Free music online
With online music services you can listen to the latest and greatest hits whenever and wherever. And by putting up with a few ads or making use of free trials, you can do so without paying a penny. Here's our round-up of the best online music services that let you listen for free.
What is online music streaming?
The internet is a great way to browse, discover and pay for music. The music streaming industry has exploded in the past few years – according to the British Phonographic Industry, 139 billion tracks were streamed in the UK in 2020, an over 20% increase on 2019.
Before you start using any of these online music services though, it's important to understand how they work. Here are some streaming FAQs:
- Downloading. The first is by downloading the songs you want to listen to. This can be costly if you're doing it legally, especially if you're downloading a whole album of songs. Once you've paid for a track or album, it's yours to keep and listen to for as long as you like.
Streaming. The other way is online streaming, where you don't actually save the track to your phone, tablet, computer or other device, you just play it while you're online and every time you listen you're effectively 're-downloading' the track (unless you're on a plan with 'offline listening'). You'll only have access while logged in to your profile with the service (though many are free to use).
Streaming lets you listen to your favourite tracks and albums instantly. Its main boon is you get instant access to huge catalogues of music, without having hundreds of CDs cluttering up your house or thousands of MP3s cluttering up the memory of your devices.
These services are legal and above board, but on free services the music is often interrupted every now and then with an advert you can't skip. It can also be difficult to find the exact songs you want to hear, so free streaming services aren't for everyone.
Before you consider streaming, a word of warning: ensure your broadband and mobile data connection are fast enough and you've a generous download limit. While you're not actually downloading a track to keep, streaming will use up your monthly allowance. Otherwise you risk being hit with added costs and constant buffering.
As a general rule:
You need a high (or unlimited) download limit, or you could be slapped with gargantuan charges.
For example, if you're going to listen to about six hours of internet radio per week, and that is all you'll be doing, you'll need a monthly download allowance of at least 5GB.
If you're going to be streaming more music, or doing other data-heavy things, like streaming movies, it's worth checking that your broadband package offers unlimited usage (most do these days), so you'll not have the worry of exceeding any limit - full details in the How to get cheap broadband guide.
And if you're streaming on a smartphone or tablet, use Wi-Fi whenever possible or switch to a deal that offers you more data if you want to listen on the go to avoid extra charges - see Best Sim only Deals for more info.
There are plenty of online music-streaming services that are legal, though thousands more aren't. The Government and internet providers are cracking down on the illegal ones, while some services only work in certain countries due to music licensing restrictions.
All those included below are legal, and will work in the UK.
Always check any software you put on your computer is suitable. Ensure it's compatible with your existing set-up. No liability can be accepted for any problems caused from acting upon the info given.
Music streaming isn't always free – but you can cut the cost when it's not
Many music streaming companies do offer free versions of their services, often with ads and/or certain limitations (such as lacking the ability to play offline). If you're happy to put up with these, then by all means go free.
If you want an ad-free, fully-fledged experience though, you'll need to upgrade to a premium subscription or a paid-only provider. Plans typically go for £10/mth, though the good news is there are ways to cut the cost.
Most of the big names offer some sort of family or shared subscription, which lets multiple listeners (usually up to six) use the service each with their own profile, library and playlists.
One monthly payment is due for the entire group – and at £15/month they work out cheaper per person than individual plans. Obviously the more there are of you, the better value they become. Note that these subscriptions usually require all users to reside at the same address.
These providers offer family plans (for comparison they're normally £10/month per person):
Top free online music services
Here are a few music streaming providers with free versions worth considering. These all offer a completely free service you can use on an ongoing basis, though some such as Spotify also offer limited free trials of their paid-for service.
Spotify is hiking the price of some paid-for plans from June. The Family plan will go up by £2/mth, while the Student and Duo plans will go up by £1/mth. Full info in the Spotify to hike prices MSE News story.
Probably the biggest name in online music, the Spotify streaming service has 345 million users around the world and over 70 million available tracks. While many use the paid version, it also offers free streaming with ads.
