Illegal downloads are the music industry’s equivalent of an elephant in the room. But while digital music has been readily available and freely searchable online for 15 years now, making piracy easy, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ethical considerations whenever you download an artist’s music “for free” that you should be paying for.
While we’ve come a long way in the battle against music piracy online thanks to stores like iTunes and Beatport, downloading tracks from dubious MP3 sites and torrent networks continue to be a hushed practice that has become part of today’s music culture not so much out of necessity as it was back in the late 90s and early 2000s when legitimate music portals were scarce, but arguably as a bad habit that’s hard to break.
And while the majority of DJ music can now be bought and downloaded from Beatport and the like, clearly making such stores the go-to places online to make tune purchases, there still are a few places that you can legally download music for free. Often these are also sites you can scour for unsigned/underground acts that haven’t made it to Beatport’s catalogue just yet (you need to be signed to a label to do that).
Further, combing through these sites is a great way to come up with a diverse DJ music library that isn’t reliant on a mainstream music outlet’s Top 10 chart, helping you set your song selections apart from what other DJs can readily access. So while nowadays there’s really no excuse for stealing music, searching out legal free sources is well worthwhile. Here are a few ideas:
7 places for free DJ music
Currently getting a lot of attention due to its new advertising policy and much-ballyhooed “selling out” to major labels, SoundCloud still playing an important role in the modern music industry because it’s able to be both a social outlet for unknowns to get their music heard and a platform for big name DJs and producers to promote their music.
While SoundCloud has taken a tough stance against DJ mixes, pulling them down whenever copyright material is detected, original music and remixes by producers are rife, and most can be had for free or for a “Like” on Facebook.
Pros: Burgeoning community of music producers and listeners, lots of free originals, remixes and bootlegs to be had, explosive growth
Cons: Ads on select artists, strict policies regarding copyright material, popular artists use SoundCloud to promote their material by using it as a “preview” gateway that links to iTunes or Amazon where you have to buy their music
Go to site: Soundcloud
The indie-friendly storefront continues to thrive in a music streaming landscape because it gives producers and labels the ability to setup shop for free, allowing them to give away music, charge a set fee, or ask for donations. While you’ll have more options for individual songs on SoundCloud, Bandcamp offers complete album and EP downloads.
Pros: Lots of new, independent producers and record labels here, beautiful and simple store design makes it easy to preview and download tracks or full albums
Cons: Not a lot of big name/signed producers here
Go to site: Bandcamp
A lot of upcoming and active producers looking to increase their social media presence put their remixes and bootlegs on their Facebook Page, which you can download for free as long as you “Like” their page. Though the system, known as “Like-gating”, is set to be banned by Facebook come 5 November 2014, I’m willing to bet that artists will still put their productions up for download on their pages.
Pros: Good if you’re a fan of a particular producer/production team (eg Wideboys, Chainsmokers, etc), convenient way to download music from and get updates within one social network
Cons: Having to “Like” a page means you’ll see that page’s updates on your social feed, so if you’re liking a lot of pages just to get one or two songs, you’re going to get a deluge of status posts you may not want to see
Go to site: Facebook
Similar to Bandcamp, you can download songs and entire releases from artists and producers here, the difference being you get the songs in exchange for your e-mail address (Noisetrade is mainly for artists to grow their mailing list), and you can also tip the artist if you’re feeling generous.
You’ll be hard pressed to find popular DJs and producers putting their music here, but there’s a lot of good music from virtually unknown artists if you just put in the time to thumb through their catalogue.
Pros: Music in exchange for your e-mail allows you to support the artist in a non-monetary way, lots of different genres to choose from
Cons: Multiple newsletters from different artists can be annoying, no popular tunes and producers here
Go to site: Noisetrade
Though not necessarily aimed at DJs and music lovers, Jamendo is a site that offers tons of music as free downloads. The site doubles as a portal for music supervisors who are looking to licence music for film, TV, and establishments, so it’s a good place to uncover hidden electronic gems and other cuts to drop during your set.
Pros: Easy search option lets you go through its large collection, music downloads are free without the need for signing up
Cons: As it is a music licensing/library site, you won’t find any of your favourite producers and DJs here, as most are composers and bedroom producers putting their music up for licensing
Go to site: Jamendo
One of the first legal music download sites online, Soundclick continues to be a repository for independent artists and bands, but there are some good electronic and hip-hop tunes to be had in this service today if you can get around the outdated MySpace-era interface.
Pros: Totally free music downloads once you sign up. One of the oldest music sites around with a large library of different types of music
Cons: Looks like it really is one of the oldest music sites around. No longer “top of mind” for many producers when it comes to posting their original music
Go to site: Soundclick
7. Record label sites
Once in a while, record labels giveaway tunes and samplers as a promotion or if they’re trying to build buzz for a new artist. Labels also announce contests and prizes to members of their newsletter, so it’s a good idea to sign up to your favourite labels if you’d like to join such promos.
Pros: Straight from the source of your favourite producers and DJs, a chance to get exclusive music and samplers through contests and promos
Cons: Giving away music isn’t the number one priority of a business-minded record label, so expect free downloads to be few and far between for such companies
I was surprised when researching this article to find that there are now only a handful of quality, legal sources left for free tunes. As the music industry shifts towards a combination of subscription services and limited edition physical copies of albums, we can only expect the number of lawful “free download sites” to continue to wane, as streaming seems to be the next platform du jour of music publishers and record labels, and previously free download sites are quick to add storefronts and monetisation options for their artists. It’s also a symptom of the longstanding battle with digital piracy as illegal download sites continue to thrive despite efforts to clamp down on them.
As DJs, our sets are only as good as the music we select. While we’re slowly getting in on the streaming bandwagon thanks to apps like djay and Pacemaker, giving us access to millions of songs to DJ with without having to “own” them still seems far off at the moment. As Beatport continues to be the electronic music mega mall that it is, the writing on the wall seems to point to a future where the concept of a “free legal music download” will be relegated to the annals of internet history, especially with the ease of monetising your own music on iTunes and Spotify through a third party service like Tunecore.
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next when music streaming becomes the norm, but for now, it’s still worth seeking out those free gems where you can find them; after all, where there’s effort there’s often reward…
Where do you download your music? Are there any free, legal sites that you can recommend to our readers? Or are you very much content with the convenience of paid sites like iTunes and Beatport? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.