Where paranoia of illegally downloading music meets apprehension to pay for it, getting stuck in the rut of consuming reliable tunes can restrict the discovery of new ones.

But a growing list of online portals that allow users to stumble upon artists akin to their own favourites allows you to try before you buy, free of cost and guilt.

Here are Metro’s top four outlets to help start your transition from casual fan to cochlear connoisseur.

Last.fm
last.fm

This UK-based music service invites users to add their favourite artists to a personal library and listen to track samples of songs they enjoy. From that collection, Last.fm compiles a list of similar artists. The more you listen, the more precise the recommendations, facilitated by downloadable iTunes and iPod add-ons, which will send Last.fm songs you play while offline.

Advanced features include Last.fm Radio, which streams like songs according to artist or genre and access to user profiles, where you can compare your musical compatibility with friends.

CBC Radio 3
radio3.cbc.ca

Canada’s independent music scene far transcends the few tracks heard on commercial radio and CBC Radio 3 is the best resource to break into it. The site includes a variety of real-time radio shows, downloadable podcasts and live concert sessions, and customizable playlists with more than 9,000 artists sporting almost 50,000 songs to choose from.

While you listen, you can also liaise with fellow music fans and show hosts by commenting on daily blogs where the user community shares news and reviews on R3 regulars.

The Hype Machine
hypem.com

Discover the band before the bandwagon on The Hype Machine, which introduces soon-to-be hip tracks by scouring MP3 files contained on a number of music blogs. Staffers selectively decide which blogs are producing the most buzz, then aggregate their findings in one place, where you can listen via the built in streaming music player or by clicking on the link to the blog of origin. Sort by the latest and most popular discoveries or listen to The Hype Machine’s streaming radio of the week’s wonders.

Blip.fm
blip.fm

Where Twitter meets turntables, you’ll find Blip.fm. The resource relies on user “DJs” to “blip” songs and music videos by searching for a particular track, and adding a personal message using less than 150 characters.

If you dig what a DJ is blipping, you can become a listener and stream his blips online.

Blip.fm also allows you to search for DJs with your musical taste, simultaneously post blips to Twitter with links to streaming tracks and give “props” to DJs you’d like to generate respect for among the Blip.fm community.