On the internet, there are a number of places you can go to get free music, but when it comes to free, legal music, there just aren’t as many options. That’s why it’s exciting when something like The Free Music Archive opens its doors. Having just launched into beta, this site, a project of WFMU, one of the most popular freeform radio stations in America, aims to provide a platform for free public access to new music. At the FMA, they’ve created an online archive where there are currently 5000 free tracks available for download in a variety of genres.

The Free Music Archive’s goal is to provide public access to new music in a way that’s “designed for the age of the internet.” The tracks on the site are pre-cleared for a variety of modern-day uses, including pod-safe audio, samples for remixes, music for audio and video productions, and, of course, tracks that you can just add to your latest playlist.

The platform, inspired by Creative Commons and the notion of open software, is a collaborative effort between WFMU and others, including KEXP, dublab, KBOO, ISSUE Project Room, and CASH Music, all of whom work to curate the music made available on the site. Instead of fearing free downloads (as the music industry typically does), the belief here is that providing free downloads will actually encourage people to purchase music. Although all the tracks on the site are free, there are links that point to full album downloads which are not. Also, FMA users have the option of “tipping” an artist when they find something they like by sending money to the artist’s PayPal account.

Obviously, the FMA is not a resource where you’re going to find the latest Top 40 artists or classic tunes you know and love. This is because – let’s face it – by the time you’ve heard of a band, someone has spent a lot of money making sure you did so. In other words, if you’re not interested in seeking out new music, the FMA is not the place for you. For others, however, the site will be a treasure trove of discovery. You can delve into genres and sub-genres you may have never even heard of (Sludge? Glitch? Wow, I feel old now.)

To find good tunes to download, you can choose to browse by curator or genre using links at the top of the homepage. Next to each track is a down arrow button which saves the MP3 file to your computer. You don’t have to register to download files, but if you want to take advantage of the site’s social features, you do. Registered users can create friend lists, leave comments, become fans of the content, write blog posts, and create mixes.

If you’re not sure where to get started on the FMA, WFMU’s sample collections (Volume 1 and Volume 2) are good resources.

The Free Music Archive is in Beta right now and they promise that more features are coming in the future.