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 although there are plenty of convenient ways to stream your favorite tracks for free (i.e. Spotify), opting for a freemium subscription seldom affords you the off-the-grid listening you 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 charting artists such as Mumford and Sons and the infamous T-Swift, but if you look in the right places, you’ll still probably manage to find a few hits from a couple of big names, along with scores of independent artists — from retro R&B to bass-heavy electronica — 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 — whichever comes first.
Updated on 7-23-2015 by Brandon Widder: This article has been updated since it was originally published to reflect service changes and additions.
Back in 2009, a 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 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 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 $5 donation.
The site’s user interface is 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 Jackie Greene’s Live from Infinity Hall.
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 46,706 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 Movies, Music & Games > Digital Music > Deals > Free. Like most of Amazon’s wares, you can also sort its vast selection of MP3s based on average customer reviews, though we suggest taking them with multiple grains of salt given they’re typically only written by the most opinionated and vocal listeners. Regardless, it’s not a bad way to grab the occasional Blondie or Wilco track.
First established in 1997, MP3.com is probably the oldest site on this list. Despite its veteran status, MP3.com 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 18 years. Regardless, it’s still got a great collection when compared to most other sites on the Web, providing you with everything from pop-punk and jazz to hip-hop and metal. Though the “Free MP3 of the Day” and “Label of the Week” banners haven’t been updated in several years, the site still boasts a broad back catalog of high-bitrate MP3’s and offers a good number of songs you can’t find anywhere else. You can’t download entire albums, but that may be coming with some recently announced updates. Until then, there’s plenty of Death Grips and Sufjan Stevens to go around…
With nearly 400,000 tracks from more than 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 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.
There are plenty of reasons to rag on Urban Outfitters, the multinational apparel company known for clothing hipsters for high costs, but the brand’s choice in music isn’t one of them. The company’s website routinely publishes a feature known as “LSTN,” offering customers a 20-song sampler encompassing songs from both newcomers to the field and some of the more established independent acts. The downloadable playlist is accessibly from the UO Music site, and though you can only stream past mix tapes, the latest playlist is always available free of charge. Moreover, each playlist features a broad swath of bands, whether you have a thing for neo-American staples like Dr. Dog or prefer the more experimental wanderings of Grimes or Of Montreal. Regardless of your personal taste, the Urban Outfitters’ playlists serve as brief glimpses into the world of contemporary music, and teases what you can likely expect at next year’s Coachella.