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What Is 'Free' Music And Where To Find It

February 13, 2018

Adding music to your videos is an important step in making your content high quality and personable to you. Music selection can help audiences become immersed in your videos, while also adding your own flair. The type of music accompanying your videos combined with the way you edit the sound into the content can quickly become a symbol of your unique style on YouTube.


While there is a wide library of music across the internet, it is hard to know what you are required to pay for, who you have to give credit to and when, and how to stop that scary copyright strike from hitting you on YouTube.


To help you get started, our group International Small YouTubers have compiled a beginners guide for finding music for your videos.


(Please keep in mind that this advice is USA and UK centric. While copyright law is similar in many places around the world, be sure to double check the law in your country)



Important Terms


Attribution: Acknowledgement to credit the author of a work, which is used or appears in another work. Attribution is sometimes required by licenses that specify the usage rights. Generally, you need to use the name of the author, the title of the music, and the location it can be found (original site of the author). Generally, it’s best to give attributions for any music you use in the description or credits to be safe.


Commercial Use: This means you will be using the music on content that will be monetized. You must check that the Creative Common (CC) License allows you to use any artwork for commercial use if you are planning to monetize the content.


Copyright: Exclusive legal rights to a piece of work. The person who owns the copyright on a piece of music is the person who created or owns the work and has sole permission to allow others to use it under certain conditions.


Copyright Free: Copyright free is NOT the same as Royalty Free. Copyright law only lasts for a certain period of time, after which a piece of work becomes part of the public domain for anyone to use freely. The general rule of thumb is 100 years or when the artist has died, however modern music labels own the copyright for a lot of music as well. A good example of copyright free music is ‘The Happy Birthday Song’ (which only became copyright free in 2016!) This is not a very common thing to find with the way the law is written, so it is not likely you will find and use truly copyright free music.


Creative Commons License: A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created. It protects the people who use or redistribute an author's work from concerns of copyright infringement as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license.


Fair Use: The idea that brief (generally 30 seconds or less is the accepted metric) excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder. As a YouTube content creator, putting music in the background does not fall under fair use.


Non-Commercial Use: This means the music is not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation. If you do not intend to monetize your content, this is the type of CC License you would be permitted to use.


Royalty Free: Not all ‘royalty free music’ is actually free. The idea of royalty free licenses is to simplify music licensing by removing the need to negotiate licensing fees, and give you the right to use copyrighted music without the need to pay royalties for recurring use. It means that you pay a one-time fee to obtain the legal right to use a composer’s music in your personal or professional project (depending on the license). Some artists do provide free royalty free music, which does not require a one time payment.



Resources to Find Copyright/Royalty Free Music


YouTube Audio Library -


Don’t discount YouTube’s native audio library. It is fairly regularly updated with new songs you can use in your videos, and have handily introduced a feature that identifies which tracks have been more recently added. It also tells you whether attribution is or isn’t needed for each track.


Incompetech -


This has been one of the most popular sites for YouTube creators for years now. Kevin MacLeod is the author of the works here, and he allows any creator to use the work under the Free Royalty Free License. You may use his work with attribution, and each song is provided a unique attribution once you click the title.


SoundCloud -


SoundCloud is a fantastic resource for new and emerging artists, so it is a great way to find niche music. You are fairly likely to find remixes and original music which isn’t being widely used across Youtube. You can search for ‘commercial’ or ‘non-commercial’ songs depending on your monetization plans.  


BenSound -


You can use his work under the Free Attribution Needed License, and the required attribution is ‘Music:’.


HookSounds -


HookSounds provides a wide range of music, which can be licensed under a Free License with attribution, which is simply including a link to their site in the description. They also provide services for paid-license options, so you will see options to pay for it, but you can use the Free Attribution Needed for YouTube purposes. They do allow the use of both commercial and non-commercial use of their tracks under the Free Attribution Needed License.


JukeDeck -


JukeDeck is a great platform for easily creating your own tracks. You can search tracks other community members have made, or you can use their easy interface to create your own tracks. Some tracks will require attribution to the site, in which you will put ‘Music from Jukedeck - create your own at’ in your video description.



More Reading


Do you know of more resources covering music licensing for YouTube? Let us know in the comments.


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