Royalty Free Music Doesn’t Have to Suck: Where and How to Get Great Background Music

May 15, 2018

You need a constant stream of music for your growing YouTube channel, your podcast, and/or the video marketing series that’s finally putting your business on the map. There’s only one teeny-weeny problem. Finding royalty free music that doesn’t suck. The internet is filled with millions of songs, but half of them are righteously terrible, and the other half are blocked by license restrictions or confusing royalty agreements. You just want access to great music without getting slapped with a takedown notice from YouTube or having to hire a lawyer. Is that too much to ask?

Breathe. Maybe hit some yoga poses, then come back to us. Here are your options for finding YouTube background music or music for any commercial endeavor that doesn’t suck:

Option One: Make Individual Agreements with Artists for Royalty Free Music

Young female signer in a red cocktail dress

You hear a great song on the radio or on a stock music site and know it will be perfect for your next video project. The one thing you should never, ever, ever, ever, ever do (ever, ever) is just slap that music into your video without permission. If you don’t know what copyright infringement is, you’ll learn all about it when you receive a strongly worded cease and desist notice in the mail or when YouTube dumps all your videos and cuts off every cent of your advertiser revenue.

What you can do if you hear a song you love, is reach out to the artist or their representation and request permission to use their music in your video. Artists, who typically require things like food, shelter, and clothing, will probably ask you to pay a license or royalty fee for the use of their song. The cost of this agreement might be as low as $50 for an up-and-coming artist who appreciates the visibility. If you want to use Lady Gaga’s new hit, be ready to pay an amount with a few more zeros on the end.

Pros:

Working directly with an artist means you can snag the music you want, assuming you can come to an agreement and afford the license. If you are creating a singular video or artistic piece and want it to be perfect, this method could work.

Cons:

There are so many reasons why working with individual artists is a terrible idea for filmmakers. If you plan on making more than a handful of videos over your career, than reaching out and negotiating with artists for every single piece of music you use will be too time-consuming and expensive. Imagine juggling dozens of different license agreements, each with their own caveats. Today’s filmmakers need to work fast and smart, and they recognize that means finding a different way to discover great, affordable, royalty free music.

Option Two: Dive into the Creative Commons

Frustrated women searching for music

What, you don’t have enough money to convince Kelly Clarkson that she should totally record a new single for your podcast opening? If you’re a filmmaker on a budget (aka, a filmmaker) you may be tempted by the promise land of the Creative Commons. Many new musical artists looking to get their foot in the door are happy to give away their music in exchange for visibility. They’ll offer their music with a special type of license called the Creative Commons.

From the outside, the Creative Commons could seem like a goldmine of free music, but your mother always told you that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. If you are careful and patient, you can make Creative Commons music work for you. In fact, several stock music sites have done the work of collecting Creative Commons songs, which can make your job easier.

Pros:

If you have a lot patience, a deep understanding of licensing, and don’t mind digging for that diamond in the rough, then Creative Commons music can be a cost-effective option. This is a great starting place for new filmmakers on a shoestring budget who have extra time to find the right music.

Cons:

Creative Commons music can be legally dicey, so you’ll need to make sure you really understand your licensing designations. For example, you’ll need to understand the difference between “CC BY,” “CC BY-NC,” and “CC BY-ND.” CC BY means that you can distribute, remix, and build upon a piece of music and use it for commercial purposes as long as you give credit to the artist. CC BY-NC means that you cannot use a piece of music for commercial purposes. Finally, CC BY-ND means that you can use the music for commercial uses but that you cannot create derivatives. Even putting music in the background of a video is considered a derivative work and is not allowed.

Creative Commons licenses can be modified in a lot of different ways to restrict their use, and if you don’t understand what the license for a specific Creative Commons song allows, you could face legal trouble.

On top of that, if an artist spends a lot of time and effort to create a great piece of music, chances are that they’re going to want to get paid for it. As a result, most of the music in the Creative Commons is sub-par. That means you could be digging for a while before you find that diamond.   

Option Three: Use a Stock Music Site

Young man wearing headphones searching for royalty free music

When grow weary of prospecting in the Creative Commons for decent YouTube background music, you have one more option. Over the past few years, several companies have emerged to make the lives of filmmakers and content creators easier. These companies offer a wide range of royalty free music that filmmakers can easily sort, choose, and purchase. The beauty of these sites is that they work out all the confusing and risky licensing and royalty agreements with the artists they feature so you don’t have to!

Many of these companies also offer well-designed platforms that allow you to sort music by genre, assemble playlists, and easily purchase your picks.

Pros:

The top music sites make is easy for filmmakers to find and purchase the background music they need without having to worry about licenses or paying royalties.

Cons:

These sites don’t operate for free, and you’ll have to pay for the music you want to use. Payment and usage standards can vary depending on which company you work with. Some sites charge you a varying rate per song or per usage, which can make it difficult for you to budget.

Also, these sites offer differing quality of music. Some stock music sites seem to only care about stuffing their music library with as many songs as possible regardless of how good the music is. Others only offer a tiny selection.

Here at Soundstripe, we’ve made an effort to address some of the shortcomings of other music sites. We offer our customers unlimited usage of every song in our music library for a low-cost monthly or yearly subscription. This way, you know exactly how much you’re paying and you don’t get penalized for being prolific (aka awesome). We also focus on offering great music and working directly with top up-and-coming artists.

We might not have as much music as some of our competitors, but that’s by design. We focus on quality of music over quantity. That doesn’t mean we only have two or three songs to offer. Our library is continually growing, and we are aggressive in searching for and identifying new musical talent.

You don’t have to believe us. Check out our full music library of royalty free music. When you find something you like, sign up for a membership and get to work.

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