Where Do You Get Your Music (Cheaply) These Days?

I'm interested in hearing from other folks as to options for finding roots music at low cost these days.  I'm retired and my simple lifestyle lends itself to a simple cellphone (though my contract runs out in a few months and smartphone is an option).  In addition, almost all of my listening is done when I am mobile (walking  or reading in library).  Right now my avenues include downloading MP3 selectively from iTunes, buying used CD's from Amazon or local shops for $4-6, stopping at flea markets and thrift shops for $1-2 to replace old vinyl, and old fashioned taping of great songs from public radio for use in Walkman (and donating during pledge drives of course).  I realize that some of these options do not help the artists.


I raise this issue because it seems that every week there is a news article about new streaming and other music services options and I'm trying to figure out if I am missing something.  For example, Google just announced that in addition to having its own streaming service, YouTube will be selling some videos and is working with record labels on audio download possibilities.  I don't know if the audio option is just for songs generally released to public as part of a regular CD (studio or live) or whether it may also include audio from those great concert clips we all love.  Also, there are already ways to transfer Youtube video and maybe audio to MP3 through third parties though I don't know how well these work.


Obviously one option is to spend more time listening on computer of through our Smart TV, though YouTube takes forever to download on TV.  The one thing I have done right is to wait 25 years to replace my 70's vinyl at flea market prices.   Fortunately, these classics are still worth listening to.

NopiseTrade is a good place to find new music.  YOu can download it for free, or choose to leave a donation.  Mostly unknown artists, but sometimes an established act will make an entire album or a sampling of songs available.


Right now, for example, Bastard Sons Of Johnny Cash are offering their new album for download on NoiseTrade.

This is a great thread.  Thanks for the tip on eMusic. I had never heard of them but will certainly investigate. On the first day of each month, Amazon puts up 100 albums on sale for $5. For March, I've already scored the new Damien Jurado album and another from a new (to me) artist named Scott H. Biram for five bucks each. Typically, if I like what I hear on Amazon, I'll search for that artist on Spotify (to which I subscribe, $10 month) and if I like what I hear, I'll either buy selected tracks on Amazon or search for a deal on the whole album. $7 is usually the most I'll pay for any album. I also subscribe to daytrotter.com, which I haven't seen mentioned in this thread. Daytrotter is only $4/month to join, and as a member you can download everything on their site, which is largely hi-quality unplugged sets from folk/country/alternative local and national acts. Not a true "album", but music nonetheless. I never even bother to look on iTunes. Too expensive.  Besides paying for Spotify and Daytrotter, I try to keep my downloads costs below $30/month.

More and more, I find myself  "deconstructing " albums and buying selected cuts, esp for higher priced discs.  I compare it to cable TV. Would you rather pay $70 month for 100 channels or $30 month for just the handful that you actually watch?

I am now a Spotify user as well as the public library.  I listen on an iPad plugged into the stereo, phone in the car, or like this moment, simply on the laptop.  At 47, absolutely perfect sound quality isn't important to me, though I respect that it is for some.  More power to 'em.

The thing I like best about streaming is that I can check something out instantly.  This means I hear tons more things than in the days where I would have to commit to buying it to hear it.

I use the library for jazz quite a bit.  For one thing, jazz CDs get checked out infrequently, and are in decent shape, while popular music gets checked out constantly and the discs get scratched up.  

It took me about a year or two to get over the desire to have something in my hand.  For my truly favorite artists -- Dylan, DBTs,  Richard Thompson -- I will buy the disc because I just have to have something to hold and read, but for the rest of the music, it's fine to save them as a playlist.

Glad to see your checking out artist's websites Larry. I know a lot of people here are putting their music on their sites. They can offer more on their sites than they can on a place like iTunes as far as quality is concerned.

This may not be the best way to become a superstar but it is a good way to reach a good sized niche market.

