Video Production

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos

Learn about copyright and where to get royalty free background music with this guide

Having good background music can make a huge difference to the quality of a video. However, using copyrighted music without a license or the owner’s permission can result in videos being removed from platforms - luckily there’s lots of royalty free music for videos available online.

We put together this guide to discuss issues surrounding music copyright, royalties and intellectual property, to help you work out what music you can use in your videos.

Luckily not all music is copyrighted, there are non copyrighted music songs that can be used freely. There are many tracks available to license online which you can use without having to worry about copyright. Also, if you write a song yourself you don’t have to worry about copyright.  

To fully understand, let’s take a look at the rules surrounding copyright.

Is it illegal to use copyrighted music in a video?

Using copyrighted music without the owner’s permission is illegal, and counts as a crime of Copyright Infringement. Most music is nor free to use music 

Using somebody else’s work is a violation of the owner’s intellectual property rights, a legal system which is in place to protect artists from other people profiting off their work. 

If copyright infringing work makes a financial profit, the copyright owner could take the violator to court, and it would be within their rights to claim damages equal to the profits and legal fees. These cases only really happen if it’s worth the money to upfront the initial legal costs, so often small artists don’t stand a chance against big corporations.  

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos

Each platform has its own terms of use agreement that dictates their response to violation, which can range from removal of content to banning users.

But it’s not just a financial issue. Copyright Infringement is essentially a form of theft (intellectual property theft), therefore it can be deemed as immoral or unethical. Not only is the artwork stolen, but any potential profits it could have generated are taken from the artists and redirected to the thief. 

It also devalues the economy of artistic work. The thief, by stealing the work, shows they don’t respect the time and resources that have been used to create it, thinking that makes it acceptable to use it for free. By the same logic, the thief’s own work is valueless, and can be reused freely. 

This is often overlooked because music is an abstract product, the theft doesn’t seem as tangible as traditional property theft. Copyright infringement can be equally as immoral and damaging as car theft. Using copyrighted music as if it is free to use music is damaging.   

Can you get permission to legally use copyrighted music?

Fortunately, you can get permission to use copyrighted work in your music. Depending on who owns the original copyright, a formal agreement or licence can be arranged for legal records. This will state under what terms the work can be used. 

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos

For example, in films and TV, sometimes they will lease music rights for one particular song just for that film or advert. Sometimes they will buy out the permanent rights to the whole work, which is often the case with commissioned theme tunes or music.

However, without a large company behind you, this is a difficult thing for smaller creators like YouTubers and Podcaster to do.

Check out our video on licensing music for podcasts below.

Royalty-free music vs Public Domain and Creative Commons

There are different types of usage agreements that apply to Royalty free work. The two most notable are Public Domain, and Creative Commons.


What is the difference between royalty-free music and public domain music?

Public Domain works are not protected under Copyright Law, meaning they can be used freely for personal or commercial reasons without royalties or permission. They are in the public domain meaning they are publicly owned and not owned by an individual. It is still recommended to provide attribution or at least keep a track for later reference.

Creative Commons is a style of licensing provided by the Creative Commons Organisation, who provides tools that work alongside copyright laws. There are different sub classifications that can be applied to work in different combinations. Depending on the classification of the work, it means that the work can be used for free without royalty under the following conditions (if classified).

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos

You can use public domain work at any time, as for Creative Commons, it depends on the license agreement classification. This means that public domain work can be used freely in any part of a work, entirely or a section.

Things to look out for

There are different sub categories of Creative Commons agreements that need to be followed. Check what category the sound falls under before downloading, and keep a track, as some works will need to be credited. 

  1. Attribution: The original owner is also acknowledged or credited in the published work.
  2. Non Commercial: Usage is allowed provided the publication is not for profit.
  3. Share Alike: If the work is modified it must be shared under the same license.
  4. No Derivative: An adapted or modified version of the original is not permitted.

How do I know if a song is royalty free?

If a song was released in the last 70 years, and unless otherwise stated, it will probably have some kind of copyright. Most commercially released songs are not royalty free, the original artist will want royalties and credit for its use. 

It’s always worth checking with a search engine or on Wikipedia, where the information can usually be found quickly

PD Info also provides a list of public domain music - if a song appears on this list then it will be copyright free.

Another way to check if a song is royalty free is to upload it as a private video on YouTube to run it through the Content ID copyright detection system. Any copyrighted music will be flagged.

If the song is copyrighted, it will need a license to be played by anybody other than the original owner. A license can be agreed with the copyright owner. 

How much of a song can I play without paying royalties

Some people believe that there is a 30 second “Fair Use” rule when it comes to playing part of a song, however, this is a bit of a myth. If the song is copyrighted it may not qualify for Fair Use.

If the owner of the copyright decides the snippet is a “substantial” part of the work, it could count as copyright infringement. So, royalty may be required, at a minimum permission is required even if a short snippet is used.

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos

If the music is obtained illegally (pirated) or without permission, this invalidates any Fair Use rights.

Playing short snippets is less detectable by algorithms and to some extent makes the cases of infringement seem like lesser crimes, thus they often go unnoticed or ignored which may feed misconceptions surrounding this topic. However, it is still by no means legal or safe, and still violates the owner’s copyright.

