Let’s face it, living a normal life is insanely expensive. With gas at almost three dollars a gallon (we have it a little better here in Texas, but only marginally), an economy in which even experienced professionals have a tough time landing a service job, and the costs of living increasingly on the rise, the days where one could go to a record store and buy an album a week seem like a thing of the past. The harsh reality is that not many of us, especially strapped-for-cash college students like me, have the disposable income to spend $13 on a new CD when there’s rent to be paid.

Because of this, a lot of people have resorted to downloading music over the internet illegally, which can backfire in the forms of viruses, incomplete album downloads, or the randomness of the RIAA in their lawsuits. As a safe and legal alternative, I have compiled a list of several different ways that you can obtain new music for free without having to risk your computer, the quality of the music, or your livelihood. I’ve been utilizing these methods for years, and they have helped me build a sizable music collection, all on a shoestring budget.

Libraries: Although you may better remember them for your all night cramming sessions or for the trophies you received for completing their Summer reading challenges, your local (or university) library can be a great place for free music. Most libraries have decent sized CD sections that run the gamut of genres from rock to jazz to classical. While you may not find a specific album you want, you might be surprised with what you stumble upon. Sure you could reserve albums online, but browsing the catalogs of different branches gives you a good reason to explore your city and make use of a public service. I have been fortunate enough with Austin Public Libraries that I can attest to obtaining over 300 albums (a rough estimate) over the last two years. My complete set of Bjork and Mountain Goats albums would not have been possible without it, and I have discovered some really great bands on a whim as a result of my escapades. Even when I had to go home to Houston last summer, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection at their branches. I got several albums that had been released only a few months earlier, and there were many that I hadn’t seen at any of the Austin libraries, making my summer away from Austin a little more bearable. If you live in an urban area with a well established library system, chances are that you are only a signature away from having access to a wealth of good music.

Friends With Similar Tastes: While you may not be able to purchase new music, you just might have a friend or two that can, or who have successfully navigated the waters of illegal downloading. Friends are a great way to obtain new music because all you really need is a flash drive or portable hard drive, enough space on your computer, and some music that they want so you don’t come off as a moocher. Not only are music exchanges a great thing to do with people you already know, it can be an excellent way to bond with people you may not know or only know casually. You may discover that the cute guy/girl that lives in your apartment complex has similar tastes in music as you, which is rarely ever a bad thing. Some of the people I have exchanged music with have become some of my best friends, as we discovered more about each other through our common interest. And, there’s also the possibility that you can give a musically misguided friend a CD of your favorites, exposing them to a new world of quality music. Who knew getting free music from other people could also function as social networking?

Your Parents Music Collection: Believe it or not, you and your parents might have something in common when it comes to music. While it is unlikely that you will hear your mom or dad blaring “Merriweather Post Pavilion” over the house stereo system, there is a good chance that he or she introduced you to some of your favorite music as a child. My dad introduced me to The Beatles, The Cars, and Yes among others, while my mom showed me some great R&B and soul groups. Your parents have had a longer time to build their collection of records and CD’s, and they probably wouldn’t mind it if you came home every now and again, even if it is just to rip their Led Zeppelin catalog. You can always bond with them afterwards, or at least I hope you would. And if the free music weren’t enough reason to stop by, nothing beats some down home cooking. Am I right?

(Image Credit: Pundit Kitchen)

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