Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2010/ Three Free and Legal Music Sharing Sites

Three Free and Legal Music Sharing Sites

It took years of dithering, but I finally took the plunge. I finally deleted all -- most? -- of the illegitimate music files on my computer. By "illegitimate" I mean "music that was not freely given" -- music that the artists had not authorized for redistribution, and might not have been happy that I possessed.

This was not an easy decision. I am the type of person who listens to music over and over again, and I had grown to like much of the music I had purged. I have never been much of a music pirate; I had downloaded most of these files just before YouTube hit the scene; people would post MP3 files of their favourite artists on their blogs, and often I would download those tracks. (Now bloggers just embed YouTube links.)

I am going to miss a lot of that music, but it had to go. I care about open source software a lot more than I care about ill-gotten music, and given the way open source software is being rendered toothless in the Great Copyright Wars, I felt I had to pick a side. This doesn't mean I am an angel; there is other ill-gotten multimedia on my hard drive. But this is one step towards doing the right thing.

Does this mean I am now without music? Nope. In addition to the few CDs I own, some bands had made their music available for download on their websites. I consider such music "freely given", and it remains on my hard drive.

In addition, there are several websites that provide freely-given music free of charge, and which you can (mostly) feel good about downloading and sharing with others.

There is a lot to write about this topic, but here are three sites where you can find music that you can legally download and play for free. In addition to listing the sources themselves I am concerned about sustainability: is the site likely to stay up? Are artists likely to be compensated for their work? The answers vary, and you will have to decide what you are comfortable with when using the sites.

  1. Three Free and Legal Music Sharing Sites
    2. Jamendo
    3. Musopen
  2. Sidebar!

You might know as the home of the Wayback Machine, which archives snapshots of past websites. They also host Audio Archives, including the Live Music Archive and Old Time Radio Shows . The Live Music Archive consists of bootlegs of live concerts, some of which are redistributable (and some of which are not). There is a lot of good stuff here -- I have downloaded some fantastic Möxy Früvous concerts which I play frequently.

Why is this music freely-given? requests written permission from band members before hosting their shows online. I am not completely comfortable with this -- in the case of Früvous a single band member spoke on behalf of the defunct band. But I am mostly comfortable with the idea that music is freely-given if the performers are happy for their bootlegs to be redistributed. To their credit, has pulled music when the bands in question have withdrawn their consent.

Note that there is some music on that is in much more of a grey area: people encode their old vinyl records and upload them to . You will want to check the sources and licencing before downloading tracks.

One thing I like about is that (depending on the source encoding) they host music in non-encumbered multimedia formats like OGG and FLAC. That probably does not matter to you but it matters to me; open-source MP3 decoders are considered a legal grey area in the Linux world, and several distributions (Debian and Ubuntu among them) make you jump through hoops just to play MP3 files.

Is sustainable? It flabbergasts me that they stay up at all. Apparently they rely on funding from grants and user contributions . I guess this gives them enough money to host and stream the enormous amount of material they keep online.

Is good for artists? My impression is that it is not fantastic for artists. Artists don't get financial compensation for their work being online. Maybe some of the bands that are still in operation will increase their profiles and get merchandising dollars when they go on tour, but even this is not clear to me.


Jamendo is a French website that hosts Creative-Commons licenced music. Most of the music allows redistribution but prohibits other uses.

A lot of music on Jamendo is stuff that is cheap to produce in one's room. You will find a lot of electronica and hip-hop here, and not many symphony orchestras. Jamendo is refreshingly multilingual; if you like non-English hip-hop this is your place. The quality of the music varies widely, but there is some pretty good stuff online.

The music is as close to freely-given as you are going to get; the artists themselves upload their music.

Is Jamendo sustainable? The site has been online for a few years, which is a plus. It was set up with the idea of compensating artists for their work; when you download tracks you are given the option of making electronic payments to the artists. However, this scheme clearly does not work; even the most popular artists receive pitifully few electronic payments for their music.

In addition to PayPal links, Jamendo has some kind of commercial licencing program that allows companies looking for multimedia content to use music tracks in their commercial works. I don't know how well this side of the business is doing.

I would like to see Jamendo succeed, but I don't know that it has much future in an iTunes world.


I learned about Musopen from this post on the Ubuntu Tips and Tricks blog. Musopen releases public domain classical music -- both audio files and sheet music.

The Musopen people are monetizing their site aggressively. You have to sign up for an account to download tracks, and free users are limited to five tracks a day. Given that longer pieces such as symphonies are divided into movements, this limits how much you can download quite a bit. In addition the tracks available to free users are all lossy MP3s. In contrast, paid users can download more music, and they can get access to FLAC files when they are available. I have a free account (surprise, surprise) and I don't mind the track limitations that much.

I don't know much about classical music, so I am not sure what to think of the selection. The site lists an impressive selection of composers, but the offerings available per composer seem sparse, and I saw the same symphonies and bands producing many of the tracks. For example, I was unable to find Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" which I had heard the Orchestra@Uwaterloo perform a few years ago. That may be a fluke, but it looks as if Debussy (whom the Internet says is a pretty important and famous composer) is not yet well represented.

On the other hand, there appears to be a fair amount of music overall, and the collection is growing. (I kind of wish that more nonprofit orchestras would contribute tracks to the site, but that is wishful thinking.)

One of the most exciting things about Musopen is that the website uses some of the money it fundraises to pay performers, having them record works that can be released on the site. Musopen held a successful Kickstarter project to fund this. This is not an infinitely sustainable model, but it is a good way to help artists receive some money from freely-distributable music.