Where to find the cheapest music on the web

Remember when Woolworths, HMV or Virgin were the places to head to when the latest single or album was released? Oh, how times have changed. These days, more and more people are turning to the internet to download tunes and albums or listen to their favourite songs.

But what are the cheapest ways to buy or listen to music online?

Buying CDs

Just because you’re shopping online doesn’t mean that you should discount high street stalwarts. The online version of HMV is not only a great resource for finding out about new releases, it’s also a pretty decent place to pick up a bargain or two. The homepage often includes sale items, and you can sort discounted items by popularity; release date; price; format; artist; and title.

Delivery is free to UK addresses. But be aware that HMV no longer offers exchanges for unwanted CDs or DVDs. Instead, you’ll have to return the item for a refund (within 21 days) and then replace your order via the website.

HMV’s rival on the high street Zavvi (formerly known as Virgin) went into administration in Christmas 2008, but its website – Zavvi.com – lives on and continues to trade, although it is now owned and operated by The Hut Group, a technology company. Again, there are plenty of offers online (as well as those promoted on the homepage, check the CD Offers tab on the left-hand side menu bar) and free delivery is standard. 

Another household name that was seemingly destroyed by the credit crunch only to be resuscitated on the web is Woolworths. With generous discounts on CDs on offer, woolworthsentertainment.co.uk is a good place to look for cheap CDs, although those with specialist needs might find the choice isn’t as wide-ranging as HMV and Zavvi. 

WHSmith’s music website – whsmithentertainment.co.uk – is also owned by The Hut Group, and includes heavily discounted albums. You can also check out its bargain bucket options – ‘CDs for a fiver’ and 'CDs from £3.93’ for example.

With more than two million music items available, Amazon is a popular choice for many people hunting out CDs online. The choice is impressive, and you can also search for bargains and check out which discounted deals are the most popular with other shoppers. You can also buy vinyl online, or used and new CDs from external sellers. 

Other good websites for picking up CDs include Play.com and Tescoentertainment.com. If your musical needs are a little more complex, try recordstore.co.uk – this might not be the cheapest website, but this small music label specialist is a great place to pick up something a little out of the ordinary as well as exclusive editions.

Downloads and streaming

The advance of technology and the rise of the internet and digital music mean that CDs could go the same way as the tape - consigned to the dustbin of history.

As recently as five years ago, many people resorted to illegal file sharing and music downloads online simply because the music industry and retailers were slow to offer a decent service at a reasonable cost. All that has changed, and there are now plenty of places you can download music online legally.

However, the cost of tracks can vary, so it’s really worth comparing the different websites to find the cheapest option for you.

A point to bear in mind before you start is that you should consider choosing a download website that offers ‘copyright protection free’ music – this will allow you to copy tracks onto as many devices as you want.

Many sites offering downloads also allow you to stream – basically, this means you can listen to tracks online. It’s a bit like listening to the radio, only you get to pick the playlist of course. Often websites will make their money back by playing adverts alongside your chosen tracks.

You can listen to this music over the net as often as you like, but you won’t be able to download it onto a device such as an iPod.

Generally speaking, there are two types of online download website – those that allow you to pay-per-track and those that require a monthly subscription.

The music download application iTunes, which allows you to sync your music (and other media) onto your iPod, includes a download section on its website – known as the iTunes store. This is a free application that works on both Macs and PCs, but it isn’t necessarily the cheapest place to download music.

Unfortunately, there is no one website where you can compare the cost of different music across the different websites, so you will have to do some work yourself.

The music store on Amazon offers free songs and tracks from 29p, as well as CDs. You can stream music for free, or download these through the Amazon MP3 Downloader application. Downloaded songs are in MP3 format, so you can play them using any music application and on any device.

Elsewhere, Tesco Entertainment offers download tracks from 29p or albums from £3.97.

Spotify has only recently started gaining attention, but already it looks set to be a hit. For either 99p a day, or a monthly subscription of £9.99, you can subscribe to Spotify Premium, and listen to any tracks within its catalogue on or offline.

You’re technically only renting this music and once you stop subscribing, you won’t get to keep any tracks.

However, Spotify subscribers can opt to buy music from its download partner 7digital.com. Albums start at £3 and tracks from 50p - all you need to do its click the "buy" button next to each track in the Spotify application. 7digital.com operates its own digital download store outside of Spotify as well - its catalogue consists of over eight million tracks from major labels and independents. 

Finally, you can listen the music for free on Spotify – the only catches are you will have to put up with adverts and you have to be invited in order to do so.

we7.com allows you to stream and download music for free, although you will have to put up with adverts at the start of each track. You can also buy ad-free tracks for mp3 downloads, so you can play these any time on iPods and other digital players.

For £5 a month, you can download up to five MP3 tracks per month and enjoyed unlimited steaming on Napster.co.uk. Alternatively, for £15 a month, you can download and keep 15 MP3 tracks as continue to stream music while online. Even if you stop subscribing, the tracks you have downloaded are yours to keep.

A recent addition to the online music posse is Sky Songs. Hosting an impressive four million tracks to download or stream, Sky Songs offers two subscription options, For £6,49 per month, you can enjoy unlimited streaming and download one album or 10 songs of your choice. Or, for £7.99 a month, the number of songs you can download increases to 15.

Other places to enjoy music for less

•    Listen to the radio – most stations now allow you to listen online as well as through a traditional set.

•    Check out whether your favourite band has a Myspace page where you can listen to their tunes. Alternatively, some will include streaming on their individual websites.

•    If you don’t mind the quality, you can listen to music – and watch the video - on youtube.

•    Websites such as musicnews.com and NME.com allow you to stream music.

•    Last.fm is a great website for discovering new music, at no cost. You can create a playlist and it will recommend other bands you might like.

•    The latest trend is for music on your mobile. For example, Nokia recently launched a Comes With Music service on several handsets – the Nokia 580, N96, 8Gb and 5310.  These allow you to download music for free onto your phone, from a library of six million tracks. For more information, see nokiamusic.co.uk.

More about