Cover of "For the Birds" The Birdsong Project", with the words "Unofficial Freegal" superimposed.

As someone who still regularly downloads music (as opposed to just streaming it), I’ve long appreciated Freegal, a service that offers weekly free mp3 downloads to patrons of participating public libraries around the world. (The easiest way to find out whether your library participates might be to Google “freegal” + your library’s name, or go straight to and click the Log In button. Your login credentials are usually your library card number and PIN.) There are over 15 million songs, including vast swaths of the Sony Music catalog.

Here’s the thing: that’s an unfathomably huge haystack, and good music can be hard to find within it. You want that classic 1956 Peggy Lee album? It’s there, but you’d never have known because it’s buried as tracks 31–43 on vol. 2 of some off-brand label’s licensed compilation. Meanwhile, Freegal’s own promotional efforts tend to be (A) focused on the most popular music and (B) a bit weird, imo. Their email newsletter is sent maybe twice a year and its content seems to bear no strategic relation to their Twitter or Facebook presence, and I dare anyone to make heads or tails of their Instagram account.

Since my mission—as demonstrated in my monthly music show, Gray Days and Gold—is to shine a light on obscure musical gems, I’ve decided to start a regular series of posts titled Unofficial Freegal to highlight items that deserve some love. (And encourage you to patronize your hard-working library.)

First up: FOR THE BIRDS: THE BIRDSONG PROJECT VOLS. I–V (2022). During COVID lockdown, Hollywood music supervisor Randall Poster was struck by how he suddenly became very conscious of birdsong once mankind had quieted down. Since many creatives found themselves at loose ends at the time, Poster launched a project seeking original compositions inspired by birdsong, which swelled into a collection of 245 tracks of music and poetry, originally released in five volumes between May and September 2022. (Freegal has all five volumes individually, as well as a single entry of the monolithic vols. I–V combined.)

