For several months I've been a member of a music site called Amie Street. It's sort of like iTunes, but different.
When you become a member of Amie Street you are encouraged to check out the new music as it comes into the site. Why? Because if you get in early you can download it for free. Most of the music that comes into Amie Street starts off free. As more people discover it and download it, the price goes up until it's $.99 per track. So, if you get it early you get it free, or very cheap. And even if you get it free, you have the satisfaction of knowing that your download has brought that artist a step closer to making some money. In addition, you can recommend a song once you own it, and this has two benefits: it can help others to decide whether to download, and if the popularity of the track increases you get a sort of cashback reward.
It's also a way to discover new, unknown artists without breaking your wallet. It goes without saying that there are legions of unknown but amazing musicians out there. In the last few weeks alone I have downloaded perhaps a dozen artists I'd never heard of before who blew me away with their music. Here are just two, both guitarists (available on Amie Street): Battista, who plays a style similar to the Gypsy Kings; and Alberto Fuggini, who plays sublime folk/classical. Go to their Amie Street sites and check them out. You can play clips to get an idea of what they're like.
But it's not all just new or unknown artists. I've downloaded music from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Little Feat, George Benson, Stan Kenton, and The Coasters. In fact, I've downloaded so much free or inexpensive music, I haven't had time to listen to it all yet.
Now, here's the other side of this story. If you are a musician, you can upload your mp3s and make them available for sale/download. Each track you upload can reach the potential price of $.99. After an admin fee by Amie Street of $5, you start earning money. Amie Street takes a 30% cut. I'm not sure whether this is a big cut or not. I don't know what percentage iTunes gets. However, the beauty of it is, you really don't have to do much work for it. Except to tell all your friends to register with Amie Street, download your tunes (early, for free...) and get some buzz happening.
I warn you, though. The search for new and interesting music can be a little addictive. I find myself, lately, checking out the site every day to see what's new.