Streaming music is a wonderful convenience, but you've probably heard songs you just have to own for one reason or another. Purchasing them from iTunes or Google Play is cheap and easy, but there's a world of smaller music stores with interesting music you should check out too. Let's take a look.
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Sure, there's a massive selection and great deals to be had at the big names like iTunes and Google Play Music. However, just like when we discussed some underrated streaming music services, trying something new doesn't have to replace something you already love. There's always room for more.
It really doesn't matter where you buy your music — you'll be able to play it everywhere. A lot of the small, independent stores are worth exploring, if only because they're the only places you'll find some great, self-promoted artists and highly underrated music. You'll probably search the big stores for your new and interesting finds first, but if you don't find them there, you'll probably will on one of these sites.
You've probably already been to Bandcamp, even if you don't remember. If you follow a musician on Twitter or Facebook, they probably have a Bandcamp site where you can listen to their music, buy albums and download tracks. The platform makes it remarkably easy for musicians to host albums and post their songs for sale or free download, and for listeners to play entire tracks, make quick track-by-track purchases or download whole albums at once.
Bandcamp is free to join for musicians and for fans. If you're a fan of independent artists, video game soundtracks and other self-promoted musicians, it's a great place to explore. The front page is a good place to get started, with popular tracks and albums right there to check out, and you can browse by genre or new releases at the bottom of the page. Even though Bandcamp has a rep for indie tunes and video game tracks, make no mistake — there's plenty of folk, jazz, metal, hip-hop and experimental music available too.
If you love electronic music, Beatport is the place for you. It's packed with downloads, mixes and full sets from your favourite headliners or independent DJs looking to make a name for themselves. A quick glance at the charts on the right side of the page will clue you in to what's popular, but the catalogue is deep and rich. Beatport is also home to a number of exclusive albums and downloads you won't find elsewhere.
Don't underestimate the community at Beatport either — the site boasts over 120,000 artists, remixers, DJs and musicians, and it has close to a million tracks. There's a massive community of users behind the site as well, and there are even charts and music awards hosted by the site to encourage users to get involved, vote for their picks and discover new tracks.
CDBaby has been around for a long time. It's earned a lot of praise from people who prefer high quality lossless formats because they offer all of their music as standard MP3s, or as 320kpbs MP3s or FLAC files. The site is home to musicians both large and small, independent and signed. Many of them use CDBaby as a platform to then syndicate their music to other larger stores, like iTunes and Google Play, but you can still get them at CDBaby directly and cut out the middleman.
CDBaby may be independent, but don't think of it as a small service. They're host to over 300,000 artists and three million tracks available on the site. They run a music discovery podcast to help you find new artists to enjoy, and have their own charts for popular artists, new bands and picks from the staff. Since the site is large, you can find almost any type of music at CDBaby, from jazz and funk to metal and punk and everything in between. The site also has curated collections by featured artists, discounted tracks and more.
Jamendo differs from a number of other music stores because it's free and open to any musician who wants to sign up. Everyone who does agrees to post their music under a Creative Commons licence, which means in many cases it can be reused and remixed freely, as long as you provide attribution to the original artist. If you find a musician you love, you can donate to support the artist. This gives listeners the opportunity to download lots of great music — usually for free — while the artist still gets exposure and makes money on licensing and other commercial uses of their music via Creative Commons.
Jamendo isn't a very large site by comparison to many of the others; they host over 30,000 artists from 120 countries and have over 400,000 tracks available to listen to and download. Jamendo also features internet radio, and there are even mobile apps. Listening, downloading and streaming are all free, and the songs you get are MP3s or OGG files.
eMusic has been kicking around for a long time. While it's popular for its subscription service, it also has great prices on downloadable high quality, DRM-free mp3s from a variety of artists. If you discover something you like, you can buy it anytime you want, subscription or no subscription. The service has 12 million tracks from both independent and major labels, as well as songs available through other services, like CDBaby.
Since eMusic's catalogue relied heavily on independent musicians and labels in its early days, the site has a bit of a reputation for being well stocked with indie rock, metal, punk, acoustic, and alt-rock. That's a rep well deserved, since there's definitely a large selection of those genres. However, it also has agreements with major labels, meaning you should be able to find music from artists that you know and love on the site as well, in many cases at really good prices.
While not a traditional music store, SoundCloud is a massive music social network and a great place to find advance releases, free downloads, and whole sets and remixes from new artists, DJs and small bands. Many artists post their songs to SoundCloud for free just for kicks, and others usually point you to the best place to download and support them in the process. Streaming is completely free, and you can search, browse, and explore musicians and artists without ever getting tired of what you hear. It's also huge, packing over 20 million users and millions of original songs, remixes, podcasts, spoken word tracks and more, all available to listen to and download.
Of course, these are just a few smaller music stores and services offering great music for sale in a variety of formats and genres just under the surface of the big boys. In some cases, shopping with the smaller names is a matter of finding great new music from musicians who promote themselves and can't afford to list their music on the big stores. In other cases, it's about diving deep into specific genres and styles of music and a community of listeners that love them.
Beyond the above, and beyond streaming music services, there are plenty of other ways to boost your music library without spending much (or any) money. The web is full of great music and great deals on music that still give you a way to support the artists and musicians you love — you just have to know where to look.