Where to download free music

Finding and downloading new music doesn't have to be expensive; many great artists have chosen to make their work available to download free, if you know where to look. Here we've picked the five best providers of free music downloads – all totally legal and above board.

It’s important to note that although artists have chosen to distribute their work for free on these sites, the music is still protected by copyright and mustn’t be distributed in any other way unless clearly stated otherwise. If you find something awesome, just share a link to the artist’s profile and everyone wins.

The sites below are our top choices for free music, but some of the big online music stores also offer free tracks to download. Take a look at Amazon's free music selection and Google Play's free song of the week if you can't find exactly what you're looking for here.

1. SoundCloud

SoundCloud is a brilliant place to discover and download free music, with a brilliant tagging system that makes it easy to search by genre. Not all tracks are available gratis, but you might be surprised how many are.

When you find a track you like, look at the bottom beside the various sharing options and you’ll see a link marked either ‘Buy’ or ‘Download’, depending on how the artist has chosen to distribute it. When you download a track, you will automatically begin following that artist, but you can unfollow them any time if you change your mind. You might also be prompted to like the artist’s page on Facebook.

You can only download tracks individually, not whole playlists. Downloads are provided in MP3 format.

2. Last.fm

You're probably familiar with Last.fm’s music streaming service, but it also provides tracks to download free.

The free downloads section is tucked away behind a little link at the bottom of the homepage, but once you’re there you’ll find a great variety of songs from both small indie outfits and well known artists.

Unfortunately there’s no way to filter or sort the downloadable tracks so you’ll have to spend some time browsing through, streaming and previewing to find what you want, but this is no bad thing if you’re looking for something new.

All free music is provided to download in MP3 format.

3. NoiseTrade

All the music on NoiseTrade is free to download, with one caveat: the ‘trade’ in question is your email address and postal/ZIP code, which will be used to distribute newsletters and to let artists see where their fans are located.

NoiseTrade's design is clean and clear, with an intuitive tagging system to help you find new music in a similar style to one of your current favorites. 

NoiseTrade is free for musicians to use, and you can give your favourite new discoveries a tip to support their work.

It's not just music either; NoiseTrade also offers books to download on a huge range of topics in both EPUB and MOBI formats.

4. Jamendo Music

Like many free music download sites, Jamendo Music is all about connecting fans and artists – helping listeners find new tracks to enjoy, and  giving musicians a platform to reach new audiences.

Jamendo’s themed radio stations are one of the easiest ways to find songs you’ll enjoy. To grab the track that’s currently playing, just click the small download button in the toolbar at the bottom of your browser window.

You don’t need an account to start listening and downloading, but features like track skipping are only available if you sign up. Music is provided in MP3 format.

Jamendo Music isn’t just a brilliant place to download free music for your own enjoyment, it’s also a superb resource when you want a track to use in a video. Using music in videos can be an intellectual property nightmare, but Jamendo is a superb place to start. Music from Jamendo isn’t free for use in videos (it’s how the artists earn a crust), but there’s a choice of licenses, all explained in plain English, starting at US$9.99.

5. Bandcamp

Bandcamp is chiefly a way for independent artists and small labels to get their own storefront, find new audiences and earn a living from their work, but some have chosen to make tracks available to download free. Just search for ‘free download’ to discover tracks to download on a name-your-own-price basis.

Bandcamp looks great and is a pleasure to use; it's what MySpace aspired to be but never achieved. Each artist has a custom page featuring a biography, discography, song previews, and reviews – all high quality and genuinely useful.

For finding new music, check out Bandcamp's tags. Not only can you look for tracks in a particular genre, you can also narrow down your options by location. There's a heavy focus on the UK and US, but you'll find a decent selection of music from Asia and continental Europe too.

Tracks are downloaded in MP3 format, and you can choose to receive email updates from the artist if you like.