What is Royalty-Free Music + What Does it Mean?

Updated April 2022

When you’re first diving into the world of licensing music, the process can seem daunting. When words like public domain, royalty fees, music copyright or even Creative Commons licenses start coming into the mix, it can be hard to decipher what you can use and what you can’t. We know these terms can be confusing when you’re just starting out as a content creator (which is why music licensing services like Track Club and Marmoset can help *wink*), but we’re here to help shed some light for you!

So you’re looking for the perfect piece of music to use in your project — where do you start? As you most likely already know, you have to purchase a license in order to legally use a song in your video. This proves that you have legal permission from the copyright holder of the song, such as the composer or writer, to use their intellectual property in your project. Copyright protection is often explicit and very strict to ensure that the work of artists isn’t used without permission. But what does royalty-free music mean in that case?

What is Royalty Free Music?

Typically, when you license a song to use in your project, you have to pay a fee, A.K.A. royalties, every time you use the song. These royalties are legally binding and required at the risk of breaking copyright laws. When a piece of music is “royalty-free”, it essentially means that additional license fees for the time period of use are not required. For example, if you were to license a royalty-free track to use as background music for your YouTube video, you would only have to pay a one-time fee for that piece of music rather paying additional royalty fees.

There are many different types of royalties, and they often depend on the way you intend to use the song. These can include mechanical royalties, performance royalties, synch royalties, and print music royalties.

Is Royalty-Free Music Free For Anyone To Use?

Not quite! While royalty-free means that you won’t have to pay each time you use the song, you still may be required to pay an upfront one-time fee to license the track.  Remember, a “royalty-free license” means that it’s only free of royalties, not costs in general; a license can be “royalty-free” and still not be a free music license. You’ll still need to obtain the licensing rights for a song if it’s royalty-free. Purchasing licenses through a subscription to Track Club or a la carte on Marmoset are great ways to do this seamlessly!

You may also come across royalty-free music that is also cost-free that may require some other form of attribution, like including the artist in the credits of your project. While there are many free music sites that offer free songs, we feel these sites don’t adequately compensate music composers or other rights holders for the use of their music.

Can Royalty-Free Music Be Used For Commercial Projects?

Yep! As long as you have obtained the licensing rights and it’s stipulated in the agreement, royalty-free music can be used for commercial purposes. Remember, royalty-free means that it’s free of royalties, not free of costs in general, so you may still need to pay an upfront one-time fee. Track Club and Marmoset both offer licenses for commercial use for our music!

Is Royalty-Free the same as Copyright-Free?

Despite common misconception, royalty-free does not mean the song is copyright-free music, or exempt from copyright protection. Regardless of the type of music, the creator of the song is automatically the copyright owner. This also means that just because a track is royalty-free, it often does not mean it is free of cost, whether for commercial use or even when uploading to platforms like YouTube. There are some instances of free music that are also royalty free, but often it is entirely up to the artist what usage term they want to set for their songs.

Using royalty free music in your video content without paying for the license — even if you credit the artist — would mean that the copyright holder has a legal right to pursue litigation against you.

Is Royalty-Free Music the same as Stock Music?

No, though these terms tend to be incorrectly used interchangeably. Stock music, or production music, is music that has been created for the intended use of being purchased as part of a catalog for sale.  It might be royalty-free or it might not be- that depends on the stock music platform and how they manage their licenses. 

At Track Club and Marmoset, we don’t really like the term stock music, as it devalues the craft of making music. All of the music in our catalog is created by real artists.

Is Royalty-Free Music the same as Public Domain music?

Public domain music is music without licensing restrictions. That means it’s legally free to use by anyone for any reason, commercial or otherwise, without repercussions. 

When a work is in the public domain, it’s free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law. Public domain is the purest form of open/free since no one owns or controls the material in any way. 

 Where Can I Find Music For My Project?

Now that you understand what royalty-free music is, what’s the best way to find and license the right music for your video? While there are many stock music sites and music libraries on the web, it can be hard to find high-quality music while maintaining the convenience that royalty-free tracks can provide. Royalty-free music also does not generally have a set standard license fee, meaning that when you license royalty-free music directly from a composer or producer, you would still have to follow and adhere to whatever usage term or price structure the owner of the copyrighted material dictates.

Search and Licensing With Track Club and Marmoset

Luckily, this process is simplified when you license music with Track Club and Marmoset. We represent 100% of all the masters and publishing of our songs, and thanks to our team of music licensing experts, we’re able to negotiate directly on behalf of our roster of independent artists, record labels, and bands. This means that we’re able to provide music from real, touring musicians for customers to license as part of a Track Club subscription (which gives you unlimited access to all the songs our Track Club roster) or on Marmoset’s innovative click licensing platform just as easily as if it were royalty free, while still ensuring that your music license includes all the necessary coverage for your projects.

Have more questions? Check out out Help + FAQ page here.

If you still need help finding the right song or license for your project, our team is standing by ready to help. Check out TrackClub.com or send us a line at creative@marmosetmusic.com

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