When you buy an album or MP3, you are normally purchasing a license to listen to the music as a private individual. You can listen, but don't touch. Or copy. Or redistribute! What if you want to include one of the tracks in a project—say a short film clip, an iPhone app, or a Flash project? Unless you have loads of money, you're out of luck. So, what can you do? Where can you turn? Read on!
In a recent Open Mic we explored this very issue. We asked, "Where can I find redistributable music?" A huge thanks to everyone who responded. Your answers form the basis of this article.
And there isn't just one answer to that question. In fact, there are three major categories of licenses that will give you the rights you are after. And each category of license has inspired countless website full of music. This article will introduce them to you.
But before we start, be aware that different licenses give you different rights. Some come with significant limitations. As you read this article, think through the issues. What exactly is it that you need? For example, will you be distributing the file as part of a larger project (like a movie or presentation), or distributing the track itself? Are you a performer looking for a backing track, a composer looking for inspiration to form the basis of a new track, or do you want something you can chop up into discrete samples or loops?
When you find a site that appeals to you, spend some time reading through its About and License pages. And check the license for each individual track you are interested in. The details are important!
1. Royalty-Free Music
Royalty-free music might come at a cost, but there won't be a bigger cost when you redistribute it. Most commercial music requires that you pass onto the publisher a royalty with each use or item distributed. That's not the case with royalty-free music. It should cost the same whether you distribute one CD or a million. But check the license before committing yourself—sometimes the term "royalty-free" is used differently to what is expected, or additional restrictions may be in force, including limits to distribution numbers.
Soundtrackster was recommended by Audiotuts+ reader Mark: "Oleg Mokhov and Nathan Hangen recently started a service called SoundTrackster that offers royalty free music tracks (background type stuff). I believe that they charge an upfront cost of download, but you’re free to use it how you want without having to pay royalties. Not sure about free distribution, but they’re royalty free at least."
The site sells royalty-free music in WAV format. The tracks are loopable, and 2-3 minutes in length. Tracks cost $99 (or $19 for personal non-profit use).
AudioJungle is Envato's own stock audio marketplace. If you want to redistribute the files, you need to purchase an extended license, which allows you to include the track in a project, but not sell the track by itself. Learn more about AudioJungle licenses here.
You can also find royalty-free music at these sites:
2. Creative Commons
We've talked about Creative Commons before in our article Creative Commons for Musicians: Can You Make Money by Giving Music Away? Creative Commons licenses allow musicians (and other artists) to give up some of their rights without giving up all of them. Think of it as "some rights reserved" rather than "all rights reserved".
Be aware that Creative Commons is a set of licenses, and that some licenses give away more than others. For example, some licenses require that the project you use the tracks in be released with the same Creative Commons license. Read the license carefully to make sure it allows you to do what you need to. Learn more from the Creative Commons Licenses page.
ccMixter was also recommended by Audiotuts+ reader Mark. "It’s all Creative Commons material, specifically to be remixed, also remixes that can be redistributed."
ccMixter describe how you can use the music on their site:
Music on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons license. You are free to download and sample from music on this site and share the results with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Some songs might have certain restrictions, depending on their specific licenses. Each submission is marked clearly with the license that applies to it.
Recommended by Open Mic commenters DoomLike and Baxter Tochter, Jamendo is a well-known Creative Commons music publisher. They offer royalty-free music for multimedia projects: "Purchase music licenses for your projects: movies, TV, advertising, documentaries, promotional videos, websites, corporate presentations, mobile apps, games, etc." They deal with all the intermediaries between the artist and client (you).
SoundClick is a music-based social community where bands and artists can promote their music. Many of the songs are offered under a Creative Commons license.
Dogmazic is a French-language site specializing in Creative Commons music.
Rogue Bard was recommended by regular Audiotuts+ commenter Mingos: "A friend of mine is running such a service. It’s not really maintained due to it being known to a very narrow group of users, but maybe you can make a difference by submitting your music. Everything is available for download for free, licenced under some flavour of Creative Commons (all CC-*-SA works are dual licenced, where indie game developers are exempt from the SA clause)."
The site's About page describes it as a free music sharing site for non-commercial independent video games.
Commenter "pneuman" offers his own music under a Creative Commons license at www.wootangent.net. He explains:
I release my own music under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike (or “CC-BY-SA”) 3.0 licence. That means you can redistribute it freely, and you can also use it as part of a “derivate work” (ie: remixing it in to a new track, or using it as backing music for a video), as long as that derivative work is also released under the same licence (and therefore let others do the same with your work).
3. Public Domain
Public domain music is not covered by copyright. They are publicly available and can be used without permission, as can derivative works. Music is in the public domain if:
* all rights have expired or
* the authors have explicitly put a work into the public domain
* there never were copyrights
In the United States, there sound recordings cannot be in the public domain. However, sheet music to that music can be in the public domain, and derivative works of that music can be made without permission.
Recommended by commenter George Washington III, the Free Music Archive offers high quality legal audio downloads for free. Much of it is public domain, but some tracks have Creative Commons and other licenses.
From their About page:
Every mp3 you discover on The Free Music Archive is pre-cleared for certain types of uses that would otherwise be prohibited by copyright laws that were not designed for the digital era. These uses vary and are determined by the rightsholders themselves (please see our FAQ) who feel that allowing a degree of free cultural access is beneficial not only to their own pursuits, but to our society as a whole. Are you a podcaster looking for pod-safe audio? A radio or video producer searching for instrumental bed music that won’t put your audience to sleep? A remix artist looking for pre-cleared samples? Or are you simply looking for some new sounds to add to your next playlist? The Free Music Archive is a resource for all that and more, and unlike other websites, all of the audio has been hand-picked by established audio curators.
"The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet - a new medium with major historical significance - and other 'born-digital' materials from disappearing into the past." The audio section contains over 200,000 tracks (not all music), many of which are available for free download.
You can also find public domain music at these sites:
Well, that brings us to the end of our article. I hope you find it useful? What are your favorite sources of redistributable audio files? Have we missed any? Let us know in the comments.
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