"Royalty Free Music vs. Copyright Free Music" text over a picture of records and headphones

What does Royalty Free Music Mean? Copyright Free vs. Royalty Free

Hey kids and not kids! Today we’ll be discussing the differences between royalty-free music and copyright-free music, and what the two really mean. We’ll talk about all the misconceptions they carry, so you can choose the best music for your YouTube video.

If your name is Arnold, you’re in luck, because Ms. Frizzle here (Hello, class!) is not taking you on a field trip today. If you were hoping to go on a field trip… *cue the world’s smallest violin.* We should probably get started before somebody calls a wah-mbulance. 🙁

What is Copyright Free Music?

Copyright free music, as the name may suggest, means that no single entity owns the copyright to the composition in question.

You may ask yourself, “Gee willikers, how often does THAT happen?”, to which I would respond, “Love the enthusiasm, Cheryl, and next to impossible!”

In fact, it is extremely difficult to find legit copyright free music. Most artists, songwriters, and publishers negotiate some sort of agreement in which one or more parties own the copyright in part or in whole. Even if the artist themself doesn’t own the copyright, the publisher likely owns it.

Under copyright law though, as soon as a piece of music is saved onto any medium, it is technically copywritten. Since it can be hard to prove when this happened, and by whom, many choose to register their music with the copyright office as an extra measure.

Copyright Law and How it Manifests in Music

Copyright free music usually exists because the copyright on the composition has expired. Depending on where you live, this is generally between 50-70 years after the composer dies. So using truly copyright free music may work for podcast and video creators like you, because without a copyright, you need not worry about paying royalties, license fees, or copyright infringement.

Something important to keep in mind that there are two types of copyright for any recorded music, the copyright of the composition as well as the copyright of the master recording. Most likely if you are using recorded music, the copyright of the master recording is still active, even if the composition copyright has expired.

The only real problem you may have is finding it. Lots of classical music exists in the public domain, and can be found on sites like IMSLP. That being said, their existing sound recordings are copyrighted. Contemporary copyright free music is much more elusive. The artist must have willingly elected the music to be released into public domain.

Furthermore, many sites claiming to offer “copyright free music” are usually misleading. For example, music with Creative Commons licenses only offer music to be used in private settings, or request that the composer must agree to public use prior to uploading (unbeknown to most creators). Unfortunately, if you see something “too good to be true”, it probably is.

My advice? Don’t search for copyright free music. And if you do? Well, may the odds be ever in your favor.

Copyright Claim in typewriter. YouTubers have been written up for unlawfully or unknowingly using copyrighted music in their videos.

What is Royalty Free Music?

Royalty free music (aka RF music) comprises any music that requires users to pay a one-time license fee to purchase a subscription containing licensing rights to the song. This allows for lifetime use of the song in one or more projects. Easy as that!

“But wait,” you blurt aloud, “I thought royalty free music was free music!”

“What a great point, Jimothy! I promise we’ll get there.”

Back to the matter at hand. The content creator, or licensee, pays a one-time fee to use the song in one or more projects, possibly multiple times. Unlike a Needledrop license (which can only be used once), a royalty free license can generally allow for the use of the song multiple times within any single project or sometime multiple projects. The music licensing company would then be responsible for compensating the artist/composer for those project uses.

The video creator would not need to worry about paying any further royalty fees to the library for the use of this music in their project(s) and they also wouldn’t need to worry about paying any royalties to the composer or songwriter, the music to them is “royalty free.” Oooooh, aaaahhhh.

I know, it’s a bit misleading. Listen, I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them.

Misconceptions with Royalty Free Music & Copyright Free Music

Now, Jimothée Chalamet brought up a fantastic point. Many people believe that royalty free music is actually free. This is not the case, and is one of many misconceptions surrounding RF and copyright free music.

Here are a few misconceptions and their truths:

“Royalty Free Music is Free!”

No. RF music only means that content creators using the music do not have to pay royalties other than the subscription fees paid to the licensing company. Most RF (and the best RF music) come from premium music licensing sites, like the ones listed here!

“Stock Music = Royalty Free Music, Right?”

Sorry, but that’s a fat no. Stock music and Royalty Free music do not mean the same thing. A lot of stock music is royalty free, but not all stock music is. Stock music is simply music that is available for license, and RF music is a type of license in the stock music world.

Stock music is just recorded production music to be used in television, film, radio, podcast, video, and other media. All RF music is stock music, but not all stock music is RF. Oftentimes they overlap, but “oftentimes” and “always” are two different things.

“Royalty Free Music only includes instrumentals”

I am so glad baseball season is over here, cause we are batting 0 – 3 today. But hey, that’s okay!

Royalty free music is actually not all instrumentals. You would think, because so many YouTubers and filmmakers use RF instrumental tracks in their projects, that all RF music is instrumental.

I know I believed that assumption for a while, but turns out there is a plethora of RF music with vocals out in the ether. Who knew? And it’s good, too!

Plenty of tracks contain vocals, be it background “ooh’s” and “ahh’s,” or full-on lyrics. Some of them even sound like they could be on the radio! Lots of songs with traditional pop song structures are out there and waiting to be used in your projects!

Person listening to the radio. Radio broadcasts reports played songs to PROs, so performers and publishers earn performance royalties.

“Music that doesn’t receive a Content ID claim is Copyright Free”

This also is false. Copyright free recorded music is virtually nonexistent, so 99.9% of the music you use and hear in videos, radio, and any programming contains a copyright.

Just because the song is not registered on YouTube Content ID and a copyright claim is not received on YouTube, that does not mean the song is void of copyright.

Do not be mistaken. Using copyrighted music unlawfully can lead to YouTube removing your video, giving your account a permanent strike, deleting your channel, and possibly legal issues.

“Royalty Free Music means no performance royalties are paid”

Damn, Daniel – back at it again with the incorrect assumptions. To be clear, the content creator using the song does not pay the performance royalties (which may explain how this misconception came into being).

Performance royalties are paid by the broadcaster. Traditionally this was the big TV networks, and now it also includes the big streamers such as Netflix, Amazon etc. The broadcaster would generally pay a yearly blanket license to the local PROs and would then be divided and paid out to the music publishers and composers depending on how many times the productions were broadcasted.

The creators of the TV show or film etc. would not have to worry about paying this, however they may need to file something called a cue sheet with the PROs if their production gets distributed with a broadcaster.

Many believe the production company or the creator would pay these royalties, but the broadcaster is responsible. Even though you do not pay these performance royalties as a creator, the artist will still receive these royalties and profit.

“All Royalty Free Licenses are the same”

Cue the buzzer! Game over, we’re outta here. Each music licensing site offers different licenses. Moreover, the details of each vary not only from company to company, but also from plan to plan within a music sync site.

Be sure to read carefully when reviewing the license options, and always, ALWAYS ask questions if you do not understand something! We’re happy to answer, and would much rather you be satisfied with the right plan, than angry and dissatisfied with the wrong one.

Which should I use – Copyright Free or Royalty Free?

If there is anything I hope you take away from today, it is this: DO NOT waste your time scrounging for copyright free music. Royalty free tracks and premium music sites like Soundscape are absolutely the best way to go for all your video, podcast, and multimedia needs. Click here to get 25% off all Soundscape music!

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below! Feel free to let us know how our music helped your projects in the comments as well!

Class dismissed.

Soundscape.io logo