WWW FAQs: Where can I host my MP3 files for free?


2007-01-09: Many bands are looking for a cheap or free place to host a page about themselves and distribute samples of their songs. Other bands (and webmasters in general) already have web hosting (maybe free, maybe not) and are just looking for a place to park music files that the web host doesn't allow.

I'll begin by looking at garageband.com (not to be confused with the Apple software), a site that offers a complete, ready-to-roll and free solution for bands (yes, including solo artists) that want to create a web presence. Then I'll look at solutions for those who already have websites but need a place to park those big MP3 music files.

A Complete Free Web Presence For Your Band

As of this writing, the best free solution for complete band hosting is garageband.com.

garageband.com hosts your MP3 files for free, providing listeners with both high-quality and dialup-quality versions of your music. garageband.com also provides a home page for your band, a podcast that updates when you upload new songs to garageband.com, and a place to write blog entries about your band.

In addition, garageband.com offers contests, opportunities to pay for better promotion, and a chance to be promoted better if you contribute reviews of other musicans on garageband.com. I personally think this is the most interesting feature of the site.

Is there a downside to using garageband.com? Although you retain ownership of your songs, you must agree to let garageband use your songs, your bandmates' names, and so on to promote the site. And you also have to agree to let them distribute your music for free, "throughout the universe," with no payment to you. Obviously that covers allowing fans to listen to your songs on the website! But it might also cover a TV ad for garageband.com.

However, they don't get the right to sell or license your music to others. So garageband.com doesn't appear to have the right to license your songs for use in TV ads for Nike shoes, for instance. And no one is forcing you to upload all of your songs, or complete versions of every song. I suggest holding back at least a portion of your material to encourage sales of your CDs. Other artists have chosen to put everything on the web as a way of promoting live tours.

garageband.com gives you several options for how your music is distributed. You can specify that your songs can only be "streamed-" played back while the user is looking at your garageband.com page. You can specify that the user is allowed to download and save the songs (for instance, to play in their personal iPod), but not give the user to right to give the song away to others. Or you can license your song under a Creative Commons license, allowing free sharing of the song but retaining your legal ownership of it.

Of course, none of these options are perfect. A clever user can figure out how to trick the browser into saving a song that's supposed to play only while you're looking at the page— or just configure their computer to record whatever it is playing back. And a user who doesn't care about your rights can ignore the "personal download only" option and share songs with other people. But these choices do give you the opportunity to "keep honest people honest" by making it clear what your wishes are.

How To Get Started With garageband.com

1. Record your music! If you're on a budget, I suggest the free and excellent open-source multitrack recording program Audacity. Those with a larger budget might consider CakeWalk. You'll need to save your songs in MP3 format. For complete instructions, see my article how do I record an MP3 file?
Important: your MP3 files need to have a 44.1khz sampling rate to work with garageband.com. Whoa, what does that mean in English?

It means that, if you're using Audacity, you should set your MP3 bit rate to 128kbps or better. Audacity will automatically use a 44.1khz sampling rate to export MP3s that are saved at a high bitrate (quality). And garageband.com will automatically create a lower-quality "dialup" version of your song for those who can't handle the high-quality version, so there's no reason for you to upload a lousy recording anyway. You can set Audacity's MP3 bitrate by following these steps:

A. Pull down the "File" menu in Audacity.

B. Pick "Preferences.

C. Pick the "File Formats" tab.

D. Pull down the "Bit Rate:" menu and select "128" or higher.

If you don't do this, Audacity may decide to use a lower sampling rate— which will sound fine in most MP3 players... but in a Flash player on the web, like the one used by garageband.com, it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks. For more information, see my article why do my MP3 files sound bad in Flash Player?

2. Sign up for a band account on garageband.com.

3. Upload your MP3 files to garageband.com. This can take a long time on a dialup connection. You won't see an exciting progress display. Just be patient.

4. You will receive a confirmation email message from garageband.com. Make sure you follow the link in that email message to confirm your song upload!

5. You're up! Your band now has its own web page on garageband.com and you've uploaded your first song. Now you can give out the link to your garageband.com page to promote your band. For instance, I created a "band" just for the fun of it, and this is the link:

http://www.garageband.com/artist/burntlentils

By participating in contests and the reviewing process on garageband.com, you can gain additional exposure for your band. A pretty good deal all around.

