Understanding Commercial Use, Royalty-Free Audio Licensing for Video Creators, Podcasters, and Beyond

Written by
Sam Lucas
November 20, 2020

Finding the perfect song for your video can make all the difference.

Finding the right track while also following copyright laws can be a challenge. Luckily, today there are many options for video creators to source high-quality, unique audio tracks for commercial use.

But what makes a video monetizable? Video creators must own all necessary rights to commercially use all audio and visual elements of your video.

  • Just because you attributed music to the owner in the description of your video doesn't automatically give your permission to use it. 
  • Music that is free for download is not automatically licensed for commercial use. 
  • Even if you don't intend to make money from your videos, you still need certain rights over the music that you use.

When choosing audio tracks for your videos, it is important to understand the difference between free and royalty-free options for licensed audio.

Public Domain (“Free”)

You may have heard of the “public domain.” Music in the public domain is no longer protected by copyright law either because the artist chose not to copyright the work or because the copyright has expired.

As defined by copyright law in the United States, the public domain is any musical composition created or recorded prior to 1922.

When music is in the public domain, it means that it is free for anyone to use both personally or commercially, whether on TV, online, or elsewhere.

Creative Commons BY, BY-SA, BY-ND (“Free”)

When creators upload certain content to YouTube, Soundcloud, or other creative hosting platforms they may choose to apply a “Creative Commons” license to their work. Creative Commons (CC) licensing is still copyrighted, but made available to the public for free use.

It is important to note that although Creative Commons music is available to the public for free use, there are many particular conditions and restrictions that come with Creative Commons licenses. For example, some Creative Commons music cannot be used for commercial work.

The owner of a song or audio file may choose to apply one of 6 combinations of Creative Commons licenses to apply their original works. We, as potential users of Creative Commons work must be sure to understand the specific restrictions of the license in order to use the music for commercial monetization.

Creative Commons licenses categorized as BY-NC do NOT allow for commercial use.

Look for Creative Commons licenses categorized as BY, BY-SA, or BY-ND.

These licenses allow video creators to use the music and distribute with your video for ANY commercial, monetizable purpose. Whether you are making a master class, a short film, or show. Always be sure to attribute the original owner of the music within your video or video descriptions when using Creative Commons licensed music.

Royalty-Free (“1 time payment”)

Above, we have discussed truly “free” music licenses that you can use in your monetizable videos. Although, many Public Domain audio files can be old and outdated and discovering the perfect Creative Commons music with proper categorization can be a challenge as well.

This is where “Royalty-free” music comes in. There are many sites that offer curated libraries of Royalty-free music to give video creators a quick way to find fresh, modern music easily. Although it does come at a cost.

“Royalty-free” can sometimes be confusing for new video creators exploring commercial use of music for their monetizable videos as it does NOT mean the music is in fact “Free.”

“Royalty-free” music means “Free of royalties,” or future payments to an owner on a per view basis. Per view royalty payments is moreover defined as “Rights Managed” licensing or “Needle Drop” licensing where a purchaser of the audio file is responsible for a per play or per use fee associated with the file and specific territory the use takes place.

In summary, Royalty-free music refers to a music license that allows a purchaser to pay a one time cost for the music, and then be free to use the music commercially within their videos thereafter for as many views, uses, and period of time desired.

For example, a video creator could purchase a royalty-free audio track for $30 and then put this song into the introduction of a short film on Special. With royalty-free music, you pay a single price whether you get 1,000 views or 1 million views and whether you distribute your short film for 1 year, or 20 years. You only pay the one time cost.

This is the beauty of royalty-free music and why it is so popular and accessible today. Which brings us to “Free-Royalty-Free” music! Some royalty-free music is in fact free for the one time purchase as well.

Now that you understand the different types of music licensing for royalty free music, we have created a list of our top audio library sites for finding royalty-free music for your monetizable, commercial videos!

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