Guide: Royalty Free Music For Video. What, Why, Where, How?

Music is a fantastic way to create a certain mood or atmosphere in your video.

But you can’t just take your favorite track of the month and use it as background music in your next client video or YouTube-vlog.

If you do so, you might get sued by the record company and end up having to pay a hefty fine.

Most likely though, YouTube will either mute the sound in your video or make it impossible for you to monetize it. Instead, the money will go to the music artist, even though you’ve created the video.

The solution to not getting into any trouble is to use royalty-free music.

But what is royalty-free music? How can you use it? And where can you find it? And where can you get some for free?

Keep reading and all those questions will be answered.

Why Should You Use Music In Your Videos?

Music has a lot of different things to offer your video production.

First of all, music is an incredible way to create a certain atmosphere or evoke a certain feeling in the listener. After all, there’s a reason why all Hollywood films have a soundtrack.

Music can underline a certain message, help create an uplifting and positive vibe e.g. for corporate films, or even work as a contrast to what’s going on on the screen. For example, you can play a happy song to disturbing pictures to stress the absurdness of a situation.

Create A Continues Flow Through Time And Space With Music

But using music in your videos has other benefits as well.

Films usually consist of multiple clips, which have been recorded at different times and at different places.

Even a simple interview with a bit of b-roll can end up consisting of hundreds of small fragments.

All these fragments are essentially jumping in time and space. Adding music to underscore all these clips will create a spatial-temporal continuity and make your work much more coherent.

How To Use Music To Create A Rhythm And Flow In Your Video Editing

Royalty free music scary

Most types of music inherently have rhythm. Use the beats to your advantage and cut your video footage to the pulse of the song.

Just don’t stick to the main beats of 1, 2, 3, 4 though or you’ll end up with a boring edit. Try utilizing off-beat accents, lifts, breakdowns in the song to create an interesting visual flow, which fits the music and vice versa.

Music also takes you on a narrative an emotional journey in an by itself. Music often has an intro, a verse, a build-up, maybe a drop, a chorus, a bridge, a breakdown, and an outro. These musical elements are like chapters in a book, and you can use each section to your advantage.

For example, if the intro is calm, don’t cut your video too busy. Use the build-ups and chorus to also stress and reach an emotional peak in your video.

You can use fast electronic music like jungle or dubstep, to create fast edits and flashes and create an energetic film.

And here’s a tip for you: if you’re struggling with finding the rhythm and flow when you’re editing a video, try adding some appropriate music and start cutting. When you’ve done your edit remove the music again. That way you can use the rhythm, flow, and emotional build-ups of a song to create the same for your video. The music will live in your edit, even though the audience won’t hear it.

What Is Royalty-Free Music?

Just like you like to get paid for your video work and/or other day job, musicians like to get paid for their music. As they should!

So you can’t just use any piece of music in your videos for free. If you do – and especially if it is for commercial use – you can get in a world of trouble.

If you were to license a track from your favorite artist, while possible, it is very expensive. And not only do you need permission from the artist you also need permission from the record company.

That’s why most music you hear on wedding videos, corporate videos, explainer videos, travel vlog e.t.c. is what is called Royalty-Free music.

In essence, royalty-free music means, that you don’t have to pay royalties to the artist or record company everything you video is shown.

Instead, you only pay once for the license to use the music in your final work. And then it doesn’t matter if your video is shown one time or one billion times on YouTube. You’ve already paid for the rights to use it – even commercially.

So royalty-free doesn’t equal free. But it is much cheaper to buy a license once than it is having to license a track from top 10 artists or – even worse – having to deal with their lawyers.

Even though royalty-free music isn’t exactly Billboard chart music, there’s still a lot of excellent music out there, made by hardworking and brilliant musicians. And you can find music which fits every mood and need.

Furthermore, sometimes you even get different versions of a song, which is tailored to several different lengths of videos – e.g., 30 seconds, 45 seconds, 60 seconds, and 120 seconds.

You can also get music that is divided into stems (tracks), e.g. one drum track, one bass track, one synth track, one strings track, one vocal track, and one guitar track so that you can mix and rearrange the music yourself.

None of these options are available if you license music from a well-known artist – unless you’re willing to pay big cash.

Royalty-Free Music Licenses a.k.a. Remember To Read The Small Print

Royalty Free Music Copyright

When you pay for Royalty-Free music, it means you buy a license to use the music in your end-product a.k.a. film or video production.

In other words, you don’t own the music. The music is still owned by the composer/producer, who is the original copyright owner of the piece.

So you can’t just put the music up on a streaming service with your name on it, as if you made it yourself. And you can’t resell it. You’ve purchased the rights to use it in multimedia production, and it should be used as such.

And unless you’ve paid for the exclusive use of the music (which is expensive), others are free to pay for and use the music too.

Blanket License Or A Single End-Product?

You should also remember to read the small print in terms of how many end products, you can use the music for.

