What Royalty Free Music or Copyright Free Music Really Means

Apr 16, 2019

Every video creator can sympathize with the feeling of shooting a stunning video, editing it to perfection, and then realizing they still need that perfect track to go with it. You hop onto the computer, start looking around for free music for videographers, and we bet you come across websites with royalty free or copyright free music.

It's common knowledge among content creators that royalty free music is the way to go when you want to be legal - but did you know that royalty free and copyright free music doesn't actually exist? Before you start arguing or point out that we here at Soundstripe literally provide royalty free music to creators, give us a chance to explain what we mean.

Royalty Free and Copyright Free Music Aren't Actually Free

While 'free' might be in their names, royalty free and copyright free music isn't actually free. And here's why these terms can be misleading, especially to new creators not yet versed in the legalities of using music.

As Chris from our team here at Soundstripe explains in this video, the copyright free or royalty free music definition simply means that no one owns the copyright to said music and no royalties must be paid. You might have figured this out on your own already, but finding music tracks that that belong to nobody and have 100% zero copyrights is extremely rare.

The vast majority of music you're going to find is, in fact, copyrighted - including royalty free music. And royalties are still being paid, even on music considered royalty free. Weird, right?

So here's the thing. When you work with a royalty free music site, you're essentially purchasing the license to whatever track it is you want. This makes you, the licensee, free to use the music in your videos, but the company you purchased the license from is actually paying the royalties to the composers.

Basically, the company you purchase your tracks from will be paying royalties on those same tracks to the music producer or songwriter. Additionally, if the video is shown on a broadcast network the network will pay performance rights organizations royalties which will then be distributed out to music rights holders. This essentially means that nothing is actually royalty free, at least not in the grand scheme of things. It simply means you personally won't have to pay royalties, but the company you use does.

What Royalty Free and Copyright Free Music Is (and Isn't)

Wondering if there are any other assumptions you've made that might be wrong? Here's a quick rundown of some other common misconceptions about royalty free and copyright free music:  

  • Royalty Free Music Isn't Free to Use - A common mistake of newbies is thinking that if a track is labeled royalty free, that it means it's free to use. Not true! The music must be paid for in order to own the license to use it.

  • Copyright Free and Royalty Free Music Isn't the Same Thing - Although we threw both terms together, we do want to make a clear distinction that copyright free has no copyright and royalty free means the music has copyright.

  • Completely Copyright Free Music is a Unicorn - Copyright free music is basically a unicorn, meaning it's extremely hard to find truly copyright free tracks. Almost every track out there has some sort of copyright, even free music with a Creative Commons license (more on that below).

  • Royalty Free Music Isn't Stock Music - Stock music is another term that is offered used to refer to royalty free music. This isn't correct. It can include stock music, but stock music isn't always royalty free.

  • Royalty Free Music Includes All Different Types and Genres - It isn't all just limited to instrumentals or background tunes. You can basically find every type of music as royalty free.

  • Not All Licenses for Royalty Free Music are the Same - Each royalty free music company works differently from the next so it's important to be hyperaware of terms and conditions before you sign up. We might be biased, but we think Soundstripe offers some of the best terms for videographers. We'll explain why later on.

With those little nuggets of information out of the way, we want to touch on one more subject pertaining to royalty free music before you delve into why Soundstripe is going to make your life easier.

Steer Clear of These Two Other Types of 'Free' Music Sources  

While perusing the web for royalty free music, you're probably going to see something about two other supposedly free music sources - public domain and Creative Commons.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here's what these labels really mean and why they aren't a good choice over using royalty free music.

The term 'public domain' is used to describe music that has no copyright and is essentially free for anyone to use. Public domain music would be music published before 1923 or any music specifically released by the creator as public domain. Just like we mentioned about copyright free music, there isn't a huge selection of public domain music that applies to modern videographers. The effort you'd put into finding public domain music that might work isn't really worth it compared to using music libraries from a service that licenses music royalty free.

As for Creative Commons music, you should also think twice. The idea behind Creative Commons licenses is great. It basically allows content creators to use free music (and other media) in their own work. However, Creative Commons licenses almost always require attribution and they often come with murky terms and agreements.  

For example, you might find a killer music track with a Creative Commons license and you decide to use it in a monetized YouTube video. You give the creator of the track credit in the video and/or the description box. Everything seems great until you get an email about you improperly using the Creative Commons music. You might have not first asked permission to the music owner or you used the track for a commercial purpose, not realizing the terms only covered non-commercial or private use.

Creative Commons isn't the most reliable option for music. It's easy to make legal errors without realizing it, and again, the library of Creative Commons music is sparse compared to royalty free.

Soundstripe Keep Creatives Creating - Without Copyright Worries

Soundstripe is all about royalty free music and making life as easy as possible for content creators. Because of this, we do things a little different than other sites.

We making pricing super simple by offering monthly or yearly subscriptions to access our  libraries. Yep, that's right. We don't charge per track. That's tedious and we think you probably agree.

We have two subscription plans available right now - Standard and Premium. Standard covers unlimited song licenses and lets you make custom playlists. Premium gets you the same thing, but with some other bonuses including access to 30k+ sound effects and access to pre-released tracks.

There are a lot of royalty free music companies out there that hike up prices by misleading customers with the idea of a subscription, only to charge them per track as well. We are definitely not that kind of company. Even if you choose just one month of our service, you'll still have unlimited access to our library and be able to download as much music that’s royalty free as you'd like.

Another cool thing about us is that we don't relinquish licenses if you decide to cancel your membership. Other unscrupulous sites might squeeze some fine print into their agreements about the user (you) no longer owning the license to a track you downloaded if you cancel your subscription with them. Even if you choose to cancel your subscription with us, every single track you downloaded is safe. Any song license you purchased with us as a subscriber will remain legally licensed forever.

Are You Curious About Our Library of Awesome Royalty Free Music Yet?


We hope that you now understand how royalty free music actually works and why its terminology is misleading. Although it might not affect you directly, having a better understanding of legal music sources and music licensing ensures that you'll play it safe when it comes to selecting royalty free music for your videos.

Are you ready to take a peek at our library? Not only do we have a huge inventory of tracks and sound effects, but we also put out about 300 new tracks every month all of which are royalty free.

To get started all you need to do is visit our Pricing page to select a plan and get your account setup. If you're interested but have questions, look for the little blue message box in the righthand corner of any Soundstripe webpage. Click it and you'll be able to live chat with someone on our support team.

In the meantime, feel free to look around our website and visit our blog, where you'll find helpful (and free!) tips and tricks about using royalty free music as well as info on videography, podcasting, and more.

Take a listen to our music for free!