The Internet has made it easy to get a free download of just about any song you want. The problem, however, is that free music isn’t always legal music. If you’re the honest type and you like to pay for your tunes and support the artists, labels, and retailers who distribute them, then illegal downloading simply isn’t an option. We know that some of you out there have strict morals when it comes to your media consumption habits, so just for you we’ve put together this list of the best places to find free and completely legal downloads.
Before we get started, however, it should be noted that there are dozens of ways to listen to music freely and legally without downloading it onto a device. If you’re going to be listening in a place with an Internet connection, we suggest checking out some of the top-notch streaming services out there that offer almost every song you’ll ever want. In most situations, downloading songs and storing them locally just isn’t necessary anymore. Really, the only situation where downloading is necessary is if you often listen to music in places where Internet connections are slow, spotty, or nonexistent.
Furthermore, most free and legal music you come across isn’t likely to be from familiar mainstream artists — if you’re looking for legal music downloads, don’t expect to get all the hottest tracks from your favorite bands. If you look in the right places, you’ll probably find a few hit songs from a couple big names, but most of the music you’ll find in the sites listed below are from independent artists that haven’t hit it big yet. That’s not to say it’s not good music, it’s just not popular music.
So, if you absolutely must download your music, you want to do so without paying a dime or breaking any laws, and you don’t mind if a lot of popular favorites are missing, read on. Also, check out our picks for the best music apps for your smartphone and our side-by-side comparison of Beats Music and Spotify.
Updated on 4-14-2014 by Emily Schiola: This article has been updated since it was originally published to reflect service changes and additions.
Back in 2009, a New Jersey-based independent community radio station called WFMU embarked on a project to make contemporary music of all genres available to the public and the Free Music Archive was born. Since it’s 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 site’s archives. This synthesis of sources gives them a mind-bogglingly large library of tracks that you could literally spend months browsing through.
Noisetrade is part free music site, part artist promotion platform. You can get tracks and albums from independent artists if you supply them with your e-mail address. So basically, if you allow them to send you promotional stuff in the form of e-mail, they’ll give you free tunes. The site also politely asks you to spread the word about the artists you like by posting about them on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The UI is clean, simple, and visual, which makes the site a joy to browse through.
It should come as no surprise that the WalMart of the Internet has a massive bargain bin of free MP3 downloads. At time of writing, Amazon has exactly 56,011 free tunes available, and that number will probably get bigger over time. The nice thing about Amazon’s list of freebies is that you can easily browse it by genre, and it even tells you how many free tracks there are within each category. The only tricky part is navigating to the right section of the site. To get to all the free goodies, you can either click here, or go to MP3 Music > Music by Price > Songs > Free.
First established in 1997, MP3.com is probably the oldest site on this list. Despite its veteran status, the site has had some ups and downs in the past, and its library isn’t nearly as big as you’d expect it to be after 15 years. Regardless, when compared to most other sites on the web, it’s still got a great collection. In addition to their broad selection of high-bitrate MP3′s, the site posts a new free track every day, and features a different album every week. They also seem to have a good number of songs that you can’t find anywhere else, so it’s definitely worth a look.
With nearly 400,000 tracks from over 40,000 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 UI 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.
If you’re looking to download free songs from your favorite artists, try finding them on Facebook. More often than not, artists will give you access to a few freebies just for liking their page. It’s different for each artist, but you’d be surprised how many sport free download links on their accounts. The only problem is that after you “Like” a musician’s page, everything they post will show up in your news feed — which might be off-putting to some users. To remedy this and keep your feed from being inundated with posts about gigs you can’t attend, just adjust your settings to hide these types of posts.
Not every song posted on Soundcloud is free, and not all the free ones are technically legal — so what makes it a good site for legal free music? Well, ever since the beginning, Soundcloud has gone out of their way to verify the accounts of popular musicians to make sure they’re authentic. If an artist has a green dot on their profile, you can be sure that it’s really them who’s posting tracks, and not somebody who posted the track illegally. That being said, there are also a lot of accounts that are legitimate, but aren’t verified. In these cases you’ll just have to make a judgment call. If they’ve got legitimate links to their Twitter and Facebook pages, you can usually be pretty sure it’s them.
You can surf Soundcloud by artist, genre, popularity, or latest postings; and you’ll be surprised at how many free tracks are out there. Most big-name mainstream artists will have a few freebies on their pages, and there are millions of independent artists who post all of their tunes for free. 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.
Next Page: Six more of the best free and legal sites for downloading music.