Let’s be frank: We shouldn’t be downloading music using illicit methods, but rather looking to support the artists who enrich our lives by streaming tracks through legal services, like Apple Music and Spotify, or purchasing them outright through Google Play Music or iTunes.
That said, if you’ve worked through your free trial of Apple Music and the free version of Spotify is too restricted for your liking, there are some free music download sites you can use to keep the tunes going when your car rounds the next bend or Comcast decides to cut you off — legally.
Below are a few of the best free music download sites. Keep in mind, though, that many of them are void of Billboard artists like Taylor Swift, but if you look in the right spots, you’ll find a few hits from some big names, along with scores of independent artists, which 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 that doesn’t mean there isn’t a significant selection of complimentary content to choose from — both Billboard and independent artists have been known to offer a selection of their older tracks at no charge, though you may have to drop them a like on Facebook or a follow on Twitter for the privilege.
Songs can be navigated in a flurry of ways, ranging from artist and genre to what’s trending right now. There’s also an entire section of the site dedicated to tracks released under Creative Commons licenses that’s free to download and remix, and Royalty-free audio, which can be used for marketing purposes and in monetized material.
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 with cool features like the site’s Discover app and a page that will help you find who is about to be the next big thing.
You’re probably used to using Amazon 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, the retailer has a massive assortment of thousands of free tunes available via its digital music arm, letting you pick through everything from obscure indie and classical music to hits by Carole King and the Foo Fighters. 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.
There’s a new kid on the block that’s challenging DatPiff’s domination. It’s called Audiomack, and it’s home to what’s fast been branded the best collection of hip-hop, rap, and trap — comprising of everything from smash hits from heavyweights like Kodak Black to viral tracks from emerging artists like NBA YoungBoy. As of late, however, a lot of creators have decided to disable downloads, instead opting to utilize the service’s streaming feature; though rest assured, there is still a large amount of downloadable material, including some mixtapes from Migos, Playboi Carti, and Rich The Kid.
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 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 — so we’d recommend previewing anything that sounds like it could tickle your fancy using Live Music Archive’s web player before taking the plunge and downloading it for local playback.
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 latest release. Popularity is based on user ratings, so despite the massive number 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 tracks makes it more suited for someone looking for something new rather than specific artists.
NoiseTrade is one part free music site, one 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 that connect 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 in the public domain. Musopen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and accessibility of classical music, hosts an impressive library of 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 selections 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 their 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 free.