What is Royalty-Free Music?

A Definitive Guide to the Mysterious World of Royalty-free Music Licensing.

Royalty-free music is free of royalties and further license fees for each additional use. You can use it as much as you want and for a single fee.

Great, that is the basic definition out of the way. However, to fully understand this type of music license we really need to know what royalties are.

What Are Royalties?

Royalties are fees that are charged each time you use another person's intellectual property or copyrighted material. In our case, this is music.

A typical music license grants certain rights to use copyrighted music. The most common three usage rights are:

  1. Synchronisation rights - allow you to use the music within or alongside another media for example, in film, TV or video.
  2. Mechanical rights - specify how many times you can duplicate, stream, or download a project containing the music.
  3. Performance rights - gives you the right to broadcast or publicly perform the project containing the music.

Under a royalty-free license, all these usage rights are included in the license for a single fee or royalty. As the producer, you pay nothing more i.e. there are no further royalties. In 'Rights managed' or 'needle drop' music licensing, a fee or 'royalty' is payable for each play/use of the music.

What is Copyright?

When music or any other type of intellectual property is created, copyright is born and is owned by its creator until a certain period past death. Copyright basically is the right to copy and the owner of the intellectual property has the exclusive right to decide who can 'copy' or duplicate their work. In the UK, music copyright survives beyond the death of the composer for 70 years, but duration does vary from country to country.

In contrast, copyright-free music is where a composer has relinquished all their rights to a piece of music, or it is in the public domain. However, royalty-free music is not copyright free.

What Does the Composer Receive?

The composer is paid a percentage of the fee for the music license and can collect performance royalties from their PRO (Performance Rights Organisation), if they have joined one.

Broadcasters pay an annual fee to PROs who collect royalties for television and radio broadcasts and public performance. The PRO will distribute a share of these royalties to the composers and publishers of the music.

Although a royalty-free license is often for unlimited projects, you should fill in cue sheets and report usage for each production so a PRO registered composer can collect their royalties if the production is broadcast or publicly performed.

Is Royalty-free Music Free?

No, the ‘free’ part means free of royalties other than the one-time fee. This licensing model is a cheaper alternative, but it does not mean the music is free or copyright free.

Some libraries offer free royalty-free music under a creative commons licence or in exchange for link backs.

How are Production Music, Stock Music and Royalty-free Music Differrent?

All three of these terms are more commonly known as ‘library music’ and are not really that different. Production music is often created with film, tv, video and media production in mind and stock music just means it is in stock and ready to license. Royalty-free music is also library music but simply refers to the music licensing model. Obviously, custom music written for a specific film or production would cost a lot more. Wikipedia explains all three of these terms in more detail.

What Do You Get with a Royalty-free Music License?

A royalty-free music license will allow you to use the music:

  • as much as you want.
  • anywhere in the world.
  • for a single fee.

Sounds too good to be true when you consider the huge costs of traditional licensing.

So, Why Is Royalty-free Music Cheaper?

With the creation of video streaming sites like YouTube and advanced, pocket-friendly camera technology such as the smartphone, the world of film making and digital content creation has become much more accessible. As a result of our advancing technology, video streaming and social media platforms, more people are becoming film, video, and content creators. To supply the demand and as a cheaper alternative to the expensive traditional libraries, royalty-free music was born.

Is Royalty-free Music as Good as More Expensive Libraries?

In some cases, yes. Curated or handpicked music libraries like Melodicloud are a great alternative to more expensive libraries. At Melodicloud we listen to every submission for production and audio quality to ensure our library stands out from the rest.

Melodicloud has many professional, independent composers who create amazing production music for all types of media project. From bands and solo artists playing real instruments to electronic music artists, you are sure to find something that meets the standard of your production.