At the turn of the millennium, the once-mighty music industry suffered a devastating collapse at the hands of digital technology. Ever since The Great Unraveling, musicians have been forced to find alternative means to make ends meet, be it staring a small business, selling breakfast cereals, or judging talent competitions. Sad!
Thankfully, cloud-based music-streaming services like Spotify came along to fix the broken industry and make sure musicians get the financial compensation they deserve (or something).
But streaming services aren't a perfect solution. For example, sometimes a network won't be available—maybe you're underground in a tunnel or the zombie apocalypse has commenced and you're without any tunes.
Well, fear not, music-less wonder, there are plenty of places you can go to download songs to your local devices so you'll have access to them at all times. But what is this, you say? You don't want to pay for music? Good on you! Live that frugal lifestyle since it's only a matter of time before most humans lose the ability to make a living in an economy run by increasingly capable robots. Thankfully, there are a number of (legal) platforms out there where you can still find all manner of free music to download. Here are just a few.
The Internet Archive
Like the fictional "watchers" from Buffy the Vampire, the Internet Archive observes and records the Web as it changes over time. However, you might not be aware that it is also home to a vast virtual bounty of free media, including audio. If you head over to the site's audio archive, you'll find a rich library of downloadable and streamable sounds ranging from music to audio books to recordings of old timey radio programs. For music fans, the most intriguing audio section will probably be the Live Music Archive, which was put together in partnership with etree.org. Here, you will find a deep collection of live tracks from "trade-friendly artists" (i.e. jam bands) like the Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident, and Blues Traveler. Click on each collection and you'll find "download options" section in the right-hand rail.
Even if you don't use last.fm, you're probably at least somewhat aware that it offers music streaming. But even those who do use it may not be aware that it boasts a constantly updated repository of free downloadable audio goodies. Just check out its free music download section to see what's currently available. And the best part? It's all free and even accessible to non-subscribers. Last.fm don't care! Just download and forget 'em.
Against much bigger competition, scrappy little SoundCloud has become a major streaming music force, including its own subscription-based a la carte streaming service, SoundCloud Go. The free SoundCloud platform has become a favorite of independent artists and big names as a means to distribute music. Not everything on the site is downloadable, however many tracks can be grabbed. All you have to do is sign in (which you can do with an email address or via your Google or Facebook accounts).
Free Music Archive
I don't know if you were able to discern it from the site's name, but you can find a bevy of free music (almost a whole archive) to stream or download over at the Free Music Archive. Here you'll find a library of startlingly high-fidelity tunes "directed" by free-form indie radio station WFMU. The site has several curator sections if you are into a particular tastemaker's suggestions, or you can search by genre. All free, no sign-in required. Go nuts!
Google Play wants so badly to be a sprawling virtual media store and not just the place where Android users go to download free apps. Did you even know you could buy ebooks, emagazines, and even actual physical hardware (via the "Devices" tab) on Google Play?
While Google appears to have let up on trying to make the subscription-based Google Play Music happen, it is still maintaining its pay-to-download music store. Even after Apple killed its "Free on iTunes" promotion with the release of Apple Music, Google Play still offers free songs—you just have to dig a little.
Click on over to Google Play's music store, and search "free music " in the search bar at the top. (Ignore the entry for 1970s British classic rock outfit, Free at the top of the search results—underneath that you'll find a rich bevy of free albums and songs.) At the time of writing, I found a free EP by the Foo fighters and some free tunes from The Ramones, Shakira, Miles Davis, and Dave Matthews band.
Note: You won't be able to download these tunes directly to your local device as far as I can tell, but you can listen to them whenever you want online by going to Google Play > Music > My Music > Music Library or by going to the Google Play app on your Android device (no subscription required).
Jamendo is a similar platform to SoundCloud in that it caters to independent artists and their fans. The site allows artists to easily upload tunes and share them directly with fans—mostly for gratis. You can search by genre or artist to sort through the huge library of tunes available to download in mp3 format. It also has themed radio stations if you need a good starting place.
NoiseTrade differentiates itself from other download platforms geared for independent artists in that it asks listeners to trade something in return for downloads. In particular, you trade your email or street address (or Facebook account) to that artist in return for free tunes. In theory it's a symbiotic relationship since they want that info to let you know about upcoming releases or tour dates (which you, as a fan, would love to have). Fans even have the ability to leave a "suggested tip" with an artist—you know, compensating them using actual money. Crazy, right?
Is public domain classical music your jam? Well then Musopen is the free-to-download service for YOU. You can search by composer, performer, instrument, period, or form. All music is royalty free, so this is a good source for videographers and music teachers.