Getting Free Music Legally

 

Music comforts.

 

Music On A Budget

 

Music takes us away from our troubles, soothes stress, and provides great enjoyment. When times are hard, it becomes more valuable than ever. Yet when the budget is tight, entertainment is often one of the first things to go. Is there any way to get the music we enjoy free of charge, and do it legally?
 
By taking a few basic precautions, it is possible to find abundant free music online.  Plus, when you do it legally, you can support all of your favorite artists.

 

Free Music and the Law

 

Is your music pirated?

“Hmm…Fred never told me it was an illegal copy.”

Illegal sharing of music is very common today. Part of the problem is that copyright law is so complicated that it means little to the average person. Most people want to do the right thing, yet they are impatient with unclear rules that seem arbitrary or unfair. Some will say, “I bought this music, so I’ll share it with my friends if I want to.” Or, “Everybody shares music, why shouldn’t I?”

 

In this article we cannot provide you with any legal advice. All we can do is give a layman’s view of what the law seems to be saying, and some thoughts about doing the right thing.

 

When we try to make sense of copyright laws to see if there are legal ways to obtain shared music, it soon becomes clear that it is up to the individual artist to decide the terms under which copying and sharing are acceptable.  Some artist’s are willing to let others copy their work without qualm and others will only allow it if they collect a royalty.  Without specific instructions one way or another, we can assume that when we have bought and paid for music, it’s okay to make make copies for our personal use and enjoyment.  On the other hand, it is illegal to give those copies to other people—for example, to our friends or to other people we might interact with online.  There are a few circumstances when it’s okay to share: So-called “fair use” laws allow for sharing music online for educational purposes, for parody, or for use by the news media.  However, it is illegal to share music without an artist’s permission if you plan to use it for entertainment purposes, if you somehow intend to profit off of it, or if  by sharing or copying it, your intent is to avoid paying the artist a royalty.

 

Often the music we hear has already been paid for by others. For example, radio stations pay royalties to music associations such as BMI and ASCAP when they play songs. In turn, those groups send royalty checks to the artists. So in this case, the music isn’t free after all—the station is kind enough to buy the performance for us.

 

Musicians become one with their instrument.

A singer-songwriter putting everything into his craft.

Musicians create works of great beauty that enrich our lives. The thing is it’s easy to forget they spend countless hours doing it, and deserve to earn a decent living for their efforts. If we care about them and want to encourage others to follow in their footsteps, we need to support them whenever we can. A very easy, practical way to do this is to pay for their music—of course, it helps when it is offered at a reasonable price.

 

 
In this article, we will give examples of websites that appear to us to respect a musician’s right to earn money for their music. Remember, the internet changes constantly, and so does the law.  We therefore can’t provide you with a “guaranteed safe list”.   However, by following the safety tips given below, you can check out each website yourself before locking in on a favorite. When in doubt, avoid any website that appears crude or basic, does not provide full information, or does not make it clear how artists are paid for their work.

 

Staying Out Of Trouble

 

As soon as you start looking for free music on the internet, beware! You are standing on treacherous ground. Doing a Google search for “free music” brings up a host of shady websites and booby-trapped domains that are cleverly designed to steal your money or personal data. Here are eight common sense guidelines for playing it safe:

 

1. Expand your search. Avoid searching only on the keywords “free music”. Instead, search for “free music safe legal”. Even then, use caution in looking at what you find.

 

2. Be skeptical. Don’t assume the claims found on a website are all true. Search on the website’s name to see what other people are saying about it.

 

3. Watch for warning signs. Be wary of any website that makes you register before listening to music, especially if it asks for personal information such as your age, birth date, or social security number. While many safe websites allow you to register, most don’t require it. They just give you better features if you do it.

 

4. Dig deeper. On any website, look on the home page, usually at the bottom, for links such as “About”, “Terms and Conditions”, “Privacy Policy”, “Legal”, or similar. If the website does not have these important pages, there is a chance it may be doing things that are illegal or shady.

 

5. Check terms and conditions. If you find a site you are interested in, be sure to read the “About” page to see what the site is, and how it works. Then, scan the fine print in the “Terms and Conditions” page. What you are looking for are alarming phrases such as, “By registering, you agree to having a fee charged to your cell phone”, or “This website may download software onto your computer to track your actions”, or similar statements.

 

6. Avoid unnecessary downloads. Avoid any website, no matter how popular, that requires you to download special software to use their service. Such software might be called a “toolbar”, a “browser add-on”, a “file sharing program”, or something else. Whatever it is, the chances are that your computer doesn’t need it. Plus, it may track what you do online in order create a profile of you for advertisers, or it may even contain a virus that will steal your identity.

 

7. Use anti-virus software. Make sure your computer has a good anti-virus program installed.  McAfee and Norton are two examples of trusted companies who offer paid subscription services for anti-virus programs, but you can also get an excellent free anti-virus software program from Avast.  Good anti-virus software will block most viruses and spyware before they even enter your computer.

 

8. Use a file cleaner. Since many music sites put advertising cookies and tracking gadgets on your computer, use a “file cleaner” program such as CCleaner daily, to remove the questionable things left on your system. If you use the Firefox web browser, also consider installing the add-on, PrivacyProtectorPlus. It removes “LSO cookies”, a new type of cookie planted in your system by many companies to create an ad profile on you.

 

Two Easy Ways to Get Music Free

 

Evan Anderson playing guitar

1. Start with a list.   Make a list of each of your favorite artists or groups, then do a Google search to find the artist’s website. Also, search within Facebook or Myspace. Today, artists often provide free samples of their songs on their websites to attract new listeners. While you won’t find all of your favorite songs in this way, you will find some, plus new songs that may interest you.

