I’m a committed P2P and Bittorrent user myself. But if the thought of the BPI/RIAA/your local equivalent breaking down the door with armed backup makes you nervous, a useful place to start the search for free music is here – http://www.redferret.net/pmwiki/pmwiki.php. The Red Ferret wiki prefers not to list single artist sites, but it’s a noble attempt to catalogue all the free portals, labels, etc. Recommended – http://www.oddiooverplay.com/ and http://www.comfortstand.com/
There are far too many band sites to offer a representative selection. Recommended – http://www.geocities.com/ezaction_2000/ (who seem to have abandoned the website – shame) or http://www.ergophizmiz.com/whitelightwhiteheat/.
Special mention for Ubuweb who have done more than any other to make available otherwise unobtainable or rare and expensive recordings of sound artists from the last century or more.
Always much better to create your own music – or indeed story, picture, whatever. Dip your toe in the water with virtual instruments such as this Gamelan orchestra , or how about the strangely alluring theremin ? Or even the slightly scary, allegedly brain damaging glass harmonica (or armonica) ?
Of course if you get a taste for making your own music on your computer, you’ll need something that can at least record everything you hear from your soundcard , whether that be you fiddling with virtual instruments or streamed audio. Soundfiles can be edited with Audacity , a really nice little freeware recorder/editor. I use the Vaz virtual analogue synth but they seem to have stopped the freeware. Nothing beats the experience of flicking your hands over the switches, dials and keyboard of a real analogue synth, but the one on offer here looks pretty cool. For a full “home studio” freeware setup you could try http://www.kreatives.org/kristal/ – pretty good once you get the hang of it.
If your tastes run to the more esoteric, freeform or arty farty, good sources for samples are Freesound and RadiantSlab . Many a happy hour to be passed at these two sites browsing through the uploads – beats working.