Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Download free music... legally

Summary: Discover and download free music without violating the law.

If there is such thing as a typical music preference of a typical computer programmer, it probably does not apply to me. Sure, I like Pink Floyd, but my musical preferences diverge from majority of popular rock/hard rock/etc icons. My favorite music genre is baroque (Bach, Palestrina, Vivaldi), but I also enjoy The Mamas & the Papas, Cesária Évora, Angelique Kidjo, Al Bano & Romina Power, ABBA, Leonard Cohen, Joe Dassin, Astor Piazzolla, b-tribe, Canadian Brass, Ivan Kupala, and other performers, who have little in common with each other. Within the last year or so, I have been discovering performance by the less known artists (at least, less known by me), such as The Puppini Sisters, Natalia Clavier, Lee Rocker, and Melody Gardot, and I really liked some of them.

If your interests in music are similar to mine, this is how you can find and enjoy new music; it's free and absolutely legal.
  • offers free MP3 downloads, but the list of songs can be overwhelming. You can use the navigation panel to narrow songs by genre:

    In addition to individual songs, also offers free albums. To find free albums, use the Sort by Price: Low to High option.

    Amazon normally offers high quality MP3 files (above 192 Kbps).
  • Podcasts
    A number of radio stations offer one-song-a-day podcast downloads, which are normally of lower quality (128 Kbps - 192 Kbps), but they should sound fine to most ears. Sure most of the downloads are crap, but occasionally, you may stumble upon a gem. There must be more podcasts available, but here are the ones from NPR that I like:
    MPR: The Current Song of the Day (RSS)
    KCRW's Today's Top Tune (RSS)
    KEXP Song of the Day (RSS)
    To download podcasts, you can use a device-specific program, such as iTunes or Zune, but I prefer a free, open-source program called Juice.

    Once you find a track that you like among the downloads, you can use an application like Mp3Tag to edit ID3 tags (you may also want to rename file names, because the downloaded files normally have cryptic names).
  • Use RSS tools
    You can automate the process of searching for free MP3 downloads across multiples sources using RSS tools, such as Yahoo! Pipes. The key is to subscribe to the right aggregation service. I would recommend the SlickDeals' Freebes and Hot Deals forums, as well as Front Page (each of these has a subscribe/RSS link). You can follow this tutorial (and this one) to set up a Yahoo! Pipe filtering only posts containing music-specific keywords, such as free, MP3, music, album, etc.
  • Keep your eyes (and ears) open
    Many vendors offer free promotional MP3s and CDs, some of which are not too bad. For example, I do not remember how I got it, but somehow I received a free Mommy Mix CD from Safeway.

    Being a promotional CD, I did not expect much from it, but it it ended up being one of my family's favorite music CDs (in fact, if it were available for sale, I would've bought it). So don't assume that promotional music is always crappy, some may surprise you.
See also:
How to Get Free and Legal MP3 Downloads from… Universal Music!?
Top 10 Websites For Free & Legal MP3 Music Downloads
The 3 Best Free Classical Music Download Sites
10 Best Websites to Find Legal Music