We’ve mentioned licensed music around here before, but we want to talk a little bit about exactly why it’s so important. We also want share our resources on finding good music, because that it one of the most common questions that will come to us from others in the field.
Now, we could just say that it’s illegal to use music that hasn’t been properly licensed and leave it at that. Filmmakers and photographers have faced very expensive lawsuits over misuse; more often they just have their work removed from the internet and an unhappy client. Neither of those things are things we want to deal with.
Honestly, that’s not the main reason we license music though. As artists, we know the struggle. It’s not easy for some people to wrap their heads around the concept that you need to pay for creative work. While we do it because we love it, that love isn’t paying our mortgage, putting food on the table, or even covering our costs of doing business. The love of creating awesome music isn’t doing any of that for musicians either, and licensing their music is one of the ways they generate income for their hard work. As one artist to another, there should be a certain amount of mutual respect happening within our circles, where we appreciate and pay one another for work.
That’s really why we do it. It’s simply the right thing to do.
The other perks are that the songs we use aren’t overplayed on the radio, and aren’t used in the video of all your friends. It’s another thing that helps to make each video custom and original.
(Side note – if you’re a business owner and do not license music because you can not afford to do so, adjust your pricing. It’s a primary cost of doing business, and your fees should cover that. Don’t do free work if you can’t cover those costs on your own.)
Places to License Great Music
Thankfully, where there’s a need, there are people to provide a service. It’s easier than ever to find great music to license for your projects.
I’ll start with the free. Yes, there are free places from which to license music. YouTube has an audio library for their users. Some of the songs there require attribution for use, others do not. You know the adage “You get what you pay for?” Well, you do. Free is free, and don’t get me wrong, there is some good music there! You will just have to wade through quite a lot of not so good music to find the few that are worth using. If you’re a student, just getting started, or someone who is just putting together one or two things a year, you’ll probably be able to find something you can use here. We’ve used these resources before for little passion projects, family films, or background for short clips. Now that my kid is interested in making her own little films, I sent her here to find all her music. SoundCloud also has music available for use under the Creative Commons License, but their site is not designed for this, so the search interface makes music very difficult to find. You may have success finding music from unsigned artists and getting their permission, but this is not a great system for commercial use.
Our Favorite Music Licensing Sites:
Marmoset Music. This is where we get the majority of the music we use for weddings and films. I feel like the music here is very high-quality music, and the site itself is very easy to use. It’s also one of the more expensive licensing sites, but again….you get what you pay for. I can be a bit of a music snob, and my major complaint with a lot of the licensed music out there is that it just doesn’t go anywhere. This is not the case with the music listed through Marmoset, and I love that they even have an arc and energy description right there in the browsing window to help find the song that goes exactly where I want it to go. The music here is the quality that I’ve had to look up artists and buy their songs from iTunes for personal listening after discovering them on Marmoset.
SoundStripe. This is a new site, and it’s such a great licensing solution that I was pretty skeptical at first. $10 a month, unlimited licensing. No matter whether it’s a wedding, a promo film, or corporate work (the latter two are priced in much higher tiers on other licensing sites), it’s covered. Since it’s newer, the music selection is not as good as many other sites, but it’s growing. Originally, the platform was a bit lacking, but the site creators are really plugged into the filmmaking community and are always working to make the site better. They just updated the site about a week ago to include something I had been asking for, and have developers working on some of the other requested features. The best part about it is that I do not want to pay $$$ for 15 seconds worth of music for every Instagram edit I put together, so this is a really good resource to have for those. It more than pays for itself if we even use one song for corporate work, so it feels like it’s free.
I was originally worried that if we used all the music we would ever want to from this site and no longer wished to subscribe, we would lose our existing licenses. This is not the case. You must be subscribed when you license the music, but they you have it licensed for that film forever. You can also use it for re-occurring things like Podcasts, but the music must be relicensed for each Podcast (ie, week 1, week 2, etc).
June 2017 UPDATE – after almost a year of using the site, I still love it. There are still plenty of songs that we use on a regular basis to make it well worth the small investment. The link above is a referral link, but I was sharing this site before they started their referral program. It’s a great resource for both new filmmakers and those of us who have been doing it for quite awhile. We definitely don’t source all of our music here, but it’s great to fill out longer pieces with ambient sounds, and it’s nice to have a little library for fun projects like our family films.
Other sites we have used and love:
Song Freedom (you can license some more popular/current radio hits here. not all. but some). June 2017 UPDATE – Song Freedom is also moving to a subscription-only model. You get a discount if you sign up right now, but for most users, it will be $500 a year (with additional charges for popular music or corporate uses). Since we rarely use this site, that commitment doesn’t make sense for us, so I’m striking it off my personal list, but leaving it on this one as you can license music there, a lot of other filmmakers like it.
The Music Bed Another great search platform with quality music, especially for weddings. While I love the music on The Music Bed, I try not to use music from this site. Artists who list their music here can still monetize your videos on YouTube. While I don’t use YouTube for client delivery or even web hosting, I do upload videos there for SEO purposes. I don’t monetize our videos because I don’t want ads in them. I also don’t want someone else monetizing my videos, especially after I’ve already paid to use this music.
Community Tree Music Indie Music from Canada. Prices are pretty affordable as well. The selection is small and the site hasn’t been updated or seen new music in quite some time, but I’ve found good music here in the past.
Sites we haven’t used, but hear good things about:
Art List (another pay per year, unlimited use site)
New Music Sites for 2018
A couple of new sites have made it on to my radar for this year.
Select Music Library This site was created by fellow filmmaker Adam Forgione. The prices are very reasonable, even for commercial work. The site is well designed and easy to use. I haven’t used any music from the site yet, but I’ve listened to playlists and I have some favorites marked that I’m hoping to use this season.
Tracks. Again, so new I haven’t used it, and it’s still in Beta. This one has some pretty restrictive licensing rules, so I’m not likely to use it. It can never be used for commercial use outside of weddings and life stories. Sometimes another vendor will want to use part of all of one of our wedding videos, and we like having the opportunity to relicense the music for commercial purposes and let them do that. Their TOS say you can upload to your Facebook/Instagram and Youtube, but ONLY when used as an example of your portfolio (ie, don’t boost that video, share it with other vendors to post on their social media, or use it in an ad), and you can only embed videos that have been uploaded to Tracks private whitelisted channel to your site. Tracks does have popular music, so if that’s something you are looking for, this might be the site for you.
So that’s our list. Do you have a favorite site from the list, or maybe one that isn’t on it? We receive emails from independent musicians who have music available for license, and we’re happy to have those shared in the comments.