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Royalty-free music

What is royalty-free music?

Royalty-free music is music you pay for only once, and then can use again and again. You pay for a license to use the music, and then you can play it in your videos, live streams and other content when you want. Despite the name, royalty-free music is not actually free.

There are some limitations on royalty-free music, however. You agree to these rules when you pay for the license to use the music.

Common restrictions on royalty-free music include:

  • In what type of content you can use the music (background music for videos, podcasts, presentations, websites, etc.)
  • Whether you can use the music for commercial purposes
  • If you can modify the track
  • Whether you have to credit the composer when you use it
  • If you have sole rights to use it

Before you purchase and play royalty-free music, it’s crucial that you understand the restrictions on your license. You don’t want to shell out a bunch of cash for a song only to realize that you can’t use it how you intended.

Who pays for royalty-free music?

The name “royalty-free” can be confusing. It doesn’t mean the music is free. It means that you don’t have to pay royalties every time you use it. You only pay once.

Artists can make money from their songs by collecting royalties, meaning they get paid every time the song is used. This is how streaming services like Spotify work. But artists can also license their songs as “royalty-free,” which requires a one-time, upfront payment instead of payment each time the song is used.

Royalty-free music services like Upbeat or Epidemic Sound are a middleman between you and the artist, so you don’t have to buy the royalty-free license from the artist directly. You pay Upbeat, and Upbeat pays the artist.

One thing to keep in mind is that most royalty-free music libraries don’t give you sole rights to tracks. That means anyone else has the right to play the music if they’ve paid the licensing fee.

How much does royalty-free music cost?

The price of a royalty-free track varies considerably. It could cost a few bucks, $100 or sometimes more. Hollywood studios pay thousands or even a million dollars to license iconic songs for their films.

The cost of a royalty-free track depends on several factors, such as:

  • Intended use of the track
  • Length of the track
  • How long you’re allowed to use it
  • The track’s popularity
  • The size of the audience you’re playing the track to

Rather than paying for a single track, you can also sign up for a subscription to a royalty-free music library, such as Soundstripe. You pay a monthly fee and then have access to the library’s royalty-free songs.

Is Spotify royalty-free music?

No, Spotify is not royalty-free music. It doesn’t hold the rights to any of the songs in its library. Instead, it pays artists a royalty fee for their songs each time the song is streamed on Spotify. So, since Spotify does pay royalties, it is not considered “royalty-free.”

That means you generally can’t use music from Spotify on your live streams on Twitch, YouTube, or other live video streaming platforms. If you want music for your live streams, you’d be better off checking out a royalty-free music library.

How do you know if a song is royalty-free?

The easiest way to know if a song is available with a royalty-free license is to search for it in a royalty-free music library. You can also check to see if a song is copyrighted by looking through databases of performing rights organizations such as Broadcast Music, Inc. or Global Music Rights.

If a song is copyrighted, you probably have to pay for some kind of license to use it. The exceptions are:

  1. Songs in the public domain. If it’s between 50-70 years since the author’s death, or the song was created before 1978 and the owner failed to renew the copyright, it’s in the public domain. You can check for these songs with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  2. Songs with a Creative Commons license. If a song has a Creative Commons license, it’s free to use, but there are usually restrictions on how you can use it. You may have to credit the author and you may not be able to alter it at all.

No, royalty-free music is not the same as copyright-free music. If a song is copyright-free, it has no copyright on it and is therefore free to use however you want. If a song is royalty-free, you have to pay a one-time licensing fee to use it. Almost all music has a copyright on it, with the exception of songs in the public domain.

For tips on where to find royalty-free music for your live streams, check out our full guide to royalty-free music for streamers.