Remember the good ol’ days when you could download any song from any band for free on Napster? Those days are (sadly) gone, which is why I spent $20 in 8 minutes last week on two albums by a band that I accidentally stumbled on and immediately fell in love with (it was the Portland based, folk rock/indie band Horse Feathers, in case you’re wondering).
Now, I don’t regret the purchase. I’ve listened to these two albums obsessively since I bought them. And I love supporting small indie bands. But my monthly budget unfortunately doesn’t allow me to spend $20 every time I find a band I like.
That’s when I turn to the Internet, where there are plenty of resources online to hear your favorite bands for free. You just have to know where to look.
Pandora is an Internet music site where you can create customized radio stations based on your musical taste. The site is part of the music genome project, which means it uses complicated algorithms to find songs or bands similar to one you tell the site you already like.
For instance, one of my favorite bands is Simon and Garfunkel, so I created a station around that band. Pandora plays plenty of Simon and Garfunkel on that station, but they also play Led Zepplin, the Beatles, Elton John, Bob Dylan, and other similar music. The site is unique in that you can tell it which songs you don’t like, and which you do, which further customizes your station.
You can listen up to 40 hours per month for free, or you can buy a yearly membership for $35 and have unlimited listening. The only annoying aspect to Pandora is the ads (which is how the site is supported). Every ten minutes or so, you have to listen to a commercial. But if you buy a membership, you get to listen ad-free.
Grooveshark is another free listening site that’s unique in that you pick every song you listen to. You simply type in the name of the band you want to hear, and create a playlist of songs that start streaming.
What I love about Grooveshark is that once you type in the band you want to hear you can go to the Playlists tab and see the playlists of other users who put that particular band on their list. The idea is if these people like your favorite band, then you might like other music they’re also listening to. This can expose you to some great new music you might have never heard of.
Last.fm is a cool site that helps you easily discover new bands based on music you already love.
Now, this sounds simple but Last.fm takes it to a whole new level compared to Pandora and Grooveshark. They have stats so you can see how many people are listening to a particular band (and a graph to show trends), they have all their YouTube videos in one place, they have band bios, they have charts touting which songs are most popular, and many other features that are too numerous to list. Bottom line? It’s impressive, and a really fun way to wile away a cold Sunday afternoon – especially if you have the winter blues or are suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
The biggest benefit to Last.fm is the ease of finding new bands that the site recommends. I have found some great new bands thanks to this site’s recommendations. Of all the online listening sites I believe Last.fm to be the best way to discover and listen to new music. And yep, it’s 100% free.
If you’re into Internet Radio, then you’ll love Shoutcast. The site works as a directory for all Internet radio stations.
So if you’re craving Swiss radio, or that NPR station from Butte, Montana, Shoutcast is where you’re going to find it. There are some really cool, unique and weird stations here. Live, streaming polka, anyone?
Other Ways to Save
Where else can you get cheap or free music downloads or CDs?
- Your library – Many people forget their public library typically has an expansive – and free – music collection.
- Your local coffee shop – Seek out indie bands that are just starting out. Go see them live and you’ll probably score a free demo album.
- Make your own – Heck, a harmonica is $4. You can pick up used instruments for relatively cheap at garage sales. Why not learn how to play your own music?
What about you? Do you know of a great online music site you’d like to share?