Many thanks Larry.  I had forgotten to mention Amazon.  I've also never had a problem with Amazon and their products almost always come in earlier than expected.  Also, the integration of Amazon mp3 acquisitions to iTunes is very smooth.  It is a treat to sometimes run across a surplus CD for 1 cent plus shipping.  Sometimes their mp3 music is much less expensive than iTunes and they run $5 album specials from time to time on recent issue material.  My personal taste is to store most music digitally and then give physical CD either to a local public radio station (their rules sometimes prohibit burned CD's or copies of CD's from mp3) or to a friend who agrees with you about having the real CD.  My special issue is that for mobility purposes, I like to "own" a lot of my music in lieu of streaming.  I have not tried CD Baby and have stayed away from emusic because of some negative reviews and a prior problem I have.  For folks comfortable with this source, it is a good deal.

Even in a so-called musical haven like Austin, I gave up a long time ago finding the music I wanted locally.  I tried for years to support local businesses, but kept running into the 'Gee -- we don't have that, but we can try to order it for you' line.  When I tried this, a few times, the order took months and the CD was exhorbitantly priced.


Items that Amazon carries can usually be found at reasonable prices through their marketplace sellers.  You can check out the availability through the 'new and used from $' link.  've rarely been disappointed in the quality -- and with some experimentation, I've learned which sellers can be trusted to (a) describe the condition of the item truthfully and (b) deliver the item dependably and quickly.  Import-cds, for example, is a reliable seller.  They also have their own website where you can order items directly, sometimes even less than the same item from them through Amazon.


Many of the smaller independent labels, and self-releases by the artists themselves aren't available through Amazon or the other 'big' online sources.  CD Baby is a good source for things that can't be found elsewhere, but they're not always inexpensive.  They ship quickly from the northwest (Washington or Oregon), and the items usually arrive here within a week or slightly longer, first class mail, packed well. 


When I can, I'll order directly from an artist's site.  It may not be the least expensive source, but I feel that the artist is probably getting more for the sale of their product with fewer middlemen in the path.


Now and then I'm forced to buy a download, but like many, I'd rather get something I can hold in my hand, explore the artiwork, etc.  I guess it comes from being an old vinyl junkie from way back.  Amazon's downloads are at a medium-quality bitrate, and the few things I've gotten from i-Tunes are similar.  Now and then I find something downloadable in a higher quality.  The downloads from CD Baby, for instance, are available in multiple quality levels, all at the same price -- mp3, mp3-320 and flac.


Happy hunting!

Thanks for the ideas from other folks.  Amazingly, in the nine months since I posted the question, the opportunities have exploded.  There are so many streaming services out there now that you need a website just to review the sites. Now comes BEATS MUSIC with the name recognition of originators and creative programming.  For now I'm sticking with listening to the audio of You Tube videos, buying iTunes songs (especially when Best Buy runs a gift card special), purchasing CD's from artists at local concerts, listening to roots shows on public radio (with twice-a-year donations), going to artists' websites for their promos, and special internet programs (NPR music, Savannah Music Festival Radio).  The possibilities are absolutely mind-boggling.  I'm old enough to remember what a treat it was to scrape up a couple of quarters to put into a live jukebox-now most anyone can have their own personal jukebox without spending a fortune.   

One thing to add about Rhapsody - you can get it for half price - only $5 a month - there is a option on the account page - or if you try to cancel - they will offer the $5 rate - I've been using it for several years.

As Kyla mentioned earlier, "streaming" doesn't necessarily mean a shuffle-type "radio" mix.  Streaming just means that the music comes from a server, which is available to listen to for a monthly fee. You don't download any song files.  So, if you stop paying the monthly fee, you can't listen to the music any longer. In other words, you are renting the music, not buying it.  Spotify, Rhapsody, and the new Google Play service are all examples of this.  These services have HUGE music libraries.  There is rarely anything I want to listen to that I can't find.  

Streaming services are great places to discover new music, but the sound quality is a little lacking.  In addition, I don't think that the artists receive much support through these services.  My impression is that they get some money, but it is not much.  I use Spotify to listen to new stuff.  If I like it, then I'll buy the music.  

If I want to buy something (which is often), the first thing I'll look for is a lossless (FLAC) download directly from the artist.  Bandcamp is usually where you can find these.  I recently bought Sturgill Simpson's new album this way.  These are CD quality files for considerably less money than a CD.  The cost for an entire album is usually between $7-10.  If I can't find a lossless download, then I go to Amazon and order a CD.  If there is a used copy for less money, I'll usually go with that.  The last option would be to purchase MP3s.  As far as MP3s go, I recommend Google Play, because everything is available at 320Kbps, which is a higher quality than either iTunes or Amazon. 


