Illegally downloading music isn’t an option if you’re looking to support the artists and producers who enrich our lives — as you should be.
As any true music lover knows, you should try to support the people who make your favorite tunes. Downloading may not be as popular as streaming music, and there are some convenient ways to stream your favorite tracks for free — such as Spotify — but if you don’t want to pay, streaming options beyond that are fairly limited. So, what are the best free music download sites?
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. Many of these sites are void of Billboard artists like Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar, but if you look in the right spots, you’ll find a few hits from some big names, along with scores of independent artists that should keep your ears happy and your wallet heavy.
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 Seattle’s KEXP frequently post live cuts from their studio sessions with big-name acts passing through. The smash tracks may lack some post-production, but they’re also free.
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 will be surprised at how many free tracks are out there. There is 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. Fair warning: SoundCloud’s had a bit of financial trouble recently, so you might want to visit the site soon and go on a downloading spree just in case the site goes kaput.
Big names like Alabama Shakes, The Civil Wars, and Imagine Dragons all got their start on ReverbNation by sharing their music for free and building up their loyal fanbase. There is a mix of every genre on ReverbNation, but the site tends to lean toward more pop, alternative, and hip-hop than anything else. With a community of nearly 4 million artists, labels, and users, ReverbNation helps you sift through its immersive catalog by giving you cool features like the site’s Discover app and page that will help you find who is about to be the next big thing.
You’re probably used to using this online retailer to buy everything from the best headphones to dog food, so why not add some free music to your shopping list? Believe it or not, Amazon has a massive assortment of thousands of free tunes available via its digital music arm, allowing you to pick through everything from obscure indie and classical music to hits by the Foo Fighters (whose songs Saint Cecelia and Iron Rooster were available for free download on the service, last we checked). Checkout is quick and painless, and it works just like buying a song that costs money on Amazon, sans payment. Simply add a song to your shopping cart, check out, and the tunes are yours.
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 dropped 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 No. 1 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.
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 are 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 the 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.
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 people who know exactly what they want.
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 being offered last time we checked? Wild Ones’ Keep it Safe and John Prine’s 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.
When Last.fm was initially created in 2002, it functioned as an internet radio station in a 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 habits. Last.fm has now “scrobbled” info from nearly 100 billion plays, which total more than 7 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 eclectic, if limited, and totally free.