Every Tuesday, Apple posts free songs on the iTunes Store, a no-cost—and legal—way to add more than 100 new tracks to your library over the course of a year. Unfortunately, you won’t necessarily
to add many of these songs to your library. But luckily, the iTunes Store isn’t the only way to legally obtain free music on the Internet. With a little effort, you can find music that won’t cost you a dime or get you in hot water with the RIAA.
When it comes to podcasts, most people think of news and talk programs. Yet many of these regularly updated Internet radio shows, which can be automatically delivered via iTunes, are excellent sources of new music. Whether your thing is jazz, rock, pop, electronic, or world music, there’s a podcast to suit your tastes. Better yet, you can be assured that any podcasts you subscribe to via the iTunes Store have had their copyrights cleared—so you won’t be receiving a subpoena for subscribing.
Finding new music podcasts couldn’t be easier. Log in to the iTunes Store and click on the navigation menu’s Podcasts link in the top left of the window. Then click on the Music link in the Categories box on the left. You’ll find the 25 most popular podcasts listed on the right side of the page. You’ll also see a New And Notable list of music podcasts across the top of the page; Apple handpicks all of these podcasts, as well as the podcasts in the Featured Podcasts list that takes up most of the page (see “iTunes Music Podcasts”). To view all the music podcasts available at the iTunes Store, click on the See All link in the top right corner of the Featured box. (To help you get started, I’ve picked a few of my favorite podcasts—see “Four Prime Podcasts.” below)
Music podcasts tend to fall into one of two categories: “song-a-day” podcasts and live podcasts. Song-a-day versions typically publish a new song daily (or weekly) and tend to be genre-specific, although some, such as NPR’s
All Songs Considered
, can be all over the map. Live podcasts tend to be updated less frequently, but they often feature a full hour of live music when they are. While some are also genre-specific, more are eclectic mixes featuring a variety of bands and styles, often recorded at radio stations or at live performances.
When you find a podcast you like, click on its Subscribe button; iTunes will start downloading new episodes. If you’re worried about podcasts taking up too much space, or if you want to make sure iTunes doesn’t delete your podcasts unexpectedly, you’ll need to set up iTunes’ podcast preferences. To do so, click on Podcasts in your iTunes Source list and then click on the Settings button at the bottom of the window (you can also go to iTunes: Preferences and click on the Podcasts tab). When the Pod-casts preference pane appears, you can choose how often iTunes looks for new episodes, what to do when it finds them, and which ones to keep. If you want to build up your collection, make sure that you’ve selected All Episodes from the Keep drop-down menu.
Just as not all podcasts are about news, not all blogs are about politics, tech-nology, or personal issues—many are entirely about music. Music blogs not only can deliver MP3s right to your desktop, but also typically feature write-ups of the featured artists and songs. Since many of these blogs tend to focus on a single genre or even one artist, finding blogs that appeal to your particular interests won’t be too difficult. A good place to start is
The Hype Machine, an MP3 aggregator blog where you can see tracks currently posted by bloggers all across the Web (you can see a few of my favorite music blogs in “A Bounty of Blogs” below).
With help from a newsreader application, you can ensure that all the newest entries from your favorite music blogs are downloaded every day, without your having to manually point your browser to the site. And you can set your newsreader to import any attached MP3 or other audio files directly into iTunes. Be aware, however, that while the best blogs tend to make an effort to post only legal music and to respect artists’ copyrights—sharing songs on artist pages or live tracks, for example—many others follow a post-now, worry-later philosophy. At the very least, MP3 blogs are a good way to discover new music that you can purchase later.
Other Internet sources
The Internet is loaded with free music just waiting for you to download. Despite the recording industry’s constant reminders that online music isn’t free, its member labels are actually some of the best sources for free music.
both put streaming tracks from many of their new artists online, while several smaller labels, such as
Sub Pop Records, post online MP3s, which you can download and add to your iTunes library.
The Internet Archive’s
holds a massive library of live music from hundreds of bands; these open-source tunes can be freely shared, thanks to Creative Commons licenses, public-domain recordings, and much more. Much of this music is available as MP3 audio, so all you need to do is download it and then drag and drop it into iTunes.
Another way to tap into a mother lode of free, legal music requires some special software called
BitTorrent. BitTorrent is designed for downloading large files, and it’s particularly useful for multimedia because it divides the task of distributing a file between many users, rather than using one central server. Many sites that host music now use BitTorrent to save on bandwidth costs. One such site, the etree.org
Community BitTorrent Tracker, is among the Internet’s longest-running sources of live music. On this site, you’ll find a very diverse selection of music, from jam-band The String Cheese Incident to punk-rock pioneer Mike Watt. Note that many of these files are available only in the lossless FLAC or SHN formats, and you’ll need a tool such as Scott Brown’s free
to convert them to an iTunes-friendly format.
You can find another large repository of legal tunes at
LegalTorrents; all the music here has been licensed by its creators for free distribution. LegalTorrents’ tracks are just as likely to be in MP3 format as in FLAC, and you’ll also find some WAV and AIFF files (iTunes supports both of these formats).
Streaming from Rhapsody and Napster
Have you ever wanted to hear a song just once, without having to pay for it or permanently add it to your library? If so, you may have a good reason to check out two iTunes competitors:
Napster. Although the music-library-management software for these two applications is Windows-only, and you can’t import tracks into iTunes, you can access the full music catalogs of both sites via the Web to freely listen to music on demand. Rhapsody requires a browser plug-in, while Napster doesn’t. However, both services limit your listening unless you sign up for a paid account. Rhapsody allows 25 plays per month, while Napster limits you to three listens per song.
Four prime podcasts
You’ll find a number of cool music podcasts on iTunes—here are four of my favorites.
IndieFeed: With modern-rock, electronica, hip-hop, and blues podcasts, IndieFeed has you covered no matter what your tastes are.
KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic: The podcast edition of Nic Harcourt’s long-running radio show from Los Angeles features live music in every conceivable category.
The Dead Show: For Grateful Dead fans, it’s all about the live experience. This weekly hour-long program from KOPN in Columbia, Missouri, will have you goin’ down the road feelin’ good.
fitPod.com fitMix Archives: Though you’ll find this in iTunes’ Health section of podcasts, it’s a great choice if you’re looking for workout music. With a steady tempo to set your pace, fitPod’s hour-long tracks keep you moving.
A bounty of blogs
Music blogs can be a great source of free music. These five will help you get started.
largehearted boy: Daily free and legal downloads from independent and unsigned musicians share space with some of the Web’s best music writing.
Said the Gramophone: Featuring everything from obscure Turkish folk music to indie Scottish pop, this venerable MP3 blog always serves up something delightful.
Honey, Where You Been So Long?: The epitome of a narrow-interest site, this cool blog focuses exclusively on pre–World War II blues music.
Here Comes the Flood: This site is all about the live music experience, with an emphasis on jam bands and classic rock.
Soul Sides: Passion meets professionalism at Soul Sides, where music writer Oliver Wang takes you on a tour of his favorite soul, hip-hop, and DJ-related tracks.
Mathew Honan writes about technology for the
National Journal’s Technology Daily
. He also keeps a
iTunes Music Podcasts: Music podcasts found at the iTunes Store come in genres to suit any listener.