You 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
iTunes 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
If 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
Lots 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
There 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.