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Royalty free music: all you need to know

By: Iysa Qureshi

Posted on 27 June, 2019


Royalty free music: all you need to know

Most would say music has had a large influence on their life; from being tied to fond memories, offering a source of escapism, or even improving productivity, music is continually proven through countless studies to have profound psychological effects, making it a key factor of life. As most content creators know this, they understand the importance of implementing a decent soundtrack into their work.

However, the music we love is typically produced under well established and powerful record labels. Content creators who use as little as 10 seconds of copyrighted music have seen revenue from potentially lucrative projects being redirected into the hands of record labels, often causing hard work on a project to yield no financial gain. This is particularly evident on YouTube where most of us can relate to persisting through a YouTube video with repetitive and aggressively cheerful ukulele chords assaulting your eardrums (in fact, they are probably playing in your head right now - sorry), which is symptomatic of the legal complexities surrounding the use of music and the harm it can cause creators. 

Thankfully, there is a cost effective way to produce high quality content with accompanying music of equal prestige - royalty free music - which businesses and individuals alike ought to make use of. 

Usual method to use a copyrighted song

So, a content creator has just finished shooting their documentary, or recording a video for YouTube. They think to themselves ‘some Maroon 5 would suit this B-roll perfectly’. What would be the steps for acquiring the legal rights to use some of their music?

The first step is to find out who exactly owns the music of interest - although this is not as simple as finding an artist or record label. For any given track, there are typically two categories of rights holders: the rights to the written song and the rights to the recording. This can include an array of composers, music publishers, lyricists, record labels, and producers.

Once the owners of the track are identified, the next stage is to establish contact with them and ask if their track can be used in the project at hand. But who should be contacted? The best place to start is often with the music publisher of the record company. This can also take some time to find, but searching through the three main performing rights societies in America (ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI) should be sufficient. If not, contacting music licensing companies such as PRS or PPL may produce some results, or refer to this daunting worldwide list of societies when all else fails. When it comes to actually sending an email, or initiating a phone call, do not expect to hold much bargaining power if the song of interest is relatively famous, as large record labels are profitable enough as they are.

The last step is negotiating a fee. Small businesses/independent content creators with limited outreach may be able to obtain a license for free, however for the majority of negotiators this is extremely rare. Licensing a single track from a lesser known independent artist can be under $100, but for other tracks this can easily amount to thousands of dollars, or even a percentage of total revenue generated from the project. Additionally, licenses are often issued for single projects, meaning that content creators will be unable to use songs they purchase for as long as they want, or on as many projects as they want, unless they are fine with breaking the bank. 

Royalty-free music

It must be stated that there is a lot of false information out there regarding licensed content, but this article should help to clear things up. Evidently, licensing a song from a record label can be unnecessarily time consuming and expensive, both of which are damaging to content creators. The best alternative is to use royalty-free music. For this type of music, only a single payment is required to obtain a relatively liberating license. This gives you complete freedom with the track, allowing creators to use it as many times as they intend to, no matter their outreach. This means no negotiating with a record label, no royalty payments, and no limits on use.

There are many royalty-free music websites out there, such as PremiumBeat and Artlist, so the choice of royalty-free music to choose from is far from limited. Disco Content Marketplace also hosts a comprehensive collection of music to choose from, as well as various other content formats that creators may find useful (for more info, refer to this article). So, if you are a content creator looking for good music to use that will not send you into bankruptcy, royalty-free music is inevitably the way forward!

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