You can listen for free on smartphones and tablets via the Spotify app, but you can only listen on shuffle (you can skip six times per hour) and you must be online. If you pay to upgrade to Premium you can listen ad-free, play any song or album on-demand, and download and listen to music offline.
Used Spotify? Tell us what you think in the MSE Forum.
Looking to cut the cost of Spotify? See our Spotify MoneySaving Tips.
Spotify offers an array of clever extra features to both free and Premium users, such as being able to follow what friends are listening and find music already on your computer, phone or tablet and add it to your Spotify library, so you can listen to it on other devices just by logging in to your account.
Spotify automatically generates daily and weekly personalised mixes and playlists based on the artists you follow and tracks you listen to most. This feature is available to free users as well as subscribers.
- There's a free three-month trial available for Premium newbies – you'll be charged £9.99/mth automatically at the end unless you cancel.
- Spotify no longer allows new subscribers to make payments for Premium via Apple's in-app payment system (iAP) – you now have to subscribe direct.
- The Family plan for sharing with up to five others (each with their own profile) costs £14.99/mth (first month free for new subscribers).
- The Student plan costs £4.99/mth (first month free for new subscribers).
- Works on PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices, some smart TVs and TV streaming devices, PS3/PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Xbox Series S/Xbox Series X, smart speakers, some car dashboard systems.
- There's a free three-month trial available for Premium newbies – you'll be charged £9.99/mth automatically at the end unless you cancel.
On the scene since 2006, Deezer is one of the older music-streaming sites, with around 14 million active monthly users. It's a fully-fledged free service supported by ads.
As with Spotify, free users can only listen in shuffle mode and when online, but unlike with Spotify you can't skip tracks at all unless you're willing to fork out for the privilege.
Used Deezer? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the forum.
Upgrading to Deezer Premium will let you listen without ads and shuffle plus gives you unlimited skips and lets you download tracks for listening offline.
The 'Flow' feature mixes your favourite tracks with new recommendations and old favourites based on your listening habits, creating an "infinite stream" of personalised music.
- There's also a free three-month trial available for Premium newbies – you'll be charged £9.99/mth automatically at the end unless you cancel. You can also sign up for a year for £99.90 (equiv £8.33/mth).
- Deezer Family (£14.99/mth) lets up to six people access an account at once.
- Deezer Student provides those enrolled at a college or university Premium access for £4.99/mth.
- Deezer HiFi (£19.99/mth) allows those who listen via the desktop app or selected soundsystems to do so in 'lossless' (ie, very high) audio quality.
- There is an app for both PC and Mac as well as iOS, Android and Windows Mobile devices. It can also be used with various web browsers, selected smart TVs and smart speakers, and Xbox One.
There are over 150 million tracks on SoundCloud, and this continues to grow because of its scale and easy uploading - it was launched as a platform for sharing music between artists.
Its popularity with consumers quickly led it to develop into a full publishing tool for musicians to distribute their tracks to the public, and it now boasts 175 million listeners a month.
Tried SoundCloud? Tell us about it in the forum.
Because of its focus on artists and getting new material published, SoundCloud is ideal for discovering new or smaller artists that you may not find elsewhere, and exploring trending music.
Since it introduced a paid option back in 2016, the free version has ads and you must pay to listen offline. SoundCloud Go costs £5.99/month and removes the ads and lets you listen offline, while SoundCloud Go+ (£9.99/month) gives you that plus access to every track and better quality sound.
- Free seven-day trial available for SoundCloud Go newbies – you'll be charged £5.99/mth automatically at the end unless you cancel.
- Free 30-day trial for SoundCloud Go+ newbies - you'll be charged £9.99/mth automatically at the end unless you cancel.
- Students can get Soundcloud Go+ for £4.99/mth (after a free 30-day trial).
- SoundCloud Pro, more for musicians/uploaders, costs £7/mth or £63/yr and gives you six extra hours of upload time and advanced stats on your tracks.
