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Short of "free food" and "free beer," "free music" is one of the sweetest phrases you can hear. But getting tunes gratis doesn't have to mean ending up on the RIAA's Most Wanted list. These five sites will let you easily fatten up your music collection with tracks that creators and recording labels are giving away--all in DRM-free, MP3 format. An extra bonus: None of these sites require an e-mail address or any kind of registration.
What's the catch? Well, don't expect to find much top-40 material here; the four major labels are still pretty tight-fisted with their properties. But that's not really much of a catch: Saying good-bye to Mariah Carey and Madonna means saying hello to independent artists (some of whom have been in the business just as long) who will round out your most-played list quite nicely.
1. Venzero Mixtape
Some audio player manufacturers will happily give you music, on the condition that you buy their product first. German company Venzero is a bit more generous, having launched the Venzero Mixtape: a rotating collection of MP3 tracks by "exquisite bands" that anybody can download. Or at least that's the theory. Since launching the Venzero Mixtape, the company has changed the lineup only once. The nine tracks that make up the current mixtape are a pleasure to listen to, however, so even if Venzero never gets around to picking up where it left off, you still come out ahead.
My favorite brick-and-mortar record stores--I can call them that because they still have plenty of vinyl--not only offer a wide variety of music but also have staff who can talk intelligently about what they offer. Even when I walk in just to say hi, I usually end up walking out with a new CD and new knowledge.
The closest experience to that in the online world is Epitonic, where you don't get just free music--you get free schooling too. The site features extensive writeups on all the featured artists (including links to similar acts), streaming audio, and at least one free MP3 per album.
Unfortunately, Epitonic hasn't really been updated for almost two years. But the site has enough content that you can still spend hours, if not days, exploring new musical avenues.