 

2. Check out YouTube™.  Go to YouTube.com, and search for the artist or group by name, and/or by song. You are likely to find videos of performances, as well as other interesting videos. Note: YouTube polices its website to remove videos that violate copyrights, or that artists object to. Therefore, some people feel safe in using software to download YouTube videos, or to create audio tracks from them. Although this is a gray area, we don’t recommend doing it, for the reasons explained above. The artist may not mind people viewing a performance, but may object to the idea that people are recording it. Instead of recording a song, you can set it as a “favorite” in your web browser, and visit it as often as you like.

 

Three Kinds of Safe and Legal Free Music Websites

 

Other than the specific sites listed above, there are three kinds of websites that allow you to get free music legally: (1) the streaming audio website with “channels” or “playlists”, (2) the streaming audio website with personal profiles, and (3) the Creative Commons free music website.

 

1) The Streaming Audio Website

 

A “streaming audio” site is much like a radio station, except it is available online. You can tune in to various “channels” on the site to hear different types of music—sometimes hundreds of channels, or even channels about particular artists.

 

As pointed out by eHow.com, such websites are allowed to play copyrighted music over the Web because of deals that have been worked out with the music industry providers. Every time a song is streamed, a small fee is put into an account set up by the music industry, as explained above.

 

Playlist.com is a streaming website that says it is “committed to organizing all the music posted on the Internet for promotional and other legal purposes to serve artists and their fans in the new digital age.” Enter the name of a song, and it is likely to find it. Playlist states that it pays performance royalties to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC in the U.S., and to over 125 others around the world. With it you can create “playlists” of your favorite music, or listen to playlists that others have created. These are like “channels” that play songs in a list. Note that song availability comes and goes in the long term, based on what is currently posted on the internet.

 

 

Singer Songwrite Katelyn Berreth.

Audiolizer.com is another free music playlist and streaming service, but it is powered by YouTube.com (see above). That is, it finds videos of songs.  Also, like Playlist.com, it lets you build and use playlists. Audiolizer states that it is “completely legal and free to use to the general public.”

 

Deezer.com is a French streaming audio website. It is similar to the others, but it also finds songs by sound-alike artists and karaoke artists. Deezer states that all music is legal and free, and artists get royalties from it. It offers playlists and “albums”, as well as dozens of themed internet radio channels.

 

Live365.com claims to be “the world’s largest internet radio network”. Located in the silicon valley, it features 260+ genres of music produced by 7,000+ broadcasters and others from over 150 countries. It even includes hundreds of talk stations. It pays royalties through ASCAP, BMI, and others.

 

Shoutcast.com is also known as AOL Radio. It offers thousands of free Internet radio stations from DJs and broadcasters around the world—over 40,000 in all, including talk stations. You can listen, while exploring other stations. You can search in real time to find your favorite songs and artists playing.

 

8tracks.com is an Internet radio site with handcrafted mixes of songs generated by members. Based on a law passed in 1998, it allows members to upload MP3 files into “mixes”, or mixed albums of songs that are played online. It is legal, and it pays royalties.

 

2) The Streaming Audio Website With Personal Profiles

 

There are two streaming audio sites with unique features that make them remarkable for finding new songs that you like:

 

Pandora.com is unusual internet radio that plays “only music that you like”. You enter a song, artist, or composer, and it creates a playlist that is based on characteristics of the song. This is not casual matching. It is based on hundreds of musical attributes or “genes” that capture the musical identity of a song. In this way, other songs that are similar in many ways will be found for you to listen to. It is a great way to discover new artists that you like. Do people like Pandora? At present, it is said to have 65 million registered users who spend an average of 10 hours per month on the service, half of that on mobile devices.

 

Last.fm is another music recommending internet radio website, but it is less sophisticated than Pandora. Site software called the Scrobbler helps you to discover more music based on the songs you play the most. It shows you what artists you listen to the most, and creates personalized radio stations for you. If desired, you can also download a version of the Scrobbler to your computer in order to play personalized music on your mp3 player or iPod.

 

3) The Creative Commons Music Website

 

Picking at the guitar.These are websites that allow you to download free music that has been specially licensed by the artist, often using the Creative Commons license. Basically, the artist is giving you a copy of his song or album free. Although this is unusual for name artists, many lesser known artists do this, often to help build a reputation. To find more websites, do a web search typing the phrase “free creative commons music”, or something similar.

 

Jamendo.com has free MP3s from artists who have chosen to release their music under a Creative Commons license. There are over 40,000 albums available for free and legal download on Jamendo.

 

AudioFarm.org allows artists to upload songs and anyone else to download them. It can be used to find new music and recordings.

 

FreeMusicArchive.org is an interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads.  The Free Music Archive is directed by WFMU, a freeform radio station.  Scroll down the page to see buttons for various genres.

 

Community Audio provides several collections of free music from the Internet Archive, a nonprofit corporation building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. The Archive houses thousands of songs, including early 20th century 78 RPM records.

 

PianoSociety.com offers free classical music uploaded by amateur and professional artists. To date, some 196 pianists have uploaded more than 5,000 recordings by 244 different composers.

 

A Final Thought

 

In this world of the internet we often forget the simple and obvious, so a final suggestion for finding free music is to visit your local library.  Most libraries have vast collections of CD’s that you can borrow and play at your leisure.  However, just because they are available for free doesn’t grant a license to copy them.

 

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