You can download a lot of free music online, but you probably won’t find the particular song or album you want–at least not legally. You’re basically limited to either recordings that have fallen into the public domain, or ones that have been made available for free by their owners.
That’s understandable. Songwriters, singers, musicians, and recording engineers all expect to be paid for their work.
I’m sticking with legal options, here. After all, I’m financially dependent on copyright law. I’m also married to a musician.
But first, a technical suggestion: Stick to .mp3s. They come without the restrictions of digital rights management (DRM), and they’re universally supported. I know of no device that can play digital music files that can’t play .mp3s.
For downloads, check out archive.org’s audio selection. One subset of that collection, the Live Music Archive, contains concert recordings from over 4,000 artists, most of them obscure. But not all of them. You’ll find there an immense selection of Grateful Dead concerts. Not all of these are downloadable (some are just for streaming), but enough are to keep any Deadhead happy.
Archive.org also hosts thousands of Netlabels–small, independent record labels existing only on the Internet. What’s more, you can search the entire audio collection for favorite performers. You’ll find a few songs by big names there, from Louis Armstrong to Lady Gaga.
Another site worth checking out: Last.fm. Here you can browse through genres, and even select “radio” stations.You might also want to check out Jamendo, which offers a huge selection of free music with Creative Commons licenses–an alternative to standard copyrights that allows for free distribution.
Even the major online music retailers offer free music for marketing purposes. Amazon’s free selection includes mostly samplers, but look hard enough and you’ll probably find something you like.
Finally, if you already have a CD collection, you can easily convert them to .mp3s using Windows Media Player–which comes with Windows. But before you rip a CD, select Tools>Options, click the Rip Music tab, pull down the Format menu, and select MP3. Set the Audio quality option to either 256 or 320 Kbps.