Law
Fact Checked

How Do I Download Music Legally?

J.S. Metzker Erdemir
J.S. Metzker Erdemir

There are a couple of ways to download music legally into a computer or mp3 player. One way is to pay for the music to ensure the artist and recording company are compensated for their work. The other way is to download music directly from the websites of artists who have given their permission to download the music without paying them for it. Free music downloads are available from both well-known and lesser-known artists.

Since the well-publicized trials of music downloading websites like Napster® and Kazaa®, music fans who want to download songs or albums from the Internet might be nervous about having legal action taken against them. Downloading music without paying for it is considered a crime, and there have been cases of individual users being punished for having illegally downloaded music files on their computers, or for sharing those files. Digital storage and recording make it very easy to share and copy music files, but it is even illegal to download music from legal peer-to-peer file sharing sites like Limewire™.

If music is paid for, it can be legally downloaded.
If music is paid for, it can be legally downloaded.

One way to download music legally is to get it from a website that asks you to pay for each song individually. iTunes® and Amazon.com are both companies that let users choose songs and pay for them before downloading them. Users can also download whole albums by paying for individual songs, which might be advantageous for people who don’t like every song on an album. Amazon.com also has a limited selection of free songs for downloading. This list of tracks changes regularly.

Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.
Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.

Other websites offer customers a subscription service to download music. Superpass™, Napster®, and eMusic® all ask users to pay a monthly fee which allows them to download a certain number of songs each month. They all have large song catalogs, and some of these sites offer other perks with the subscription fee, such as radio streaming or free games.

Downloaded music might be transferred to an MP3 player.
Downloaded music might be transferred to an MP3 player.

There are a lot of musicians who want their fans to download their music, which they might make available on their own websites, their MySpace® profiles, or through their record companies. Some of these artists might be on small, independent labels and giving their music away is a way of marketing themselves to a broader public. Other artists like Nine Inch Nails are part of a growing movement to make music free, and they allow fans to download songs and albums for free directly from their websites.

Is it Legal To Download Music Off of YouTube?

In some instances, it’s perfectly legal to download music off of YouTube. However, it’s important to understand that it’s by no means lawful to download all of the music you find on YouTube.

How Do You Download Music Off of YouTube?

Downloading music off of YouTube can be done from the website itself or through the use of a third-party application. Just know that circumventing YouTube’s terms of service by using a third-party application to download content is against the law. 

What Music Can You Download From YouTube?

The only music you can download legally from YouTube is non-copyrighted content. Many artists and creators on YouTube make their content available for free. In those cases, and only in those cases, it is legal to download YouTube music. However, all copyrighted content cannot be legally downloaded, including music videos. Doing so violates the law, as well as YouTube’s terms of service. 

The only instance in which you can legally download music from YouTube is if you have a YouTube Premium account. Through a paid subscription, you have the option to download content for use offline. 

If you’re not sure whether the content is free to download, you can look at the YouTube page where you found the content. If downloading is authorized, you’ll see a “download” option. If you don’t see a download link, you’ll need to contact the copyright owner to see if or how you can download it.

Are There Any Free Legal Music Download Sites?

There are quite a few free legal music download sites. However, be aware that these sites typically don’t offer music from well-known artists. Instead, you’ll find lesser-known artists, music that’s royalty and copyright-free, and other audio content.

Indie Music

If you enjoy indie music, you’ll be happy to know that finding indie music for free isn’t very difficult. Some sites, including ReverbNation and NoiseTrade, offer a place for indie artists to upload and promote their music. In addition, listeners can download their favorite artists’ songs free of charge. In some cases, you’ll need to provide an email or mailing address in exchange for the product. 

Archived Music

The Internet Archive is also another place to get free music and other audio content. For example, you can find concerts for many artists in various genres, all of whom have opted to allow fans to listen to and trade certain tracks for non-commercial purposes. The Internet Archive also has newscasts, radio shows, and audiobooks, among other things. 

Artists’ Websites

In some cases, artists might encourage their fans to download their music for free. In the past, there have been artists who made their music available free of charge. One prime example is when U2’s Songs of Innocence was dropped into the music boxes of every iPhone owner in 2014. Radiohead’s In Rainbows is another example. The band released their album on their site using a “pay-what-you-want” model, which was practically unheard of at the time.

Finding free legal music download sites might take some digging on your part, but if you do the legwork, you’ll be able to find quite a bit.

What Is the Cheapest Way To Download Music Legally?

If the legal music download options listed above don’t suit your tastes, a paid subscription service will likely be your next best option if you want to download music legally. Paid sites often offer both download and streaming options. Downloading music legally will require a subscription of some sort.

Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube have paid plans that allow you to download music to listen to at a later time. However, these services have digital rights management (DRM) software attached to the music that puts restrictions on the content you purchase. 

However, it’s important to note that not all paid music sites offer legal downloads. Many do the exact opposite and instead sell pirated music to consumers. So when you find a website that provides inexpensive music downloads, be sure to do some research to make sure the artists are getting paid.

Also, sites that offer inexpensive downloads are more likely to have low-quality content if their services aren’t legitimate. So although you might have access to the top-selling artists, the tracks you download may be subpar at best. 

In short, if you want to download music legally, you'll need to do your homework. A paid subscription service will ultimately offer the best selection. However, there are options available for finding music that's both free and legal that won't harm the artist when you download it.

