Just because you heard a really great song on the radio, doesn’t mean you can use it in your video or as bumper music for your podcast without paying royalties. However, there are ways to find royalty-free music for use in your content just as you can find royalty-free stock images for use on your website. Here are eight things you should know about royalty free music.

Royalty Free Music Does Not Refer to a Music Genre

Royalty free music doesn’t refer to a particular genre like country music or classical music. The term royalty free refers to the type of music licensing, and in particular, it refers to licensing of music for commercial use.

Royalty Free Does Not Equal Copyright Free

In the United States, all intellectual property is considered copyrighted the moment it is created. Someone doesn’t have to register it through a government agency to copyright it, and the lack of a copyright symbol doesn’t mean it isn’t copyrighted. Music distributed under a creative commons license may be free, but you may still be required to give proper attribution to the creator and honor the restrictions they put on its use. A common requirement is giving the musician or composer a listing in the credits to your video. In short, free music may come with restrictions.

Royalty Free Doesn’t Always Mean Free

Royalty free music is only free if the license specifically states that the music can be used without any payment to the creator at any time. “Free of royalties” means you don’t have to pay royalties until you’ve played it multiple times. This may mean you can use it once for free, but if you’re using it as part of your podcast, you may have to start paying for that privilege.

Another example of this is the royalty free non-commercial license. You could use the music as part of an educational video, but if you put it in a music video or commercial, you may have to pay for that.

Royalty Free Is Not Necessarily Stock Music

There is some confusion about the difference between royalty free music and stock music. Most royalty free music is found on stock music sites. Most stock music is royalty free. However, stock music may be offered under a rights-managed model. And royalty free music may or may not be of higher quality than the “canned” music that we expect of stock music. The quality of music available through a stock library depends on the curators themselves.

Always take the time to read the fine print, since that stock music may be royalty free until you’ve hit some threshold of views, downloads or uses.

Royalty Free Does Not Necessarily Mean Free Unlimited Usage

Suppose you’ve used a piece of royalty free music in a music video, after receiving permission to do so. The royalty-free music license says it can be used in that video without payment even if it is viewed 100,000 times. Congratulations – that’s exactly why we want to use royalty free music. However, the license agreement is generally per use. You may need to negotiate a separate licensing agreement to use the same music in another music video. The alternative is searching a royalty free music library for works that explicitly grant someone unlimited future usage.

Another variation of this is how royalty free music may be severely limited in its usage. It may be free to use until it has been viewed/heard a certain number of times, or you’re allowed to use it for free if it is only distributed in a limited area.

If It Is in a Royalty Free Library, It May Not Be Royalty Free

Royalty free music libraries are generally full of royalty-free music. However, not every piece of music in the library may be royalty free. A composer could upload a song on a royalty free site, but because they are a member of a Performance Rights Organization or PRO, the PRO could attempt to collect royalties for music sold through the marketplace. Performance Rights in particular come into play if someone’s music ends up in the background of a television show. Another version of this is having to pay for a public performance of the music though you wouldn’t have to pay a royalty for it if it was playing in the background of a rarely watched video. If someone stands up on stage and plays the song, you certainly would have to pay for that public performance. If it plays in the background of a professional seminar or radio show, then the royalties owed depend on the licensing terms.

Another issue would be the royalties due for public domain works. Public domain works like song compositions may be freely used. However, the sound recording or Master copy may not be free to use.

Royalty Free May Not Even Equal Cheap Music

Royalty free music may be licensed for commercial or wide distribution at a variety of rates. There isn’t a set price structure. You could find two similar songs, one for a modest fee and another only usable in unlimited commercial distribution if you pay a fortune. While royalty free tends to be affordable if you do have to pay something, don’t assume so. Again, read the fine print before you commit, and that includes putting it in any of your content. If in doubt, seek legal advice.

Not Every Site Calls Royalty Free Music Royalty Free Music

One reason why there is so much confusion about royalty free music is that it isn’t always called royalty free. The other reason there are so many questions is that people often license royalty free music, but the website or contract call it something else. Royalty free music has been called pre-licensed stock-music, single fee stock music, single fee music licensing, pre-licensed music, and pre-paid production music. There are other names, too, like “one stop music licensing”, referring to the “get it and use it without worrying about it” model of acquiring royalty free music instead of sending a check to the composer based on how many times it has been played.

Royalty free music is more convenient to utilize in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t mean you’re free of legal constraints or ever needing to pay for its use. Understand what you’re getting into before you use it.