Nobody can afford professional background music to use in small business marketing videos! True or false?
Many video and media creators believe that licensing copyrighted music for their video productions is just too complicated and downright expensive. And that’s true if you’re trying to license a commercial track from one of the top 40 artists.
Fortunately, there are many free or very much affordable alternatives for the the small business owners and video producers who concerned with their music budget. Unlike many existing “top 10” and “best places” types of articles available on the Web, I’d like to give you a deeper analysis of advantages and disadvantages of each alternative.
Many video and Web media creators share this common misconception:
Myth: An average person just can’t afford any decent music to use in a low-budget video project.
Granted, getting a license to use commercial tracks by a popular recording artist, especially if represented by a major record label, may require a small fortune and serious negotiation skills.
If you’re not willing to compromise and have time and money to go down this route, read more here: How To Legally Use Copyrighted Music in Your Video
Music for the rest of us
Fortunately, there are still plenty of choices for the low budget, non-commercial media projects and videos looking for quality background music.
Generally speaking, you have three broad options:
- Find free music that you can legally use in your production
- Negotiate with an independent (indie) artist
- License production (stock) music from a music library / composer
Free music in public domain
The public domain music includes:
- the music with all rights expired
- the authors explicitly put the music in public domain
- the music never had copyrights (folk songs, author unknown)
This may look like the easiest option but the copyright law isn’t all that simple and differs greatly in different countries.
Furthermore, you need to understand that even if the musical work itself is in public domain, the sound recording of that work may be copyrighted. For example, a great deal of classical music (think Mozart, Beethoven, and so on) is indeed in public domain, however the recordings of these compositions are not. The rights to these records belong to the performing musicians and their record labels.
Here’s what the Public Domain Information Project says on this subject:
There are NO Public Domain sound recordings in the USA! The earliest copyright expires in 2067
So, can you still benefit from using music in public domain? You can look for music from other countries with more generous copyright laws. Or if you feel like making music, you can take any public domain composition and record your own version.
Free music under Creative Commons license
If your budget insists on using free music, you may be better off searching for musicians offering their work under creative commons license.
According to Wikipedia, a Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. In plain English it means that music under the Creative Commons license is free to download and free to use, though there are limitations that may affect how you can use the music in your project. Therefore, you may or may not be able to use a particular Creative Commons song for your project.
Creative Commons music isn’t free for all uses, only those specified by the license!
Most common limitation is attribution. Attributions means that if you want to use the music, your video or final product must credit the composer or the musician whose track you’re using. Other limitations include:
- Share Alike – your work must be distributed under the same terms as the music that you’re using
- Non-Commercial – you are not allowed to use the music in a commercial video or project
You can learn more about available licenses on Creative Commons Web site.
Where to find Creative Commons music?
Google for more! Be prepared to spend some time searching for the music that fits your project needs and licensing requirements, as you’re looking at a vast pool of music tracks of all kinds, from top notch pro to utterly amateurish.
Update: YouTube now has its own Audio Library where you can choose from either free or ad-supported music to use in your videos.
Music by indie musicians and composers
In music world “indie” commonly refers to independent. That is, a musician or a composer not associated with a record label. No label means that independent musicians own the copyrights and can decide on their own who (and how) can use their music.
You can search for indie musicians on popular musicians communities like Sound Cloud or Reverbnation. Many indie artists will be very open to licensing their music in exchange for the extra exposure and credit.
When contacting a musician ask if the musician is:
- Signed up with a record label – either presently or in the past, since the label may still may be in control of the music.
- Member of a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) – you may need to pay royalties if you use music registered with a PRO, such as BMI, ASCAP, SOCAN and so on.
- Sole performer or a member of a band – for bands, the sound recording rights may be split between band members which usually complicates licensing, especially if there are past members who may want to claim their share long time after your video is finished.
- Sole songwriter or co-writes with others – the song publishing rights may be split between more than one person.
- Vocal / guest performer release – without the proper release, the session musicians and vocalists can demand their share even if the owner is willing to let you use the music for free.
What if I urgently need the music?
Using free music is easy on the wallet but may take substantial time and effort to find to to work out the legal aspects. In turn, this may present a problem when you’ re on a tight production schedule or working on a project for your client.
If you need the music quickly without much searching or having to contact anyone to negotiate the deal, consider purchasing a license at a production music libraries or a royalty free music marketplace.
Production / stock music
Historically, production music libraries emerged to cater to the needs of producers and editors of film, television, radio, advertising, and video game industries. The major difference between licensing the music from a record label is that the production music libraries typically can issue master sync licenses, hence you don’t need to obtain separate licenses for the recording and for the composition.
Would a production music library be a good choice for a small video producer?
Depending on your situation, it may be. However, keep in mind that the production music market is dominated by libraries affiliated with the large record and publishing companies. Their business model is based on two major income streams – the license fees and the performance royalties collected by the PROs and remitted back to the library. For the TV usage, the performance royalties are paid by the broadcasters and not by the producers.
But what if you broadcast a video featuring PRO affiliated music on your own Web site? Who’s going to pay royalties in that case? Yet again, it depends on your location and a particular PRO. In some countries, the royalties become payable for almost all non-domestic use of the music. I’m not a lawyer and can’t give you legal advice but PROs been known for harassing small businesses for things like playing radio in their shops, so I’ll leave this up to you to decide. Feel free to google “ASCAP sues” to see some examples.
Royalty free music
In recent years, a new breed of production music libraries have emerged – royalty free music libraries. Most of these libraries are merely digital marketplaces that allows individual musicians and composers to distribute their work.
Related: What is Royalty Free Music?
If you search for royalty free music online, you will get plenty to look at. A word of caution, though. In many royalty-free libraries you will find a mixture of PRO registered and non-registered music.
Always read the fine print for the sites where you license the music. Each site is different in terms of what you can and cannot do with their music.
In most cases, licensing music from a royalty free marketplace is simple. Search, pay, download, and you’re good to go. Considering the abundance of libraries, the prices may vary greatly from one library to another but most will be more than affordable for both professional and amateur content makers.
The price often depends on the intended usage, for instance commercial vs non-commercial.
If you are a small business owner, online marketer, or freelance video producer working on client projects, royalty free music may be the most practical choice.
At MikS Music I offer royalty free music with a variety of licenses to choose from depending on intended usage.
Read more about my royalty free licenses, including commercial and unlimited use licenses.
Listen to some of my music tracks available for licensing online:
Positive and confident royalty free background instrumental music with uplifting and motivational feel for corporate videos and marketing projects.
Positive corporate royalty-free music with assertive and grand feel for an uplifting and motivational corporate video or commercial.
Positive, motivational, and uplifting royalty free background music for corporate and small business videos with inspirational and confident feel featuring the mix of acoustic and electronic sounds.
Making lots of videos?
Recently I started making music for a new music library that offers unlimited access to 1000s of pro quality music tracks for a very affordable annual fee.