Music is a mainstay of life. The Internet has made it easy to freely download of just about any song you want, but frankly, illegally downloading music just isn’t an option if you’re the honest type looking to support the artists, labels, and retailers who distribute it. Although there are also plenty of convenient ways to stream your favorite musicians and tracks on the Web and mobile (i.e. Pandora, Spotify, Tidal), 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 familiar, mainstream artists such as Ed Sheeran and the infamous T-Swift, but if you look in the right places, you’ll still probably manage to find a few select hits from a couple of big names. Most cater to independent artists that have yet to make it big — whether talking retro R&B, new-age electronica, or outlaw country — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good music. It just rarely garners resounding, Billboard-topping acclaim.
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 4-24-2015 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 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, whether you choose to do so by curator or genre. Moreover, though the site features many lesser-known artists within its catalog, renowned radio stations like KEXP frequently post live cuts from their studio sessions with big-name acts passing through. The smash tracks may lack some production value, but they also won’t cost you a dime.
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 $6 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.
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 minority around. Regardless, it’s not a bad way to grab the occasional Blondie or She & Him 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. Additionally, 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 song you can’t find anywhere else. You can’t download entire albums, but let’s hope the developers allow you to do so whenever the recently-announced changes take effect. Until then, there’s plenty of Death Grips and Sufjan Stevens to go around …
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 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.