The past 10 years have witnessed a long, steady decline in CD sales, with current numbers low enough to convince brick-and-mortar retailers to reduce CD inventory (and get creative about how to use the resulting space). Luckily, just about any tune that strikes your fancy can be found online.
The Internet is a veritable smorgasbord of music, and it's oh so easy to partake. Better yet, many of the options are completely free. So if you haven't already jumped on the digital-audio bandwagon, now is as good a time as any. The following tips should help you enjoy the vast array of gratis listening experiences available on the Web, whether you don't know where to begin or you're just looking for new sources for your online rotation.
First, let's get this out of the way: DON'T steal music. People have many "shades of gray" arguments on this matter, but for our purposes I'm going cut and dry here. Unless songs have been offered up for free directly by the artist, it's just not right to download tracks you haven't paid for. There are plenty of legal ways to listen to music online for free to decide if you want to shell out for a copy for your hard drive.
As for streaming, options abound, but you have to decide what kind of experience you're after. If you want to stream a particular song right now, DO search for it on Grooveshark. This rather unique music service lets you listen to songs on demand, create playlists, and see what's popular with other users. It manages to be completely free and legal by serving fairly unobtrusive ads, which ensure licensees get paid--or so the company states. Grooveshark has been the subject of legal battles in the past; however, it has managed to stay up-and-running so far.
Are your playlist creation skills so incredible that they deserve more attention? DON'T hesitate to share them on the variety of sites geared toward social playlisting. Project Playlist and PlaylistNow both allow you to make mixes and share them, as well as enjoy those created by others. PlaylistNow is particularly compelling since you can search and create playlists based on mood and activity.
If, on the other hand, you prefer a more hands-off music enjoyment approach, DO start a stream on Slacker. As the name suggests, minimal effort is required: Simply stream one of a variety of preprogrammed genre- or theme-based stations, or create your own custom channels. Also, DO switch it up with Pandora. Both services have a tendency to get repetitive in the long run.
For something a little different, DON'T overlook the bevy of sites that offer DJ mixes for streaming. One of my favorites is Mixcrate, which lets you search for mixes by genre or popularity as well as share via Facebook and Twitter, save favorites, and even download entire sets.
Finally, DO download music apps for your phone so you can continue rocking out away from the computer. There are several great offerings for the iPhone, including CBS Interactive's own Last.fm. That service, along with Slacker and Pandora, is also available for the Android platform. There are some options for BlackBerry as well.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the free music streaming services available. If I left out one of your favorites, please call it out in the comments section below.