There are at least two series of very inexpensive "box sets".  One is Original Album Classics, from Sony, and the other is Original Album Series, from Rhino (from the Warner/Elektra catalog).  There is a vast array of "old" music available, worth spending some time searching.  On the Sony series there are nice sets from the Byrds, Allman Brothers, Santana and high-career Fleetwood Mac, among dozens of othes.  On the Rhino/Warner/Elektra series there is early career Fleetwood Mac, Ricky Lee Jones, Chicago, etc.  Prices vary, and the most recent versions are more expensive, but most net out at around $4 or $5 per CD.  In some cases there is material that just isn't available on Cd any other way.  These are a bargain.

Sound quality is at least adequate, although most are not remasters -- just reissues of original CDs, aside from those instances where there may have been no previous CD issue.

People complain about the packaging -- each disc is in a slipcover that's a replica of the original vinyl art, with four or five or three CDs packaged in a slipcase.  If you want full album details (in text big enough to read) you need to go to an online resource, which address is supplied.

Personally, I think these are a great deal.  Quality, as I said, is perfectly acceptable, and it's a way of filling out your collection of music you wouldn't otherwise get.

I recently bought a five-CD set of Blood Sweat and Tears (first 5 albums), great stuff.  I also especially like the early Fleetwood Mac set, capturing the transition from guitar/blues band to pop superstardom;  oodles of others.


I  discovered one of the best deals for purchasing cds from established artists is to check out some of the boxed set collections that are coming out at very reasonable prices.  I recently purchased the entire Harry Nilsson collection for under  $50. at Amazon UK.  Boxed sets are often a lot cheaper from the UK. Other sets I have found include Thelonious Monk, Byrds (entire studio album collection for under $35.00), Leonard Cohen entire studio and live album collection, etc. etc.  I have also found labels such as Proper Records that sell great collections at very reasonable prices.  I recently purchasedd 12 cd sets of traditional western music for under $20.00 and calypso music sets at the same price. Check out boxed sets if there are artists or genres that you really enjoy and you will find some great deals!


I have deleted my reply so you don't get drawn into an ethical or moral argument and can instead revert to the making of unopposed (and incorrect) moral and ethical statements. Apologies for misreading these statements as opinions in the context of a discussion.

Seattle Public Library has a super collection of CDs--I just got Jelly Roll Morton and Earl Fatha' Hines on way--they keep up pretty well with new releases too.  Order online and cds arrive from any of the 30 or s0 SPL libraries--sometimes there are waits, but your turn comes around and for many there are several copies floating around. 

Once a year the huge Friends of the  Library Sale can hold treasures.  I once found the (Famous) Harry Smith Anthology of Folk music, six disc collection, with immense informational booklet--for $3---it's $60, $80 or more new. 

Thanks Ron.  You are correct that there is a quality issue, both with potential bad video and audio by the recorder and then the online playback.  I have a good set of Harman Kardon computer speakers and new headphones so I'll just listen to some of the better files on desktop and continue with iTunes for eMusic for mobile usage, which is my main venue.

    I'm not going to get drawn into an ethical/moral argument in this thread.

It is possible to grab the audio portion of a YouTube video using third-party apps like Replay Media Catcher.  I can imagine some contexts where this is appropriate, but is clearly another variant of piracy in most.  One other downside is the audio quality.  What sounds all right when you're watching the video doesn't sound that great when I put it on my stereo.

I did that for a live Civil Wars video recorded in some sort of shop, it was a cover of Billie Jean.  Not on any album.  Interesting video, and professionally recorded, but I cringe every time I hear the audio by itself -- quite tinny sounding compared to other stuff, and it's basically a function of YouTube -- their audio tracks seem to max out at 128 kbps or something like that.


