Published on February 19th, 2011 | by Chip Copeland6
5 Websites for Free and Legal Music Discovery
Why bit torrent new music when you can listen for FREE and LEGALLY!
Now that people have figured out that you can monetize music online while offering it for free, services and websites are cropping up all over the place. Some are completely free while others are what they call freemium; a model in which they offer a feature limited or advertising supported version that costs nothing while you can upgrade with a subscription fee that get’s rid of the ads and unlocks new options. Face it – there are tons of options out there, luckily with so many choices you’re bound to find a flavor you like.
Add to that a growing list of iPhone and iPad apps and you have awesome music out there that costs you practically nothing! While not a full list of options, as there are many available, the following five websites are some of my personal favorites to check out new and emerging artists as well as established acts. Also, I tried to stay away from some of the larger and more well-known options out there (Pandora, Last FM, GrooveShark, Hype Machine, SoundCloud) and tried to stick with stuff you may not have heard of but bring something unique to the table when it comes to music discovery.
Some of the sites can also be valuable resources for bands and artists looking to get some exposure and connect with new fans; I listed these options when applicable. I’ll be covering some cool online resources for musicians with more depth in a future article.
[box]UPDATE: Since writing this a year ago, Daytrotter has moved to a subscription based model. You still get great content but at the low, low price of $24 a year.[/box]
If you’ve never been to Daytrotter then you’re really missing out on something special. The Horseshack Studios have been recording live sessions to analog tape from Rock Island, Illinois by both indie and mainstream artists since 2006 and have even been compared to the legendary John Peel Sessions. Some previous Sock Monkey Sound guests, such as Miles Nielsen and Local Natives, have recorded excellent sessions the likes of which are presented up to 7 times a week through Daytrotter’s website.
Features: Go to site. Search for a band. Listen to music. Read articles and look at neat art. Buy a t-shirt. Genius.
iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch App?: Hell yes! Hundreds of Daytrotter sessions available on the go whenever you want. It’s a solid and simple app that does exactly what you want it to do: play free legal music by a diverse selection of artists. Not sure if it’s iPad compatible but I know it’s awesome on both iPod touch and the iPhone. Download the app here for FREE!
Check out the Cameron McGill and What Army? session on the Daytrotter site or the Miles Nielsen session, both are great.
Why it’s cool: Live music, recorded to tape, for one; by group of great engineers and technicians. The site also has a personality largely based around Sean Moeller’s write ups about the featured artists and his gang of illustrators to which the site owes it’s unique and expressive look. All of this is really just a wrapper for presenting and educating it’s listeners about the artists as well as giving the artists an intimate setting to perform their material naked. The music that is, not themselves. You can lose yourself in this site if you’re not careful.
8Tracks takes the mix tape and brings it into the digital age (taking a que from the defunct Muxtape.com). Sign up is free if ads don’t bother you, otherwise you have to pay $25 every 6 months to remove them.
Features: The service is easy to use: upload 8 songs, add a cover image, a descriptio, and some tags and save and publish and BOOM!. There is a social element as well where you can befriend other users and like their mixes that they’ve created. You can then embed your playlists (like I did below) or you can keep them private and only share them to those who you provide a link to. As far as add ons go, there’s an unofficial Google Chrome extension that plays mixes full screen and a handy-dandy Mac Uploader with drag and drop functionality.
iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch App?: Not yet, but I’m sure it’s somewhere on the companies wishlist.
Why it’s cool: Digital Mixtapes you can share with people and they pay artist royalties through SoundExchange, an entity designated by the Copyright Royalty Board to collect and distribute compulsory royalties. That means that every time you play Mouth Full of Booze by Crankupmadonna in the player below, 8tracks.com pays SoundExchange, which is legally required to pay forward to the copyright holder.
[box type=info border=full] Ed note to artists: SoundExchange hangs onto the money but you must be registered with them to be paid royalties that have been collected. SoundExchange monitors many websites and streaming broadcasts on the internet, not just 8Tracks.com, so you may have quite a bit of money waiting for you already. CD Baby DIY Musician’s Podcast did a great podcast all about it that every musician should listen to.[/box]
Out of all the sites on this list thesixtyone.com is probably the most unusual in terms of how you find new music: you go on quests. The site uses game mechanics with music discovery in a way I’ve never seen before and awards you in the process by giving you hearts which you then use to distribute to artists you find while you’re questing. When you login you’re even treated to the same sound that rings when you receive a heart in The Legend of Zelda! Quests have titles such as If I Only Had a Heart, Playlist Boy, and The Reputation; most of the quests are fulfilled after you listen to a certain number of songs. By hearting a song you help to push it upward in the charts. The name comes from Highway 61, likening the journey of traveling down that road to search for new musical experiences.
