The internet has made it easy to download just about any song you want for free, but frankly, illegally downloading music just isn’t an option if you’re the honest type looking to support the artists and producers who enrich our lives. And though there are some convenient ways to stream your favorite tracks for free — e.g. Spotify, Pandora — opting for a freemium subscription seldom affords you the off-the-grid listening you’ll need when your connection is slow, spotty, or just plain nonexistent.
Thankfully, there are still a host of excellent websites that allow you to legally download and locally store your music free of charge. Most of the sites are void of Billboard artists like Taylor Swift, but if you look in the right spots, you’ll still probably manage to find a few hits from some big names, along with scores of independent artists that should keep your ears happy and your wallet heavy.
Below are a few of our favorites, so you can keep the tunes going even when your car rounds the next bend or Comcast decides to cut you off.
Back in 2009, New Jersey-based WFMU Radio embarked on a project to make contemporary music of all genres available to the public, and the Free Music Archive was born. Since its inception, WFMU has partnered with dozens of other curators, and the site has become a veritable treasure trove of free content.
The site combines two different approaches to posting tracks: First, it indexes free music posted by all of its partner curators, and second, it allows users to post their own music directly to the archives. This synthesis of sources creates a mind-boggling library of tracks that you could literally spend months browsing through, whether you choose to do so by curator or genre. In addition, the site hosts a myriad of podcasts, and renowned radio stations such as KEXP frequently post live cuts from their studio sessions with big-name acts passing through. The smash tracks may lack some production, but they’re also free.
NoiseTrade is part free music site, part promotion platform. You can download any individual track or album an independent artist uploads to the site if, in turn, you generously supply them with your email address and postal code. The freemium promotion platform also encourages you to spread the word about artists you like via Facebook and Twitter, while giving you the option to quickly tip the artist a suggested $4 donation.
The site’s user interface is also remarkably clean and simple, allowing you to effortlessly search or browse artists within a visual hub loaded with recommendations and complimentary mixtapes that cover a wide swath of genres, musicians, and forthcoming events. Furthermore, the site often boasts exclusive samplers and releases from artists before they premiere elsewhere, along with corresponding links for connecting you with artists’ social media pages and management. Some of our favorite albums currently being offered last time we checked? Wild Ones’ “Keep it Safe” and “John Prine: Live in Asheville ’86.”
If you’re a fan of classical music, finding free downloads is easy — after all, most classical compositions and many performances have long been public domain. Musopen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and accessibility of classical music, hosts an impressive library of songs and compositions without any copyright restrictions. Users can browse by composer or performer, or filter results based on the time period and instrument. Whether you enjoy the complex arrangements of the Baroque period or the fierce passion of the Romantics, Musopen probably has what you’re looking for.
The songs are available for streaming or downloading — some even in high resolution — and the site offers a copious amount of helpful background info for your perusal. If you’re curious what a rondo is or what defined Chopin’s style, you can learn all that here. Musicians may also be delighted to learn that the site provides sheet music, so if you find yourself falling in love with a particular piece, you can follow along or even learn to play it.
With hundreds of thousands of tracks from thousands of artists, Jamendo is easily one of the biggest repositories of free music on the web. You won’t find all of your favorite artists here, but the site’s streamlined user interface makes it great for browsing and finding talented new musicians. Instead of browsing by genre, you peruse tracks by popularity, most downloaded, most played, or by latest release. Popularity is based on user ratings, so despite the massive amount of tracks on the site, you don’t have to spend a lot of time searching before you find stuff that pleases your ears. To be sure, the site’s penchant for lesser-known artists and experimental tracking make it more suited for someone with an open mind than one who knows exactly what they want.
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 browse Soundcloud by artist, genre, popularity, or latest postings; 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.