While some stock music sites give you a blanket license to use the music for as many videos you want, others limit the use for just one end product. So if you’re going to use the music for more than one video, you have to pay for a second license.

I see a lot of stock sites adapting to a subscription-based model. Often this result in a mixture of the two licenses mentioned above, i.e. you have a blanket license to use a piece of music in as many end-products as you like, but only as long as you’re still paying for a subscription.

So don’t think, that you can just sign up for a month, and download hundreds of songs, and then cancel your subscription. Because when you do, you’re not allowed to use the songs for any new projects, after your subscription has run out.

Standard vs Extended License

Sometimes you’ll run into two different types of licenses: the standard license and the extended (a.k.a. enhanced or premium) license.

Most often, the standard license is what you need, and it will allow you to use the music in your video – even commercially.

However, there are times, when the standard license won’t be enough. For example, if you’re going to use the music in a film, which will be shown on television or the big screen, you often need the extended license. The extended license is much more expensive than the standard license.

In other words, always remember to read the fine print!

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons (abbreviated CC) is an alternative to copyright. It was developed as a response to the new challenges to the old copyright system which arose in the wake of the internet.

The old copyright system wasn’t geared towards the remix culture of the web. And a lot of artists wanted it to be possible for fans and other artists to remix their work. So they were fast to adopt and help develop Creative Commons.

Exactly what you can do with the music depends on the type of CC license, the composer has chosen to adopt.

For example, one type of CC license is a blanket license which lets you do anything you want to the music, and you don’t even need to attribute the original artist. Another type doesn’t let you use the work commercially, while a third allows you to use the work commercially as long as you remember to credit the original artist.

You can read more of the different types of CC at

Most often composers of royalty free music who choose to adopt a version of CC will let you use the music commercially as long as you credit the artist. The music might available as 128kbps mp3. By paying attribution to the original artist, you help get their name out there. And the composer then can earn money from selling the music in higher bitrates as well as getting jobs as film composers etc.

Public Domain Licenses

Some music is available as Public Domain. This means that the music is free to use whichever way you choose.

Music can be released as Public Domain from the original composer. Most likely though the music is very old, and no longer subject to copyright.

So if your video calls for an old spiritual from the 1930s or something, it is likely you’ll be able to find one under the public domain.

Best Places To Find Royalty-Free Music

film scoring

There are a lot of places online where you can find royalty-free music. However, a lot of them are of low quality and the selection of music available isn’t very good.

So I’ve spent some time making a list of sites, which I’ve used in the past to get good quality royalty-free music – paid as well as free.

Remember to always read the fine print. Terms and conditions are subject to change all the time, so things might have changed since I wrote this.

If I have a question about something, I always write to the creators of the site. That way I have – in writing – their answer to a legal question if any disputes related to the use of the music should arise down the line.

If you’re looking specifically for music for your next short film, I recommend you take a look at our article: How to Get Great Music for Your Short Film

Best Places To Find Free Royalty-Free Music

Here are some of the best places for free royalty-free music online.


Bensound offers free music (CC Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0) as well as music you have to pay for. You also get the opportunity to purchase a subscription based license, which will last you a year.

A lot of the music on Bensound is composed by Ben Tissot from France, and most of it is of really good quality.

As of late, Bensound has begun to also accept and provide music from other artists as well.

The music is available as mp3 in 112 kbps, which is fine if your video is going to play back on mobile phones and laptops.

If you decide to purchase the music instead, you get access to the same music in wav-format.

Facebook Creator Studio

Yup, Facebook also offers free royalty-free music under the Creator Studio.

But Facebook being Facebook, you’re only allowed to use the music on… Facebook (including Instagram). So you can forget about uploading the music to YouTube, Snapchat, and other platforms.

But if your main focus is creating video ads for campaigns running solely on Facebook and Instagram, you should definitely check this out.

There are many ways you can search for this huge database of music.

For example, you can search by track length. This is handy if you know your video is going to be 60 seconds long and you need a track of this length.

You can also search for vocal tracks and choose whether you prefer the vocal to be male, female or both.

If you prefer to browse by mood, this is also an option. So if you’re going for a happy or a scary mood, you can find it too.

The way it works is, you download the music to your hard drive, and then import into your video editing software of choice. When you’re done editing your video with music, you export it and upload it to Facebook.

I expect Facebook to come up with a solution where you don’t have to leave the platform at all in the near future.

As an extra bonus, you also get a lot of sound effects, you can use to spice up your videos.


Incompetech bare a lot of resemblance to Bensound in how it works.

All the music is composed by Kevin MacLeod and most is available as CC 3.0, which means you have to credit Kevin if you want to use the music in a video.

If your video or client doesn’t allow you to write an attribution to Kevin and Incompetech, you can pay for the music instead under a standard license.

The music is provided for free in mp3 256 kbps format. If you pay for the music, you get the option to get the music as stems in maximum audio quality, so that you can mix and remix the music yourself and tailor it to your videos.

