A lot of amateur videographers and DIY-ers have been asking us about the relatively straight-forward, but not very well explained, topic of royalty-free music. In an effort to continue Mondo’s mission of keeping our practices transparent and always sharing what we know I decided it was time to sit down and talk about the basics as well as mention a few sites and list some of their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s get to it.
Licensing is a somewhat boring and often overlooked factor when downloading royalty-free music. First consider two things: is your project personal (something you own and are making just for fun) or commercial (affiliated with a business selling something)? If it’s the former, purchasing royalty-free music isn’t required. I suggest looking for music distributed under the Creative Commons license (the difference will be explained in our extended licensing post), which is free and will serve your needs perfectly. Vimeo, a video-hosting site that we use for Mondo’s own video portfolio, contains a wealth of quality royalty-free and Creative Commons license music as well.
If you are producing a video for the purpose of promoting a business, organization or even a non-profit, you should always read and understand the music’s license agreement. Some sites allow you to use tracks always and forever, however you see fit. Others can only be used once or have separate licenses for tv/radio distribution or mass-produced products you plan to sell (like a training video). Think about what exactly how you’ll be using this video, and pick a site that has a license that fits your needs.
Quality vs. price is the other big thing to take into consideration. You may think that $15 is a pretty darn expensive song. But remember, you’re not paying for the song, you’re paying for the rights to the song. I suggest avoiding “deals” that offer thousands of songs for one low price because, chances are, most of those songs are cheesy Garageband-quality schlock that should only be played on elevators, in hell. Make sure you can preview the track before you buy. And whenever possible download a “comp track” — tracks that include an audio watermark so you can’t steal the song outright — to put over your video and test it out.
Now enough with the formalities: let’s get to the good stuff. Here is Mondo’s condensed list of favorite royalty-free music sites…
A standard site with good selection. We’re big fans.
PROS: Extensive library of tunes to meet a range of budgets. Most are reasonably priced. Flexible license agreement… if you can find it (see cons)
CONS: Some tracks run as much as $50, and some are so awful it’s like being trapped in that hellish elevator. Finding their license agreement isn’t all that easy to do, and even when you do, you’ll find a lot of legal jargon that took me awhile to digest and figure out, take the time to read through it though: it’s worth it.
The budget option.
PROS: Every song individually is a buck. You can buy albums for even cheaper. License is very flexible.
CONS: You’ll have to sift through some pretty mediocre stuff to find the gems here. You definitely run the risk of ending up with a track that sounds like you paid a dollar for it.
PROS: Crystal clear audio, and even clearer licensing
CONS: Did I say Cadillac? I meant Porsche. Standard licenses start at about $30-$40 and if you want extended licenses for TV/radio you’d better be willing to dish out over $100 on a track. Are you sure you need the heated leather headlight wiper blades?
The free option.
PROS: Royalty-free tracks. If you are feeling generous you can donate. Need I say more?
CONS: The search mechanism is clunky at best, and the selection is limited. Also considering the price, a number of these tracks have likely been around the block. Don’t be surprised if that sweet track you got from here also pops up in 50 other similar videos on Youtube.
So these guys found our post and sent us a comment (posted below) They didn’t seem to be spamming us, so I decided to check out their goods. I was impressed enough to give them a mention here and add them to our ranks.
PROS: High quality tracks most of which are less than $20. Their licensing is straightforward, and the website is nicely laid out. Plus they offer really nice descriptions for each of their tracks which makes a huge difference! I’ll definitely be shopping from these guys in the future.
CONS: Corporate section was a little weak. Sometimes for the work I do I need something a little generic and simple, but not tacky — which admittedly is a hard line to walk. I wasn’t finding too much in that category that tickled my fancy. Considering that’s one section of the many out they have (their hip-hop tracks were top notch), it’s a pretty small bone to pick.