Free Music on the Web: Highlights

  • Free music is back!

    Remember the golden years of free music on the Web? Napster, that rebellious little upstart that could with its young founder and his ubiquitous baseball cap... ah yes, those were the days. Innocence. Youth. Quality MP3 downloads. Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) iPods that literally had a "scroll wheel" and a simple grayscale display screen. Those days will never be back, sorry about that. And yet, there is something of a freebie renaissance. Google launched a new music feature Thursday that gives users a quicker path to live streaming music resources on the Web. Here we take a look at some of the sites that are offering surfers a new way to jam. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Google Music?
  • Google Music?

    Google’s new music service allows you to search for music by artist, album or song title. It searches databases from content partners including Imeem, Lala.com, MySpace Music and Rhapsody. To our annoyance, for some songs it only lets you listen to the first thirty seconds, although of course you are given the option to buy and download the track. There’s another way to score free music using Google, though… Photo Credit: Google Music
    The Google secret MP3 "trick"
  • The Google secret MP3 "trick"

    Want to quickly find some MP3s of a favorite band? Type this into the Google search box: intitle:”Index of music” “Beatles” mp3 Replace Beatles in quotes with the name of the band you're looking for, I just used that one as an example. This advanced search trick will help you find even the most obscure of bands and singers. This method, it should be noted, will bring up MP3 files you can download (not stream) from various third-party Web sites—some of these files may be copyrighted. Photo Credit: Google.com
    MySpace Music
  • MySpace Music

    The MySpace Music portal is a totally decent starting place for "top 40" music fans. It includes exclusive interviews and video clips from top singers, such as Taylor Swift and Kings of Leon. Searching for popular artists also yields a surprising number of available songs for instant free streaming, and we like the fact that MySpace Music publicly provides the number of "plays" for each song as well. (On the Bob Marley Exodus 30th Anniversary Edition album, for example, it is enlightening to know that "Natural Mystic" has been streamed 225,710 times, while "Waiting In Vain" has been streamed only 12,317 times so far.) Photo Credit: MySpace.com
    Pandora
  • Pandora

    True music lovers will dig Pandora Radio. The free Web site, and popular iPhone app version, work something like this: you search for an artist or song you want to hear. If available in their library, you will begin listening to one of that artist's songs (hopefully the one you requested)... so far, pretty standard, right? But what makes Pandora revolutionary is that it crafts a personalized Internet radio stream, playing for you other songs that "match" your taste. Example: I recently searched for "U2" on Pandora's engine. It said it had created a customized playlist for me with groups possessing "musical qualities similar" to U2. This way, not only do I get to hear a few of my favorite U2 songs, but later on I get exposed to bands I may not have heard before. It is surprisingly good at predicting what you'll like; this is one Pandora's box that is safe to open. You can improve its effectiveness by voting on songs you hear. Tell it which ones you like (thumbs up) or hate (thumbs down) and it will fine-tune its playlist for you. Photo Credit: Pandora.com
    Dizzler
  • Dizzler

    Dizzler describes itself as a "free downloadable application allows users to search online and play free music, videos, games, and radio stations on their desktop or mobile device." The Web site is easy enough to use and searches for major artists returned quality results. We especially like the useful "lyrics" feature; click on the icon to access a text Webpage with the song's exact lyrics. Dizzler's legality? "You are searching and streaming free content. Dizzler does not pirate or inappropriately use private or secured property. We do not have nor do we host a private database or collection. We have no affiliation to the content or its host. Dizzler is a search engine," the company explains. Check out our in-depth article about Dizzler. Photo Credit: Dizzler.com
    Last.fm
  • Last.fm

