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As a content creator, selecting the right music for your videos is an essential part of your skill set. But navigating the terminology around online music and licensing can make it more difficult.

In this article, we’ll explore royalty-free music and how it works, ensuring you don’t run into any legal issues with your music.


What is royalty-free music?

Royalty-free is a term that applies to music licensing. Upon payment of a standalone license fee, it allows the use of 3rd-party owned song(s) to be embodied in audio or visual productions, videos, and/or programs for public exploitation. Once paid, this fee allows you to use the song(s) for any length of time without paying additional fees.

The commercial use of the song in question can cover everything from advertisements and sponsorships in podcasts to featuring in films and documentaries. However, the terms and conditions for each provider can vary with how their royalty-free music is used. This is because they may have restrictions on which platforms and channels the music can be used on. 

With this type of licensing, there are also various aspects to consider, such as the possibility of customised pricing, how much of the music can be used, and potential exclusivity rights. These factors vary from project to project, which makes checking the terms and conditions important when dealing with rights-managed licensing.

However, in a nutshell, rights-managed licensing typically means you need to pay a fee every single time you use the track, whereas royalty-free means you can use it as many times as you want.

What does royalty-free music mean - quick definition

Royalty-free music is music you can use within audio or visual projects and publicly exploit for paying an agreed-upon license fee, with no additional monies owed (provided the exploitation falls within the scope of your agreed license). Use examples include: as background music in a podcast, online video or during an advert.

What are “royalties”?

Music royalties refer to musician and publishers’ ongoing earnings when someone uses their copyright-controlled songs. Artists and publishers receive royalties for any public exploitation of their music (e.g. when someone streams a track, it’s commercially broadcasted, or it’s played in public spaces). Naturally, royalties are also gained via actual sales of music too.

Is royalty-free music the same as copyright-free?

Copyright-free music means that either the copyright owner isn’t claiming copyright on the track, or that no one owns the copyright through its expiration - 70 years after the writer's death, which then becomes known as ‘Public Domain’. Copyright-free music has passed the copyright end date and is now in the public domain. This means you can use, modify, and distribute the song without worrying about someone claiming you. For example, classical music such as tracks by Mozart or Beethoven, can be performed and recorded by a musician and even rewritten in a way that takes inspiration from the original.

Most royalty-free music has a copyright, so you could have a claim made against you if you use it incorrectly. It’s important to make sure you’ve paid the license fee to use it and have read the terms and conditions of licensing.

Some terms and conditions might state that you cannot use the music on certain platforms or alongside specific content so always check carefully.

Is royalty-free music the same as stock music?

Royalty-free music is different from stock music (more commonly referred to as production music). Many places consider royalty-free and stock music virtually synonymous. However, there are a few clear differences between them.

While stock music is often considered the same as royalty-free, it's the libraries and distributors that ultimately determine whether their music falls into one category or the other. It’s their terms and conditions that determine whether stock music is royalty-free.

It’s clear to see why there is some confusion as a lot of stock music is royalty-free. That’s why it’s best to double-check before purchasing a license or using it.


How does royalty-free music work?

Usually, when you want to use a song in your content, you would need to reach out to a song’s copyright holders. For music that isn’t royalty-free, public domain, or stock, there are often different copyright stakeholders, with each needing to agree to a licensing agreement. For example: for a song written by two composers, each controlling 50% of the copyright, licenses from both writers are required.

This is what’s often needed in the event of requiring music for popular tracks by well-known artists.

Naturally, this can be an expensive and time-consuming process that doesn’t always guarantee you’re completely covered. Deals can fall through, license holders can pull out and, in some cases, use of copyrighted music can still result in a copyright claim at a later date.  

Royalty-free music provides smaller artists and new creators with a variety of benefits. These include:

  • Generating revenue from licensing fees and upfront payments
  • Having flexibility and control over their work, allowing them to set their own terms with their licensing agreements
  • Gaining exposure by reaching a wider audience that may use their music in more projects, including different forms of media, than just enjoying their music for simply listening to it

Do artists earn from royalty-free music?

The way artists earn from royalty-free music is by selling the licensing to the music licensing company. In other words, they sell the rights to their music and give it to a music library or distributor for use in the public domain.

Many artists are happy to share their music this way for exposure. It also allows them to earn revenue from both one-off licenses and subscription services. In some cases, they also earn a percentage of the licensing fee paid by creators to the licensing company. 

Is royalty-free music low quality?

Just because royalty-free music is made by lesser-known artists, doesn't mean it's of lesser quality. This isn't true, and often you'll find high-quality tracks amidst royalty-free music libraries.

You'll find plenty of great quality music when browsing through royalty-free music libraries. Whether you're looking for a backing track for some new music or you need a track close out a podcast, you'll find both variety and quality.


How to find royalty-free music

There are many ways to find royalty-free music for your content online. Ultimately, we suggest thinking about the content you are publishing before you start looking for quality music. Consider what your project needs, whether it’s a short jingle for an opening to a podcast or a lengthy backing track for a new song.

Whether you’re looking for music with an upbeat vibe, tracks that are soothing and atmospheric, or are after a specific type of sound within a particular genre, you can browse hundreds of claims-free tracks on Universal Music for Creators.

At Universal Music for Creators, you’ll find a vast selection of genres and songs available. Thanks to this, there’s something to suit every project, every creator, and every budget.


Browse our catalog and get unlimited access to over 50,000 fresh new tracks and 200,000 SFX.