8 ways to get your favorite music free

If you've been looking for an alternative to keeping all those MP3s on your computer or phone, try these services.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 19, 2011 6:04PM

This post is from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.

Earlier this month, digital music service Rhapsody announced it would purchase the other big, familiar name in the industry: Napster.

Remember Napster? Remember the lawsuits over illegal downloads -- and how angry the Recording Industry Association of America was about not being able to make money from digital downloads?

A decade later, many new brands are showing they've figured it out: They host the music themselves and offer it free, along with some ads (then offer a premium ad-free version with perks like unlimited listening on any device). In the video below, Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson takes a look at some of the most popular free services. Check it out, and then read on for details.

"Free" is music to consumers' ears. A recent survey by Insight Research Group found that 74% of respondents will stream music for free, but wouldn't pay for the service. (Spoiled by radio, aren't we?) It also predicts that only 14% will increase their use of paid streaming services, and that 39% will store their digital files in a cloud-based locker service so they can keep a personal collection and listen anywhere.


Jim mentioned two things that make these free services superior to the file-sharing methods of the past: They're legal, and they pay proper royalties to musicians. Here are eight options:

  • Online radio. Traditional commercial radio is still broadcast over the air, but it's often also available online. Just search for the station's website. This also means you can listen to stations you like from where you used to live, or that you might come across on a road trip. Want to really explore? Try Live365, which has been around as long as Napster and streams thousands of stations across 240 genres, with options to buy the tracks you hear. There's also RadioTower.
  • Pandora. One of the most popular music services (with 80 million users) allows you to find new music and create stations based on tracks or artists you like. Type in a name and it'll generate a custom playlist of music it thinks is similar -- although it will rarely play the exact track you requested. It works more like a smart radio service. You can tailor the stations by rating tracks up or down, and merging different stations or genres. The catches: audio and visual ads, a "skip" limit for free users (which can be circumvented by creating a new station out of a similar track), and the music stops after about a half-hour of inactivity, meaning you have to maintain some interaction with the website.
  • Jango. This service has a similar structure to Pandora (the selections get "smarter" based on your feedback) and is restricted similarly by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: You can't pick specific songs, and there are limits on how often certain songs or songs from certain albums play.
  • Last.fm. More social than the services above, this one lets you build a record of everything you listen to across multiple media players. Based on your record, it starts recommending songs to you. You can also search for music, but it can be a bit of a tease -- some songs only have a 30-second preview and others are just unplayable listings (pulled from others' music histories). In that sense, it's more of a recommendation service meant to expose you to new music, rather than a replacement for your digital media collection.
  • Spotify. The new kid on the block is making some noise, mainly because it lets you listen to exactly what you want to hear. (They spent years negotiating deals with the major labels.) On top of that nifty feature, you can create collaborative playlists, meaning your friends get to help pick the songs that play. The catch? After the first six months (once you're addicted) you can only listen to 20 hours per month for free. At that point, you'll have to pay $5 a month to get back unlimited access.
  • Turntable.fm. If that "collaborative playlist" feature sounds interesting, you'll want to check this out: You and your friends can take turns DJ-ing with music in Turntable's library or tracks that you upload. (Or you can listen to random people doing the same thing.) You can vote DJs up or down, and the bad ones miss a turn. You'll need a Facebook account to get started.
  • GrooveShark. This is similar to Spotify (and older, too) in that it lets you pick the songs you want and create playlists, but it has a more clunky interface. It's also similar to Pandora in that you can listen to genre stations without picking specific tracks or artists. You can upload your own music too.
  • Google Music. It's still in beta, but Google Music lets you port your own collection onto its servers -- one of the cloud-based locker services mentioned above. They also offer you some free songs you can keep, though there's an overall limit of 20,000 songs. For now, you can't re-download your collection, but you can stream it through any device with Web access. This is sort of like Apple's new iCloud, except it's free.

Have other recommendations, or want to share your pro/con experiences? 

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:


Oct 20, 2011 6:19AM

I listen to everything from Symphonic to Rock, from Beethoven to Rob Zombie, Opera, to whatever. 


For those who want to add legally free jazz tracks, go to Allaboutjazz.com. 


It has hundreds of free jazz mp3 tracks to download without any obligation to buy, but there are albums to buy there too.

Oct 20, 2011 8:13AM
Oct 19, 2011 11:53PM
hey now groove shark is pretty good at least its not play list where you always have to redo songs every time you turn around
Oct 20, 2011 11:15AM
Limewire and Frostwire were shut down by the government a couple years ago.  Limewire's disclaimer was that it was for "file sharing" and in order to use the site, you had to agree that you wouldn't share copyrighted content.  But everyone knows darn well what people really used it for.
Oct 20, 2011 1:31PM
the only thing that is not free are the blank cd 's you will never hear.   We have access to all the music, videos , ent.  but no time to enjoy it.   CD's are old school.   MP3 is the way to go.    SmileThumbs up
Oct 20, 2011 2:19PM
wtf are you talking about rb3868 mp3 is way better then cd. i have a better bass range on my mp3 then you can ever get out of a cd or vinyl and you can't thump vinyl because the frequency just wont support it meaning if turned to loud to make the speakers thump they don't thump they blow and or vibrate unnaturally. i know this because i use to have a record player and old school receiver.
Oct 21, 2011 2:26AM
I get my music fix, for free, while I surf the web via streaming FM radio.  Very few commercials.  My playlist consist of several 181 FM stations that play uninterrupted music from different eras, plus .977 the 80s channel, and Oldies 104.  I don't have to do anything but listen.  Switching stations is just a mouse click on the playlist on my desktop.  Works for this old guy.

Oct 21, 2011 1:16PM
How retarded can you be to think that vinyl sounds better than digital?  You're morons.  having music with a "SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHH" sound during the whole thing sounds better than an almost perfect reproduction of the studio recording?

Also your hearing is not good enough to detect the compression of most mp3s, its because you know its compressed you let that get to you, but in a blind "taste test" You'd fail to detect which ones were mp3s and which ones were 44.1kHz sampled.

That crap being addressed, hasn't music been free for the last decade for all computer literate peoples?
Oct 20, 2011 10:01AM
whatever happend to limewire or frostwire?  can people still use those sites to download whatever comes up?
Oct 20, 2011 4:23PM
vinyl is where it's at. Mp3's & CDs are crap. You can get them for cheap enough nowadays.
Oct 20, 2011 1:58PM
MP3 is fine if you don't love music.  it's compressed - which means a LOT of data is taken out - which means a lot of the music is taken out.  You lose dynamic range and many other things.  It's ok for some things - namely relatively simple pop songs - but for anything more complex than flavor-of-the-month music, give me CDs.  Or, better yet, vinyl
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.