Free Hosting Just For Your MP3 Files

garageband.com is nice for musicans who don't already have websites. But what if you have already built a site, and you just want a place to keep those big MP3 files?

There are many sites out there claiming to offer free MP3 hosting. Unfortunately, most of them force your users to jump through hoops— users must come to the separate site of the MP3 hosting company, type in codes, wait out 30-second delays while looking at ads... pretty awful! Sites like sharebigfile.com are mostly intended for sharing videos and other truly huge files that might justify going through this kind of pain. Isn't there a site that can help you with your large... but not totally ginormous... MP3 music files?

Fortunately, there is. File Den offers a rather nice service to anyone willing to register for a free account: you can upload your MP3 files and then link them directly from your own pages, including pages that use the XSPF Free Music Player (see my article how do I embed audio in my web page? for more information about the XSPF Music Player).

Is there a catch? Well, yes: there's a 5GB limit on free downloads per month. But that's quite a bit if your song samples are of a reasonable size. Hundreds of fans can check out your songs every month before that becomes a problem. If you really need more, it's time to get serious and pay a few extra bucks for an account that allows more data transfer— and File Den has paid account options that give you much higher transfer limits.

Another catch: File Den's free accounts limit download speed to 100kb/sec. In English, this means that high-quality MP3s will have to download completely before they play back. Lower-quality MP3 files (64kbps mono, for example) will play back on the fly. Again, this part of the service quickly improves if you pay even $4.95 a month. Not a bad deal in my opinion.

How To Use File Den

Working with File Den is simple. Just follow these steps:

1. Go to File Den's website.

2. Click on "NOT REGISTERED YET? CLICK HERE," which appears beneath "Registered Login" over on the right (yes, this should be easier to find).

3. Click "Select this plan" at the bottom of the "FREE Account" column.

4. Fill out the registration form with the username and password of your choice. You'll need to enter a real email address so you can get the confirmation email.

5. Important: when the confirmation email arrives, follow the link in that message to verify your account. If you don't get it, check your spam folder.

6. Click on "Click here to login" (yes, step 5 ought to automatically log you in the first time, but it doesn't).

7. Enter the username and password you chose and click "Login."

8. You'll see "Folders" at left and, over to the right, the word "Upload." (Don't confuse this with any ads that also appear on the page and mention the word "Upload.") Click on "Upload" to go go the file-uploading page.

9. After a moment, the upload page appears, with a "Browse" button halfway down the page. Click on "Browse" and pick the MP3 file you want to upload from your hard drive.

Don't have any MP3s of your band yet? No problem! There's great free software for the job, and the rest of the supplies you'll need don't have to be expensive. Read my article how do I record an MP3 file? for more information.

10. Click "Add more files" if you want to upload an additional file.

11. CLick "Upload files" to send your music to File Den.

12. A page with the heading "[img] Tags" appears. Puzzling, isn't it! This page gives you a place to give links to images that should go along with your files. You're going to link directly to your MP3s, so you really don't care about this. Just click "OK."

13. Your "Folders" page reappears. You can see the file or files you've uploaded listed in the middle of the page.

14. Click on a file to download it. Depending on your computer, it'll play directly in the browser via QuickTime, or in Windows Media Player, or in iTunes.

15. Now, let's grab the URL of our file so that we can use it with the XSPF Free Music Player on our own pages! To do that, back up to your main "Folders" page on File Den if you're not already there. Then, just right-click on the file you want and pick "Copy Link Location" (in Firefox) or pick "Copy Shortcut" (in Internet Explorer).

16. Now you can embed the song by including its URL in an XSPF playlist. The URL should look much like this one:


http://www.fileden.com/files/2007/1/9/617699/star_got_a_raise.mp3

Not sure what an XSPF playlist is? That's OK— you just haven't read my article how do I embed audio in my web page? yet.

What About Hosting At Home?

"Hey, can't I host my own files at home for free?" Well, yeah, but it's a lot of work and it works badly. And truly doing it well costs money. But some people love it and want to do it anyway. I understand— so read my articles how do I host my own website at home? and should I host my own website at home? to learn more. Both about how it's done, and about why it's usually not the most practical solution.

Conclusion

Congratulations! Your band's on the web and you haven't spent a penny. Now your drummer can finally afford music lessons!

Legal Note: yes, you may use sample HTML, Javascript, PHP and other code presented above in your own projects. You may not reproduce large portions of the text of the article without our express permission.

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