HOW TO: Finding Royalty-Free Music for YouTube Videos


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If you’ve been making videos for YouTube, you’re likely to have noticed that the background music is a thorny issue. Popular music from the RIAA labels and bigger indie labels is usually quickly identified and marked by YouTube.

The best case scenario, then, is that YouTube simply “lets you get away with it” and runs advertisements on the video, where the payments go straight to the record company. It’s a nice middle ground, but anyone hoping their video will “go viral” and make some money off of YouTube’s advertiser program are out of luck. It’s even more embarrassing if someone else is running advertisements on some sort of corporate video (a product tutorial, a game demo, a keynote address, etc.) hosted on YouTube.

The worst case scenario is that the entire audio of your video production is deleted or your video is taken down.

If you want to use popular music the legal way, there are a lot of hurdles to jump through. You need to purchase mechanical rights, public performance royalties, synchronization and transcription rights, publishing rights, neighboring rights, and master use rights. Just to get Blues Traveler’s “Crash & Burn” in your video of your four year old running into a wall.

The way that Hollywood has typically dealt with this problem is to pay “production music” libraries for their music. These libraries buy the copyrights to music on a work-to-hire basis and then license that music to the film and television companies for a fee that is typically cheaper than having music specifically commissioned for the video. The problem is that these fees can be cost-prohibitive for smaller production houses and the semi-pro/semi-amateur filmmakers that are likely to see YouTube as a primary distribution medium.

There are other options. Creative Commons-licensed music can often be available at no fee, and be reused in video projects without paying a dime. However, Creative Commons should not be confused with the public domain, and not every Creative Commons license is equal.

For example, some Creative Commons licenses prohibit use of the material in commercial works. In that case, if you’re planning on making any money off of the video – even in an advertising based model – you can’t use the song without coming to a separate license agreement with the author. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to contact the author, however, who can then choose to charge you for the song or choose not to license it at all.

Other creative commons works require “share-alike” provisions – that is, you can use the song in your project freely, but the work you use it in must be also shared under the same creative commons license. This will work well for some projects, not so well for others, like, for example, corporate videos.

Finally, some CC licenses prohibit derivative works – which precludes the use of that song as a background audio track.

So, with all the problems with music for video laid out, what can YouTube filmmakers use for their audio?

First is Incompetech, the brainchild of Kevin MacLeod. Incompetech has a large variety of royalty free music for use in film and video projects (like YouTube videos) that’s of a surprisingly good quality for the price. The only thing required is attribution, although there is a $5 suggested donation. For $0 budget videos, this is probably the best option.

Similarly, Dan-O at Danosongs.com has also released a number of songs, which are free for commercial or non-commercial projects with attribution. There is a pay-what-you-feel-is-fair donate button, however.

Another option, though more expensive, is the use of “crowdsourced” libraries for music. Though not free, music purchased through sites such as iStockPhoto.com or Envato libraries is relatively cheap. Primary Elements also offers production music at $3 per track for non-commercial projects and $9 per track for commercial ones.

One interesting option is Moby Gratis, a site set up by music composer and techno artist Moby, designed specifically to allow amateur filmmakers to use Moby’s music.  Though limited to one sole author, and though there’s an application process, Moby Gratis still has a large array of very professional music from the composer of the Southland Tales soundtrack available for free to amateur and student filmmakers.

Finally, I’ve actually created some music with Apple GarageBand and Sony Acid that you can use, a GeeksAreSexy.net exclusive. Download them here. << For the link on the left, and only this link, here is the required information waiving all copyright and related or neighboring rights for Brian Boyko’s music.


CC0


To the extent possible under law,
Brian Boyko
has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to
Royalty Free Music.
This work is published from: United States.

All of these options should have you end up with copyright-legal audio for your YouTube videos that won’t get hit with ads or taken down by YouTube.

[Header Picture Source: Flickr (CC)]





42 Responses to HOW TO: Finding Royalty-Free Music for YouTube Videos

  1. Great tutorial — finally someone with a good grasp of the law and how music licensing works. Another source to consider is Productiontrax.com (http://www.productiontrax.com). Licensing music there supports independent artists more than purchasing music from any other site because the artists get such a huge share.

  2. It would be wise to note that not all RF music is equal. For example if you compare the iStockphoto Licence with the AudioJungle (Envato libraries) Licence. Some of the AudioJungle artists are members of Performing Rights Organizations (PRO's) these tracks when performed publicly will require Public performance licences that can be many times more expensive that the original track cost. In comparison iStockphoto's artists are not from any PRO. Therefore there will be no performance royalties associated. And yes a yourtube is considered a public performance, there are even PRO's that specialize in internet performances.

    Some stock libraries say that their artists are allowed to sell their music without public performances, but that is only a reality in the USA. All other countries will collect performance royalties if the artist is a member of any PRO. Even when the artist does not want the royalties collected a foreign PRO may still decide to collect.

  3. Great article. You should check out audiojungle.net, they have some amazing royalty-free music. I've used AudioJungle, iStock and ProductionTrax for my own videos, they are the best few I've found.

