Free music – legally

As a child of the Napster generation, the idea of “free” music is something that has a long and fraught history. Until Napster’s debut in 1999, it was simply assumed that you would fork out $20 for a CD because what other option did you have? Online music was largely relegated to downloading (in retrospect, hilariously awful) MIDI files with their keytar-like takes on music both new and old (amazingly, they still exist). Wholesale downloading of songs was science fiction. Then Napster popped up, and everything changed. Even after the well-publicised war waged between Napster and Metallica ended with the shut-down of Napster in 2001, the genie was out of the bottle and eventually the iPod cemented the change to digital formats.

This blog post is not, however, about the well-publicised sea change in the music industry over the past decade and a half, along with the legal ramifications that are still being determined (although if you want to know about copyright and sound recordings, this is a good start). Instead, I wanted to direct our readers to a fantastic resource for free, high-quality, easily accessed and downloadable music (and is indirectly related to our own library – as well as many others).

A recent article published in the¬†New Yorker entitled “Deadhead”¬†chronicled the writer’s obsession with the Grateful Dead – particularly the obsessive way in which Deadheads regard the Grateful Dead’s live recordings. While the idea of recording a band’s live recordings in this day and age is as easy as pulling out a smart phone, the Dead actively encouraged these recordings, which, at the time, required oftentimes tremendously complicated setups, so long as they were traded for free. There now exists an enormous wealth of Grateful Dead tapes; however, given that they are in a physical format, many are sub-par recordings that are deteriorating further with age. Cue the Internet Archive.

Many of our users will note that searches for historic legal material will link to the Internet Archive, which is an enormous undertaking that is occurring at libraries and beyond. The Osgoode Library has even contributed material. However, it is not solely books that are being collected, but also a tremendous amount of live music as well, including – you guessed it – the Grateful Dead, who have an impressive 9,368 shows included. There are also archives for other venerable acts such as the Smashing Pumpkins, the Drive-By Truckers, and My Morning Jacket. Files can be downloaded in various formats (including uncompressed FLAC files) or streamed. There are also podcasts, virtual record labels, audio books, and much more.

Just remember that when you’re in the library – keep it down.