Top 10 Ways to Download Free MP3s without Breaking the Law

So, you finally got that shiny new iPod for Christmas.  How will you fill it up?

After ripping your CD collection (I recommend CDex), you’ll want some new music.  Don’t have any cash left but want some new tunes?  Don’t worry – there are plenty of good ways to download MP3s for free without getting a nasty letter from the RIAA.

Below are ten of my favorite ways to get free MP3s legally on the web:

1)  Salon.com’s Audiofile. It helps to be a Salon member, but you can usually get a day pass by watching a commercial.  Audiofile is a music blog that writes a little about each tune and usually includes a direct download or a link to where you can download a track.  The music selection is pretty eclectic, and I find that even if I don’t recognize any of the bands being covered I can usually catch a reference or comparison to something I have heard before.  If you have to time, go through the archives and just download everything and toss what you don’t like later.

2)  Amazon.com’s Free Downloads section is chock full of MP3s. For a long time, this was the best-kept secret on the web in terms of free music downloads, with hits by Yo La Tengo, the Hives, Sleater-Kinney, among many others.  It’s a little hard to find, and to tell you the truth I’m sort of surprised they haven’t removed it.
…maybe I spoke too soon.  It looks like their download landing page has been trimmed down to almost nothing.  I guess they are opening up an MP3 store soon.  Luckily their free MP3 search still works, and there are some good listmania lists to peruse.

3)  Music blogs like Hobby Box on The Larry Page.  There are a lot of passionate listeners out there writing about what they’re hearing, and The Larry Page is a good example.  Some cover specific genres, while others just follow the writer’s wandering tastes.  Many of them provide links back to band home pages and record label home pages with free promotional downloads.
4)  The Creative Commons CD was included in the November 2004 issue of Wired Magazine, but it is still available for download. You’ll find pretty decent tracks from the Beastie Boys, David Byrne,
Danger Mouse (of Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley fame), Le Tigre and others.

5)  The Last.fm Weekly Free Downloads page.  Last.fm (formerly Audioscrobbler) is a great site that tracks what people are actually listening to.  Install their plugin into iTunes, WinAmp, Windows Media Player, or another player and the site will keep track of your favorite songs and musicians and make recommendations based on what others are listening to.

The free downloads page is a relatively new feature, but there’s already a huge list with some surprisingly well-known bands.

6)  The cover song sections at Soundclick.  I don’t mean to imply that the only music worth listening to is something you can find on the radio, but it can be very hard to sift through  the thousands of unknown artists on sites like Soundclick.  One of my favorite techniques is to look for a cover of a song I know and then grab the rest of that band’s stuff if it sounds interesting.  For example, here’s the Super Mario theme in acoustic guitar.

7)  If you are feeling adventurous, there are many, many more places to check out that have independent music, garage bands, and other homebrew stuff. CNET has thousands of tracks but the quality can be uneven at best.

8) There’s a ton of stuff from the South by Southwest music festival in Austin.  You can even download all 700 MP3s in one giant bittorrent.

9)  Netlabels at the Internet Archive.  There is a lot here, and it can be hard to find something you’ll really like, but I have heard some worthwhile stuff here in the past.  Take a look at the staff picks, the items with high ratings, and the songs with high “batting averages.”

10)  Legaltorrents lists a ton of legal-to-download, public domain files including MP3s and other music.  You never know what you will find here, but it’s worth checking out.

I like to find stuff that is interesting and new, but I can never seem to get deep enough into a particular genre to listen to bands “no one has heard of,” and the list above reflects that.  You can always look for more free music on blogs that cover your favorite genre, band home pages, and MySpace.
Do you know a site I left out?  Please let me know in the comments section below.

Written by Jason

Last 3 posts by Jason

  1. http://www.jamendo.com has a lot of Creative Commons licensed music. Available in mp3 or ogg.

    redshift
    December 28th, 2006 at 8:59 pm
  2. My blog, Largehearted Boy, lists at least ten direct mp3 downloads every day of free and legal music.

    david
    December 28th, 2006 at 10:48 pm
  3. http://www.pickstation.com is a collaborative music podcast of free and legal mp3′s where users submit and vote for tracks.

    Gabe
    January 14th, 2007 at 2:20 am
  4. Thanx a lot, very interesting article. Love music and always follow the last news.Always search the web for cool music download mp3 file is a site where one can compile perfect playlists.Your software information is really useful, for it reveals minor but so annoying problems we have to face dealing with podcasting.

    Shagg
    March 12th, 2007 at 6:31 am
  5. You also can use google to search for anything you want…..
    http://eric.torvinen.net/search.php

    Eric
    September 16th, 2008 at 7:52 am

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