How to Get Good Free Music, or, How To Pay as Much for Your Music as Emily White Without Breaking the Law

Well, with a few more weeks of not-blogging under my belt, I return with a topic very dear to my heart: good, free music.  Truth be told, there isn’t much of it out there, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any.  And while I’d never claim to be an expert on the matter, I do feel that what I do know about it could easily be helpful to others who want to find good, legally free music for themselves without having to go to all the trouble I have in order to find it.  This post will also touch on some other things which might be useful to learn about- for example, why it is important to pay for your music (hint, hint, Miss White), why you should pay for actual CDs, and how to use targeted advertisement to your advantage, rather than just doing away with it altogether.

Now before proceeding, I suppose I should explain to my less internet-aware readers who the Emily White I’ve been mentioning is.  The Emily in question is a young NPR intern (or she was, when she came into the public eye), who caused quite a splash back in June when she publicized her less-than-legal methods of filling out her music library on the NPR blog All Songs Considered.  Her rather controversial article, which essentially promotes theft of music created by hardworking musicians, received widespread backlash from people involved in the industry as both consumers and producers, and I also wrote a brief response of my own about why I appreciate CDs.  However, my ultimate issue with White’s stance is not a matter of preference- it’s a matter of ethics.  Let me make clear from the get go that I do not in any way condone, support, or recommend pirating in any way shape or form.  This includes both “borrowing” CDs from friends (or in White’s case, occasionally  employers) and making personal copies and downloading from third party sites.

Now: onto the free music, and where and when it is legal.  You can, of course, stream most music that is produced nowadays in part (on iTunes) or in whole (sometimes on iTunes, but also on artist-sanctioned sites like Spotify, Slacker, Pandora, MOG, Bandcamp, or ReverbNation, and increasingly, on the artists websites), but if you’re hoping to actually own some free music, you’re bound to discover what I and many others have: there isn’t much of it out there, not legally, at least.  However, iTunes gives out free singles from popular artists once a week, and if you live in a country which is bilingual (like Canada!!) you can often get one in both of the national languages.  iTunes also collaborates with Starbucks to give out free songs, often every other week, alternating with some great apps and the occasional movie rental or TV episode.

The bulk of the free music to be had comes from the artists themselves.  Many fledgling artists give their songs, and even whole albums, out for free, digitally.  (Free music of this variety, with a few exceptions, makes up the entirety of the exclusively digital stuff in my collection, but more on that in a minute).  Some choose to submit their stuff to Blalock’s Indie Rock Playlist (or to other similar sites), a playlist of roughly one hundred songs by various fledgling indie musicians and bands which is released once monthly, along with the occasional extra mixtape and free song throughout the month.  To be honest, I don’t download BIRPs often, as finding music this way is something akin to digging through shit for sweetcorn, and I can usually distill the hundred some odd tunes down to a choice twenty to forty.  Still, everyone’s taste is different, and the playlists tend to accommodate many different musical styles and preferences, which means that there is reliably something good there for everyone (with the exception of my parents, who don’t generally like post-modern indie music, along with most of their generation).

Other artists give their music out more directly, on their websites, via email, on facebook, or on third party websites like ReverbNation and Bandcamp.   Here is where knowing how to use targeted advertisement to your own benefit is important.  While some of us (ie- people like me) might have the time to web surf or peruse the dwindling number of record stores in our area for new musicians, others are either to busy or don’t feel like searching for new music is a valuable way to spend their free time.  If this is you, or even if it isn’t, targeted advertisement can be a valuable ally, even if you (like me), are generally not a fan of ads.  Facebook happens to have targeted advertising down to an art, so it’s Facebook that I’d recommend using to find new music.  Log on, just once, and mentally go through your favourite artists, “liking” their official pages as you go.  You’re killing two birds with one stone here: if you’ve liked the official page (if the artist has one), you’ll find out about nearby concerts on your home feed, and you may also learn about free music they’re giving out.  You’re also letting facebook know what kind of music you like.  Now go through the advertisements on the sidebar.  Remove all the ones which aren’t about music, and mark them as “uninteresting,” or if you feel strongly about them, perhaps “offensive” or “against your views.”  The ads that appear after this will often be about new independent musicians and will often mention free music as an incentive for visiting the page.  Some of the stuff that shows up will be pretty poor in quality, but a lot of it won’t be.  I found out about a couple of my new favourite musicians this way- you can see their stuff here: David Stone’s Youtube, and Love Come Save Me (McHugh).  McHugh is still giving out his entire digital album for free, and it’s phenomenal (in my opinion, at least).

Also, if the artists you learn of are on bandcamp, they may link to “music you might like,” which is often by artists they know who are at roughly the same stage in development and production/ recording.  If the artist you enjoy is giving their music out for free, the other band may be also.  I found out about another new favourite this way- Catamaran (their demo album is still free to download).  Bandcamp is also generally a treasure trove of free music, if you’re willing to poke around for a while.

Finally- a note on why you should be buying CDs: it’s good for the economy.  Capitalism only works if people are paying for the things they feel are worthwhile.  The more music that is purchased, the more that can be produced.  Supply and demand only works when the people demanding things are willing to pay for them.  And why CDs rather than digital albums?  Those CDs support more laborers.  Roughly the same amount of money gets back to the musician as it does from an iTunes sale, and more of the money supports producers and factory workers, rather than going into a corporate budget that pays for advertising and the creation of new products.  Essentially, by purchasing CDs you are making capitalism a viable economic system.  By purchasing digital albums, you’re paying less money, but you’re supporting mega-corporations that care more about their continued success, rather than that of the entire human race.  And while CDs do support other large corporations, these are often smaller in size (while still supporting more employees) and there are a lot more of them competing for sales, whereas Mac currently holds the corner on digital music sales.  Of course, buying individual songs through iTunes is a great choice if all you want is the one song, but if you’re looking for an album, please consider buying a physical copy.


About Helen (etaunknown)

An undergrad at the University of British Columbia, studying Anthropology and all the kinds of history they didn't teach me in school (concentrations in Indigenous and Environmental History(s)), my blogs are mainly places where I talk about academia, travel, and writing. I've been blogging in one form or another for the last 7 years, from angsty teenage poetry (no, I won't link you to that particular blog) to thoughts on religion, books, music and academia. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and while I use my two main wordpress blogs as places to post a lot of my writing, I'm also busily at work on a novel (or three), some longer narrative essays, some short stories and as ever, some poetry. If you want to know more, please email me at
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