If you want to access endless entertainment for a reasonable fee, you can cough up some cash to Spotify for music or Netflix for movies. But if you’re on a tight budget and can’t part with even a dime, then don’t fret—you can find plenty of free entertainment online. In this guide, we’ll point you to some of the best resources for playing music and videos without dipping into your wallet.
YouTube is a goldmine of music, a lot of it officially licensed. To access it, all you have to do is sit through a few ads.
Simply type any song name into the YouTube search bar. In the vast majority of cases, you’ll find a free copy of the tune you’re looking for, or at least get a cover version. You can even build your own playlists and start mixes based on a song: Follow the Mix link to the right of any video.
You can also find movies on YouTube, but free ones are much more difficult to come by. Still, the site has a strong and growing selection of homemade, amateur, and professional films. We recommend this rather ropey remake of Revenge of the Sith, Leonardo DiCaprio’s powerful climate film Before the Flood, and the Hitchcock classic The Lady Vanishes.
At the moment, Vimeo doesn’t have the sheer volume of videos and content that YouTube can offer. But it’s still packed full of music videos and short movies for you to explore.
Again, type in a song or an artist that you’re interested in, and most times, you’ll find a host of official videos, live performances, and other clips matching your search.
As for movies, you won’t find as many fan films or well-known classics as you will on YouTube, but Vimeo makes up for it with a huge choice of professionally made short films and art projects. You might not have heard of the videos in the site’s selections of comedy, drama, and other movie genres. Nonetheless, high production values and absorbing filmmaking are guaranteed.
Although you have to pay for premium music access, Spotify has a free tier open to anyone. You miss out on a lot that the service has to offer, like full control over what you listen to, playlist curation, and offline playback, but you still get plenty of fantastic music—free of charge—if you don’t want to get a subscription.
To get your free tunes, simply type in an email address and choose a password. You can install the app on all your devices, albeit in streaming-only mode. With this tier, you can’t pick out individual tracks from albums—you just have to hit shuffle and hope for the best. Plus you’ve got the ads, which go some way to covering the cost of all that music you’re streaming without paying. Despite all this, when all is said and done, you’re getting a decent service that costs nothing.
Like Spotify, European import Deezer is a music streaming service with a freemium option. In this case, however, it’s not as simple as just going to the website and clicking play. To get your place on the free tier without paying anything, you need to sign up for a free trial, register a credit card, and then remember to cancel your trial before it’s over.
Why would you choose Deezer over Spotify? There’s no particular reason to go one way or the other, as both offer a huge library of tracks and provide very competent apps as well. In another similarity, Deezer’s free service won’t let non-paying customers download songs to their phones for offline playback or create their own playlists. And to balance out costs, you’ll have to listen to ads as well.
Google Play Music
Like Spotify and Deezer, you can run Google Play Music without paying anything. Unlike those options, you can’t really customize your streaming. Instead, you get access to a selection of curated playlists based around topics and moods. If you’re into a radio-style mix of music and aren’t particularly fussy about which bands and songs you’re hearing, Google Play Music could be for you.
Google Play Music also offers something that the other music-streaming services don’t: It lets you upload up to 50,000 of your own tracks (MP3s on your computer, for example) and stream them to any of your devices completely free of charge. If you’ve already got an extensive music collection on your hard drive, then the free tier of Google Play Music might be all you ever need.
You won’t see big names and pop hits on SoundCloud. What you will find are up-and-coming artists, rarities, outtakes, and more. For those who don’t want to or can’t afford to pay for their music online, and aren’t too picky, it’s a brilliantly varied option. SoundCloud has so much content that you’ll never listen to all of it.
SoundCloud also comes wrapped up in a slick and smooth interface. If you’d like it on your devices, You can make use of the apps for Android and iOS as well. The playlists curated by SoundCloud’s editors are well worth checking out, as are the suggestions the service shows based on your listening history. We’d recommend it for music fans of all ages and tastes.
Online radio portals
Almost every radio station out there has an online stream that you can tap into through your browser. If you know what you like from your tunes, you can quickly find a free feed to suit you, although it may have a few ads. Not sure which station to look up? Try visiting TuneIn, one of the best online radio portals we’ve found. You can browse by location or by genre, see stations that are popular with other users, and even tune in on your phone if you’re on the move.
For a more serendipitous way of discovering new stations and songs to listen to, give Radio Garden a try. This radio station portal lets you zoom into a virtual Planet Earth map from space. Then you can click on any of the station links to start listening.
Head to Popcornflix for free, full-length, legally-streamed movies online. What we like most about Popcornflix is that there’s so much here, thousands of movies and shows, which means you’re never stuck for something to watch. Just bear in mind that the quality of the available films lags behind what you might see at your local movie theater.
Think of these as the videos you would come across while flicking through channels on a Saturday afternoon, and you shouldn’t be too disappointed. So you won’t find the latest Hollywood blockbusters on Popcornflix any time soon, but you will spot a few Hollywood names you recognize, as well as a handful of older classic movies from years gone by.
Classic Cinema Online
The name gives it away really: Classic Cinema Online has a repository of vintage flicks from years gone by, all ready and waiting for you to stream through your browser. From pre-war movies to Clint Eastwood classics of the 70s, you’ve got plenty of options.
Unlike some of the other items on this list, you can simply pick and click to start watching—you don’t need to register your details or install any extra apps. Use the search box at the bottom to find movies you’ll enjoy, or browse by category—the site includes comedies, animations, silent films, and more. It even offers up recommended picks for date nights and family-friendly viewing, giving you even more options for finding something to watch. Classic Cinema Online provides a great way to dig into the history of the movies.
Top Documentary Films
If you prefer fact to fiction, Top Documentary Films is the free film site for you. We’re fans of the breadth of the documentaries on offer here, and the layout and interface of the site itself, which makes browsing through the extensive catalog and loading up movies a breeze.
Top Documentary Films largely curates movies from other sites, but it certainly doesn’t suffer for it. You’ll find short half-hour films made specifically for the web rubbing shoulders with classic documentaries that had cinema releases. Even better, each film comes with a detailed description and a user rating to help you with your viewing choices.