Whoops! This slipped from the schedule yesterday, so you’re getting Top Ten Tuesday on a Wednesday this week. I hope you can live with that. Today, I’m going to tell you about some of my favourite sources of free, legal music on the internet. It’s entirely possible, contrary to what major record labels would have you believe, to live completely free of paying for recorded music.
Not all offer downloads that’ll work on your MP3 player – some just stream – and not all these sites are going to be around forever, due to the turbulent nature of the digital music market around now, but if you can live with both those caveats, then click over the jump for my top ten sites where you can get free, legal, music.
First up is We7, which earns points for providing DRM-free downloads, but then loses them all for cobbling a really annoying advert onto the front of every track. If you can cope with a ten second advert before EVERY SONG, then We7 comes highly recommended. If you can’t, then I’d steer clear.
We7 earns its money by offering non-ad-funded tracks for a price, and also from the advertising bundled onto each of the free tracks. Its user-interface is acceptable, but it feels like some of the editorial and placement on the site (which sites go on the front page, etc) is affected by record company marketing budgets. If that’s true, then that’s a pity.
Deezer is a French site, formerly known in a less-legal incarnation as BlogMusik. Deezer crawls the web and the blogosphere, finding links to MP3s and then lets you stream those. Yup, sorry – this one’s streaming-only, but it gives you a nice handy link to iTunes if you want to download.
Deezer’s business model revolves around advertising, and also makes money from affiliate links when people buy content on its partners’ sites. There’s a ‘radio’ option, for when you don’t want to listen on-demand to tracks, and the interface is very shiny and slick. Points get docked, however, for random phrases in French popping up every so often.
iTunes. Yup. You might be thinking that I’ve got something wrong here, but no – iTunes offers free music. Every week the iTunes store offers a bunch of content for free for promotional reasons. It can be a bit tricky to track down yourself, which is why iT’s Free Downloads came into being – it does it for you.
iTunes songs only work on some MP3 players, and the interface is more like a spreadsheet than a nice web app. Oh, and you have to install a load of bloated software to get to the downloads. As a result, iTunes scores low in my book compared to the alternatives. If you’re on a Mac though, all the work’s already done for you. Thumbs up, but only just.
The awesomely named Elbo.ws is an MP3 blog aggregator. That means that like Deezer it crawls MP3 blogs, but unlike Deezer you can download the results. It’ll even link you to the original posts, which gets major plus points in my book.
You can search by artist or song name, and it tracks which artists are most popular on the blogs at any one time in a chart. It loses points in the catalogue category, though. Not everything’s there, only the hippest, newest tracks. Also, the ‘legal’ aspect isn’t 100% – though most labels will willingly service MP3s to music blogs, so I’m calling it ‘legit’. Elbo.ws makes its money from advertising.
eMusic is also primarily based around selling tracks for money, but they do a fantastic offer where you can get 50 DRM-free songs and an audiobook absolutely free when you sign up. There’s no catch – you can just discontinue your trial when it ends. Downloads work on almost every portable music player.
Catalogue-wise, there are plenty of gaps. It’s got nearly no major label content on it, relying almost entirely on the smaller indie label community. That’s great for some people, but not much use for your 9-year-old daughter. eMusic makes money from selling subscriptions where you get a certain amount of MP3s a month for a set fee.
5) The Live Music Archive
The Internet Archive aims to archive all content, and the Live Music Archive is part of that. It’s got a massive archive of live recordings from tiny to huge artists, and it’s all freely downloadable. Some is audio, some is video.
Is it legal? Well, they require permission from the bands before you can post songs, and the site’s policy is that you check whether the content is legal in your country before you download it. No guarantees then, but for a massive archive of live tracks it isn’t bad at all.
4) RCRL LBL
RCRD LBL, in their own words, is “a network of ad supported online record labels and blogs offering completely free music and multimedia content from emerging and established artists”. They use a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license so that people can share, remix and sample all the tracks on the site – a policy that gains them major kudos from me.
The site makes its cash from selling sponsorships to advertisers that want to provide music, but they’re quite fussy and have a ‘no rubbish’ editorial policy. It all comes in MP3 and it’s all free. It’s a fantastic and different business model for the future of music. Good work, guys.
3) Hype Machine
The Hype Machine, or hypem as most people refer to it as, is another MP3 blog aggregator. Why’s it so much further up the list than Elbo.ws? Because it offers functions to play content in the window you’re browing through. Basically, it does everything that Elbo.ws does, except that you can preview songs before you download them.
With it comes the same legal caveat as before – not everything offered is totally legal, but serves as a massive promotional boost for many unknown bands, so the industry’s marketing departments serve websites with the MP3s that they want. Advertising and affiliate schemes fund the site.
Last.FM has been around for years, originally under the name Audioscrobbler. It lets you create personalised radio stations and will then recommend you other tracks based on what you listen to and which songs you like/hate. It works amazingly well, too – I’ve discovered plenty of acts that I like on the site.
The interface is a little fiddly, though there’s a lot you can do with the site, so that’s understandable. Although you can’t download from the site, there are official clients for the iPhone and Android, and an unofficial one for S60 – Mobbler – so you can sorta take it on the go. The site makes money from advertising, promotions, premium accounts and affiliate schemes.
Top of the table, though, is perennial Tech Digest favourite Spotify. Although it doesn’t go on the move (though they’re hiring S60 programmers), it’s by far the best music streaming solution for your desktop because it’s all on-demand. It basically operates like iTunes, except with the biggest iTunes catalogue in the world.
Spotify makes its money from selling premium subscriptions, and from putting ads in the software and in between every tenth song or so. It hits the top of the list due to ease of use, simplicity, and a vast catalogue. It’s fantastic, free, and you should use it now. Go on. Do it now.
So that’s the list. Do you have a favourite source of free, legal music on the net that I’ve missed? Leave us a comment. Oh, and if you enjoyed this post, then you might enjoy my weekly column on digital music, Noise Gate.