The VH1 Rock Doc Downloaded gets it’s public premiere this Thursday (that’s the 12th!) steaming on AOL. It’s a fitting debut for Alex Winter’s film that chronicles the rise and fall of Napster, the infamous high profile peer-to-peer internet music sharing service. Although extremely controversial due to the thorny questions it raised about ownership and copyright, there’s no denying that the site placed a major cultural role and was an important technological stepping stone.
In the twelve years since a barrage of lawsuits shut it down, music sharing on the internet has gone from being just for “pirates” to a major business. There’s no shortage of sites where one can steam (or in some cases download) music of every conceivable variety, all to your heart’s content. We’ve got the mysterious-yet-epic “Daisy” project from Beats on the horizon, the brain child industry titans Dr. Dre, Trent Reznor and record exec Jimmy Iovine. Napster’s back -this time as a streaming site and MP3 store- and now even BitTorrent is going legit as a legal file transfer site. We’ve come a long way in music sharing since the first steps taken by Napster more than a dozen years ago. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to rock out for free (or very little money) on the web!
History: Since going public in 2005, this site has become the authority on hip hop mix tapes, featuring collections by stars like Rick Ross, 50 Cent, Lil Kim, Meek Mill and Drake.
Why It’s Good: You’re able to download a huge number of pro (and amateur) mixtapes for free, without even having to register. A great way to discover new music, and also see what you’re hip hop heroes are listening to.
History: This one comes to us from the good folks over at New Jersey’s own WFMU, the longest-running freeform radio station in the country. Inspired by Creative Commons, all of these genre-spanning 60,000+ songs have been pre-cleared for certain types of fair use. In addition to this, the site also provides a forum for artists to post their own content.
Why It’s Good: All of the audio has been carefully selected by pro-curators from some of the finest radio stations in the country, showcasing rare tunes that had previously been unavailable. Because much of the music has been pre-cleared for copyright usage, it’s an awesome resource for aspiring podcasters, producers, remixing DJs, and more!
Why It’s Good: With no software to download (or even a required registration) it’s incredibly easy to just open the page in your browser and get groovin’! Their collection is extremely extensive (we’ve almost never been let down), and although you’re just steaming the tunes, you’re able to skip ahead (or “scrub”) to any point in the song. If you make a free account, you can save customizable playlists.
History: Founded in 2005 as a music-themed social network, MOG eventually partnered with music service giant Rhapsody, and most recently Beats Electronics to allow users to stream music to their computers for free (and to their mobile devices for a monthly $9.99 fee). It became known as an audiophile’s dream site thanks to their extremely crisp sound quality. And also, it’s worth noting that Weird Al debuted his 2011 album Alpocalypse on the site.
Why It’s Good: They offer extremely high quality audio at 320Kbps (most sites top out at 128kbps) so bust out those good headphones! You can scrub tracks, which is made even better by the fact that the songs load with lightening speed. Playlists are easily customizable, and the site has a handy “related artists” section
History: Following in the path of curated sites like Pandora, Songza provides not only genre-themed playlists,but also songs to get you in the mood for…well, pretty much anything.
Why It’s Good: Although we can’t select the exact tunes we want, the hilariously specific playlists (music for cooking, music for commuting, music in Apple commercials) are skillfully put together by the appropriately-named “music experts.” The song pool seems much larger than their fellow Internet Radio counterparts, meaning that you’re sure to find some great stuff you’ve never heard before and don’t know how you lived without. You’re also able to build your own playlists for friends (and with friends)
History: Founded in 2004 by the former head of MusicMatch, Slacker Radio is no slouch. They’re doing their best to take over the game with news, music, and easily embeddable/sharable widgets.
Why It’s Good: Boasting 300 pre-made stations and “more music than Pandora,” the $9.99 ad-free premium plan seems to combine the best of internet radio with the best of on-demand music services. They’ve recently added non-music stations for ABC News, The Weather Channel and ESPN sports, giving them a little more bang for the buck. But their free service is nothing to sneeze at, offering a huge array of music, and easy options to share on social media.
Why It’s Good: Voted by some to be the best of all the recent music subscription sites thanks to its easy to search interface, we have to admit that it’s not technically free. There’s $4.95 price-tag for desktop streaming ($9.99 unlimited for mobile device), but that gets you an ad-free experience with unlimited skips. It offers recommended listening based upon not on your previous selections, but those of your friends as well. And if you want to make sure your mates have good taste in tunes, there’s the collaborative playlist feature, allowing you to co-create hours with of music!
Why It’s Good: SoundCloud is the way to go for those wanting to sample the work of new up and coming artists, although it’s gaining prominence with established stars, too. The fact that each song gets its own distinctive URL is extremely helpful for linking tunes into your blog, and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. The player displays the tune by visually depicting the soundwaves, and even allows for comments to be left at invidiual points of the song. Best of all, there are no ads and it’s totally free to listen (although there is a charge to upload
Why It’s Good: Why it’s good: With over 20 million users, you’re guaranteed to find some awesome gems listening to the vast array of fan-created playlists. We still find the free desktop option slightly hard to use (just us?) but the $9.95 ad-free mobile version is streamlined. The synchronization to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter make it much easier to share and interact with your friend’s musical faves.
Why It’s Good: The quality might not always be top notch, but pretty much everything on Earth is there…except Prince songs, or any other artist who’s particularly vigilant about the web presence of their work. But it’s all free, and it’s all there.