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 at no cost. Many of these sites are void of Billboard artists like Taylor Swift and Kanye West 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.
Though Vimeo is best known as a video-sharing website, it actually boasts a huge music library. Many of the songs are associated with videos, but you can use the “music search” tool to sort through — and download — isolated MP3 tracks as well. The site contains a library of more than 100,000 tracks, nearly half of which are free, and users can search via genre, mood, tempo, instrumentation, and sound effects to find what they’re looking for.
If you’re looking for music to use in your own projects, Vimeo also offers a drop-down menu that allows you to sort tracks by license type. A “recommendations” tab is also available for regular users, however, most of the free music available through the site is fairly esoteric stuff, meaning you’re unlikely to encounter many artists you’re familiar with.
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 also 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 a bit of a chore due to the overwhelming wealth of content, but there are ways to filter the results by title, publish date, or by 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. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t ensure a quality performance.
When Last.fm was initially created in 2002, it functioned as an internet radio station in similar fashion to Pandora and iHeartRadio. In 2005, however, the site adopted Audioscrobbler, a music recommendation system that collects data from dozens of media players and music streaming websites to craft individual user profiles that reflect musical taste and listening habbits. Last.fm has now “scrobbled” info from nearly 100 billion plays, which total more than seven million years’ worth of listening.
Unbeknownst to many Last.fm users, though, is the site’s repository of free music. It’s accessible via the “Free Music Downloads” link at the bottom of the page — or here — and offers a fairly diverse library of free music, ranging from Sufjan Stevens to The Glitch Mob. It’s an eclectic, limited, and totally free.
Rap lovers rejoice! Since the mid-aughts, the hip-hop community has become a veritable breeding ground for free music, much of which comes in the form of mixtapes. Some are original compilations by artists looking to cop some shine, some feature rappers freestyling over popular instrumentals from their contemporaries, and some are just drops by artists looking to reward their loyal fans with some free tunes — we’re looking at you, Curren$y.
DatPiff is also the only site on this list that consistently offers free music from mainstream artists — think Future and Drake — and remains the number one spot for fans to download new tapes, view release schedules, and listen to fan-made compilation albums. The site even features a pop-out player so you can listen before you download, as well as a news aggregator that collects stories from sites like HipHopEarly.