Where Can I Download Music for Free

There are only a few ways to legally download music for free, but you can often download music for a low monthly fee. A variety of websites and subscription services will let you do so legally. Here are just a few of the many options available.

The Internet Archive

Widely known for its Wayback Machine, letting you look at past versions of websites, the Internet Archive is a non-profit organization committed to bringing you millions of free books, audio, video, software and websites. The archive has 14 million audio recordings, including 240,000 live concerts. Its music collections include The Grateful Dead; Music, Arts. & Culture; Hip Hop Mixtapes; the Archive of Contemporary Music; and Folkscanomy: Music.

There’s no subscription for the Internet Archive; all its offerings are free for the taking. Their mission statement says it all: Universal Access to All Knowledge.

NoiseTrade at Paste Magazine

NoiseTrade helps musicians and music labels connect with music fans by offering a free service to legally download music. Many of the artists are not well-known, but some big names have songs or albums on NoiseTrade.

It’s free to sign up for NoiseTrade, but artists will receive your name and email address so they can send you emails about products or promotions they may be running. NoiseTrade itself will use your name and email address for both social media and email marketing.

ReverbNation

ReverbNation markets itself more to the music artists as a way to jumpstart their careers. They offer more than 100 opportunities for musicians to improve their visibility in the music world.

On the fan side, which you only find after signing up for a free fan account, ReverbNation offers up to over 3.5 million indie artists for your listening pleasure. The service features a free app, ReverbNation Discover, to allow you to listen without ads on any device.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music has over 75 million songs just waiting for you to come and listen to them. About 40,000 of these songs can be downloaded for free, without paying for the premium subscription that lets you listen ad-free.

If you have an Amazon Prime account, the paid subscription is $7.99/month. If you don’t have a Prime account, you’ll pay $8.99/month.

Last.fm

Last.fm’s motto is “Music counts.” This is evident in their selection of songs available for free, legal downloading. There are more than 200 songs from all genres in their free download section.

There is a pro version of Last.fm, where you pay $3.00/month for features including:

  • Early access to new albums
  • Blasts from the Past that let you rediscover old favorites
  • Ad-free browsing
  • A 30% discount on any merchandise

Apple Music

Apple Music boasts of having over 90 million songs and more than 30,000 playlists for your listening pleasure. Apple Music allows you to download up to 100,000 songs to your phone or another device. It’s also available through Siri.

Apple Music is already on your Apple devices. It’s also available on PCs, Android devices, smart TVs and gaming consoles. Subscriptions begin with a free trial, then prices start at $4.99/month for Siri Voice and student accounts, $9.99 for individuals and $14.99 for a family of up to six people.

Spotify

According to Spotify, “listening is everything.” They offer millions of songs and podcasts for you to enjoy. They have a web-based player and a free app to download. One interesting feature is the “Discover Weekly” playlist, where Spotify’s algorithm will take a look at the music you listen to most and create a mixtape for you. There’s also a social aspect, where you can see what your friends are listening to and share playlists back and forth.

Spotify has a free plan and a premium plan. The premium plan starts at $9.99, and offers an ad-free listening experience with unlimited skips. Spotify often runs a promotion to give you two months of premium free if you’re a new subscriber.

How Do You Download Music to Your Phone

How you download music to your phone is going to vary widely across the different music downloading services. On Spotify, for example, you click on the album or playlist you want to download, then tap the down arrow just below the name and duration of the playlist. With Apple Music, open the app on your phone, tap and hold the song, album or playlist, then tap the download button.

Legally downloading music is usually going to require either a paid service and/or payment for each individual song. With a variety of sources for downloadable music, you’re sure to be able to find music you’ll enjoy listening to for a long time to come.

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Discussion Comments

Georgesplane

@ PelesTears- Another good way to download music from the internet is to check websites and twitter feeds of artists and bands that you follow. They will often give away tracks to promote a release of their newest album or tour. You tube also has good impromptu performances, songs, and live edits of a ton of artists that you can download to your phone or computer.

FrameMaker

@ pelestears- I think that Amazon is the best music download site. All the music that amazon sells is DRM free. The site also offers free downloads that change every so often. Best of all is the fact that they have five-dollar deals that change often. These deals are not just on older albums or albums that no one wants. These deals are on new releases, platinum hits and the likes. I recently downloaded Bruno Mars and Cee-Low Green for ten dollars. There was no tax, no wait, and the files are large, high quality files. It is also nice because I can share the music with my fiancée and put it on both of our cell phones. We simply download the tracks to an external hard drive that we use for all of our family multimedia.

PelesTears

Where can i download DRM free music? I hate that I pay for music and can only leave it on my computer, or put it on one device. I want to be able to buy my music, burn it onto cd, share it with the rest of my family, and put it on my phone and mp3 player. I hate that record labels try to control what I purchase after I have already forked over the money, especially considering very little of that money actually goes to the artist. I feel like downloadable music should benefit the artist more since it is the same price as buying a cd, but costs much less to deliver to the customer.

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    • If music is paid for, it can be legally downloaded.
      By: jamdesign
      If music is paid for, it can be legally downloaded.
    • Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.
      By: Kzenon
      Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.
    • Downloaded music might be transferred to an MP3 player.
      By: Csák István
      Downloaded music might be transferred to an MP3 player.