Recently, a friend asked me (me: the master of all things electronical) for some recommendations for downloading free music legally. Although i was hard pressed to name any legit source of free major label music, i have enough links to some really amazing sites that feature and host very good free music. Much of it is licensed under various Creative Commons licenses, and most is both free (as in beer) and free (as in free speech). As always, read the fine print for exact details for each site and every download. Additionally, check your local laws if you’re unsure about the license (personally, i have not found any gray areas here, since most of the music is either offered by the artists themselves as free, or is licensed freely, or is in some cases even public domain).
Since many of these are blogs, i highly recommend getting to know RSS feeds, and adding their feeds to your favorite feed reader. If you have no favorite feed reader, Google Reader is a great place to start.
So, without further ado, here are my top picks for really cool free, legal mp3 sites, in no particular order…
Here are some free albums and some cheap albums. A whole lot of really good free stuff. At the top right you can select “Price: low to high” to get all the free stuff listed first, but the default setting is “bestselling, so that one shows the most popular free stuff, mixed in with some good cheap deals too. You can also go to single songs, too, and browse the links on the right by price and genre, etc.
Archive.org’s free music and netlabels categories
I could spend days without sleep sifting through some of these really amazing collections. You can drill down by keyword and genre and popularity. Very little big-name artists, but some serious gems (also a lot of duds, too, but if you look at the download counters you can tell which ones are liked – or at least downloaded – the most).
This netlabel has tons of free samplers and whole albums by nobody you’ve heard before but every minute is really good, and they have an excellent mix of genres. I guess you could call them a metalabel, since their compilations frequently feature artists on other netlabels. One of the best free music sources around.
Note: these next two exemplary sites, despite my egregious lack of better-apt descriptions, are among my very favorite resources, not only for the wonderful personal touch you can find, but also for the incredible variety and sheer scope of their blogs and the insight gleaned from reading their notes on each feature, which are like meta-liner notes. These are both, as they say, earnest labors of love for their respective curators. As i’ve noted in a comment below, the best possible thing to do in lieu of giving you a lengthy and drooling description, is to implore you to go and dig deeply and feel the fresh cool sand between your fingers, and linger, and wonder at how new and interesting things can truly be when experienced with fullness and vigor. And maybe leave a note of thanks whenever you see something really cool that you enjoyed.
This site frequently features avant-jazz and minimalist techno, but you can also find some fantastic alternative, pop, rock, folk, et cetera. Another great resource.
Another great free music source. See Free Albums Galore above. Same thing applies here.
Bandcamp has tons of music from indie bands. Some free, some not. It’s fun to sift through, and you can find some real cool stuff here, sometimes even some up-and-coming bands that are just beginning to fly above the radar. Try this link for free stuff. I don’t use bandcamp that often, since i’m usually directed there by one of the other sites above.
I have not heard anything from this label that i didn’t fall in love with immediately. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE. And try The Box: I cannot tell you anything about this record, except that it is freaky and weird and quirky, and yes, you DO recognize that tune.
I would be not only remiss, but probably also shamed before my peers, and quite possibly also drawn and quartered, if i didn’t point you to
…who have awesome compilations and records, covering all kinds of genres, though a lot of it is maybe more techno and hip-hop and trip-hop oriented. Their massive year-end best-of mixes last year were pretty amazing.
Possibly the granddaddy of all free music sites, the FMA is a project of WFMU, “the most renowned freeform radio station in America”. They feature music of all kinds. This is one amazing resource that is just as much fun to sift through as it is to listen through.
Lastly, here’s one i just found out about:
Having no experience with this one, all i can say is that it comes highly recommended from Catching the Waves.
Other great sites, archives, and blogs to check out
The Silent Ballet
largehearted boy: daily downloads
WFMU’s Beware of the Blog:mp3s
Ektoplazm: free music portal
Jamendo (the King of free music sites)