Royalty free music can be one of the more confusing terms to get your head around, but in the modern age, more and more people are looking for music without royalties that they can use on their productions. From YouTubers to corporate videos and games, royalty free music is a must to stay out of trouble when it comes to copyright.

The term is not really perfect. Saying something is “royalty free” has some connotations that are actually less than ideal.

Definition of Royalty Free Music

Our simple definition of royalty free music is that it is a type of music license that can be paid for just once, and the music can then be used by the licenser for as long as they need.

For example, a YouTuber may pay a fee for a license for a royalty free piece of music, and they can put it on their channel and use it whether they get 10 views or 10,000. This is opposed to “rights managed” types of license, that pay based on the number of plays. This payment is called a “royalty,” hence the term royalty free.

Royalty Free Does Not Always Equal Free

There are some places where you can go to download free music that is also royalty free. However, there is often a transaction taking place. You pay for the license to use it, and you won’t face legal action if you put the audio over your video.

Royalty Free Music Doesn’t Always Mean Copyright Free Music

By purchasing royalty free music, you aren’t buying the copyright. The person who has created the music generally owns the copyright automatically once it is created and published.

Your license may give you the right to copy the music and therefore place it on your website, for instance, but music rights aren’t quite that simple.

Copyright can also get very confusing when you start to consider the recording of the song or the “master” too. There are two types of copyright, both the original composition and the recording. Even if a song is free of copyright, such as public domain music, there still may be copyright on the recording. CDBaby has a detailed description of the type of copyright that could apply.

If the music is played on the radio, or ends up on TV or film then separate royalties may be owed to the owner of the copyright. This is usually managed by a performing rights society.

Royalty Free Music Can Be Any Genre

A lot of people have preconceptions of “elevator music” being the only type of royalty free music, or even hold music. There are all kinds of genres and styles of royalty free music, including 3D audio and immersive audio projects mixed in high fidelity and great for use with video projects.

From heavy metal to ambient techno, royalty free music can be made and released in any style.

Understanding The License Before You Use Music

If you’re listening to music personally rather than broadcasting it or using it on other media projects then it is important that you understand the ins and outs of the license you have paid for. You could land yourself in hot water if you haven’t sourced the right license, especially if you use the music for a commercial project.

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About the Author
Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his site, Subreel.