The advent of music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music has lessened the impact of music piracy. Illegal downloading has plagued the music industry since the turn of the millennium, but for the sake of a few dollars a month, the risks are now too high for most people.
However, music streaming services are not without their problems. For a lot of people, the biggest turnoff is the lack of ownership. If you use Spotify, you don’t own any music – you’ve merely been granted a license to listen to it.
But not to worry. If you’re the type of person who loves tending to a vast music collection on your PC or mobile device, there are still ways you can get free music. They are entirely legal, and the music will be yours to keep forever.
Here are seven websites to get you started.
This website may look a bit dated, but don’t let that put you off. BeSonic is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to give their own music collection a boost.
The music is divided into five broad genres: “Rock and Alternative,” “Pop and Electro,” “Hip-Hop, Soul, and Urban,” “Jazz and Blues,” and “Mixed Up.” Each of the five genres is sub-divided into several sub-categories.
To help you find something to which you’ll enjoying listening, the site maintains weekly genre-specific charts for a song’s global popularity. You’ll also find sections devoted to new tracks and new artists.
The Free Music Archive has been around for many years, but it remains as popular as ever. The site focuses on hi-fidelity tracks.
WUFM – an independent freeform radio station in New York – curates the content. Most of the available songs are from lesser-known artists, but occasionally you will see a famous name pop up.
You don’t need to worry about legality, as all of the tracks on the site are free for personal use. However, if you’re planning to use the songs in a commercial setting, you need to check the license associated with each individual recording.
Jamendo has a similar premise to the SoundCloud of five years ago: letting unsigned independent artists easily distribute their music to their fans. It currently has more than 400,000 tracks from 40,000 artists.
The music is built around “Communities.” Navigating to a particular community (for example, #Rock) will introduce you to its leading tracks, albums, and artists. You can sort the music by all-time popularity, what’s trending, and latest releases.
If you want to test the waters before you commit to a download, you can tune into one of the site’s themed radio stations.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. At least, not if you use NoiseTrade.
The artists who have listed their music on this site want something in return for the free download, typically a postal address or an email address. The idea is for the bands to easily connect with people who like their music – perhaps to advertise an upcoming tour or highlight the launch of a new album.
The flipside is that you’re more likely to find artists you recognize. Sure, you’re not going to find The Killers’ latest release, but most of the bands are already signed to a record label and have albums available.
What if pop, rock, and the other mainstream genres aren’t your thing? Well, if you’re more into classical music, you’re in luck.
Musopen has recordings from some of the most famous classical musicians of all time. You’ll find everything from Bach and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky and Holst. You can search by composer, performer, instrument, period, and form to locate the content you want.
The site extends beyond music downloads. You’ll also find lots of free sheet music and even some educational resources.
Amazon is comfortably the most recognizable name on this list. At the time of writing, it offers more than 50,000 songs for free. The project is an offshoot of Amazon Music Unlimited.
To see what’s available, go to the Amazon website and navigate to Departments > Movies, Music and Games > Digital Music > Deals > Free. You can filter the results by genre in the column on the left-hand side of the screen. The most popular genre is “International,” but, with a little digging, you can find everything from Blues to Broadway.
Unlike some of the other sites I’ve covered, you can frequently find famous bands. JJ Grey and Mofro, Foo Fighters, and Blondie all have tracks available for download.
Did you know the internet Archive is useful for a lot more than only laughing at how bad the web looked in 1999? It’s also a fantastic free audio library.
For a music lover, the best part of the site is the Live Music Archive. It was built in partnership with etree.org (the leading lossless digital audio distributor on the web) and features shows and concerts from a range of leading artists. On the first page of the results alone, you will find music from The Grateful Dead, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Cheese String Incident.
The library doesn’t just cover music; you’ll also find old news and public affairs talks, radio shows, audiobooks, and poetry readings.
What Sites Can You Add to This List?
Almost these sites specialize in helping you download music from unknown and upcoming artists rather than current stars. It’s largely inevitable, bands who have already made it have no need to give their music away for free.
As a rule, if you see a site offering you a free copy of the latest album by Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift, it’ll probably be illegal. In which case you should proceed with extreme caution.
From which websites do you legally source free music? Which websites have I overlooked? Which website on this list is your favorite?
Feel free to leave your tips, suggestions, and recommendations in the comments below.
Image Credit: Kidsada Manchinda via Shutterstock.com
Originally written by Tim Watson on April 19,2009