New Ways to Listen to Music for Free or Cheap

by Daniel Packer on 24 August 2011 3 comments

It seems like everyone has an iPod or a cell phone with mp3 capabilities now. But paying for music stinks, and every week seems to bring a new favorite song, so why keep paying just to fill your iTunes with thousands of songs you don't listen to? I don't consider myself a music junkie, and even I have about 100 hours worth of music on my computer. That's the equivalent of listening to music non-stop for over four days! Sounds interesting, but it's unlikely to happen.

There are lots of free music services out there, so paying for music may be a thing of the past (and not just by downloading it illegally). Here are a few great ways to listen to music for free! (See also: 8 Alternatives to Cable TV That Will Keep You Entertained)

Listen to Your Favorite Radio Station Online

In Los Angeles, 102.7 KIIS FM is the bomb. They're always playing the most popular songs, and there's a solid argument for setting all six pre-set radio stations in your car to this one channel.

If there's a station you absolutely love, it's possible (and likely) that there's an option to listen to it stream online. And if not? Give KIIS a chance! You won't regret it!

The plus side is great, free music. The downside is the regular commercials that come with the radio. So let's explore some options that have fewer or no commercials at all.

Pandora

Pandora is a music-streaming service that allows users to create customized radio stations based on a song, album, artist, or genre. Pandora plays songs that it thinks are similar to your song (or album, artist, or genre). A thumbs up lets the program know it did a good job in picking a song for you, while a thumbs down lets it know you're not interested in that song. The more feedback it gets, the better job it does at picking music you like.

Pandora has short, 15-second commercials approximately every 10 songs, so it's a small price to pay for such a great service. The more significant downside is that free listeners are limited to a total of 40 hours each month. However, for $36 a year, you can avoid the commercials and get unlimited listening by upgrading to Pandora One, which also offers higher-quality audio, though I've never noticed low-quality sound in the free version.

Last.fm

This service is similar to Pandora in that it plays songs similar to your original choice. Last.fm is free to use, though ads appear on the site while playing music. Last.fm also has a social network aspect to it, and while it scores high in matching new music to your tastes, the website is not all that user friendly or intuitive.

If having music chosen for you isn't your thing, there are two services that let you choose the exact music you want to play.

Grooveshark

With Grooveshark, you can search for music and create customized playlists with the songs you select, and there's no need to sign up just to play music. If you're always connected to the Internet, you can create a library with the songs you want and play it from wherever you are.

For $6 a month, you can get the service ad-free, and for $9 a month you can also stream the service to your Grooveshark application on your smartphone.

Spotify

The newest addition to the streaming music scene is Spotify, which is similar to Grooveshark, but comes as a desktop application (similar to iTunes). Once you download it, the user interface will blow you away. It's very easy to use (and fast, too!), and searching for the song or album you want is a breeze. Creating playlists is as simple as dragging and dropping your selections, and the playlists are accessible from wherever you use Spotify. You can also add your own files into the program, so it can become your one stop shop for all your music needs. It's my favorite way to listen to music these days, so if you can get your hands on an invite (or have the patience to wait for it to become public), check it out!

The free application comes with a few unobtrusive ads that pop up while playing music, but for $10 a month, you can get full access on your smartphone, enhanced sound quality, and offline mode (which keeps your favorite playlists synced for a plane ride).

There's no shortage of free music services out there. And splurging to get rid of ads or higher quality audio is pretty cheap as well, far cheaper than buying the songs individually only to forget about them a month later. Plus, as opposed to illegally downloading music, all four of these services pay a royalty fee to artists, so not only do you get your music for free (or at least very cheap), but by listening to music through the services, you're helping the artists get paid as well!

Which free music service is your favorite?

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Meg Favreau's picture

I've become fairly well addicted to making Spotify playlists over the past couple of weeks. I don't like that I can't put music on my iPod (even if I paid for the upgrade), but being able to find new music (or listen to old music I no longer own the CDs for) is great.

Guest's picture
NJGill

if you're "old" like me (and consequently an AARP member), they have their own online radio service: "AARP Internet Radio has 18 channels, including rock, R&B, country, jazz, classical, Latin and gospel. It's powered by online music service Slacker."

Also, if you have a library card and your library has a membership, you can download three mp3 files a week, free, using "Freegal" - 'The downloads on this site are all in the MP3 format with no DRM. This service will work with any MP3 player, including iPod, and can be loaded into iTunes. It works on both PCs and Macs.'

Guest's picture

I LOVE Spotify! But it was so overwhelming at first because I didn't know what to add to my playlists since I could choose anything! I also love Pandora but I was getting sick of the commercials. I also recently discovered 8track which features homemade playlists from other users, so you can click a couple of keywords and different playlists appear. It's a really cool website and it's free! And I don't think there are ads, but I could be wrong.