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In the age of digital music, it's easy to download whatever song that may strike your fancy with just a click of a mouse. But even though doing so will only cost you about a buck per track, filling your library (or even just building a new playlist) in this fashion can add up pretty quickly.
A smart music fan should thus always be on the lookout for opportunities to get free music online, as well as promotions and credits for free music downloads. Here's a look at the best places to access the music of top artists, discover up-and-coming bands, and reminisce with oldies, all without shelling out any cash. (And check out our freebie hub to find deals on your other favorite goods and services.)
Blogs like Stereogum, Spinner, and Pitchfork have a loyal following of millenials on the hunt for the latest tunes to emerge from the indie biosphere, and not only do these culture hubs provide ample music streams on a regular basis, but many also dole out downloads too. Stereogum offers downloadable monthly MP3 mixes of 12 or 13 tracks featuring everyone from electronic newcomers like Nicolas Jaar to well-known indie bands such as Tegan & Sara and Phoenix. Similarly, Spinner offers free daily MP3 downloads, and Spin Magazine has a free monthly iTunes list inspired by its print publication. Fans can read artist reviews and then download artists' music at no cost, seamlessly taking the magazine experience online and then on the go.
Digital content giants like Amazon and iTunes charge for the majority of available MP3s and albums, but they also maintain a substantial free database of singles for download. Amazon's collection of free MP3s currently stands at 54,796 and features tracks from Blondie, The Walkmen, and The Generationals, but the available free songs aren't likely to include top radio hits like the latest from Beyonce or Daft Punk. For loyal Amazon customers, however, rewards cards and subsequent credits can be put towards purchasing the songs and albums that aren't free. Plus many electronics and media purchases at Amazon come bundled with free MP3 credits.
What's more, the audiophile who has let his once-impressive CD collection collect dust can regain his pride knowing that Amazon's AutoRip feature entitles customers who have ever purchased a CD on Amazon to a free digital copy of that album. And unlike your CD collection, the tunes are stored clutter- and dust-free in Amazon's Cloud Player.
iTunes also offers free content, found under the "iTunes for Free" section of its Music Store. However, the selection is limited in both how long the item is available for at a discount, and in the singles on hand at one time.
In order to transition from being just a "hipster clothing mecca" to becoming an all-encompassing "lifestyle guru," Urban Outfitters doles out five free songs every Monday in-store, in addition to offering free music online via its downloadable playlists. The latter promotion is on a less periodic basis, but includes 20 or more tracks, presumably to keep its customer base coming back to the website — and to further tempt customers into buying a shirt or two while there.
Starbucks also offers its "Picks of the Week" exclusively to its coffee community. Though you used to have to sit in the store and log on to the store's free WiFi to access the free weekly download, now you can get it from the store's app, too. Successful Picks of the Week in the past have included Dave Matthews Band's "If Only" and Adele's "Rumor Has It." You'll be able to collect a broad range of your Top 100 favorites if you use the app or frequent the coffee shop on a weekly basis.
Last.fm is primarily a free streaming internet radio, but it also boasts a decent selection of free MP3 downloads. Once you click on the free downloads section, you can peruse through pages of MP3s that are categorized by genre to find artists like Best Coast, Sufjan Stevens, Yeasayer, and Cloud Nothings. You can even search by decade to find tracks from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Looking for something new? Discover new music from less well-known musicians via one of several free music repositories on the web. The Free Music Archive is an interactive library of legal audio downloads from WFMU, a New Jersey-based radio station with curators who select and upload music. Jamendo similarly links artists who want to share their music to eager audiences through a Creative Commons license which ensures legal sharing. The library of tracks ranges from folk artists like Tamara Laurel to pop-rockers Much Ado About Nothing. You probably won't find mainstream tracks here, but you can unearth talented new musicians and browse by popularity.
Fandango recently started to offer freebies from the soundtracks of some of our favorite blockbusters. With the purchase of select movies tickets, movie-goers can acquire credits on Amazon or iTunes, and score a free song from, say, Man of Steel or Despicable Me 2.
With plenty of ways to access free music online, everyone can create new, personalized playlists for next to nothing, and though we'll always loyally purchase tunes from our favorite artists no matter the cost, it's nice to be able to soften that blow to our wallet with some freebies.