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No more free singles from Apple? Five free-music alternatives

After 11 years, it appears Apple is pulling the plug on its Single of the Week. Fortunately, the free-tune train doesn't stop there.

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Just a sampling of Freegal's DRM-free MP3s available to many library card-holders. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Tim Cook: "You didn't like our U2 album giveaway? Fine. No tunes for you!"

OK, Apple's head honcho never said that, but perhaps he thought it. Because after 11 years of offering a free iTunes "Single of the Week," Apple appears to have pulled the plug on this little perk. So says a report from MacRumors, which cites an Apple Discussion Forum member claiming to be a company employee.

And, sure enough, we're now three weeks into 2015, and the iTunes Store hasn't shared any new free tracks.

Fortunately, as any card-carrying cheapskate knows, there are plenty of other sources for free tunes. Here are five:

1. Freegal

Got a library card? Then you may be entitled to a handful of DRM-free MP3 downloads every week. Just head to Freegal Music, click "log in," then search for your local library. If they've partnered with the service, you'll be good to go with just a few more clicks.

My library, for example, allows me to download three tracks per week. And although Freegal's selection isn't huge, there's a lot of current, mainstream stuff to choose from: Meghan Trainor, Mark Ronson, One Direction, and plenty of older pop from the likes of Billy Joel and Michael Jackson.

Oh, public libraries, you're so awesome.

2. Google Play

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Google Play's latest freebie. Google

Google: "A free single from an artist you've probably never heard of? See you and raise you, Apple." For the past couple months, Google Play has offered a free album of the week, and not from obscure indie artists, either. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Indeed, recent giveaways have included the "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Frozen" soundtracks, a Jim Gaffigan concert album, and, as of right now, Mötley Crüe's "The Greatest Hits."

Google also serves up a monthly helping of up-and-coming artists, like this month's 15-track Antenna Sampler. It's free as well.

3. Amazon

The good news: Amazon offers a ton of free DRM-free downloads. The bad news: It's a huge, jumbled list, one that requires a ton of back-and-forth browsing. Plus, you probably won't recognize most of the artists.

Fortunately, once you've pulled up the free-songs list (or, better, the free-albums list), you can choose a category (from the list on the left side) to better zero in on stuff you might like.

Oh, and don't forget the growing "free" catalog of music you can enjoy as an Amazon Prime subscriber. Yes, that service costs $99 annually, but if you're like most, you grabbed it for the two-day shipping and TV/movie streaming. The music is just a bonus.

4. NoiseTrade

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NoiseTrade

Here's the deal: Free albums for you, your email address for the artists who made them? Sound like a fair...trade?

That's the idea behind NoiseTrade, which also allows you to leave tips (the monetary kind) for albums you've tried and liked. This pretty, smartly organized site is a great resource for finding new music you might otherwise miss.

5. Subscription services

Spotify

You: "Um, subscription services aren't free, Rick." Actually, some of them are, even if it means listening to the occasional ad or forsaking on-demand listening.

Obviously there's Pandora, everyone's favorite. It's ad-supported, and it limits the number of songs you can skip. But it's available pretty much everywhere, and if you want playlists customized to your tastes, there's no better option. Plus: free!

And don't overlook the freebie options from Songza, Spotify and Slacker -- all brought to you, apparently, by the letter S. Obviously these are streaming solutions, not downloads, but aren't you tired of managing a big old MP3 library anyway? I am. Hey, maybe Apple is doing us a favor by weaning us off downloads. Your thoughts?

Siber Systems, Inc.

Bonus deal: Speaking of free stuff, college students get all the breaks, don't they? (OK, tuition is a little pricey.) Their latest spiff: Password manager RoboForm Everywhere absolutely free. Not "free for a year" or "free basic edition with no tech support," either -- it's the real deal. And it's available to college professors as well -- anyone with a valid .edu email address. You don't even need to supply a credit card. Nice offer, RoboForm! Say, I graduated college -- does that count?