As a content creator, you know best that finding the perfect music for your videos can be challenging to navigate. Music can pull together a project and be the cherry on top for perfecting the vibe, but how do you select the right music while doing it legally? One popular option among content creators is royalty-free music. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll make sure you understand everything you need to know about royalty-free music, exploring what it really means, how it works, and how you can use it.

What Are Royalties?

To get started, let’s define what royalties are. Royalties are payments collected by the owners of copyrighted works, trademarks, franchises, and more, for the use of their product or asset. Essentially, royalties make sure that original creators and copyright holders of a product get paid for their intellectual property.

For music, royalties are payments made to artists, songwriters, producers, composers, and other copyright holders, generated through the use of their songs. These royalties can come through various means, such as public performance, broadcasting, and commercial use. Whenever a song is played on the radio, streamed online, or used in a film, royalties are paid to the artists, songwriters, and others involved in the creative process.

There are a few different ways that these copyright holders collect music royalties, depending on the type of licensing and usage. The four main types of royalties are mechanical royalties, performance royalties, sync royalties, and print music royalties. Check out our breakdown of the different licenses that correspond to these types of royalties here.

What Does Royalty-Free Music Mean?

So, then what does royalty-free music mean? Basically, royalty-free music is a licensing model where the user purchases a one-off license to use the track without paying additional royalties or fees.

A common misconception about royalty-free music is that it’s free music. While there might be some royalty-free music libraries out there that offer free tracks, in many cases, you still need to purchase a license or subscription.

Royalty-free music also doesn’t mean copyright free. When using royalty-free music, you still need to abide by copyright laws. A royalty-free licensing agreement doesn't grant the user rights to the copyright. Instead, purchasing a license to use royalty-free music allows the purchaser to use the music for a limited time for a specific, agreed-upon licensing fee.

Royalty-free means typically means that there aren't any ongoing payments for the purchaser, but there will be restrictions on how the music track can be used. So, it’s important to read the terms carefully when purchasing royalty-free music to use in your content.

How Does Royalty-Free Music Work?

When finding music for your content, if you want to license a specific copyrighted song, the process may be complex, taking more time, effort, and money, especially if it’s a popular song. Additionally, you may be required to pay ongoing license fees or royalties based on the licensing terms.

Royalty-free music works by simplifying the licensing process. Royalty-free music services pay the song's copyright holder the required royalties so that you don't have to do it yourself or negotiate a licensing agreement with them directly. Once you purchase a royalty-free music license, you are granted the legal right to use the music in your projects without worrying about extra royalties or fees.

Is Royalty-Free Music Free?

The term "royalty-free" might lead some to believe that the music is completely free, but it actually refers to the absence of royalty payments. Usually, there is still a cost that comes with using royalty-free music. The “free” in royalty-free just means that you are free from paying additional royalties when you use the song in your projects.

The cost of a royalty-free music license can vary. Some royalty-free libraries offer single-payment licensing options to purchase individual tracks while other services present a subscription-based licensing model that requires recurring monthly payments to access a wide selection of royalty-free music across different genres. Pricing can also vary by use and other pricing policies.

In the end, royalty-free libraries allow creators to use their music with an upfront payment without the need to continuously pay royalties for each use. This makes royalty-free music an affordable choice, particularly for content creators that create frequently and need music for ongoing projects.

Is Royalty-Free Music Copyrighted?

Yes, royalty-free music is subject to copyright protection just like other kinds of music. The original creators or copyright holders still hold the rights to their music, but they have given you permission to use the music within the scope of the license. To legally use royalty-free music in your content and avoid copyright infringement, you need to purchase a license.

Since royalty-free music is not copyright-free, if you are caught using royalty-free music in your YouTube video without a license, your video could be taken down and you could potentially put your channel at risk of termination. Making sure you have the necessary license for your video’s purpose can save you from running into legal issues.

Learn more about copyright laws and how to avoid claims on YouTube, here.

Royalty-Free vs. Copyright-Free

Royalty-free music and copyright-free music differ in what is “free.” While royalty-free music is copyrighted music that allows you to use the music without paying royalties, copyright-free music goes a step further. With copyright-free music, there are no rights owners, meaning the sound recording is not protected by copyright at all. Therefore, you have complete freedom to use, modify, and distribute the music without obtaining a license, worrying about any royalties, or even worrying about legal issues for that matter.

