3 Ways to Listen to Free Music Online – Downloads, Streaming & Radio
Back in the day, there were only two ways to listen to recorded music: You could turn on the radio and hear whatever song happened to be playing on your local station, or you could go down to the record store and buy a copy of your favorite songs on a vinyl disc.
Today, all this sounds terribly quaint. While it’s still possible to buy physical recordings on CD or vinyl, their sales are now outstripped by digital downloads, according to a report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). And Nielsen, a major consumer-research firm, reports that even sales of digital music downloads are on the decline, as Americans get more and more of their tunes through music streaming services.
All this technology hasn’t made music any cheaper though. According to Nielsen, the average consumer now pays $109 per year to listen to music. Live music accounts for about half of that, so that means about $55 per year goes toward music recordings, downloads, and streaming services. However, savvy consumers can get most of their digital music for free – leaving more money in their budgets to enjoy a live concert or two.
Streaming services are arguably the most popular way to listen to music. With a streaming music service, you don’t own the songs you play, but on the plus side, you’re not limited to the number of tracks you can fit on your phone or MP3 player.
The RIAA identifies three main sources through which you can stream music: Internet radio stations, subscription services, and non-subscription sites that play tunes on demand. However, some streaming music sources, such as Spotify, blur the boundaries between these categories.
Internet radio stations work the same way as old-school radio: They select songs, and you listen to whatever pops up. However, instead of having just three or four stations in range to choose from, you can choose from a huge list of specialized stations that suit particular musical tastes. Also, if you hear a song you really can’t stand, you can just skip it – something you can’t do when you listen over the airwaves.
Some services take this customization to its logical extreme by creating personalized stations to fit a user’s tastes. Instead of a live DJ choosing which tune to play next, algorithms select songs for you based on which artists and music you say you like.
The majority of Internet radio stations are paid for by advertising, although some let you upgrade to an ad-free experience for a small monthly fee. Also, paid versions of streaming services let you skip songs more frequently – users of free accounts are generally limited to six skips per hour.
A subscription streaming music service is like a library filled with songs that users can check out, but not keep permanently. Most subscription services pay their bills by charging a fixed monthly rate in exchange for unlimited listening. However, many of them also offer free accounts that are funded by advertising.
Some streaming music services don’t have free, ad-sponsored versions, but they do offer free trials. These give you a chance to test out the service and decide whether it’s worth coughing up the cash for a monthly subscription.
Some sites don’t require a subscription to stream music – you just go to the site, pick a track, and listen. For instance, on YouTube you can type in the name of just about any song and find a video version of it. Some of these are posted by the artists themselves, some are amateur videos created by fans, and some have just the music accompanied by a blank screen or lyrics. A search for the popular song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor turned up Trainor’s official video, a live performance of a jazz cover version, and numerous fan-created videos and parodies.
YouTube is a good place to find that obscure song you heard years ago – even if you aren’t sure of the name of the song or the artist. Just type in the most prominent line from the song and let YouTube’s search engine do its thing. Using this method, I successfully tracked down two old novelty songs: “Put the Lime in the Coconut” by Harry Nilsson and “Right Said Fred” by Bernard Cribbins.
In the age of the Internet, it’s very easy to download music illegally. However, if you prefer to keep on the right side of the law – and support your favorite artists and the music labels that support them – you need to dig a little deeper to find free music downloads that are also legal.
Even in the brave new world of digital media, there’s still room for the old-fashioned kind. In fact, according to the same Nielsen report cited above, old-school radio – over the airwaves – is still the primary way listeners discover new music.
Far from killing off broadcast radio, the Internet has revitalized it. A couple of decades ago, you could only listen to your favorite radio station when you were in range of its antenna tower – which made it hard for smaller stations with less power to compete. Today, as long as you have an Internet connection, you can listen to any radio station that has a live web stream. For example, if I want to listen to my local NPR station, WNYC, instead of fiddling with the radio knobs trying to tune it in, I can just type “WNYC.org” into my web browser and click “Listen.”
The Internet can help you discover new radio stations as well. At TuneIn, you can find and listen to Web streams from more than 100,000 radio stations around the world, searching by location or musical genre. Sports, news, and talk radio are also available, and the site can create a personalized feed for you from your favorite stations. In addition to its website, TuneIn is available as an app for iOS or Android devices, and you can listen at home via Sonos, Smart Radio, Roku, or Samsung TV.
IHeartRadio is another site devoted to traditional radio. You can search it by location or genre, as you do with TuneIn, or use the “Perfect For” feature to find a suitable station for a specific activity or time of day. The site can also give you access to podcasts and build a Pandora-style custom station based on specific songs or artists you like.
Despite all the Internet has to offer, digital music may never entirely take the place of physical recordings. In fact, there are even signs that the old-fashioned record store is making a comeback, with Nielsen reporting “record-setting growth” – no pun intended – in sales of vinyl LPs.
The world of modern music isn’t so much about digital versus analog, or recorded music versus streaming, or custom radio versus curated stations. Rather, it’s all about choice. Music lovers today have more options than ever for listening to music exactly the way they want – and thanks to the Internet, they also have plenty of options for how much they spend on it.
What’s your favorite way to find new music?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
3 Ways to Listen to Free Music Online – Downloads, Streaming & Radio
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