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The Best Places to Find Free Music Online

posted by Katharine Knibbs on March 19, 2013 in Music & Video Services, Computers and Software, Music and Video, Guides & Reviews :: 9 comments

woman listening to musicYou can find almost any song you can think of online and download it for free. If you want to do it legally, it’s a little tougher – but not impossible (in many cases). We rounded up a list of places to look if you want to score a free song but don’t want to break the law.

Before we get too far, we should mention that free doesn't usually mean the latest popular songs. But there are plenty of opportunities to find older songs, newer songs from independent artists and a few surprises along the way.

Look for deals on iTunes and Amazon

Free on iTunesiTunes and Amazon aren’t exactly where you'd think to look for free music, since they’re the most popular purveyors of paid online downloads. But as long as you’re not looking for a specific song, you can find some really interesting new tunes on these big services. iTunes offers an entire section called Free on iTunes. The section title is a bit misleading, since most offered titles are just discounted as part of an album, but you can find a new free single each week.

Amazon offers a wider selection of totally free downloads – it has over 50,000 songs available at no cost, from pop mainstays like Justin Bieber to of-the-moment indie acts like Autre Ne Veut. Like in iTunes, you can’t choose which songs are free, but if you’re just looking for something new, it’s not a bad place to look. Also, Amazon allows you to download free digital versions of many CDs that you have purchased through them. Their AutoRip service uses the cloud to store MP3 versions of thousands of songs and if Amazon has a record of you purchasing the CD from them, you can download the corresponding MP3s at no charge.

Another large online music repository with a surprisingly robust collection of downloadable tunes: Last.fm. You might think of it as strictly an online radio service, but you can also score free, legal downloads.

Music Blogs: Your new best friend

StereogumIf you like to keep current on the coolest new music, following music blogs and blog aggregators may change the way you hear music. Lots of bloggers release mix tapes available for free download each month, including Stereogum, which is a well-known indie pop and rock blog.

You can check out blog aggregator Hype Machine – it collects all of the songs mentioned on various blogs in one place. So if there’s something new you want to check out, you can search for it and stream it on Hype Machine or download it by going to the original posting. Hype Machine sorts music blogs into different genres, so you can browse through thousands of options until you find a few blogs that suit your musical tastes. They generally post a few mp3s a week.

Scour Small Labels

Arbutus RecordsLots of smaller labels put entire albums up for free or by donation, like Arbutus Records, the home of breakout electro-pop artist Grimes. If you have a favorite smaller record label, check out their home site. They probably have at least a song or two you can get without handing out your credit card.

Some small labels, like Record on Ribs, are even more generous with their music. Record on Ribs works as a Creative Commons record label, so all of its music is available for free download. Sure, you’re not getting big names, but small labels are a good resource if you like to scout newer or less established artists.

Peruse free music archives

Free Music ArchiveThere are a number of different organizations and groups that archive free music, like the appropriately named Free Music Archive. This is a great option if you want to hear a Mozart song or anything else in the public domain. But it also features cool new tracks. The website collects all the songs available through Creative Commons and other licenses.

Or just stream!

If you really want to hear a song immediately and you can’t find it available for free download – and you just don’t want to pay for it – there’s an obvious solution to your problem. Just stream it. Yes, you won’t get a digital copy to have and hold forever, but with today's generous data plans, you can probably gain access to a streaming music service most places you go.

And, there are a ton of options. Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud, Grooveshark, Slacker – you can find almost any song on these behemoth services. Or, curated playlist upstart Songza is a wonderful music discovery tool and a lot of the songs you hear on its hip stations are easily obtained if you take the time to go through music blogs or Hype Machine.

Enjoy all the free music available online, but if you’re getting the bulk of your jams for free, try to support the artists you love in other ways – buying concert tickets or merchandise, or spreading the word to people more likely to buy their records.

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Available through your local library

From Elise Landesbefrg on March 20, 2013 :: 10:41 am

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I recommend

From Alex on March 20, 2013 :: 11:45 am

I also recommend you try Torch Music, it’s a free online music streaming service. I’ve been using it for a while and I really like it, I’ve created a bunch of playlists and it’s really cool! It’s difficult to find so you can check it out here music.torchbrowser.com

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Use in slideshow?

From Tina on March 20, 2013 :: 12:58 pm

I’m wondering, if it is free to download does this mean you can use it license-free on things like photo slide shows?

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For reuse of the tracks

From Penny on March 20, 2013 :: 9:42 pm

For reuse of the tracks in this way, you are best off using items licensed under Creative Commons (mentioned for a couple of sites above). There are different CC licenses—for personal vs. commercial use, and with and without modification.

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NoiseTrade

From Cass on March 20, 2013 :: 1:51 pm

I would add to this noisetrade.com. Artists release songs or sometimes whole albums for free download. If you like it, you have the option to leave a tip. It’s a fun way to discover lesser-known artists and, if you wish, support those who are bootstrapping it.

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for the artists sake

From mark smotroff on March 20, 2013 :: 5:05 pm

My $0.02:  If you like the artists, consider making the effort to buy their music.  They spend a lot of time and their money making their music for your entertainment so think responsibly and support your faves. Promotional MP3s aside, apart from the superstar, most artists don’t make the kind of money people imagine from their releases.  So going to free download sites—which are effectively stealing their music—only compounds the problem for these artists who are genuinely struggling to get by….  And yes, do go see them live and buy their merchandise there as well.

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Bandcamp!

From Penny on March 20, 2013 :: 9:38 pm

Bandcamp.com is an amazing source for free music, and I was really surprised not to see it on the list. It’s largely new independent artists, but some big names use it as well. Easy to browse through genres and keywords. Most cuts are available for streaming. Many are posted for free download, or for a name-your-own-price purchase, directly from the artist. Many artists also offer mail order service for their CD’s and vinyl. Great music, and a great way to support indie musicians in all genres.

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cctrax, a well organized, curated collection

From deeload on June 14, 2013 :: 2:37 am

another good place to start when looking for music that is licensed under creative commons is http://cctrax.com. Choose your favorite music genre, start scrolling and get lucky.
Download or stream, feel free to share. All files are hosted on archive.org, download speed is decent.

Cheers,
deeload

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streaming needs a little more love

From Ben K on November 29, 2013 :: 7:59 pm

Spotify is amazing - in addition to being free, it can do a ton of other great things like social sharing, and suggest new music via their recommendation engine. It used to be pretty bad when it first hit the US market in 2011, but it’s arguable as good or better than Pandora.

I feel like Soundcloud deserves more recognition too, especially with the whole “discovering new artists” aspect - it allows you to follow your favorite users, and you can see what they “like.” I’ve found some awesome songs that way. Online Social sharing really is the future of music.

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