Jon Pareles of the NY Times put together an excellent list of resources for free, legit, digital music on the Internet – hey it’s the kind of thing big-time journalists are paid the big bucks to do:
The first and best place to look for any band with an independent recording is http://www.epitonic.com, a superbly organized site that is likely to have music from nearly everyone heard on college radio. It includes not only downloadable songs but also biographical information and links for hundreds of acts, grouped under genres and subgenres. And it has an invaluable “Similar Artists” feature that can direct fans of one band to dozens of potential new favorites. Within Epitonic’s huge roster is at least a song or two from some major-label acts, among them the New York band Secret Machines, the Texas band Sparta and the English bands Radiohead and Spiritualized. But independent bands like Bright Eyes or Godspeed You Black Emperor are every bit as good.
At http://www.webjay.org, music fans share their Web finds with the world. There’s no music on the site, just lists of links that allow users either to play entire lists or to download items directly one by one; it also includes links to videos and news sound bites. Webjay is something like the lists submitted by customers at www.amazon.com, but with connections to the music itself. As such, it’s only as good as the widely varied skills of its contributors, and its links aren’t always dependable. But it is a way for musical obsessives like bigwavedave to share his fondness for garage-rock or for OddioKatya to point listeners toward a wide assortment of Brazilian songs.
Before the Internet became ubiquitous, the Grateful Dead’s fans built up their own network to exchange concert recordings, a network that expanded as other jam bands sprang up. The logical extension of the process is Furthurnet (http://www.furthurnet.com). It is a peer-to-peer network that trades only recordings of bands that encourage listeners to record concerts: not just the Dead but Phish, Gov’t Mule, Dave Matthews Band, Los Lobos, Wilco and David Byrne as well. Users need to install a program available on the Web site. Most of the available concert recordings don’t use MP3 files, but a better quality audio format, SHN, which also requires some software installation. It’s easy; information on the site explains all the technicalities.
Another connection for jam bands is www.etree.org, which points listeners toward recordings stored online and is equally fastidious about high fidelity. Meanwhile, concert recordings of all sorts, from vintage 1960’s bootlegs to music only a few days old, have been traded at www.sharingthegroove.org, although the site is currently undergoing maintenance.
The Library of Congress
Through the years, tax dollars have supported researchers like Alan Lomax on excursions to collect music from every nook and cranny and tradition they could discover across the United States. The Library of Congress has made a considerable amount available free online. A place to start is the American Memory Collection (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/audio.html), with fiddle tunes, American Indian music, border music from the Rio Grande, Dust Bowl songs and more.
In 1987, the Smithsonian Institution bought the catalog of Folkways Records, which had set out to document every sound in the world and continues to support projects like a 20-disc collection of Indonesian music. Many of the Folkways recordings can be heard on the Web at http://www.folkways.si.edu, from “Classical Music of Iran” to “Creole Music of Suriname” to “Music of Indonesia Vol. 1: Songs Before Dawn.”
The Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org) has set out to preserve material that might otherwise disappear from the Internet, including Web pages, documents, books and video clips as well as audio, and it includes a Live Music Archive with more than 10,000 concerts via etree.org. Most are from jam bands, but there is plenty to choose from. (More than a million people have downloaded Grateful Dead music from the archive.) The archive also includes an assortment of other audio under All Collections, which has 131 songs from 78-r.p.m. discs, and more than 3,000 songs on what it calls netlabels, most of them releasing electronic music. Try the exotica-tinged selections from Monotonik.
The Internet Underground Music Archive (http://www.iuma.org) was a pioneer of free Internet music. It was founded in 1993 as a place for musicians to post their own music online, and it just keeps on expanding. Unfortunately, it is both overwhelming and overwhelmed; finding a good song requires extraordinary luck, and downloading it will take a while. Like the other send-it-yourself sites noted here, Iuma can make a user appreciate what record company scouts do.