Alan, I wholeheartedly agree.  Maybe "cheap" is not the right word.  In fact, one reason I've spent hundreds of  dollars at iTunes store in last few years is to help the artists get at least a small piece of the action.   Without the option of being able to buy just 2 or 3 great songs from a particular CD, I may have skipped buying a whole CD from the artist.  Most of my really cheap purchases have been flea market purchases to replace 70's rock vinyl from artists who are already pretty well-off.  We do need to support independent roots artists by going to their shows and buying their music.  The a la carte method with iTunes, eMusic, etc. may be the best compromise on music purchases.  In fact, when folks ask what I want for birthday, Xmas, it is a music gift certificate.


What I have been trying to figure out next is how You Tube video and audio fit into the picture.  I had heard this Spring about a You Tube audio service but have not seen anything recently.  I know you can save in your You Tube library ("watch history") various live clips as well as studio recordings that folks have posted.  Also, you apparently can transfer You Tube video to mp3 by third party.  What is not clear is the legal standing and rights of You Tube video that we watch and save.  I can't imagine that we can all transfer a You Tube version of a studio song to iTunes library without some royalty to artist. 

Agree.  It is possible to get an awful lot of music via Torrent, for free.  But it's only "free" in the sense you don't pay for it;  there is a cost to the artists.

I like Bandcamp, which for many newish (and sometimes not-so-newish) acts is an excellent way to get high-quality downloads, with all proceeds direct to the artist.  For anyone except well-established artists, I often check to see if they have a presence on bandcamp.com.  For me, one big advantage is being able to get lossless (CD quality) downloads for the same price as an MP3.



Can I make a point that 'cheap' is one thing but somewhere down the line ethics should play a part too.

a) In the UK Amazon choose not to pay tax on their sales .

b) Artists still need to make a living so paying 'something' is far better than nothing when it comes to downloading/streaming

Another vote for emusic.  Excellent selection and their prices consistently beat iTunes by two or three dollars per album, which adds up if you download a lot and the booster packs and monthly bonus will also add up. 

I will use Amazon for CDs and use the cheaper stores, I will listen to a lot of stuff on Youtube, where you can find amazing stuff for free. Great article this week by Bob Leftsetz on the state of CDs and a new low in CD sales.

Another site I use occasionally' especially when linked by young bands or PR Companies is Soundcloud. You can stream and sometimes download for free.

Bandcamp is great because you can listen to streaming tracks for free, without paying for a download. The player works great in any smart phone's web browser, and there are third party apps that can access Bandcamp artist pages. The drawback is that there is no 'community' aspect--no radio stations or recommendations--so you have to discover new artists via web searches or other means.


Mike Stover



I missed this thread when it was first posted; so here goes:

    I too have used e-music for a number of years and find it invaluable for hearing music that I hear about on ND and also for getting a couple of tracks for playing on my radio show; when I know I won't want a whole album.

     For discovering 'new' music you can't go wrong with Noise Trade which lets you have downloads free; but asks for a donation which is discourteous not to do.

     Another great site is Daytrotter which has specially recorded sessions from artists as diverse as Merle Haggard, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Mumford & Sons and our very own Lake Poets. I can't remember what it costs to join ($20?) but after that it's free and something new every day.

      I haven't got time for streaming. 

Thanks Kyla.  I have deejay friends hosting music shows at public radio stations in my home state and they swear by Rhapsody, especially for keeping up with new music.  Even though they are supposed to use just physical CD's or the station's iTunes library for their shows, they sometimes stream Rhapsody through the board for hard-to-find songs or unusual song requests that are not on the station's system.

I have two great Harman Kardon computers speakers so maybe I will be listening more at my computer in the future.  

Streaming services are good for more than just background music.

I've been subscribing to Rhapsody for several years now and love it.  It's around $10 per month for as much music as you can listen to.  It's an "on demand" service which means you can choose to listen to full albums of whatever artists you want.  I listened to it much of the day today and chose to listen to full albums including the new Jason Isbell, Patty Griffin's latest, Phosphorescent, The Coup, Explosions in the Sky, Built To Spill and a few others while cleaning out my garage.

It's rare that I can't find the artist and album that I'm looking for. 

Rhapsody also has programmed streams of music set up if you just want to listen to music but don't want to choose what to play, which would be more like a radio substitute which is how Pandora and the new iTunes streaming service iRadio function. You can stream music but don't have much control over what you are listening to and can't choose to play full albums.  

