Free and legal-to-download indie music has been at least as much a part of the Internet’s transformation of the entertainment business as pirated music has, though it’s a less-talked-about phenomenon. From IUMA to the original version of MP3.com to hundreds of thousands of individual band and artist websites, MySpace profiles, and blogs, unsigned musicians have jumped at the opportunity to distribute their works for free in the hopes of attracting a following that can take them to the next level (whether that’s a major label contract, or an ongoing status as a self-sustaining indie).

The problem for somebody like me — not particularly hip, not particularly educated about the various “scenes,” and not particularly energized enough to sift through the hundreds of thousands of available songs, but with a very low tolerance for boring music — is not that there’s too little free stuff out there. It’s that there’s way too much, and I can’t efficiently find free music that I like without finding engaging gatekeepers and curators first. And those guys are harder to find than you might think.

That probably sounds frustrating to many indie artists, who are probably distributing their work online precisely because they want to bypass middlemen and gatekeepers. But, as a listener, that doesn’t matter much to me. I know what I like, and what I like is having educated, opinionated people telling me what I might like (or, at least, making a convincing case for what they like, and why) in a way that is more subtle and intellectually stimulating than some algorithmic hoo-ha robot.

Very happy to discover The Free Music Archive for this reason. It was started within, and is directed by, WFMU, one of the more well-known freeform radio stations in the country (headquartered in NJ but available for listening everywhere via streaming). They’re not the only curators, though — they’ve pulled together a wide range of curatorial voices, including other public radio stations, indie music festivals and labels, community website managers, and a bunch of other kinds of people and organizations.

So far, my favorite artist find is the most unusual Theo Angell, but I’ve only listened to about 1/10 of everything I’ve downloaded (twenty albums so far, by fourteen artists). Since you’re reading thought-provoking essays and blog posts that direct you to music, instead of just clicking random genre names and finding random things, it’s all just a little bit more interesting and satisfying than what you’d find at a random open-mike free music portal like Jamendo. At least, that’s been my experience.

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