Can I use royalty free music on YouTube?

Royalty free music can make great background music for YouTube videos as it can be used without needed to pay royalties.

Whether the license is a Public Domain or Creative Commons will determine the specifics of use, and describe if accreditation is required and any other restrictions. 

When looking for cool background music to add to YouTube videos always check the license before use, and ensure that you give credit where needed.

Can you use copyrighted music on YouTube?

Copyrighted music can be uploaded to YouTube with permission from the original copyright holder. 

Without permission it’s likely video will be removed from YouTube for Copyright Infringement.

Occasionally YouTube’s copyright detection system falsely flags videos as violations, sometimes removing the content even when posted by the original owner. This happens as it doesn’t automatically determine if the account has received the owner’s permission. 

This can be appealed through YouTube’s support, but demonstrates how complicated and ambiguous copyright enforcement can be. Crediting through YouTubes credit system can also prevent this.

How does YouTube know if you’re using a copyrighted song in your video?

YouTube uses a system called Content ID to handle copyright violations. The Content ID database contains a list of copyrighted material and their ownership and license.

Every YouTube video is run through the ID database to find any copyrighted material. 

If uncredited copyrighted material is discovered that violates the usage agreement, the video will be flagged and removed. 

Can I post a video on Instagram with music?

Instagram’s terms of use state:

“You can only post content to Instagram that doesn’t violate someone else’s intellectual property rights”

Breaking this agreement may result in content being deleted or accounts being terminated.

If shared with permission from the original owner, the IP rights aren’t being violated so the content is safe.

Instagram has a copyright detection algorithm that flags down posts containing copyrighted material. It checks new posts against a database of copyrighted material, any matches and the post is flagged. 

Instagram Videos can be posted without any copyrighted material, or with material that is in the public domain or Creative Commons.

If the work isn’t copyrighted, credit should always be given to the original artist, especially if they are a small artist without legal power.

How do I add royalty free music to videos?

Thanks to the tools at hand, adding royalty free music video is easier than ever before. There are many websites that have large databases of downloadable royalty free music, and there are loads of free video editor programmes that can add music to videos.

Most video editors also have audio mixing features so the levels can be balanced and the background music doesn’t overpower other sounds, or play in unnecessary areas. 

How do you add background music to a video

Video Editing software is an essential tool to add and edit background music to a video. If you need more guides to working with video editors, head over to our blog where we have guides to using Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro X and DaVinci Resolve.

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos
  1. Import the video and music files into Video Editor Software.
  2. Add the video to the timeline.
  3. Arrange the music clips to the video.
  4. Mix the music and video’s audio levels to a good balance.
  5. Export/Render the video project to a new file.

How to add background music to a video on YouTube?

YouTube Studio video editor lets you discover and add licensed music to your uploaded videos, which means video editing software can be avoided in a pinch.

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos

How To add background music to an uploaded YouTube video

  1. Upload the video to YouTube
  2. Open YouTube Studio
  3. In the "Content“ menu select the video to add music to, and click “Editor” to edit.
  4. In the Audio Track, select “Add a Track”. In the pop-up windows, a whole archive of royalty free music can be browsed through and previewed. 
  5. Once the desired track has been found, click “ADD“.
  6. Then adjust the box to set where it plays in the video. 
  7. When arranged, click “Save” to finalise adding the music. Once processed the video will now contain the added music.

Learn about the best video format for YouTube, and how to promote your channel on our Blog.

How do I put music in the background of my Instagram videos?

Within the Instagram app, music can only be added to Stories (found under stickers after you’ve captured the story video/pic). For timeline video posts, or IGTV, the music needs to be added using a separate video editing program or app. 

For powerful mobile audio editing, check out Mauvio.

How do you add background music to a TikTok video

TikTok lets users add music from their library to videos.

Your guide to Royalty Free Music for Videos
  1. Record the TikTok video.
  2. Press “Sounds” in the bottom left corner.
  3. Select the desired song from the list. 
  4. Drag the sound wave to choose which part of the song gets played.
  5. Press the Tick and finish the post.

Learn how to create a TikTok sound and go viral with this guide.

Where can I get royalty free music?

There are a number of platforms that distribute royalty free music. Some of these sites provide free downloads, others are paid. Downloaded/purchased audio usually has a licence that explains the contract and the sounds terms of use.

How to Find Music for Youtube Videos

The best way to find music for YouTube videos is by searching online for a Royalty Free or Public Domain Music Archive, there are tonnes out there, some geared towards different styles of music. Alternatively try the YouTube Audio Library, or search through websites like SoundCloud to find smaller artists who may let you use their music.

There are collections of royalty free music available on Spotify, check out this one as an example.

Are there any alternative options to royalty free music?

An alternative to royalty free music is acquiring a license. Commercially released songs can be licensed for use subject to an agreement with the owner. This agreement may involve a one-time cost, or a percentage of profits. This is how adverts and movies end up using classic songs, they usually pay the owner a licensing fee. For more information on how to license music, check out this article.

A second option would be to try to reproduce the track or create a similar style song. Whilst requiring music production knowledge, songs can often be reproduced fairly cheaply to rough reproduction. If you have the budget you could commission a cover or inspired alternate version. You can start making music for free with programs like GarageBand.

January 29, 2021
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