Royalty free music & How to get it for your videos

Industry Insights

If you go onto a meme-sharing website like Imgur, you should be able to find a post highlighting the importance of the right music for the right setting. A good example is of a brewing fight scene between two martial artists (possibly Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris), and instead of the brooding, tense music you might imagine, the sensual saxophone solo of George Michael’s Careless Whispers play, making it appear as if the two fighters are in fact lovers. The point is, the right music can make content king, but the wrong tunes can kill your intent.

That’s why finding the right music for your art, whether that be for a YouTube channel, animation or anything else, is really important. What can make this difficult of course is that copyrighted music can be ridiculously inexpensive, and using it without the artist’s permission can get you copy-striked or even sued. To quote another favorite meme that’s made the rounds on Imgur: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

The solution, as many influencers have discovered, is to use royalty-free music to give their content the right tone and edge. There are huge libraries of free songs to use of various forms and genres, ranging from well-known classical pieces that have long since lost their copyright holder, to modern electronic tracks regularly published by emerging artists, keen to ensure their content is heard by new audiences. Using the right music is crucial for creating the best quality content, so let’s take a look at how to find free music to use in videos and more.

What is royalty free music?

First of all, the term has nothing to do with any monarchical system of governance, so no, the Queen of England doesn’t own music rights either. According to PPL, the largest music licensing company in the U.K. holding the rights to over 120,000 performers and recording rights-holders, a royalty is a payment that is collected from businesses and broadcasters, and then passed on to the performers and recording rights-holders that own it. The actual amount can vary and it is often a very small percentage of the actual price paid for a piece of music.

So, at its simplest, royalty-free refers to any music that you do not have to pay the performer or recording rightsholder for. That means it is free to use, but it is not free in of itself, as being royalty free just means that you don’t have to pay for the copyright, rather than there being no copyright at all. Top hits or well-known songs can cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy the rights to, and copyright holders are famously litigious when it comes to protecting their rights.

An example that is often taught to journalism students in the U.S., for example, is of a local news broadcast that was covering a children’s dance event. In one scene, one could hear Eye of the Tiger from Rocky playing faintly in the background, which was totally outside of the journalists’ control. That didn’t stop the rights-holder from demanding $50,000 in copyright fees.

What kind of free songs can you use?

Classical music is a good example you can use for video editing, as the copyright duration of composing music is the same as for books, paintings and other literary and artistic works: The author’s lifetime + 70 years. This means the music one had a royalty but it’s now royalty-free, that’s why you’re not going to receive any claims from Ludwig van Beethoven’s descendants if you use his Ninth Symphony in your content. For many content creators however, classical music may not offer the correct vibe they’re looking for, preferring more modern sensibilities.

A lot of YouTube channels are now awash with muzak, also known as elevator music, because it has a relatively simple and inoffensive nature, fitting into almost any video. Muzak is actually the name of the company that churned out tune after tune of background music, to the extent the company’s name became synonymous with the genre. There’s a lot of it out there, but again, it’s not that inspiring or interesting either.

There’s nothing wrong per se with either of these genres, but if you want to use something more specific that really fits with your content, matching a music genre to a video subject is a good option. If your video is about video games then perhaps a heavy electronic track would be most appropriate, or something about the spoken word would best be combined with jazz. There are plenty of options out there for finding the right kind of music for your art.

Where can you find royalty free/free to use music?

There are dozens of websites you can use to find free music to use for your videos so you’re not exactly short for choice.  To save you time we looked through some of the best and simplest to use examples, but we always encourage you to do your own research as well.

1. YouTube

The first entry on this list may be a little obvious, but YouTube has hundreds of artist channels full of free-to-use music and royalty free music, and the site has many genres to choose from. All you need to do is download the video you want to use as an audio file. Usually, the artist will ask you to credit them in the description of the content you create or in the video you create itself.

2. Jamendo

Jamendo builds its music database around different communities like Rock or Folk and is specifically designed to help assist independent artists. The website has 240,000 royalty-free tracks from 40,000 artists, so there’s plenty of choices out there. You can also listen to the in-built radio channel to sample music before you download.

3. ReverbNation

Though often used by budding new artists who want to actually sell their music online, ReverbNation also has several royalty-free options. Don’t expect to find well-known music on the site as its entire purpose is to highlight the latest up-and-coming (though not necessarily popular) tracks.This also means you can find some undiscovered gems. If you’re looking for originality, this may be the site for you.

4. Premium Beat

Premium Beat is owned by Shutterstock and operates under a similar system – except just for music, offering a mix of free-to-use and paid tunes. There are over 10,00 tracks to choose from, covering a number of genres, and what makes Premium Beat particularly interesting is the editor’s picklist curated by the website’s own experts.

5. Filmstro

If you’re looking for an option with a little more in-depth functionality, then Filmstro might be the best choice for you. The website has music from over 65 different genres, and it also offers a customization feature. This allows you to alter any given track by its momentum, depth, power, etc, giving you a level of creative control unmatched by many other websites.

How do you add free music to videos?

So you’ve downloaded the exact royalty-free music you’ve been looking for, something that’s really going to boost your content, so what next? Well if you’re a video creator, you naturally need to edit the music into your creation, but how do you go about that? You may already have a paid editing system that you use, for example, something like Adobe Premiere Pro, but this kind of software can be expensive for some people.

If you’re just starting as a creator, you may not have the budget for a paid editing system. If that’s the case, there are free-to-use options out there that should be able to help you out and many of them operate under a similar policy to the royalty-free music websites we listed above. Therefore we included some good examples for you to consider.

1. Lightwork

This software has a simple-to-use and intuitive design, making it a great choice for the budding content creator. It also includes several free tutorials, so if you’ve never added music to a video track before, this function should prove very useful.

2. Video Pad

If you want your royalty-free music to accompany a high-quality video full of cool effects and graphics, consider Video Pad. The software has several special effects, overlays, texts, and transitions, color adjustments and sound effects you can choose from, perfect for the more ambitious learner.

3. OpenShot

For those wanting to focus on the fundamentals of filmmaking, like framing, clipping, etc, OpenShot offers several interesting advantages. Well suited for those adding music to content focused on business and corporate subjects, this system is really easy to use.

The takeaway

The key message here is that there are thousands of music tracks to choose from out there, and that you shouldn’t be intimidated by all the options available. Just make sure that the music you want to use is definitely royalty-free and that you have the artist’s permission (which is included if you download from their page from YouTube or from one of the reputable sites we listed above).

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different services and software too, especially when it comes to video editing. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, have fun and enjoy yourself! Creating content is an awesome thing to do, so don’t be afraid to show your passion.