The Perils of NOT Using Royalty Free Music

The Perils of NOT Using Royalty Free Music

So, you’ve been told time and time again that royalty free music is the way to go when it comes to selecting beats for your videos. But part of you can’t help but wonder about the alternatives.

Like, seriously, how bad would it be if I just included ten seconds of that Macklemore track for my opening credits? I mean, what's the worst that could happen?

Let’s walk through it, shall we?

Delete Delete Delete

Assuming your content is destined for social media, chances are it’ll be deleted or blocked from during the upload process. Most of the major players like YouTube and Facebook have sophisticated content ID systems in place to detect commercial music in videos and block them before they ever see the light of day.

So hard-line are these systems that even if you do have authorization to use that catchy Kings of Leon or Taylor Swift tune, social media will preemptively block your content anyway, leaving the onus on you to prove that you do indeed have rights to the featured song. This a process that can take weeks, sometimes months, to resolve.

In fact, in some instances where copyrighted music has managed to make it through the cracks, the video containing it has not only been removed, but the individual or individuals who published it have had their entire YouTube channels deleted and their monetization privileges suspended.

Harsh, right? But believe it or not, this is actually the best case scenario should you find yourself getting sprung for breach of fair use. In the worst case scenario….

You Could Get Sued

If the artist or music label that owns the rights to the song finds out you’ve been using their beats sans authorization, then one of two things will happen. If they’re feeling friendly, they’ll send you a cease and desist letter outlining what will happen if you don’t take down the video. If they’re feeling not-so-friendly, they’ll sue.

To be clear, taking someone to court for this particular kind of copyright infringement is pretty rare. You’d have to do something pretty naughty—like I dunno, say, conduct 50 breaches of copyright policy—for things to escalate that far. Still, it is a possibility.

Getting Permission Is A B*tch

Even if you do decide to play it safe and get a license to use your song of choice, you’re still looking at an equally rocky road ahead.

In order to procure the rights to a single song, you need not one but two separate licenses—a synchronization license and a master use license. These licenses are not mutually exclusive which means you cannot proceed without securing both. And doing this, pardon my French, is convoluted AF.

First of all, you need to find out who owns the licenses to the specific song you want—a tedious process that will take you down a rabbit hole of music label registries.

Once you’ve worked out the correct person/s to approach, you’ll need to prepare and submit a pile of information on par with that of your college applications. This will likely include a synopsis of your video, where for how long you intend to integrate the track, how your video will be distributed, whether you intend to yield a profit, yadda yadda yadda.

Once all the paperwork is done and dusted, you then have to around three to six months to get a response. Now, I don’t know how your deadlines operate, but in my line of work, that’s what we call a blowout.

And finally, the kicker. Even if you do get the green light to use your song of choice, you’re looking at a licensing fee of anywhere between a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on frequency of use and how you plan to distribute.

Like we said, getting permission is a b*tch.

Custom Music Peut-etre?

Okay so you don’t want to have your YouTube channel ripped down, you don’t want to get sued, and you don’t want to get pay a year’s rent on a license for Mambo No.5. What are the other alternatives are there?

Well for one, you could have an artist produce something under a royalty free contract. This way you end up with a nice little tune that emulates the song you originally wanted, but without having to go through a maze of red tape to get it.

But (and it’s a big but) these kinds of contracts typically come with a whole heap of restrictions and conditions relating to broadcast limits, credits for the artist, or sneaky additional fees for high distribution which could see you making ongoing payments just to keep your video alive.

Enter... Royalty Free Music

It’s for all these reasons above that royalty free music is your best bet when it comes to selecting music for your videos.

But it’s not just because of the risk-free element that you should be gravitating towards royalty free libraries. Royalty free tunes carry a whole host of benefits that often get overlooked.

For instance

  • They’re super easy to find and download
  • Once purchased, most royalty free libraries (like Motion Array for example) let you use the same track in to perpetuity for no extra cost
  • The quality is top notch
  • By using royalty free music you’re helping to support small-time and often struggling artists
  • And, most importantly, it’s CHEAP!

But, if like most people you don’t, then don’t waste your time. There’s loads of cheap, royalty free music out there. If you’re the talented and versatile content creator you profess to be, then you shouldn’t have any problem working with it.

Additionally, the simple royalty free structure can also extend to other categories such as After Effects templates, Premiere Pro templates, stock video, and sound effects.

David Strauss's picture

David Strauss is a wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC.