The Birdsong Project Volume One features the following artists: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis; Beck; Alaska Reid & A. G. Cook; Danielle Haim; Karen Elson; Michael Rother & Vittoria Maccabruni; Jim James; Josh Kaufman feat. Annie Nero; Mike Campbell; Wally Wolodarsky; Alex Somers; Mark Ronson feat. Damon Albarn & Wale; UNKLE; Emily Cross; Jelani Cobb; Beach House; Natalie Bergman; Uwade; Spring Summer; El Búho feat. Emilie Basez; Darius Christian & Reginald Chapman; Blake Mills; Richard Reed Parry; Tennessee Thomas; Kaoru Watanabe; Terry Riley; Tawiah; Elliot Bergman; Ray Young Bear; Jack Kornfeld Hatis Noit; Tyondai Braxton; Lee Ranaldo; Kurt Vile; Jarvis Cocker; Haden Triplets; Donald Ray Pollock; Karen O; Molly Lewis; Tilda Swinton; Rudresh Mahanthappa; James McAlister; Nick Rhodes & Wendy Bevan; Adam Green; Suzzy Roche.
The Birdsong Project Volume Two features the following artists: Dan Deacon; Very Nice Person; Bobby Cannavale; Elvis Costello; The Flaming Lips; Andrew Wyatt; Jonathan Franzen; Michael Uzowuru; Aska Matsumiya; Le Ren; Ada Limon & Molly Rosen; Mary Lattimore; Jorie Graham; Olivia Chaney; Jeff Tweedy; Matthew McConaughey; Inara George & Van Dyke Parks; Calexico; Siddhartha Khosla; Ganavya; Jason Chronis & Ramesh; Alice Waters; Sam Prekop; Shearwater; Florence Welch; CUP; Ebe Oke; Douglas Dare & EERA; Cecile Believe; Eleanor Friedberger; Natasha Lyonne; Buzzy Lee; Ann Beattie; Girlpool; Stephin Merritt; Vince Giordano And The Nighthawks; Bob Balaban; Michael Penn; Robert Pattinson; Hania Rani; Yo-Yo Ma; Brady Corbet; Isabella Summers; Cosmo Sheldrake; Jeff Goldblum; Roddy Bottom; Claude Fontaine; Seu George & Flor; Dexter Story; Tim Blake Nelson
The Birdsong Project Volume Three features the following artists: Alice Coltrane, Elliot Bergman; David Cale; Thomas Bartlett; Poppy Ackroyd; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Chelsie Diane; Paul Cantelon; SQÜRL; Hidden Orchestra, Tim Southorn; Edna St. Vincent Millay, Lorrie Moore; Emile Haynie; W.S. Merwin, Regina King; Ada Limón, Wendell Pierce; Hawley & LOZAC'H; Natalie Bergman; Rayna Gellert; Loudon Wainwright III; W.S. Merwin, Greta Gerwig; Vanbur; Joachim Cooder; Billy Collins, Conor Oberst; Daniel Lanois; Devendra Banhart; Meg Baird; Stuart Bogie; W.S. Merwin, Antonio Campos; Jim Harrison, Jason Schwartzman; Allen Ginsberg, Larry Ratso Sloman; Stella Donnely; Koa Kalish; Wyldest; Jorie Graham; Atlas Sound, L'Rain; Adrock; Carla dal Forno; W.S. Merwin, John Burnham Schwartz; Gyða Valtýsdóttir; Thurston Moore, Wobbly; Marcelo Zarvos; Adam Zagajewski, Sandor Katz; Makaya McCraven; Laurie Anderson; John Cale; Rita Dove; Woodkid; Ben Lukas Boysen; Galway Kinnell, Michelle Williams; Arthur Jeffes; Koreless; Masayoshi Fujita; Eluvium; Li-Young Lee, Nana Mensah; Meara O'Reilly
The Birdsong Project Volume Four features the following artists: Victoria Legrand; The Album Leaf; Nick Zinner; Andrew Bird; Jane Alexander; Juliette Commagere; Sam Amidon; Suzan-Lori Parks; Cassandra Jenkins; Steve Gunn; Mark Mothersbaugh; George Saunders; GEORGIA; Haley Fohr feat. Rob Frye; Elvis Perkins; Edward Hirsch; Carlos Niño & Nate Mercereau feat. Kamasi Washington; Midori Hirano; Graydon Carter; ROB; Doug Wieselman; Daniel Blumberg & Billy Steiger; Arturo O’Farrill; Cazzie David; Anthony Roth Costanzo; Angela McCluskey & The Cantelon Ensemble; Sam Mendes; Robert Ames; Sofia Subercaseaux; Angélica Negrón; Briana Marela; Edwina von Gal; Domenica Fossati & Stuart Bogie; Craig Wedren; John Lithgow; Daniele Luppi; Anton Pearson (Squid); Olivia Wilde; Julian Lage & Bill Frisell; Mac McCaughan; Chris Watson; Toni Collette; Chilly Gonzales; Jarvis Cocker; Julia Holter; Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith; Jana Winderen; Michael Pollan
The Birdsong Project Volume Five features the following artists: Bette Midler; Nico Muhly; Philip Glass, performed by Maki Namekawa; Stephen Park; Balmorhea; Odessa Young; Holland Andrews; Christiane Amanpour; Anna Clyne feat. Nathalie Joachim; Daniel Thorne; Ocean Vuong; Gabrielle Calvocoressi; Peter Broderick; David Van Tieghem; Daryl Hannah; Alexandre Desplat; Bibio; Winslow Bright; Annie Gosfield; David Rothenberg and Benedicte Maurseth; Michael Keaton; Sarah Davachi; Riley Keough; Animal Collective; My Cat Is An Alien; Grace Gummer; Julianna Barwick; Sam Gendel; Money Mark; Adrien Brody; Tommy Guerrero; Shabaka Hutchings feat. Esperanza Spalding; Joy Harjo; Zander Schloss; YOKO ONO & ANOHNI; Robert M Thomas x Daisy Chute; Liam Neeson; Mamadou Kelly; Evan Parker & John Coxon; Elliot Bergman; Saunder Jurriaans & Danny Bensi; Carter Burwell; Randall Poster; Lili Taylor; Anne Müller; Rosa Arnold and Jeanita Vriens of the Ragazze Quartet; Hailey Benton Gates

I won’t bother listing the luminaries who’ve contributed; you can find them in this post’s images or by clicking through to the project’s website. Suffice it to say that if your tastes run even slightly beyond the pale, one or more of your favorite composers, songwriters, actors, and poets are bound to be represented here. And it’s a great way to discover artists that are new to you, who might be stylistically/philosophically adjacent to your favorites. Despite the star power in this compilation, all five volumes sailed completely under my radar until I stumbled across them on Freegal’s site, making it the most appropriate first entry in this series.

To find these at Freegal’s website I’d recommend typing “for the birds” into the Search box, and you should see all five volumes—plus the master compilation, labeled “vol. i – v”—auto-populate into the suggested searches.

Screenshot showing use of the Search box at the website.

Choose which volume you want, then on the next page of search results click on “See All” in the Songs section. (Clicking through to the Albums or Artists results will mostly get you irrelevant entries or “Page not found”; something about these albums’ metadata is off and borking their ability to show up accurately under the Artist or Album results. Whaddaya want for free, right?)

If you decide to stream or purchase anything from For the Birds via other channels, proceeds benefit the Audubon Society. For vinyl fetishists, there’s a 20-LP boxed set.

If you have questions, suggestions, opinions, etc. please feel free to contact me. And if you’d like to receive these posts via email, you can sign up here.

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    Sound Suggestions, Unofficial Freegal