- Pro Unlimited costs £10/mth or £90/yr and gives you unlimited upload time plus Soundcloud Go+ for £4.99/mth if you want it.
- There are apps for iOS and Android devices, Windows computers and tablets and Xbox One. You can also use it via your web browser.
Jango is an online radio service rather than an on-demand streaming service. You can't listen to particular artists or songs as and when, but you can listen to radio 'stations' by artist or genre.
You don't have to register. Just type in an artist or genre, select a result and the station will start playing right away. For example, type in 'Adele', select 'Adele Radio' and it will play similar artists to Adele, such as Carly Rae Jepsen and Tove Lo, as well as Adele herself.
Used Jango? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the forum.
If you just want instant access to music, Jango is a good starting point. It enables you to 'like' or 'ban' songs so they are played more often or not all, and to customise stations, even without registering (although you'll have to if you want to save your stations and preferences). You can also skip six songs an hour.
The site also provides emerging artists with the opportunity to showcase their music by playing their songs alongside those of similar popular artists.
Jango is free because it's funded by ads, so if you use the service without creating an account, you'll hear an audio ad every so often, though it says it tries to keep these to a minimum. To hear fewer ads, create a Jango account and connect it with your Facebook account and you'll only get one audio ad per day. At present the mobile apps are ad-free.
Top paid-only music services, with free trials
The following music streaming services don't have free options, but they do offer free trials. Handy for sampling what's on offer before deciding whether you want to stump up the cash.
AMAZON MUSIC UNLIMITED* – 3MTH TRIAL, £9.99/MTH (£6.58/MTH EQUIV VIA TRICK)
The online retail giant's answer to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited* is ad-free and lets you listen offline. Yet unlike with Spotify there is no ad-supported free version.
Anyone can get it on a free three-month trial. After that, the standard price is £9.99/mth, though you can choose between a few different plans...
Trick to get it for £6.58/mth equiv. Amazon Prime subscribers can get it for £79/year. But even if you don't want to pay for Prime, you can do this. Simply sign up for a free 30-day Prime trial*, then pay for a year's Amazon Music Unlimited upfront – if you then cancel Prime, you get to keep Amazon Music Unlimited for what works out as the equivalent of just £6.58/mth.
Already had a Prime trial? Sign up for just one month to get it cheap. If you've already had a Prime trial and can't get another, you can sign up to a month of Prime for £7.99, then opt for the annual plan of Amazon Music Unlimited for £79 before cancelling. This takes the cost to £86.99 over a year (£7.25/mth equiv), so you still save – plus you get Prime for a month.
- Share with the family and it works out even less per person. The family plan* gives access to up to six household members, each with their own account. One person pays – it's £14.99/mth, or £149/yr if you've Prime or a Prime trial (see above...). Obviously the more of you there are, the better the value – based on £149/yr it would come to £6.21/mth equiv each if there are two of you or £2.07/mth with six. But be warned – you'll have to set up a 'shared payment method', which can be used by any user of the family plan to make purchases on Amazon.
Remember, unless you cancel before your Amazon Music Unlimited annual subscription or trial is up, you'll be automatically charged to renew. As for Amazon Prime, it's an automatic £79/yr fee if you don't cancel your trial. For full help if you forget to cancel, see Reclaim Unwanted Amazon Prime.
Amazon Unlimited Music is entirely separate to the pre-existing Prime Music service. Prime subscribers can still use Prime Music* – with a more limited library of two million songs – free of charge. Songs not covered by your Prime membership have to be purchased.
One nice extra feature of Amazon Music Unlimited is its integration with the Echo home speaker. By speaking to it you can request songs by lyrics, year of release or mood. As with other premium music-streaming services, the more you use it, the more personalised your recommendations will be.
Here's a summary of the pricing:
Track library 2 million 50 million 50 million 50 million Offline playback Yes Yes Yes No Supported devices All (1) All (1) All (2) Amazon Echo or Fire TV devices only (1) Standard price N/A £9.99/mth £14.99/mth £3.99/mth Price for Prime customers Included £7.99/mth or £79/yr £14.99/mth or £149/yr £3.99/mth
- You'll automatically be charged at the end of the free trial unless you cancel your subscription.
