Getting tired of iTunes, Amazon, and Pandora? The Internet swings with great music of every type and style on alternative sites.
To give you a taste of what’s available, here are three sites that take very different approaches to online music streaming and downloading. All their music is free or reasonably priced — and unshackled from digital-rights management.
Music for your tastes, budget, and player
Need some new music in your life? Perhaps your collection of Grateful Dead concert tapes has finally worn out. Or you’ve grown tired of studio recordings altogether and you’re looking for the spontaneity of live concerts. Perhaps you want to throw yourself into the works of Shostakovich — or Al Jolson.
These sites cater to just such desires — plus they all match a few conditions I consider necessary to make them recommendable:
- They can stream music to Windows, Android, and iOS — so you can listen on a PC or a mobile device.
- After music is downloaded, one option is unprotected, play-on-anything .mp3 files with a reasonably high bitrate.
- Prices are reasonable — if there’s any cost at all.
- They’re not well known. (You don’t need me to tell you about Pandora or Amazon’s .mp3 store.)
The old, the odd — and the Grateful Dead
The Internet Archive site is heaven for music that you’re never going to find on the latest pop chart or Top 10 list. It is, for example, a Deadhead’s digital nirvana: free access to thousands of Dead concerts, all of them streamable and most of them downloadable. But you’ll also find live recordings from lesser-known groups, music from nearly 600 virtual netlabels (music labels found only on the Net), and even 78rpm and cylinder recordings from the early 20th century. (There are four pages of recordings by Al Jolson.)
The site for Archive, a nonprofit organization, devotes itself to making the world’s culture available for free in digital form. Here, you’ll find not only music, but videos, books, and even old versions of websites (want to see what Windows Secrets looked like in 2004?).
But let’s get back to the Grateful Dead. Early on, the Dead made a unique and daring business decision: they allowed — even encouraged — the audience to record their concerts. Their enlightened approach to music also let fans share concert tapes, provided that no one sold recordings for a profit. (The general rule was that you traded a blank cassette tape for a full one.)