How can I purchase a song?

With the rise of digital music and streaming services over the past two decades, there are now more options than ever for purchasing and listening to music. This article will provide an overview of the main ways you can buy music in the modern era, whether you want to own downloads forever, access songs through a streaming subscription, buy physical media like CDs and vinyl records, or directly support artists.

We’ll explore the pros and cons of various music purchasing options, from major platforms like the iTunes Store and Spotify to niche formats like lossless downloads and limited vinyl pressings. You’ll learn key factors to consider when deciding where and how to get your music, like sound quality, price, catalog size, supporting artists, and more.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have the knowledge to choose the best method for purchasing music based on your listening habits, budget, and preferences. Whether you’re a casual listener or audiophile, this overview aims to help you access the songs you love in the way that works best for you.

Digital Downloads

Digital downloads allow you to purchase individual songs or albums to download directly to your device. The top digital music stores are iTunes, Amazon Music, and Google Play Music. According to Statista, digital music revenues are projected to reach $41 billion globally by 2024, indicating steady growth in digital music sales.1

iTunes, launched by Apple in 2003, became the world’s largest music retailer by 2011.2 Users can purchase individual songs or full albums as permanent downloads to own. Songs are $0.99 to $1.29 each and albums typically range from $7.99 to $14.99. iTunes carries over 75 million songs covering every genre.

Amazon Music, originally launched as Amazon MP3 in 2007, also allows you to purchase digital music to download and own. Songs are generally $0.99 each and albums average $5.99 to $12.99. You can download purchases to your computer and transfer to mobile devices. Amazon Music’s catalog includes over 90 million songs.

Google Play Music, now known as YouTube Music, lets you purchase songs for $1.29 each or albums for $7.99 to $12.99 to download to your devices. Launched in 2011, it offers over 50 million tracks. All purchases are automatically added to your YouTube Music library.

Streaming Services

Streaming has become the most popular way to listen to music, with services like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music leading the market. According to, 78% of streaming revenue in the U.S. now comes from paid streaming subscriptions. The top players are:

Spotify – With over 422 million monthly active users as of 2022, Spotify holds the biggest share of the global music streaming market at 31% according to Spotify offers a free ad-supported tier as well as paid premium subscriptions. Users can stream curated playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Apple Music – Launched in 2015, Apple Music has grown rapidly to reach a 15% share of the streaming market as of 2022. Apple Music has over 90 million subscribers globally. It provides access to over 90 million songs, playlists, music videos, live radio stations, and more.

YouTube Music – As the music offering from the leading online video platform, YouTube Music has a 12% market share. It offers both free ad-supported streaming and paid subscriptions. YouTube Music provides official songs, albums, thousands of playlists, and music videos.

Purchasing Vinyl

Vinyl record sales have been on a steady rise over the past decade. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), vinyl sales grew 4.2% to 43.46 million in 2022, marking the 17th consecutive year of growth (Source). While the growth has slowed compared to previous years, vinyl remains a popular physical music format.

There are two main ways to purchase vinyl records – through record stores and online retailers. Many independent and chain record stores carry new and used vinyl. Stores like Amoeba Music, Newbury Comics and Barnes & Noble are known for their wide vinyl selections. Customers can browse the aisles and discover new music serendipitously. Record store staff often have deep music knowledge to provide recommendations.

For wider selection and convenience, many consumers shop for vinyl online. Major retailers like Amazon and Walmart offer new and old albums. Specialty vinyl sites such as Discogs and Music Direct also have extensive catalogs of new and out of print records. Online stores allow easy price comparison and shipping to your door.

Purchasing CDs

CDs can be purchased from both online and brick-and-mortar stores. While CD sales have declined 95% since their peak in the early 2000s, they still accounted for over $482 million in sales in 2022 (USA Today).

Popular online retailers for buying CDs include Amazon, eBay, and discogs. These sites offer new and used CDs covering all genres of music. Brick-and-mortar stores where CDs can be purchased include Best Buy, Target, Walmart, independent music stores, and thrift stores. Many artists also sell CDs directly through their own online stores.

When purchasing a CD, it’s important to check that it’s an official release and not a bootleg. The sound quality of an original CD will typically be superior to an illegal duplication. It’s also a good idea to inspect used CDs for scratches before purchasing.

While streaming may be more convenient, fans who want the highest audio quality, liner notes, and album art may still prefer purchasing physical CD releases. Collectors also seek out rare or limited edition CD releases.

