Not every song posted on Soundcloud is free, but both big-name and lesser-known artists often offer free downloads if you can manage to find their verified profile. You can surf Soundcloud by artist, genre, popularity, or latest postings; and you’ll be surprised at how many free tracks are out there. There’s also a section of the site dedicated to tracks released under Creative Commons licenses, which means you’re free to download, remix, or tweak them as much as you like.
Soundcloud essentially serves as the YouTube of music uploading, meaning anyone can upload their tracks to the site before specifying whether they’re available for download or strictly for streaming purposes. Moreover, the site touts an extremely active user community and one of the sleekest user interfaces of any site on our list, one conveniently lined with a navigational bar at the top and direct access to the service’s accompanying mobile apps. Artists might not always offer free downloads of their music, but the labels nearly always do.
We’re still not 100-percent sure all the songs on this site are technically legal, but their DMCA policy looks solid, so we decided to include it. SoundOwl bills itself as a platform for musicians, labels, and blogs to distribute their music, and the site makes it explicitly clear that users are only allowed to share tracks that they have either created themselves or have secured the rights to distribute. In the case of music blogs, they can only share music that has been provided to them by record labels or artists with the express intent of making a free download available for promotional purposes. To ensure that users don’t upload tunes that aren’t theirs, they’ve partnered with Copyseeker to catch violators and remove copyrighted material.
In terms of design, SoundOwl’s UI is super minimalist and clean. Just type in the name of an artist or song you like and the service quickly gives you a list of tracks fitting your search terms. You can also browse by category or genre, or just hit shuffle for a random selection of tunes. All tracks can be previewed before you download them, and the site provides buttons for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, or saving tracks as ringtones for your phone. It’s hard to get a count on how many songs they have, but SoundOwl admins tell us they’ve currently got somewhere around 300,000 tracks. Most of them are from independent musicians, but they’ve also got a pretty sizable collection of popular tunes from big-name artists.
Epitonic has seen its fair share of ups and downs. The site initially launched in 1999 as a music discovery and editorial platform, but was sadly forced to shut down in 2004 due to financial woes. It relaunched with the aid of Kickstarter in 2011, though, bringing with it the same premise upon which it was originally founded.
Adorned with a simplistic, black-and-gray interface, the site now functions as a tool for users to explore a wide array of music, which can be filtered by genre, artist, label, and a few other categories. A playlist on the right side of the page also gives you access to the newest postings — which aren’t particularly new given’s the site’s recent inactivity — or you can dig within each of the aforementioned categories for a spare selection of tracks from no-name and big-name artists alike. The featured playlist located at the top always showcases a healthy mix of old and new tracks, too, whether you prefer Sonic Youth or the indie musings of bands such as Interpol and Ice Age. The guest interviews, exclusive album releases, and complimentary guest playlists come secondary.
PureVolume deals with aspiring artists in order to help promote people who are relatively unknown in the music world, acting as a social media platform where both listeners and artists can create profiles and discuss musical interests. Listeners can also write about artists they like and share songs among friends, as well as contact musicians directly to talk about their favorite tracks. Likewise, artists can write updates about their music or reach out to a burgeoning fan base if desired.
All downloads are legal, and while the majority of the songs are free, there are some premium tunes which users can buy or stream for free on the site. Artists can upload music and create a custom profile for free, and users can filter search results by song, name, genre, or even whether the artist is signed or unsigned. PureVolume is a great way to learn about artists you otherwise wouldn’t likely encounter, especially given the site offers plenty of music news and interviews with up-and-coming artists.
Live Music Archive is essentially a partnership between Internet Archive and etree.org, a community dedicated to providing high-quality, lossless versions of live concerts. You can think of it as a bootlegger’s paradise given the site’s sheer abundance of concert material, much of which focuses on jam bands such as the Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident, and Sound Tribe Sector 9. Still, there’s a host of other bands to choose from — The Smashing Pumpkins, Jack Johnson, Animal Collective, etc. — along with plenty of genres to browse ranging from jazz to reggae.
Navigation is somewhat a chore due to the overwhelming wealth of content, but there are ways to filter the results by the title, publish date, and the original creator. Once you find a particular show, you can often stream or download the individual tracks as a FLAC or MP3, allowing you to play the tracks in your media player of choice. Too bad the site doesn’t ensure a quality performance.