However, copyright-free music can be more challenging to find compared to royalty-free music. Music in the public domain is an example of copyright-free music. For music to be in the public domain, it must fall under one of the following conditions:

  • the copyright has expired
  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or
  • copyright law does not protect this type of work.

A royalty-free license allows you to legally use the music while still respecting the rights of the original creators.

Is Royalty-Free Music Stock Music?

Royalty-free music is often associated with stock music, but the two terms are not interchangeable. Royalty-free music can be stock music, but not all stock music is royalty-free.

Stock music refers to pre-recorded music that can be licensed for use in radio, TV shows, and other media. Some stock music libraries provide royalty-free licensing choices, while others follow a royalty-based type of licensing. While royalty-based stock music requires continuous royalty payments for each use, royalty-free stock music falls under the same rules as other royalty-free music and lets you utilize the song without paying additional fees.

To put it simply, stock music is music that is created to be licensed and can be licensed in various ways, including under a royalty-free model. Royalty-free music can be defined more as the type of license that allows you to use a piece of music without having to pay royalties for each use.

Where Can You Use Royalty-Free Music?

Royalty-free music can be used in a variety of situations, some common uses include:

  • Videos: Royalty-free music is commonly found in online videos, including promotional videos, explainer videos, on YouTube, and other social media platforms.
  • Podcasts: Many podcasts use royalty-free music in their intros and outros, as background music, or to add sound effects.
  • Commercials: Royalty-free music is also used in commercials to create an atmosphere that complements the product or service being advertised and associates the brand with a certain image.
  • Films: Royalty-free music can be used in films to evoke emotions and help storytelling, such as generating an air of suspense, romance, or humor.

Note that licensing conditions can differ by royalty-free library, so some may impose restrictions on use. As we mentioned before, many types of music licenses exist for different usages, so your project may require coverage outside of the scope of what royalty-free music licenses offer.

Some royalty-free music libraries may have restrictions on commercial use, public performances, or usage in certain platforms or mediums. They might also have attribution requirements.  If you’re looking to use royalty-free music in commercial projects, we’ve compiled everything you need to know in this guide.

Alternatives to Royalty-Free Music

While royalty-free music is an excellent option for content creators, it's not the only one.

Working with a composer to create a customized piece:

If you're looking for a more unique and customized soundtrack for your videos, you might consider working with a composer or directly reaching out to copyright owners to license specific songs. Working with a composer can be a great way to create a soundtrack that's tailored to your brand and content. You can work together to develop a musical style that fits your videos, and you can have a say in every aspect of the music, from the tempo to the instrumentation.

While this option is appealing due to its advantage of creating a 100% unique, customized song just for you, typically, working with a team of composers and producers can be a hefty investment; not to mention a longer process as well.

Negotiating a license directly:

Alternatively, you can directly obtain a music license for a song. This process, however, requires a few extra steps. You’ll first need to identify the copyright owner of the tracks you wish to use. The copyright owners usually include the original composer, independent artist, record label, music publisher, Performance Rights Organizations (PROs), and anyone else involved in the creative process or management of the songs.

Once you have identified the copyright owners, you can contact them directly to request a license for non-profit use. However, this process can be time-consuming, costly, and may not always be successful, especially if the owners are difficult to reach or unresponsive.

Track Club

If you’re looking for a more personalized music licensing experience, Track Club is a perfect alternative.

Track Club’s music library contains a meticulously curated selection of high-quality, authentically crafted music, and uses Smart Filters to simplify your search process, helping you find exactly what you need, quickly.

You won’t have to worry about limited creative freedom either, since you also have the ability to customize your songs with Track Club’s MixLab, which allows you to change the volume of individual stems, change BPM, and more.

A Track Club subscription, starting at just $12 a month, makes the music licensing process more efficient and cost-effective by granting unlimited downloads and sync music licenses for songs in the Track Club catalog, without needing to negotiate with the rights holders. All Track Club tracks are available for commercial use as well!

Track Club takes care of everything from music selection to dealing with legal rights, so all you need to do is focus on choosing and crafting the perfect song for your project.


Music can change the entire video viewing experience for your audience. The music selection process appears daunting to navigate, but understanding the different options available can help you choose the best option to support your content creation journey. Now that you know more about royalty-free music, how it works, and some alternative options, you can confidently approach the music search process and amplify your storytelling.

Track Club’s customizable small-batch music library can help you enhance your content with the perfect soundtrack to captivate your audience as a quality video creator.

Start your 30-day free trial today!