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I don't really like this promoting the musical equivalent of stock photography because compensating artists for their work is too much of a hassle.

Rob Davis, I didn't understand that statement. Are you saying it's too much of a hassle for you to compensate artists for their work, so you don't like the concept of stock music?

I'm saying that stock music devalues music the same way that stock photography devalues photography:

It should also be noted that this article that we're commenting on right now is sponsored content. I just don't appreciate FStoppers cashing in on something that devalues photography. I know some people think this is the unavoidable way things are going to be from now on. I do not however. I think, as we're starting to see with journalism now, people are starting go back to charging a fair price for artistic content vs. trying to find a way to survive on scraps.

That's not what's happening with royalty free music. To see what's happening, you might go to one composer's own royalty-free site,

Kevin Macleod professionally scores for television and cinema. His royalty-free work is essentially his hobby. He doesn't even ask for money, just credit. What's even better is that his site search engine even includes criteria such as "tempo,:and even "feel."

So don't think you have to wear a cape for musicians who put some of their music out for their pin money or just for fun. Just don't steal the work they're trying to make their living with.

I agree! there is many artists musicians offering their music in exchange of being credited. It's a win/win for both creators, the video maker can produce his video with minimum cost and the musician can gain a certain visibility, and some time it can give great collaboration and new costumers..
I am a composer and proposing creative commons licenses is a good way to promote my work (you can check it in Music Screen Library)

I remember when people would use whatever they wanted on youtube videos. I'd hear something cool, go check out the band, and if I liked more than that one song, I'd buy their album. I must have bought 20-30 albums that way back in the early 2000's. I've always felt that if your videos aren't monetized it shouldn't matter what you use for the bg music.

Most of the music used in people's youtube videos now is so bad I'll stop watching or turn off the sound, and I certainly haven't bought even one album in the last 10 years that I discovered on youtube.

Given that photographers are constantly complaining about having their work stolen, it seems odd that they have to be told.

Many times when I’ve created a video it was because of that great song that inspired me to do so. If my photo were used in art that inspired a music creator to make a song I would not mind on the flip side.

3 to 6 months in my language translate to "I don't want anyone to use my music for whatever reason". But then again I wonder if all the short travel videos I see around, especially on Vimeo, went through this pain.

There is the argument against royalty-free music that photographers want to capitalize on the popularity of a particular work. Of course, as a matter of intellectual property ethics, that in itself is unethical.

But more than that, as a creative person myself, I would not want to capitalize on the popularity of someone else's art. Okay, call that having pride in my own abilities. Putting my pictures to a Beyonce recording is not her music supporting my work, it's my work supporting her music.

Royalty-free music is produced for the specific purpose of being merely a building block in my process. The music provides some theme and emotional support without calling attention to itself.

How can I say this... would you like to see your B-roll taken by someone else without your consent - unless you decided to share it with a CC license? Of course not! So, why is that we visual artists assume that somehow, musicians produce art that should used for nothing?! This is really beyond me.
How can you even have the *idea* of using music that is not royalty free if you haven't paid the rights? Would you do so with footage? I highly doubt.
Of course getting permission is hard! If it wasn't hard no one would copyright anything... it works the same for image AND music... both arts are equal...
Personally I choose to go with Creative Common licenses work only. I use the CC music by Jason Shaw from his website Audio Nautix. He is a great composer, a genius in fact - and I've been a musician for a long time so I know what I'm talking about - and have music for just about anything you can think of.

I prefer to go that route because with Creative Common you are *certain* the artist *wanted* to share his/her work for other artists to use *freely* - as long as you mention due credits, indeed.

I just use:

This is a great site for genuine artists and no hassle music licensing. Great selection - new tracks every month - 99 bucks a year includes commercial use - I could go on...

It's important for me to use 'legal to use' music (and support REAL artists at the same time) Check their Instagram, etc. Seems to me they are constantly trying to support and promote their artists.

'Stock Music' has been around for 30+ years and musicians have been been making $$$. These guys offering it under CC license are the problem. IMO.

If one get permission from a cover artist to use a song they covered can, you use it on you video / youtube?

Example: You get permission from a youtube singer who does her version of a Lady Gaga song, Can you use the Youtube singers song in your video?

These days finding cheap music is so easy! I use Soundstripe to license music for my videos because they offer unlimited access to all tracks for a cheap monthly or yearly fee. If you use code STRIPE10 at checkout you'll get 10% off:

This song really inspired me. I love this