In a Nutshell: We live in an age of free music streaming and sites of questionable legality offering downloads at no cost. However, not every free download is worthy of taking up precious space on your hard drive. Compiled by notable American free-form radio station WFMU, the Free Music Archive is a legally cleared library of expertly curated, free MP3s created by emerging artists. The number of available tracks is lower than most free-download sites due to FMA’s high-quality standards, but the platform is serving musicians well by giving up-and-comers the exposure that comes with partnering with a reputable site like FMA.
For the majority of us music lovers who are watching our spending, downloading free music is an appealing prospect. The problem is that many sites offering free downloads are doing so without regard for copyrights. And sifting through the clutter of no-cost downloads to find quality tracks or recordings can be overwhelming. Many music platforms have vast libraries of free music, but the work uploaded by random artists and bands meets no talent standards.
“This is different than a platform like Bandcamp or SoundCloud because anyone can sign up for those platforms as an artist,” said Cheyenne Hohman, Director of Free Music Archive, a popular music sharing platform offering a library of curated free downloads. “Anyone can sign up for FMA as a user, but artists must be invited or reviewed positively by a board of curators in order to be added to the archive. This means our collection is smaller than most other music platforms.”
FMA allows users to not only download from a carefully curated pool of quality music, but it gives access to a legal framework for sharing that grants a variety of usage rights, based on what each artist dictates. This makes the site more appealing to budget-conscious filmmakers and videographers, who want to use memorable music in their productions without having to pay the hefty price tag that’s often associated with stock production tracks.
“Some of the licenses allow for use in videos and other productions, which is a reason we are popular with filmmakers,” Cheyenne said.
When users sign up for Free Music Archive, they become members of a supportive community of artists and music lovers — a destination where curators and artists work together in a way that’s mutually beneficial.
No-Cost Downloads Copyright Holders Actually Want FMA Users to Access
One of the problems with free music sharing sites is that artists are often exploited on them. Emerging musicians often can’t afford to protect the rights to their music, and they can sometimes find themselves on sites where the owners or moderators haven’t asked for usage permission.
“The Free Music Archive is an attempt to collect and curate music that artists actively want to share for free,” Cheyenne said. “Music ends up here because the copyright holders want to license their works to be available for download and streaming at no cost to the listener.”
FMA makes every effort to be transparent in its collaboration with the artists featured on the site, and the songs available for download are tracks that the copyright holders have willingly submitted. While free music is always great, it’s even nicer when you’re getting your free music from a site that celebrates artists and is helping to further their careers through exposure.
Music Selected by Curators Who Act on Behalf of Labels, Music Festivals, and Radio Stations
Compared with other similar music sharing platforms, FMA does not have a huge library because not every artist who submits his or her music is invited to participate on the site. Anyone, however, can sign up to use FMA, and, because the music is so carefully selected, the site is heavy on quality versus quantity.
“Inclusion in the collection is determined by an individual or a group of people acting on behalf of a radio station, music festival, or record label,” Cheyenne said. “We have about 600 different curators, many of whom are still active contributors to the site.”
By choosing the Curators tab, users can select music that’s specifically dedicated to categories, like video use, along with pages for various radio stations and netlabels. Once you pick your desired page, you’re taken to a page that features more information about the individual curator, along with their approved music. Clicking on an album or artist from this page then leads you to more information or songs on new artists, which just might lead to discovering your new favorite band.
Another method for finding music that suits your interests is browsing through genres, where free music categories include electronic, hip-hop, folk, classical, and various others. FMA also charts the most popular downloads so users can quickly find what’s popular on the site from the past week, past month, or all-time.
FMA Works Alongside Creative Commons to Offer Users General Music Licensing
Music licensing exists so artists are fairly compensated when their works is used for commercial purposes. The system protects the artists, and it also helps users understand what they can and cannot use the music for. This is particularly important when dealing with free downloads.
“Music licensing is devilishly complicated, but we have adopted Creative Commons licenses as the baseline for music licensing on our site,” Cheyenne said. “Creative Commons offers a variety of free, legal tools that enable creators to share their work using general licenses.”
If you wish to use work that’s covered by the Creative Commons license, you can do so provided you adhere to the conditions of the license. The Free Music Archive does not provide licensing, but the company encourages initiating conversations with artists whenever you’re in doubt.
“If someone wants to use a piece of music for something that isn’t covered by its general CC license, we encourage users to contact artists directly to work it out with them,” Cheyenne said.
Download Music for Free While Engaging with a Supportive Community of Artists and Listeners
Being on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t download free music while maintaining your integrity. When you download songs by up-and-coming artists on FMA, you’re interacting with a community that celebrates and supports those artists.
If you’d like to go further in supporting musicians, you even have the option to make a tax-deductible donation to the site. FMA is always adding new artists and playlists to their queue making it a great discovery tool for new music.
“We average about 1,100 new songs per month, a few new artists every week, and add new curators every month or so,” Cheyenne said. “You can find out more about what’s new on FMA by reading our blog, following us on Facebook or Twitter, or signing up for our newsletter.”