With Rhapsody you can also download several albums (or tracks) for playback when internet or cell access isn't available.

RPN10 is correct.  Once you've set it up, it's a one-click process that both downloads from eMusic and then automatically adds to iTunes.  I use iTunes on my PC, and have only very rarely had any kind of problem downloading from eMusic.  And on those rare occasions, eMusic has not only fixed the problem, but they usually throw in a few free downloads as well for my trouble.  The only hitch I've run across is downloading from my AOL browser.  I simply switch over to Firefox to download.


The emusic downloader puts your tracks straight into iTunes.

Thanks, Garry, for an idea worth considering.  Do you know if there is any problem with integrating eMusic purchase into iTunes library?  I would guess not since you can bring Amazon MP3 in, though it is best not to use Internet Explorer as brower if you're an XP user. 

I've had an annual membership with eMusic for many years now.  They aren't as low-cost as they used to be, but eMusic still easily beats iTunes for downloading either single tracks or albums.  Albums that go for $9.99 - 12.99 on iTunes will typically go for $5.99-8.24 on eMusic.  And if you get an annual eMusic account, you get a "bonus" amount to spend each month that cuts the cost (under my plan, at least) by another 30% or so.  So when I download, for example, a $6.99 eMusic album, it actually only costs me around 5 bucks because the other $2 is money that was added to my monthly account by eMusic.  You do have to make sure that you use up each month's allotment, however, because anything you don't use in a particular month is lost (other than amounts under 49 cents, which get carried over to the next month).  But I download enough that it's never been a problem for me.  In fact, I usually end up adding a $50 "booster" (which lasts for three months and which eMusic adds an extra $15 to, so you actually get $65 worth of downloads for your 50 bucks) a couple of times each year.  eMusic doesn't carry everything, but the typical alt-country/Americana/No Dep listener will find plenty to like.


I don't use streaming services, although many people do -- I'm just not really interested in having background music, and can't get into the idea of a kind of radio substitute online.  I do understand that streaming services are very attractive to some, who like to discover new music this way.  But it just seems like too much trouble.  I'm a minority, I'm sure.

I use most of the strategies you do, and when I am in full music lust mode will look at various places to find the best prices.  Amazon re-sellers (the ones listed as other new or used sources) are often a good bit cheaper than the CD from Amazon itself.  One benefit for me (in Canada) is that when I order from one of these through amazon.ca I'll usually get the product tax free -- technically I could be taxed when they enter the country, but this never happens.  Ordering directly from amazon starts out costing more and then gets 13% added. 

In terms of downloading, I think you can do better (as in cheaper) than iTunes by joining eMusic.  You pay a monthly fee (I forget the minimum, but it's something like $10, and can then download what you want.  Cost is half iTunes prices, at $.49 a track, although there is no discount for album orders.  You win if there are a small number of tracks (e.g. 8 tracks will cost $3.92 on eMusic, but probably $9.99 on iTunes.  But for a 15 track album the cost will be closer between the two.  You can always top up your account ify ou exceed your $10 a month (or whatever plan you opt for). 

I personally think eMusic is a great alternative, especially if you aren't bothered by the fact the tracks are lossy MP3s.  Quality is similar to iTunes, but less than what you can get at other services like CDBaby.  Since you are usually listening on mobile devices, this is unlikely to matter to you.  You may not be able to find everything you are looking for, but much of it will be there.  Check it out for a month or two, see if it works for you.  emusic.com.

For newer independent acts, I quite like Bandcamp (bandcamp.com).  Prices vary dramatically, and often give you options -- e.g. minimum $5, but top it up to what you think is right.  You won't find established people or groups here, but many of the new and soon-to-be-hot are there, including a number who are reviewed here. 

I found this thread looking for a replacement for Grooveshark.  Yes, I'm a villain for listening to all that music on the sly.  But I was able to listen to a lot of old music.  I'm old.  I like old music. I could get Leadbelly, and the Louvin Brothers, the Dillards, Rev Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk and lots of other out of print material that I didn't know how to access any other way.  

What do I do now?  Who of all those great streaming sites has a strong catalog of out of print Americana?  Where can I find Steve Goodman and Bob Gibson or Jimmy Rodgers?

Help me please, even if I don't deserve it.