The 10 best places to find free vintage tracks

Everyone loves a freebie and if you’re a fan of vintage music, fortunately, there are probably more free tracks out there than you could ever hope to listen to. If you’re a producer/DJ/remixer though, things can get a little more complicated as you start need to worry about whether something is legal to use. Usually anything pre 1900 is fine but when it comes to that early 20th century golden age of swing, jazz, boogie woogie and blues, you have to look a little more carefully. Whether you’re a casual listener or the next big thing in the electroswing scene, these are the places that you should be looking for your next retro music fix

1) The Internet archive

Ok let’s get this one out of the way straight out of the gate, if you’re searching for any type of free/public domain content and don’t look on the internet archive, you’re probably doing it wrong. It hosts vast amounts of video, music, audio recording, text, software, roms, and oh yeah a backup of the entire internet. It aims to be an archive of everything that’s available for free to the human race. It is a bit like a physical archive though, the search tools are somewhat … underpowered so instead you have to wander down dusty corridors to dig up that hidden gem. It is a fun experience in itself akin to crate digging but it can also be a little frustrating when you make a wrong turn and get lost. It has tons of old radio shows, music from the birth of recording right the way up to the present, vintage films to sample and much more.

2) Public domain review

Public domain review is the polar opposite of the internet archive, it doesn’t generally host content but instead curates public domain content. It scours sites like the internet archive (and other PD sources) picks out some of the highlights and turns them into an exhibit. This means that there is less content than some of the other sites but all of it is noteworthy from some reason. There’s already some good content from the 1900-1920s (and earlier) on there and they are adding new entries all the time.

3) Free Music Archive

The Free Music Archive is a huge database of free music of every genre imaginable run by WFMU radio station. The Old time, Blues and Jazz sections are particularly worth checking out or just search for what you want – Everything is pretty well labelled. It is a curated collection so all of the music on there is of good quality and a lot of the tracks are modern productions (of older styles) so don’t need cleaning up before using them in a track or a playlist. Everything is free to download although the exact usage licence varies from public domain to CC-noderivatives so you have to check before you start remixing

4) Jazz On Line

Jazz online is the most focused site but it’s essential for lovers of Jazz (obs) swing, rag, blues and other late 19th/earliest 20th century genres. From an electroswing producer’s perspective its a complete godsend with vast amounts of content just waiting to be remixed. Everything on there is public domain and they respect takedown requests so everything on there should be safe to use. It’s all arranged by artist and the index reads like a who’s who of vintage music. To ‘enhance’ the experience, the website itself has a somewhat vintage look to it, don’t let that put you off though, its an incredible resource.

5) Public domain Media database

Don’t judge this site’s poor spelling too harshly as I’m pretty sure English is not it’s first language. It doesn’t host the files itself but rather acts as an index of all of the available music from a number of sources. It also cleverly includes the country that it was declared public domain in which is very useful seeing as the definition is far from universal (as the front page explains). Lots of interesting stuff on here that you wont find easily through other means, particularly folk music, interesting jazz oddities and spoken word. There are over 6000 tracks on there so plenty to look through

6) Project Gutenberg

A recent discovery for me was that Project Gutenberg did not just host books but actually has a pretty decent music page as well. Mostly classical but there are some early blues, country and folk ones in there too. And if you want some period appropriate literature to read while listening, just browse to the rest of the site

7) Open Music Archive

The open music archive hosts a good collection of public domain music. It bases this off the UK definition of public domain, which is great for us UK producers. The music on there is interesting and the quality of the recordings is good. I would say that the browsing/searching tools aren’t amazing but this isn’t a vast collection so it doesn’t take too much time to click through a few different tags and find something cool.

8) publicdomain4u

Much like public domain review above, this site curates interesting free content from other sources but this time focusing on music only. Often picking out single tracks to write a feature on, it is a great place to browse when you want some inspiration. Despite the name of the website its disclaimer explicitly says that it does not make any claim over the copyright status of the tracks it posts, only that they are freely available. As it always gives a link to the content page on the host website though, this is not difficult to find out.

9) CCsearch

This is one of those tools that I’m surprised it took me so long to find out about. The search tool hosted by the creative commons website allows you to search for CC content from a range of different sources. The choices of sources for audio are slightly limited in number but searching them brings up good results easily and quickly. Just the fact that tools like this exist makes me happy because they make me realise that in many ways we do genuinely live in the future

10) CCmixter

ccMixter is a really interesting concept: part social network, part music hosting site, part mass collaboration project. Essentially musicians upload parts, producers mix/remix then the resultant tracks are hosted on the website. Everything uploaded there is creative commons and many samples that are free for commercial use though (and it allows you to search for them). If you’re a DJ (or just a lover of music) though, its definitely worth checking out the tracks that people have made as with such a broad range of base sonic material to use people have made some truly interesting fusions of old and new styles, and surely that is the whole point of vintage remix

Honorable mentions

http://funfunfunmedia.com –  A large collection of free music from a variety of different genres. Newer stuff tends to be promotionals from bands/producers etc, older stuff tends to be public domain. Most of the time it doesn’t specify the license though so you’ll have to do a little research on any tracks you’re using

http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/index.php – A huge collections of wax cylinder recordings being archived to MP3 format by the University of California. There is an amazing selection of music to stream/download for free but it is non commercial use only (and the licensing fees on their website are eye-watering). Also all the MP3s are very low bitrate but seeing as the original recordings are generally pretty dirty from an audio perpsective, this may not be the biggest issue

http://www.britishmusicarchive.com/ – A really interesting project that hosts modern music (generally from the 50s onwards) that is either unavailable or was never released in the first place. This means you could literally do a fresh collaboration with someone from the 60s or ‘break’ a band many years after they broke up. Although all the music is free from cost, it is not free from copyright so you’d still have to track down the owners. If nothing else, it contains amazing descriptions of many bands who never ‘made it’ so it is a fascinating slice of history too.

https://musopen.org/ – A grand collection of both public domain music and score, mainly focusing on classical (and earlier) styles. Although this might be a bit too vintage for some, it has a staggering amount of content, good search tools and clear labelling of audio licences. Some of the music is actually quite modern but it generally sticks to the classical styles of composition

http://research.culturalequity.org/home-audio.jsp – Alan Lomax is a bit of a hero of mine, last century he realised that a lot of traditional music was in real danger of being lost and so set out with his recording equipment to try to preserve it. He started in the USA and later went around the world collecting. This foundation has grown out of his work and hosts a great collection of music from around the world. The only wrinkle is that the site contains little information about the copyright status of the music it hosts, so it you wanted to use any of it, it would require some effort on your part (and could be challenging seeing as some of the recordings do not even name the artist). Even so, if you want to broaden your musical perspective, it is definitely worth losing some hours here.

Hope this keeps gives you plenty of stuff to listen to, remix, mashup and more. If you make something cool, I’d love to hear it just drop me a message on facebook, twitter or email

Love and Peace – 😀

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s