    The Last.fm service has a lot in common with Pandora. You start by giving it a song or band, it plays that for you initially, and then it guides you on a magical musical journey of similar artists and songs it thinks you will enjoy. Like Pandora, it streams the songs and allows you to skip to the next selection if you get a dud or two. How does it stack up? Well, based on an initial test search for Imogen Heap, Last.fm's engine made the fatal mistake of suggesting Tori Amos to me. Not a huge fan. It picked a few more artists I don't care for, and then came across a popular Jem song ("Finally Woken") that was a bit more of a reasonable match. Overall, I found its suggestion engine a lot weaker than Pandora's. It seems at times like it doesn't know what I want at all. But the interface is superior: it runs a visually appealing slideshow of the artist's photos and provides biographical information as you listen. We also like their weekly artist and track charts section so you can see what is most popular on their network. Photo Credit: Last.fm
    DI.fm
  • DI.fm

    This one caters mostly to fans of the "electronic dance" genre, but has branched out into related genres... Live streaming online radio channels currently include Disco House, Dubstep, Classic Trance, Chillout, House, Lounge, Euro Dance & more. The regular streaming service is free; a premium version costs between $3.95 to $5.95 per month -- it features higher audio quality and 100% commercial-free programming. Photo Credit: DI.fm
    Grooveshark
  • Grooveshark

    We love Grooveshark. The interface is totally slick and it took me approximately 15 seconds to go from loading the site to playing the song I wanted for free, without any registration. As a test, I searched for "Kanye West" -- several of his recent albums were immediately available for streaming, complete with accurate album art and the ability to build a custom playlist that I could then save by signing up for a free account. Sound quality was good and the songs load fast. No waiting or progress bars. All of this is supported by an ad region on the right hand side of the page, which can be nixed for $3 per month... but I hardly even noticed it. Photo Credit: Grooveshark.com
    MP3.com
  • MP3.com

    If you're looking for a particular independent, unsigned artist then MP3.com could be a good place to go. We were underwhelmed by the lack of mainstream artists available for free streaming or download, though. Their podcast section presents free interviews with rising new acts in search of more fans. Fun for a browse, but probably won't satisfy your audio hunger. Photo Credit: MP3.com
    Who wins?
  • Who wins?

    Which service did we enjoy the most? Grooveshark hands-down wins this round. The slick interface will remind users of Apple's iTunes program, except this one is entirely browser-based. The selection was truly incredible and there was no registration required (and no money exchanged hands, although they offer an advertising-free version for $3 per month). We wondered if a free service this good was an underground operation, but at least according to their company information page, this is far from a one-man shop: "We have a team of 40 passionate employees who wake up daily to live and work for the music, but what we're really about is simple: you. We want you to help us grow, get better, and help us help the music. It's the one thing we can all agree on." Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Will these sites be shut down?
  • Will these sites be shut down?

    It has certainly taken long enough, but it seems like the recording industry is finally wisening up: people don't want to buy CDs, but that doesn't mean there is no money to be made from emerging online distribution models. The industry's once draconian aversion to anything digital has given way to greater flexibility, and patience. They know there's money in there somewhere. And, perhaps on some level record industry executives realize technology will always be one step ahead anyway: people will get their favorite songs without paying upfront. So you might as well become a part of that process and capitalize on the advertising revenue. According to The New York Times, "Analysts say record companies have agreed to reduce licensing costs slightly in recent months, with the typical going rate dropping to about 0.8 cent a track from 1 cent a track. The labels are also striking different kinds of agreements, insisting on equity stakes in some cases, or a share of revenue from advertising or subscriptions, in an effort to ensure that they benefit from the growth of the new services." Streaming sites only play the song for you, just as a traditional radio station does -- you aren't actually downloading the song file and taking it with you for use at some later date. This allows some of them to operate in a grey area, but it is unclear whether the major streaming sites will remain in business: every time you listen to a song, they are potentially losing money, either in licensing fees or in bandwidth costs. (This is why many of these services are desperate to get you to join their "premium version" -- and it's also why they encourage you to buy the actual song. The more revenue streams, the better.) In the meantime, though, truly free music without any hassle on the user's end sounds a lot like music to our ears. I'm sure the business model will work itself out... eventually. Photo Credit: Getty Images
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