Hopefuls face Darwinian competition at http://www.garageband.com, where musicians are encouraged to rate 30 songs before submitting one of their own (or pay a $19.99 fee instead) and other listeners are also assigned tracks to rate. The songs that rise to the top of the charts have a chance to be heard on Garageband’s radio outlets or collected on its compilation albums. Garageband demands original songs, not cover versions, and its top-rated ones tend to sound more professional, if not always more distinctive, than those at other mass upload sites.
The computer experts at CNet include an extensive selection of music among their software downloads at http://music.download.com. A vast bulk of the music is submitted by musicians themselves, so there are a lot of derivative sounds to wade through, but the well-organized site also includes worthwhile bands as Editor’s Picks, currently including Dios and Ex Models.
A huge site based in England, http://www.vitaminic.co.uk, offers tens of thousands of aspiring bands and a smattering of better-known acts, although brand-name bands like Franz Ferdinand tend to offer only streaming audio rather than downloads. But the site is well organized and also includes video clips from the likes of Nick Cave.
A European site where musicians can place their songs online, http://www.besonic.com has a slightly more international perspective than the other newcomer sites. Rankings and recommendations help visitors sift the material. Registration is required for downloading.
More than 76,000 songs are available at yet another site for aspiring musicians, http://www.purevolume.com, which is strongly weighted toward rock. To winnow the site, try the Pure Picks column or look under the category Music for Top Artists (Signed).
Musicians can also post their own songs on DMusic (http://www.dmusic.com). It helps users wade through more than 17,000 acts — an overwhelming majority categorized as alternative or rock — by listing DM Picks and by having users give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down and append comments. As with Iuma, most are amateur submissions, with plenty of jokes, but there are some enjoyable tracks scattered among the picks.
Dance-music experimenters dominate at http://www.smart-music.net, a selective site that draws its downloadable MP3’s from hard-to-find small labels. Dipping into the genres and subgenres of electronica, Smart-Music has about 300 songs available from (relatively) well-known groups like Mouse on Mars and Zero 7 as well as basement laptop obsessives, and a high percentage of them turn out to be worthwhile.
Slow, deep reggae bass lines are the foundation for whole families of dance music represented at http://www.ragga-jungle.com. It’s an outlet for amateur and professional producers and toasters (rappers), and the downloadable songs, available free after registration, include echoey dub-reggae vamps, sparse dance-hall productions and frenetic jungle tracks. Each track has ratings and comments, and quick streaming allows users to sample tracks before committing to a download. Contender for best title: “A Waste of Half an Hour of My Life, and Four Minutes of Yours” by the Archangel.
With so much classical music in the public domain, it’s a surprise that there aren’t more free downloadable sites offering it, although the length of classical compositions can make them inconvenient to download. At http://www.classiccat.net, it’s possible to search by composer, from Monteverdi to Messiaen. The selection is spotty and links don’t always work, but it’s a start.
Need some Indonesian gamelan music? On the Internet at http://www.asianclassicalmp3.org, a dedicated collector of Asian music has transferred recordings from cassettes to downloadable MP3’s. The site includes music from nine countries, including 28 minutes of gamelan music from Java.
The straightforwardly named http://www.iraqimusic.com is a resource for both the classical Iraqi improvisations called maqams and more recent Iraqi recordings based on traditional (and thus noncopyrighted) songs. “Sister Sites” provides links to other sites with Middle Eastern music.
A Brazilian record label, Trama (http://www.tramavirtual.com), offers about 10,000 MP3’s, primarily from local Brazilian bands. The site is in Portuguese and requires users to sign up, but after that, it is fairly easy to navigate. “Baixar” means download.
The Internet is home to countless obsessives. The ones gathered at http://www.micromusic.net make their electronic music from the sounds of the first primitive video games. Proud of what they can generate from eight-bit gizmos, they have placed hundreds of blipping, buzzing ditties online, garnering the attention of Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols’ manager, among others. Registration is required, but it’s a modest inconvenience on the way to tunes like “How Bleep Is My Love.”
Check them out, and good hunting.