There’s never been a better time to access free music online, thanks to the ad-supported versions of streaming services like Spotify and Rdio (both of which let you pick exactly what you want to listen to) and online radio services such as iTunes Radio and Last.fm (which selects music for you based on parameters that you specify).
That’s all very well, but let’s say you actually want to download music for free? There are plenty of sites packed with free independent and unsigned artists’ tunes, but if you want to listen to stuff you might already know these fall into “inflatable dartboard” levels of usefulness.
There are still places to get free legal MP3s, luckily.
Last.fm has a decent selection of free downloads, with artists like Best Coast, Sufjan Stevens, Yeasayer, Death Grips, Mac DeMarco, Jens Lekman, WU LYF, Com Truise, Xiu Xiu and Justin Townes Earle included. There’s an impressive haul of freebies here if you’re into indie, alternative and underground music.
Amazon also has a huge supply of free downloadable music (over 45,000 tracks in all). There’s a lot of dross here, unsurprisingly, but we found tracks from Kendrick Lamar, Mogwai, Disclosure, Waxahatchee, Alejandro Escovedo, Blondie, Chromeo, The Walkmen and, er, Whigfield.
If your tastes run a little more mainstream, you’re going to struggle to find anything familiar. Artists like Katy Perry, Kings of Leon and David Guetta have little reason to give away their stuff for free – except when it comes to music videos, of course…
Music videos are promotional in nature and consequently available for free all over the place – provided you want to stream rather than download (iTunes charges a standard £1.89 per music video but we can’t think of a single reason anyone would pay for one).
Vevo (and Vevo’s hundreds of YouTube artist accounts) should be your first port of call for free music video. For starters, the service has a pretty amazing line-up of “Vevo Presents” concerts: look above for a recent 77-minute Nine Inch Nails gig in full HD quality, and here’s Lady Gaga’s hour-long ArtPop show. It also has an exhaustive selection of official videos ranging from the brand new to the relatively ancient.
For more alternative free music videos, try indie tastemaker Pitchfork’s video channel, which features all manner of content including full live festival sets (here’s Hot Chip), official promos and exclusive live performances.
And hipster bible turned media empire Vice offers a similar supply of free music video material through its Noisey channel.
If you want to watch full-length movies for free (and legally) you can head straight to YouTube, which has its own film channel. OK, so many of the movies in it are either (a) tempting but cost money or (b) free but bloody awful, but delve deep enough and you’ll unearth the occasional gem: stuff like Night of the Living Dead (see above), His Girl Friday, Enduring Love and Shopgirl.
These films are often old, it’s true, and some of them have foreign subtitles, but crucially they’re free. So no looking that gift horse in the mouth, eh?
Another option is Crackle, a service owned by Sony that offers free movies and TV shows to watch through mobile devices, computers, consoles and smart TVs. The selection is a bit more exciting than YouTube’s, although you’ll have to periodically sit through ads (much like watching a film on TV). At the time of writing Crackle’s free films include American Psycho, The Squid and the Whale and Requiem for a Dream and its TV shows include Seinfeld and The Shield.
Open Culture has a raft of links to free online movies arranged by genre. They’re almost all pre-1970, although there are a handful of more recent shorts and documentaries. Some highlights include Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, so it’s fair to say it might suit cinephiles more than casual viewers. It also includes links to other free movie sites (scroll down the foot of the page).
One other alternative? If you’re not already a Netflix or Lovefilm Instant subscriber (and haven’t been in the past), you can trial both services for a month for free. Plenty to watch there – although you’ll be charged for your second month if you forget to cancel before the trial is over.
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The abundance of out of copyright books means you’ll never be short of free stuff to download to your ebook reader or tablet.
Open Culture has a nice list of free ebooks with links to book iOS and Kindle-friendly versions of written works such as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Melville’s Moby Dick and pretty much everything Shakespeare ever put his quill to. If classic literature (or weighty non-fiction screeds such Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations) is your “bag”, there’s hours and hours of entertainment here.
Many libraries also “lend” ebooks for free in much the same way that they lend physical tomes – they have a set amount of ebook licences they can lend out at any one time (which means you might have to wait until another reader is finished with an ebook – and yes, we know how odd that sounds). OK, so you don’t get that “interesting” book smell, but you also don’t have to get out of bed to walk over to the library. Check your local library’s website to find out if they participate.
Main image credit: William Warby