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What is Royalty Free Music?

What is Royalty Free Music?  The Complete Guide to Music Licensing


In order to analyze the term Royalty Free Music, we need to explain the term licensing first. And what is licensing?It’s all you need to be sure that you can use a music track in your visual media output.


Whether it is a YouTube video, a photo album, a podcast,a film, an advertisement, a television show or a movie trailer, in order to be sure that you can use a music track in a legally accepted way, you need to have a license agreement from the composer of the specific track.


Licensing then, is the action of purchasing the rights of a particular composition, as granted by the holder of the copyright, in order to be able to use it to some kind of visual media output in a legitimate way.


The traditional licensing model for music tracks

Traditionally, if someone wants to include a music track at a visual project, s/he needs to get a special license from the respective record label or publisher or composer.


Then, the producer should clearly state:

  • Place- Where the production will be broadcasted e.g. city, region, country
  • Media – Howthe production will be communicated, e.g. radio, television
  • Duration – How long the production will be broadcasted, e.g. one month, one year, etc.


Royalty Free Music – Innovation and simplicity

Following the emergence of e-commerce during the 90s, Royalty Free Music offered producers a new innovative way of purchasing music rights.


So what is Royalty Free Music & How it works?

Each music track is licensed once for any kind of media usage. This way, producers can simply buy its rights and use it as long as they want, as many times they want, and for any of visual production.


Common misconception: Please note that Royalty Free Music is not free music. It may be a bit misleading or confusing, but is has been around for a long time, so let’s take it for granted.


Today, producers using Royalty Free Music –other times referred as stock music–do not need to spend their time and energy to ask for special permissions from the copyright owners (composers, publishers or record companies).


Tracks are licensed once –> Producers buy music rights once –> Producers use the music tracks for life


Let’s see an example:


An advertising company is creating a short advertisement for a car company.


The advert release plan is as follows:

Month 1(Paris):The ad will be broadcasted at local cinemas.

Month 2-3-4 (France): Four National Channels.

Month 5-6-7 (UK & The Netherlands):National Channels.

Month 8: All TV broadcasts will stop – The ad will be uploaded in Vimeo and YouTube.


Now suppose that the producers of the ad need to license 4 tracks for background music. Each track will be used for 10 seconds.


In that case the producers have three options:

  1. Request a custom composition directly from a composer
  2. License a track for Traditional Music libraries
  3. License a track from a Royalty Free Music library


We will focus on option 2 and 3, as the first one (custom composition) is a totally different approach compared to already licensed music (available in libraries).


Traditional libraries VS Royalty Free Music libraries

Licensing from Traditional libraries (also referred as “Needle Drop licensing”)

The producer needs to deal for every single usage of music and negotiate price based places – media – duration:

  • Countries: Paris, France, UK, and the Netherlands
  • Time periods: one month, two quarters
  • On-line media: YouTube, Vimeo


Other issues to be considered by the producer:

  • Prices will be subject to the size of the region (local Paris cinemas<national France TV)
  • The license bought is only valid for this project – it can’t be used in another production (only under negotiation)


Licensing from Royalty Free Music libraries

The producer will pay once and will use the music anywhere, anytime, anyhow. The model is simple “You pay once, you use it forever”. No negotiations needed. No different deals. Global cable TV broadcasting is no exception.


To summarize, stock music libraries present producers with a reliable, simple and cost effective option in comparison with the traditional music licensing model. Don’t forget to read the Terms and Conditions section from each music library before purchasing licenses, and then go for it!



Music Quality in both models


The quality of music comes from the music producers and composers. In our free market each composer decides to distrubute his creative works in different platforms and see what works better. When the new licensing model came across, some music creators decided to test how they do by making their music available in stock music libraries. The simple and innovative way brough new customers (clients that purchase music in order to use it legally in productions). As the new model started bringing in customers and thus money, it started attracting more composers.


Also the new media available today (YouTube, Vimeo,  DIY videos) result in even more cases where the simple licensing model is attractive for customers. Imagine what would happen if you where requied to deal with a music company or music publisher in order to purchase the rights to include a track in a home vidoe for your YouTube channel. You simply would not go for it.



Legal Issues

We have sometime been asked what is the legal validity of royalty free music vs traditional licensing. The answer is pretty straighforward: the same.  Any music purchase from libraries comes along with a signed PDF document that proves any purchase and can be used in any occasion.

If you are looking for high quality royalty free tracks you can start browsing the 70,000 tracks collection available on



Boost your productions with premium royalty free tracks
and stop worrying for royalties
Yann Keerim
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