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The World of Royalty-Free Music: A Primer

By Paulo Camacho

It’s almost inescapable, with its prevalence in today’s media world. You hear it in almost any television or radio advertisement. It might be in your average online video — whether for a major company, or a small online video creator. Surprisingly, it’s the lifeblood of many a modern composer, and the media they support. It’s also easy for your average media consumer to overlook.

It’s the world of royalty-free music.

To the layman, this may not be the most recognizable of terms, but the definition is relatively straight-forward: royalty-free music — also known, more crudely, as stock musicproduction music, or library music — is, according to Wikipedia, “the name given to recorded music that can be licensed to customers for use in film, television, radio and other media.”

To further understand the nature of royalty-free music, one must understand the business of music licensing. In the music industry, a song is usually copyrighted by the songwriter, to prevent others from infringing on the songwriter’s intellectual property. Once their songs are copyrighted, others can legally use their songs — whether by performance, or use in other forms of media — by purchasing a music license.

The terms of the music licensing contract can vary: either the signee can use the licensed material for a defined period of time, for a flat fee; or the signee can agree to dole out royalty payments based on the number of copies of the song sold, or the total revenues gained as a result of its distribution. In the case of popular music — usually, songs by commercial artists distributed by record companies — individual royalty payments are usually given in every case a song is used for commercial consumption.

For example, if a television ad uses commercially-licensed music, it will have to pay out royalties for every individual time that advertisement airs. For companies and, especially, individuals, who are in need of music to use for their various multimedia projects, paying royalties can get pretty pricey.

That’s where royalty-free music comes in. Media entities — whether individual or collective — can purchase the music license of an individual royalty-free song, in the same way commercial music licenses must be purchased. However, the license only needs to be purchased once, and the song can be used for as long as the purchaser desires, without the need of individual royalty payments.

It’s an affordable way to use music in multimedia — and, in the age of big-time digital media business, the use of royalty-free music is as vital as ever.

More generally speaking, royalty-free music has many advantages in a media-driven world. Aside from eliminating the hassle of royalty fees, custom royalty-free music for use in movies, television shows and videogames are vital to their respective media. There is a wide variety of royalty-free music to choose from, that fits a wider variety of productions.

To use myself — a digital media creator in my own right — as an example, I have found the use of royalty-free music indispensable for many of my sports-related videos over the past 9 months. Case in point (**SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT**):

I found the two tracks used in the preceding video — “Chilling The Way I Do” and “Party (Master)” — on a royalty-free music library called AudioBlocks. All I did was pay a subscription fee for access to the licenses of thousands of royalty-free songs, which I can insert into my videos, without worrying about a music copyright strike. Online video creators use the same kinds of royalty-free music services, as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of databases that can be found on the internet.

Furthermore, the benefits of royalty-free music extend to the composers, as well. Under a traditional model, music composers relied on corporations and music companies to market and distribute their music — essentially a funneled, selective system in which composers were at the mercy of other entities to make a living with their creative work. With the opportunities afforded in the royalty-free music industry, composers essentially get their chance to “eliminate the middleman”, so to speak: they can sell their creative works directly to the media marketplace, and are under full control of their music licensing terms. And the benefits for music composers in the royalty-free music industry haven’t even been fully realized — markets like the videogame industry are still rife with opportunities for the taking.

Ultimately, the world of royalty-free music is a large one — one defined by the media environment it helps create. From its many functions, to the opportunities it cultivates for the music industry, royalty-free music is certainly a bigger entity than anyone would realize.

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