You can also hire Kevin to compose music exclusively for your videos.


There is a lot of royalty-free music available on YouTube. And you can even find music from well-known artists, that you can use in your videos.

That being said, before you go out and use a song from Ariana Grande or Justin Bieber, there are some things you need to know.

Basically, you can divide the music available on YouTube into two categories: royalty-free and claimed.

Royalty-Free music is available under the YouTube Audio Library. This is often music licensed under CC. For example, you can use Kevin MacLeod’s music directly from the YouTube Audio Library instead of going to Incompetech first.

Claimed music is copyrighted music, which is provided by well-known artists and owned by them and their record companies. Claimed music is available under the YouTube Music Policy Directory.

You can’t just go and use every hit song, you hear on the radio. What the directory also does is list the songs and their current policies as decided by the copyright holders.

What this means is, that if you choose to use any of the music listed in the Music Policy Directory, you’ll receive a copyright claim, which will notify you that you have used copyrighted music.

Then one of three things are likely to happen depending on which policy the copyright holders have chosen for the composition:

  1. Your video will play with the music, and ads may appear on your video. But you can’t monetize the video yourself. Instead, the copyright holder has chosen to monetize the music. In some cases, the copyright holder may choose to share some revenue with you from ads appearing on your video. Be aware though, that even if this policy is applied to a piece of music, your video may not be available everywhere or on all devices.
  2. Your video will be blocked worldwide because one or more copyright holders won’t allow the use of the music on YouTube. Either your video will be muted, or it won’t be available on YouTube.
  3. Your video will be blocked in some countries because one or more copyright holders have restricted the countries in which the music is available on YouTube. If you use the music available under this policy, it means your video won’t be viewable in countries where the music is blocked on YouTube.

In short, if you use any of the music found under the YouTube Music Policy Directory, you severely limit yourself in terms of what you can do in terms of monetization. And you might risk your video been unavailable to the public.

Also, the copyright holders may decide to change their policies anytime, so you have no guarantee that you can keep using the music e.g. under the first of the three policies mentioned above.

It’s a given, that you should never try to use any of the music found under the Music Policy Directory for commercial work for a client.

As a rule of thumb, you generally need to seek permission to use any copyrighted material in your videos, and YouTube cannot grant you any of these rights. When in doubt, you should always consult a qualified legal representative about the use of copyright-protected material in your videos.

Best Places To Find Paid Royalty-Free Music

Here are some of the best places to find paid high-quality royalty-free music online.

Artlist is a subscription-based site which offers a lot of great music from indie artists.

The site is founded by Ira Belsky who is a filmmaker himself as a response to the often difficult, expensive and time-consuming task of finding good music for film projects.

Also, he wanted to create something different from the other stock music sites which mostly offer generic music for corporate stuff.

The music you find on Artlist is high-quality and there’s something for both indie filmmakers and short films and corporate videos.

With Artlist you pay for an annual subscription, which will give you unlimited downloads (limited to 40 tracks a day). And you are free to use the music you download for the rest of your life.

You can use the music in any type of project including commercial projects, and all the tracks have been pre-checked for YouTube monetization.

New music is uploaded every month.

If you want to test out the quality of the music on the site in one of your projects, you can open a trial account. This will give you access to the entire catalogue of songs, but they will be watermarked and the songs are only for personal use and cannot be used or posted publicly.


Pond5 is a huge stock archive, which offers photos, videos, AE-templates, 3D-models and more. And then, of course, royalty-free music as well.

You can pay per song or buy a subscription per year. The latter will give you access to most of the music on the site with a few exceptions.

The nice thing is, that when you’ve purchased a license for a track, you are allowed to use the music in more than one end-product. So keep the track on your hard drive, and you can use it for another client or personal video later.

If you’re part of a bigger production company you also have the option to purchase extended and premium licenses. This is relevant if more than one person will use the music or you need extended regional protection against copyright disputes.

As an added bonus Pond5 also offers a great public domain archive with videos, photos, and music.


PremiumBeat is a large well-known library filled with royalty-free music and sound effects.

PremiumBeat is part of Shutterstock, which sell licenses to stock photos and videos all over the world.

PremiumBeat has a lot of music and quality, in general, is very high.

If you choose to buy a standard license, you’re allowed to use the music in as many end-products as you like.

If you need the music for, say, a short film for the big screen, then you need to purchase an extended license instead.

PremiumBeat also differs from other royalty-free stock sites in that, the music you find on the platform only is available there.

A lot of other platforms allow artists to upload the music to several stock sites if they so choose. This can lead to copyright claims and disputes, and you might have to deal with other stock sites who’ve made copyright claims to the music you’ve used in your YouTube video – even though you’ve purchased a legit license.

You won’t have to worry about this when you license music from PremiumBeat.

So there you have it. Did I miss anything? Do you know of a site, which offers great royalty-free music, which I have forgotten about? Do you use music yourself? Please share your thoughts and comments in the comment section below.


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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