Hey, I know you. RIAA lawsuits have scared you off P2P, but the iTunes DRM is both too expensive and too restrictive for your tastes, right? Then it's time you head to the web. In the past year the number of web sites linking to free downloads and streaming music has exploded, meaning there are more ways than ever to get your music fix. Today I'll highlight the best web sites—and best search kung-fu—for finding free music online. Photo by MarS.
We covered this territory over two years ago, but believe me, a lot has changed in that time.
MP3 Search Engines and Streaming Sites
First I'm going to take a look at sites that make it easy to both stream and download music, starting with my favorite of the bunch: The Hype Machine.
The Hype Machine aggregates MP3s from the vast world of music blogs. Searching for an artist in The Hype Machine returns tonnes of results, and you can stream the songs inline in the results. The site itself provides links to buy music at Amazon or in iTunes if it's available, but you can also click through the read the original blog post containing the song and download music directly from that site. What's more, the handy player at the bottom of The Hype Machine's page creates a playlist of all the results on a page, you can favorite items to build playlists, and more. Most of the sites in the section are brand new, but Hype Machine has time on its side, having been around since 2005. (Read more)
SeeqPod is a straight up MP3 search engine at first glance, but after you perform your first search you'll notice a fancy Flash app that makes it easy to create playlists in your browser via a simple drag-and-drop interface. SeeqPod doesn't have easy to find download links for the songs, but the URLs are readily available if you're willing to do the typing. Even cooler, though, SeeqPod has an iPhone/iPod touch-optimised interface for streaming any song you search for directly in mobile Safari. (Read more)
SkreemR is another simple, barebones MP3 search engine. Like Hype Machine, SkreemR pulls its content from across the internet and can stream any song in your brower, but it has simple download links for every file you listen to so you don't need to follow it to the source. (Read more)
Thesixtyone has positioned itself to be a Digg-like community for music, which makes it a great place to discover new music (though it still handles search like the rest of them). Some songs on Thesixtyone include direct links for downloads, while others only provide links to buy the music on Amazon MP3. (Read more)
Deezer is a well designed site with more of a focus on building playlists, rating songs, and other more advanced feature for users (you can even view and listen to entire albums!). Like the others listed above, you can find tonnes of great music there, but download links can be hard to come by. (Read more)
<a href="">BeeMP3 isn't really about streaming music or making playlists—it's more of a straight search and download site, providing details like bitrate, format, and frequency of the encoded music file. You can't preview music, but you can sure download it. (Read more)
Most of the music you'll find on Songza consists of live recordings, which is excellent for finding rare songs or performances, but unfortunately Songza isn't much for providing download links—but at least they embed nicely (as you can see above). (Read more)
For those of you who want to make sure that you're not downloading any copyrighted material, CCHits aggregates Creative Commons-only music so you can download anything you want, guilt-free. (Read more)
Tools to Streamline Your MP3 Downloads
Now that you know where to download all that music from your browser, you'll probably need a few tools to streamline the process.
If you're an iTunes user, might I recommend the Windows-only add-on Tunestor, which adds a "Download Directly to iTunes" option to you right-click context menu in both Firefox and Internet Explorer so that you don't have to go through the rigmarole of the save and move to iTunes process every time you find a new song you like. (Read more)
Alternately, iTunes lovers may also want to check out iTunes Folder Watch, a freeware Windows app that can monitor folders of your choosing (your Downloads folder, for example) and automatically add your new songs to your iTunes library. (Read more)
If you just can't seem to find a download link but you'd kill to get a hold of the song that's streaming in your browser, stream rippers like StationRipper and Screamer Radio can easily do the dirty work for you.
Tools to Download and Listen to Your Music Over the Internet
Finally, they may require a bit more work on your part than the options above, but if you're willing to take a few minutes you can easily access your own music library anywhere with one of the following tools.
<a href="">Anywhere.fm lets you upload your entire music library to their servers using their uploader application (for not that's free), stream, and manage it using a very iTunes-like browser-based Flash player. It also has a great social aspect that allows you to stream music from other users' libraries. Not too shabby. (Read more)
If you'd rather not put the keys to your music in someone else's hands, Orb, a freeware, Windows-only application that streams music from your home computer to any other computer through your web browser. It takes a little setting up, but we walk you through it here.
Googling You Free Muisc
No discussion about finding free music on the web would be complete without mentioning the classic Google search that can yield tonnes of results of directories full of downloadable MP3s. First, there's the straight-up Google search chock full of operators to find those music files in open directories:
Where you replace the "artist|album|track|etc" section with whatever you're searching for... like this one. You can also tweak the search to yield other search results, looking for other filetypes (it's looking for WMAs and MP3s above).
If you don't want to go through the hassle of remembering that long URL every time, turn it into a Firefox keyword bookmark.
Alternately, there's the free, open source application Google Hacks, which is designed specifically to do the dirty work of searching for whatever files (music, video, or otherwise) available in Google-land. (Read more)
Surely we've missed a favourite or two, so if you've got a resource for finding free music on the web worth mentioning, let's hear it in the comments.