- The family plan lets up to six listen simultaneously for £14.99/mth (£149/yr with Prime).
- No student discount – though those with Student Prime can use the trick above.
- There's a £3.99/mth plan for use via an Amazon Echo/Fire TV devices only – not any other devices. To bag an Alexa device cheaply, see Amazon Echo Hacks.
- Prime membership gives one-day delivery on many items, film and TV streaming via Prime Video and a few other perks.
- There's an Amazon Music app for iOS, Android and Amazon's own 'Fire' devices, and for Macs and PCs.
APPLE MUSIC* – 3MTH TRIAL, THEN £9.99/MTH
As with Amazon and Google, there's no free, ad-supported version of Apple's music streaming service, but those new to Apple Music* can get a free three-month trial.
You'll get all the features of paid membership for the duration of the trial, including access to the library of 70 million songs. The paid version is £9.99/month if you don't cancel before the trial ends.
Used Apple Music? Tell us what you think of it in the forum.
The most-touted feature of Apple Music is its live and on-demand radio station Apple Music 1, with shows hosted by DJ Zane Lowe and a range of well-known artists such as Nile Rodgers, Elton John and Alanis Morissette.
As you'd expect from a paid-for service, you can listen ad-free online and offline and use the service across your compatible devices. Also, any music you've bought in the iTunes store will be synced to Apple Music so it's available to stream on all your devices.
If you don't take the trial and/or pay to subscribe, you can still listen to Apple Music 1 for free, but this is a very limited option – you can't listen to songs on demand or skip tracks – which is why it didn't make it into our top free music services.
- The paid subscription automatically begins when the free trial ends, so cancel before the trial period is up if you don't want to pay £9.99/mth.
- The Family subscription lets up to six listen for £14.99/mth.
- The Student subscription costs £4.99/mth.
- You can pay for Apple Music using iTunes and App Store vouchers, which can often be found discounted (check these are UK vouchers - overseas vouchers can't be redeemed in the UK).
- Works on Apple devices running iOS 8.4 or later, Macs and PCs with iTunes, and Android devices.
YOUTUBE MUSIC – 1MTH TRIAL, THEN £9.99/MTH
Launched by Google in 2015, YouTube Music has now replaced the search engine's previous music service. Google Play Music, which was shut down in Dec 2020.
While there is a free, ad-supported version of YouTube Music that even lets you listen on-demand, it doesn't let you listen without loading a video and, on smartphones and tablets, only lets you listen if you keep YouTube Music on screen and your screen unlocked. Because of that, we haven't included it in our top free online music services.
It costs £9.99/mth to subscribe to YouTube Music Premium, but much like its rivals it lets newbies try it for free (you need to have or create a free Google account to use it) before they have to pay.
Those on the 30-day trial will get the same as paying members – on-demand access to its library of music ad-free, background and locked-screen listening on smartphones and tablets, offline listening and audio-only listening.
Have you tried YouTube Music? Tell us about it in the MSE Forum.
The feature that most sets YouTube Music apart for its competitors is that enables you to store up to 100,000 tracks you already own in the cloud, for listening to (or downloading) anywhere you've got an internet connection. This makes it ideal for those who already have a significant collection of songs.
Interestingly, this feature is available to non-paying users as well as Premium subscribers, so by all means use it for this function alone if you want to back up your songs and listen to them online without paying a penny.
- You'll be charged at the end of the free trial unless you cancel.
- The family plan lets up to six listen across 10 devices for £14.99/mth (first month free for new subscribers).
- The student plan cost £6.99/mth (first month free for new subscribers).
- You can listen via desktop and laptop computer, and on iOS and Android devices.
How to complain about a provider
If you're not happy about the service you receive from an online music service, you should contact the company first. And if you're still not satisfied after doing that, escalate your complaint to the relevant ombudsman or trade body – for full help, see our Consumer Rights guide.
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