  4. The music in this site JewelBeat is amazing and free and yes royalty free. Found it from Vimeo post.

  5. There are several indie music sites you didn't include in your article that do provide hosting of music with Creative Commons licensing. I'm the owner and admin of ArtistServer.com, where we host over 9,000 songs with more than 23,000 artists and members. Here is a breakdown of each license, and how many songs have the listed license:
    Attribution No Derivatives (341)
    Attribution (110)
    Attribution Share Alike (188)
    Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (5,845)
    Attribution Non-Commercial (25)
    Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (372)
    Public Domain (263)

    You can search by license here: http://www.artistserver.com/music.cfm – the license options are near the top, in the middle of the page. You can also drill down by genre, then search by license. If you need help, use the contact link on our site. Enjoy!

    Gideon Marken http://www.artistserver.com

  6. Thanks for the post. I need to know the resources for projects I'm working on. I use Sony Acid as well but takes just as long to create the music as it does to do the photos + editing + video. You R.O.C.K!

  7. For Creative Commons licensed music that uses least restrictive licenses, OpSound is a great resource. Works there are required to be licensed under BY, BY-SA, or public domain deeds.

  8. As you can see for many of the comments – Indie Musicians area great resource for music for videos. You find a tune you like, try contacting the band and request permission to use their song.

    And if you make certain to give them credit and a byline – you will have the band and their fans promoting and viewing your video as well … could be just the ticket to send it viral

  9. Netlabels, such as my own, are worth checking out, as these are made up of artists giving their music away. Especially ones using Creative Commons licenses as you will know what you can and cannot do with them. Just type into google "dance music netlabel" or something similar with your genre choice.

    You can also use the search tool on Creative Commons.

  10. Thx this is just the kind of thing I'm looking for!
    Just a question that I can't seem to find an answer for… If you use music under CC license and it says "not for commercial use" are you then allowed to use it on YouTube? Or does this depend on whether you have adds enabled for your vids. If I don't have adds in my vids, can I still use the "non commercial" ones?

    • @Vj

      NC means that you are not allowed to use it on ANY web page that sells anything (including using ads), the track must also not be used to sell anything either or be used on compilations that are going to be sold.

      However, some netlabels such as my own waiver usage on youtube aslong as you are not a Youtube partner or using the video to sell anything. Ads on the video are a definate no no.

      Always check the license and also check any faq areas of the netlabels website to find out if they do waiver youtube usage.

  11. Thanks for the wonderful article! I am new to youtube and needed some background music for my tutorials. So if I use your music – how do I give you credit?

  12. Hey, thanks for sharing us your music, how can I give you credit for the music? couldn't find the authors name. 

  13. Hey, thanks for sharing us your music, how can I give you credit for the music? couldn't find the authors name. 

  14. If you're looking for energetic music by newer artists you might want to check out http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/. Even though the site appears to be aimed mostly at flash game creators, the music can be quite good and mp3 downloads are free. Try searching by genre. Most tracks are covered by creative commons license, no commercial use without a separate license, and you must give credit to the artist. My friend submits his music to the site and has really enjoyed seeing his pieces on several Youtube videos, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehW7BBwT74E&li

    Also try the creative commons section of Soundcloud.

  15. If you're looking for energetic music by newer artists you might want to check out http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/. Even though the site appears to be aimed mostly at flash game creators, the music can be quite good and mp3 downloads are free. Try searching by genre. Most tracks are covered by creative commons license, no commercial use without a separate license, and you must give credit to the artist. My friend submits his music to the site and has really enjoyed seeing his pieces on several Youtube videos, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehW7BBwT74E&li

  16. Excellent tutorial, thank you. If you download free music through iMesh is that also covered by the Creative Commons licence and not able to be added to YouTube videos?

  17. What about music or a business video to help promote services available from my business?

    There will be no selling in the video, just some video and before/after pictures of work we perform.

    I am new to all of this and do not want a youtube video pulled, music deleted or get into any type of trouble.

    What would be my options?

    Thank You.

  18. Great article and thanks for the mention of PrimaryElements.com – It's not the biggest service, but we were the first (since 1998) and all music is still hand-picked.

  19. Amazing prices $2.00-$5.00 Lowest on the Net. My music is featured on Americas got Talent, Big Brother, MTV, Sky Sports, Top Gear and others.
    http://www.pond5.com/artist/DIAMONDSOUNDS http://www.pond5.com/artist/PLATINUMSOUNDS http://www.pond5.com/artist/futurelovers http://www.pond5.com/artist/WARDRUMS

    There really is no better deal on the internet than this.
    High quality drama scores, piano works, orchestral pieces, battle drums, choral work, rock, funk, hip hop, house, dubstep, ambient and electronica.
    Completely Royalty Free – full licence – no need to credit or report usage, lifetime licence, edit with no restrictions

  20. Or you got to jasonmccannmusic.com for your noncommercial projects. I own all the licensing and unless your video is pronazi you can use anything I got in noncommercial stuff. :)