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How to Spend Less on Music Downloads

By Sally Aquire

an ipodIf you regularly download music to your iPod or MP3 player, you will find that the costs quickly mount up. While some people turn to illegal downloading to save money, there are legal ways to get cheaper music downloads without having to resort to illegal methods. Here are some tips for spending less on legal music downloads.

1. Shop around

Most of my friends and family stick rigidly to iTunes for music downloads, especially if they’ve got an iPod. When I asked them why, only a few of them knew that you can buy music from elsewhere and still download the tracks to your iPod or MP3 player quickly and easily.

Amazon sometimes has lower prices than iTunes, and it is just as convenient to download music. Popular music can often be downloaded for $0.99, although some are a bit pricier at $1.29. As I write this post, you can currently download $0.99 songs from Lady Gaga (‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Telephone’), Ke$ha (‘Tik Tok’), The Black Eyed Peas (‘I Gotta Feeling’ and ‘Imma Be’), Miley Cyrus (‘Party In The USA’), Owl City (‘Fireflies’), Rihanna (‘Rude Boy’) and Justin Bieber (‘Baby’). [Note: I'm not necessarily a proponent of theses songs :)] For albums, prices vary, but they are usually under $9, unless it’s a deluxe album with extra tracks. Some albums are as low as five dollars. When you first download from Amazon, you’ll need to download their Amazon MP3 downloader to ensure that your purchased downloads are automatically transferred to iTunes. Then, they can be added onto your iPod. This is free and should only need to be downloaded once.

As well as generally being more expensive than its competitors, iTunes songs can only be played on an iPod or in the iTunes library, and you can only transfer tracks to other MP3 players if you burn the tracks to a CD, then import the CD into your MP3 software. Options other than iTunes are often more flexible in this respect. Amazon is just one example.

2. Take advantage of trial memberships

Some sites will offer a trial membership in which you can download songs for free or at a cheaper rate than normal until your trial expires. After this, you’ll be charged for all downloads, and these probably won’t be cheap in comparison to other sites, so your best bet is to cancel as soon as the trial finishes to avoid being charged monthly fees for a service that you don’t intend to use beyond the trial. For example, eMusic offers 25 free tracks as part of their 7-day trial membership, but they don’t include tracks from the big labels, so current chart music won’t be available here.

3. Seek out cheap membership options

Rather than charging you on a track-by-track basis, some music sites will charge you a membership fee and give you free reign to download as many songs as you like. Read the small print carefully before you give your payment details, because some of the sites with small membership fees will restrict how many tracks you can download before you’ll be asked to upgrade your membership. Using a site like Napster is a good option, because they only charge $5 per month for unlimited listening and five downloads per month. If you’re only going to be downloading a maximum of 10 tracks per month, SuperPass may be the better option, because you can download $10 worth of tracks for free each month.

4. Look for free downloads

For some songs, you won’t have to pay anything at all, because free downloads are available on some music sites. For example, Amazon offers free downloads in their “Special Deals” section, and this extends to albums too. These tracks will often be from unknown artists, and you’ll have a hard time finding songs from currently popular artists, but this can be a great way to find new music. Other sites that offer free songs include iTunes (which offers one free track per day), eMusic (which also offers one free track each day), and MP3.com (with free tracks from Ludacris, Vampire Weekend and Radiohead available as I am writing this post). Be aware that while you can listen to the tracks, you may not be able to keep them.

A Word of Caution

There are an abundance of music sites that allow you to download current songs and albums for free or for a maximum of around $1.50 per album, but I’ve chosen not to include those sites in this post, because they seem questionable. Most of these sites are based out of Russia (despite often having .com URLs) and they use some kind of legal loophole that means they don’t need to offer any cut of the profits to the artists whose songs they are selling. The tracks are often much lower quality than you’ll get on iTunes and Amazon, which is why they can charge so much less for the song. If you choose to use one of these sites, they rarely accept Paypal, so using a pre-paid credit card is the best option to ensure that you’re not handing over details of your main credit card(s).

(photo credit: DeclanTM)

Sally Aquire
Sally is a UK-based freelance writer. As well as personal finance, she also writes on health & beauty and lifestyle topics. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, shopping, hanging out with friends and generally making the most of her downtime!

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  • Emily D.

    I subscribed to eMusic for a while and was fairly happy. You pay around $12 a month and get 24 downloads, or something like that. It’s great for more underground music and discovering new artists- not good for things that are popular now. However, your credits didn’t roll over and I had a firm agreement with myself that the first month the credits weren’t used, I had to cancel immediately. So, I canceled last Novemeber- now I get emails saying you can roll over for one month so I may go back in a few months… when they offer enough free credits for rejoining :)

    • Sally Aquire

      Thanks for the insight, Emily! I’d heard that they’re no so good for current chart type track and your comment confirms that.