Paying Artists Directly

One great way to support artists is by paying them directly through platforms like Bandcamp and Patreon. Bandcamp allows artists to sell their music directly to fans and keep most of the revenue. The site takes a very small cut of sales which helps cover their costs. Many independent artists use Bandcamp as their primary hub for releasing music, merchandise, and communicating with fans.

According to Bandcamp’s Artist Guide, artists typically keep 85-90% of revenue from digital sales and 75-85% from merch on the platform. This direct fan support is crucial for independent creators. Bandcamp also has a feature where fans can pay more than the asking price as a way to tip the artist.

Crowdfunding platforms like Patreon allow fans to support artists through monthly subscriptions. Patreon encourages direct connection between artists and their biggest supporters. Fans receive exclusive content, early access, and behind-the-scenes updates. This gives artists predictable income without relying solely on streaming royalties or album sales.

Paying artists directly, whether through Bandcamp, Patreon, or other platforms, is one of the most effective ways to support your favorite independent creators. The revenue goes straight into their pockets rather than being swallowed up by middlemen.

Licensing for Commercial Use

If you want to use a song in a commercial project like a TV show, movie, advertisement, or video game, you’ll need to obtain a synchronization (sync) license. Sync licenses grant you the rights to sync the music with visuals like videos, shows, movies etc. You’ll also need a master use license directly from the owner of the sound recording (usually the record label).

According to a Billboard article, the sync licensing market is growing rapidly, with revenues from TV, film, and ads up nearly 30% year-over-year. The global entertainment licensing market size is also expected to reach the multi-million dollar range by 2030, as reported by LinkedIn.

The process of obtaining sync and master use licenses can be complex, involving negotiations with publishers, songwriters, artists, and record labels. Royalty rates are set based on factors like the prominence of the music use and distribution scale of the project. Using a sync licensing agency to secure licenses and negotiate rates can simplify the process.

Public Domain Music

Music enters the public domain when the copyright expires. This means the music is no longer under copyright protection and can be used freely without needing to license or pay royalties. Several famous songs are already in the public domain such as “Happy Birthday” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.

According to the Stacker article on popular public domain songs, there are many classic jazz standards and showtunes from the early 20th century that are now public domain like “It Had to Be You” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”. Pop songs don’t enter the public domain until 70 years after the death of the creator, so most contemporary music is still under copyright.

You can also find public domain music recordings on sites like the Public Domain Information Project. These are older recordings of public domain compositions that you can freely use. There are also large archives of public domain sheet music like the International Music Score Library Project.

Additionally, some contemporary artists release their music under Creative Commons licenses, which allow reuse with attribution. Sites like the Free Music Archive host a lot of this type of CC-licensed music.

Illegal Downloading

While it may seem harmless, illegally downloading or streaming copyrighted music without paying for it can have serious consequences. According to IFPI’s annual Engaging with Music reports from 2021 and 2022, 30 percent of respondents surveyed obtained or listened to music by downloading or streaming illegally Illegal music piracy leads to substantial losses in revenue for artists, songwriters, record labels, and others involved in creating music. It can result in job losses across the industry, with estimates of over 70,000 jobs lost annually in the US alone due to piracy according to the Institute for Policy Innovation

Beyond the financial impact, illegal downloading raises ethical concerns. It deprives hardworking artists and creators of compensation for their work. Piracy undermines the perceived value of music and makes it harder for artists, especially independent ones, to sustain careers in music. While the anonymity of the internet may create a sense of separation, illegally distributing copyrighted content causes real harm to real people. Ethically speaking, if one values music, they should compensate the people who create it fairly.

The risks of illegal downloading are also increasing. Organizations like the RIAA actively monitor piracy and issue fines of up to $150,000 per infringement. Internet service providers frequently warn, suspend or terminate accounts engaging in copyright infringement. Law enforcement is also taking illegal downloading more seriously, with the potential for criminal charges. Simply put, the short-term convenience of free music via piracy carries significant long-term risks.


In summary, there are many options to legally and ethically purchase music these days. You can buy digital downloads from online stores like iTunes and Amazon Music, or you can subscribe to streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, or Bandcamp. Purchasing physical albums on CD or vinyl also supports artists, as does paying directly through platforms like Patreon or buying merch. Illegal downloading should be avoided in favor of services that compensate musicians fairly. The key is finding a balance between access and sustainability – the music industry as a whole benefits when fans pay for content while also enjoying the convenience of apps and platforms built for music discovery and listening. With all the options available today, you can easily find the best way to get the music you love while also supporting the artists who create it.

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