10. Now launch Windows Media Player off your startup volume and try opening the “songtitle.wma” file with it. Windows Media Player will crash, but it will also open a new page in Explorer. This page asks you to enter the user information that authorizes you to play the track. Enter the information. This will take you to a page saying that you are now authorized to play the file. Close that window.
  11. Relaunch Windows Media Player and try opening the “songtitle.wma” file again. This will, again, cause Windows Media Player to crash, and again, it will open a new page in Explorer, which, again, confirms that you are allowed to play the file. (Don’t ask!)
  12. One last time, relaunch Windows Media Player and open the “songtitle.wma” file.

There you are! If all went well and if you’re lucky, you’ll now be able to play the file with Windows Media Player 9 under Mac OS X 10.4, and capture it with another application so that you can save it in a more Mac OS X-friendly (and iPod-friendly) music file format.

And you can switch your default browser back to Safari.

Please note, however, that this authorization will only last for a while. After a while, when you try playing a DRM-protected file, Windows Media Player starts crashing again and opening the pages in Explorer. When this happens, you need to switch the default browser back to Explorer, in order to repeat the authentication process that lets you play the files.

I also do not recommend trying to play the files in another user environment on the same machine. As François Joseph de Kermadec noted, it can do nasty things to Microsoft’s DRM files, and we just don’t want to take the chance here.

Like I said, I am not sure all the steps in the process described above are indispensable, but if you really want this to work, I recommend that you don’t take any chances and just do them all, in the order indicated.

I know the whole process is ridiculously complicated and user-hostile, but you can put the blame on everybody here: Apple for not licensing their DRM scheme to other on-line stores, Prince for refusing to sell his songs through the iTunes Music Store, in spite of the iPod’s enormous popularity, and—above all—Microsoft for creating such crappy Windows Media Player for the Mac software. It is really shameful, but there’s not much we can do about it.

Also, it’s quite obvious that this process is very fragile, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s broken by future system updates. More specifically, once we switch to Intel-based machines that are unable to run Classic, I am not sure it will still work, since it looks like Windows Media Player requires Classic, even though it’s a native Mac OS X application. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

2 Responses to “Purchasing and playing DRM-protected songs from the NPGMC in Mac OS X 10.4 with a dial-up connection”

  1. ssp says:

    Pierre my magic crystal ball tells me that you’re a tough guy and you really like Prince…

    I started laughing at step 10 and completely cracked at step 11.

    Wouldn’t buying a CD, pirating a copy or getting Prince over to sing it into GarageBand for you be much cheaper once you start accounting for your time and nerves?

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I really dig Prince’s music, but I should have specified that I am only willing to go through all this in order to get the music because it’s not available in any other form. You can be sure that, if something is also available on CD, I don’t go through this — I get it on CD :).

    The reason I posted this here is that there might be other Prince fans who’d like to access this music that’s only available on-line via the Musicology store and has never been released on CD.

    If you take it out of this particular context, then, yes, it’s pretty absurd. But if you really dig the music and want to get it, it’s the only solution. And there’s some really great music available only through the Musicology store.

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