Features: One of the strongest parts of the site is the UI (short for user interface) in which you’re greeted with an image of the artist that takes up the entire window of your browser. The site is graphically stunning and provides all newbies with a tutorial in how to play thesixtyone.com. You can heart, comment, share, make digital friends, and occasionally download the tunes you hear for free. You can also choose to not play the game an just listen and learn about the artists featured as facts and photos pop up in the browser. Many more features are available as well including channels for those who are stuck in their musical ways and the option to listen based on your mood.
iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch App?: If you’re an iPhone or iPod touch user you’re out of luck on this one. But iPad users are blessed with Aweditorium. Check out the video interview with thesixtyone.com co-founder James Miao below for a demo of the FREE application available in the iPad store.
Why it’s cool: You never know what you’ll find while questing on thesixtyone.com, I found Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, and you can have fun while doing it.
[box type=info border=full]I’m an artist, how do I get my music on thesixtyone?Click ‘login’ on the lower left hand corner, then ‘or join’. Specify sign up as an ‘artist’. After registering, goto the settings menu on the upper right and select ‘songs’. You can now upload songs by clicking on the ‘add song’ button. Be sure to specify background photos for each of your songs and for your artist page as well.(Directly from thesixtyone.com FAQ.)[/box]
If you live a busy life yet wish you had time to discover new music then mySpoonful.com is just the site for you. The beauty of mySpoonful is that 3 times a week you can head over to the site and check out a new independent artist of their choosing.
Features: mySpoonful.com has only been around for about a month or so but I’m sure they have some things up their sleeves in terms of more features in the next year. All the usual social sharing options are available but what drew me personally was the simplicity; go to the site and listen to some tunes and if you like it, download it for FREE. No subscription required, plain and simple. Or sign up for their Email newsletter and they send it straight to you! Eezy Peazy.
iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch App?: While their website is optimized for mobile devices, there are no applications at this moment. Like many of the music discovery sites out there that don’t have one, I’m sure that it’s in the cards somewhere down the road.
Why it’s cool: First and foremost, it’s ease of use makes it a worthwhile site to surf, it was just as easy to sign up for their email newsletter. While signing up for an email news letter can be a tricky proposition in some cases, the only thing I’ve received from them so far is tips on some cool music.
[box type=info border=full]Bands can also submit their music for consideration to be featured through Sonic Bids but there is a $10 fee associated with submissions, click here for more information on this. If your submission is rejected I think they refund the fee, but please don’t quote me on that though.[/box]
We Are Hunted dot Com stakes it’s claim as The Online Music Chart and provides a Top 100 list of artists. Rankings are not based on physical sales or online downloads but instead We Are Hunted monitors social networks such as Facebook and Music blogs (like Sock Monkey Sound!), message boards and forums, Twitter and P2P networks to determine what music fans are listening to. The site is simple, clean, and like thesixtyone.com uses visual means to display the music. Design wise, it’s a very slick, minimalist web browsing experience.
Features: Social connectivity and community building is a huge aspect to what We Are Hunted about, which makes a ton of sense based on how they rank the artists featured on the site. Interconnectivity is the bread and butter of this service and when you set up a profile you’re actually setting up your own Chart that you can then distribute to your Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm pages if you like. If you are a blogger you can submit your RSS Feed to We Are Hunted, which if I understand correctly, is added to their data stream that they use to aggregate the consumption of music on the web. The occasional download is available for free and the site uses SoundCloud.com to provide it’s content (a very, very good idea.)
iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch App?: The site is optomized for mobile and iPad use at this point but it deffinitely appears that their is some demand and development on this front. I’m sure whatever it is it will likely be a port of current mobile code, but I could be wrong. [box type=note]UPDATE: wearehunted.com and The Echo Nest have just released the Pocket Hipster app which berates your musical taste and suggests something to you that it likes better. It’s a little app that lacks some full features at this point but is still fun. The app is ¢99 and available for download here.[/box]
Why it’s cool: Unknown artists, mainstream bands, and indie artists sit side by side as you scroll through the charts. They also rank blogs as well as it’s users meaning that your Average Joe blogger or music fan could become quite influential in bringing a band to the masses. It’s similar, in it’s scope, to The Hype Machine yet it feels more open to change and shifts in current music trends – the chart changes everyday, giving you the chance to constantly discover new music.
If you have a favorite site that you would like to share please leave a comment below.