      • Emily D.

        It’s great for people who tire quickly of what’s played on the radio over and over :) I also like that there’s no locks or special formats on the files. I can transfer the songs to as many mp3 players or computers or cd’s as I want. iTunes file formats drive me crazy.

        • Sally Aquire

          iTunes file formats irritate me too so it’s good to know that eMusic don’t have that problem with their formats!

        • Liz

          I found that many of the popular artists ARE available at eMusic, not ALL, but many, which makes it worth the monthly rate, in my opinion(if you think you will download more than 12 songs a month). :)

  • gina

    I have compiled quite an ecclectic library of music from downloading free songs from the sites that you mentionned. I find that if there is often a wide range of music types available–classical, country, world, etc. It is a nice way to expand on your usual music choices.

    • Sally Aquire

      Sounds like a good way to broaden your musical horizons!

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Good post. iTunes always has a free song of the week, but nothing too popular. Rhapsody used to have a popular song every day for free, but that appears to have been long-since discontinued. Amazon is the defacto king of free songs at the moment.

    • Sally Aquire

      I agree about Amazon’s free songs. I don’t think I’ve ever taken advantage of any of the iTunes free tracks but I’ve downloaded one or two from Amazon.

  • http://earngivesave.com Andrew @ Earn Give Save

    Amazon’s mp3 deals are the best out there! They have a rotating selection of tons of albums for just $5 each. iTunes is great, but it can’t always compete with the discounts at Amazon!

    • Sally Aquire

      Amazon have got some great discounts at times!

  • http://toxic-shock.blogspot.com Shock

    Try legalsounds.com. No membership required. They offer music at per track prices like iTunes, but the price is right. You add funds to your account using your credit card and they don’t accept Paypal, so I’d suggest using a pre-paid or one time use credit card like Sally recommends. They carry current popular artists and chart tracks. I’ve used them for a couple years now and have been very happy. I’ve even sent album recommendations a few times and they contacted me back with a few weeks to say the album is now available on the website.

    • Sally Aquire

      I haven’t come across the site before but having just had a look, it looks very inexpensive and certainly much cheaper than iTunes!

    • Liz

      I do NOT recommend legalsounds.com, simply because they use a legal loophole that allows them to not forward ANY of the profits on to the artists! They are based in Russia, and so while it MAY technically be legal, it’s questionable. I emphasize “MAY” because I’m not entirely convinced that it is. If you live in Russia, it is, but you are buying it in the U.S., which, in my opinion, makes it subject to U.S. laws… Either way, whether “technically legal” or not, it’s not morally right, the music is being pirated to you. If you want to choose the pirated route why try to hide behind a Russian legality? Anyways, this is my opinion on the subject, you may or may not agree, but I wanted to submit it. I believe that trying to get everything for free while still expecting to get paid for everything you do is the reason the economy is so bad… it doesn’t work logically: why should everyone else pay YOU, but you not pay THEM?

      • Sally Aquire

        They sound like one of the sites in the caution paragraph of my post. I didn’t include any names as like you, I wasn’t entirely sure but this seems like it could be one of them from what you’ve said.

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Another way is to skip downloading altogether and just enjoy Last.Fm or Pandora. Or maybe go old school and listen to the radio! ;)
    However, these days I find myself listening to the many free podcasts available on iTunes much more than any song I’ve previously downloaded. And when I do feel the need to spend some money, I keep my eyes peeled for the elusive $2.99 full album downloads on Amazon.

    • Sally Aquire

      I often use last.fm when I’m at a computer but that and the radio don’t really allow me to listen to what I want at a precise moment in time so for that reason, downloads can be preferable.

      Do those $2.99 albums crop up very often on Amazon, and are they reasonably popular artists? I’ve never seen that deal personally so I’m curious!

      • http://madsaver.com Mac

        29 days late, but better late than never! In that time, I’ve found an even better online music service, Grooveshark (http://listen.grooveshark.com/). You can listen to ANY music you want, just type in the artist or song title and you’ll get to hear the entire song in good quality. If you want to download it, they provide direct links for iTunes or Amazon.

        As far as the $2.99 albums, no, they are rare…you’ll have better luck at the many $5 albums. But I follow the @amazonmp3 twitter feed which keeps me up-to-date on the deals available.

  • Henry

    OR you could learn how to use torrent websites, Google how to download LEGAL (or not) torrents safely. There are many classical songs, and old public domain movies, which are fairly easy to find, if you research what site to use. And if you don’t care about breaking the law most modern song and movies can easily be found on any torrent site. But keep in mind your being very evil, and thus run the risk of a 10$ fine per song/movie or the death penalty (In the U.S) Make sure you known fully what you’re doing and if its legal.
    And you’re set!

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