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 — ahem, 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 artists like the infamous T-Swift, but if you look in the right spots, you’ll still probably manage to find a few hits from a couple of 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 (whichever comes first).
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.”
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 46,856 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 Chance the Rapper track.
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.
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.