Last Updated: July 25, 2014
iPhone apps can be expensive, especially if you buy as many as I do. Fortunately, some of the best music apps won’t cost you a dime. Whether you want to listen to free music or identify that unknown song on the radio, these iPhone apps are worthy additions to your collection. Click the app name to go to the App Store to download it or read the review of each app.
Interested in streaming music apps like Spotify, Rdio, and Beats? Check out this article.
8tracks Radio is unique in the world of music apps in that it features user-submitted mixes and "handcrafted" playlists. There is a good amount of variety, including everything from Eminem to Arcade Fire. It is rather hard to tell the genre of each mix, as many of the descriptions are more artsy than informative. Clearer descriptions would be nice, as would the ability to rate individuals mixes.
This app is like having a very plugged-in friend who recommends an interesting new band to you every single day. And if you're looking to constantly discover new music, that's a very valuable thing to have. Unlike many apps that offer free music for sampling, Band of the Day both closely curates the music it offers and gives you 3-5 songs to sample, which really helps find out if you like the musician. While it leans heavily on a few genres--singer/songwriter, indie, folk, blues--if you like those genres, you'll like this app a lot.
Concert Vault brings together over 4,500 live concert recordings from the past 60-plus years into a truly impressive catalog. From classic recordings from the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals to modern sets from SxSW to 1960s-era West Coast concerts promoted by Bill Graham, the app offers a bounty for live music lovers. Unfortunately, its performance is slow, with the app often really dragging when it needs to load content via the web. It's limited to 10 hours of free listening per month. Unlimited listening costs US$48/year.
Daytrotter offers over 1,000 mini concerts--3-5 songs in each--from indie bands both successful and obscure, all for free. Stream music over Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, or LTE, and share music via Twitter and Facebook. With new concerts, called sessions, added all the time, Daytrotter is a fantastic app for the indie music fan or someone who wants to become one.
The name iHeartRadio gives a major hint as to what you'll find in this app: a lot of radio. iHeartRadio brings you live streams of radio stations from across the country, so if you love the traditional radio experience, you'll probably love this app. In addition to music stations, you can also tune into news, talk, sports, and comedy stations. Even better, though, the app includes the ability for you to create your own custom "stations," Pandora style, by searching for a song or artist. Some radio shows are also recorded and available for on-demand listening whenever you want.
6. iTunes Radio
ITunes Radio is Apple's answer to Pandora: a streaming, radio-style music service that builds its playlists based on the songs or artists a user likes. While it's not as refined as Pandora (which isn't surprising; Pandora's had years to perfect its offering), it's built into iTunes and iOS, is tightly integrated with the iTunes, and provides tons of great music for free. If you subscribe to iTunes Match, it's ad-free.
7. NPR Music
The NPR Music app is a great way to discover new music, especially if you are into indie rock. It lacks the variety of other iPhone music apps, but it does include access to 75 public radio stations and popular music podcasts like All Songs Considered and Thistle & Shamrock. You'll also find music news, interviews, and editorial reviews.
Pandora Radio is one of the most downloaded free apps from the App Store because it’s simple and works incredibly well. Pandora sets itself apart from other Internet radio apps because it compiles customized playlists based on the music you like. Pandora’s recommendations are usually spot-on, and I find it very easy to navigate. Unfortunately, you’re limited to 40 hours of free music per month (it costs $0.99 to upgrade to unlimited usage for 1 month, up to $4.99), and you can only skip up to six songs per hour and 12 songs per day.
Indie music powerhouse Pitchfork brings its perspective, and its famously tough reviews, to this app. You'll find lots of writing here, but that's not all. The app also offers videos, MP3s from bands Pitchfork covers, and podcasts with both conversation and music performances. If you're primarily looking for Top 40 hits or pop music, you may not find much to like in Pitchfork Weekly. But if you're a fan of indie or lesser-known bands, or looking to expand your musical horizons, it's a great option.
Unlike the music apps discussed above, Rhapsody requires a monthly subscription of at least $9.99 per month. On the plus side, the app allows for unlimited listening to more than 11 million songs, so you can listen to the music you want on demand. Rhapsody also supports offline listening, which is a huge perk. If you buy at least 10 songs from iTunes each month, a Rhapsody subscription is definitely worth considering.