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What is royalty free music?

There’s a common misconception that “royalty free” media (music/photos/videos etc.) is completely free to use. “Royalty free” has different meanings depending on who you license from, but there are very few instances where there is absolutely no charge to use this type of content. Just because the word ‘Free’ is in there, many people wrongly assume there is no cost. That’s not to say that completely free-to-use music doesn’t exist, but there is very little of it around.

The phrase ‘Royalty Free’ is just a broad term used to describe a licensing model, and in nearly all cases there will usually be at least an initial one-time fee to pay. The ‘Free’ part refers to the fact that after the initial purchase cost it’s (generally) free from further fees (or ‘royalties’) such as renewable yearly fees, or repeat fees to use the music in multiple productions.

With my terms, once you purchase any of my royalty free music collections for the one-time price of £39.99 each, a license is included which allows the music to be used in an unlimited number of films, documentaries, video games and other audio visual productions, by the original purchaser, without the need to pay any further license fee (or “royalty”) each time the music is used in a new film or production.

So what you’re really paying for is a lifetime license to keep using the music in multiple situations, usually with some specific conditions. Technically it would probably be more accurate to call it something like ‘One time payment for repeated lifetime licensed use’ music but the term ‘Royalty Free’ is obviously a lot simpler and has become a common umbrella term for this form of licensing.

And don’t forget, you’re also getting the ability to earn money through using my music in your films. Whether you want to sell your films on DVD or monetise them on YouTube, my royalty free music gives you the right to use my music in your paid productions without needing to pay me any more for music use.

So the one fee you pay to download & license each music collection is all you ever need to pay to use it – even if your video takes off and is hugely successful, you won’t need to pay any further costs for using the music!

After buying and downloading my royalty free music, you can start using it immediately in your productions. There’s no restriction on the number of different films and videos this music can be used in, but it must only be used by the original single-user purchaser and cannot be transferred to any third parties. If you are producing a production for a third-party client, they must be the end user of the music and will need to purchase their own copy of the collection in order to use the music in their film.

One other misconception is that royalty free music has no copyright. All music (or any other intellectual property) instantly has a copyright assigned to its creator the minute it’s put into any tangible form (this could be as soon as it’s physically recorded or even just written out as sheet music). Even if a composer or musician chooses to let anyone use his music for free, the copyright still exists and is owned by the creator; he’s just decided not to charge you for the privilege of using it. If you search around, you may be lucky enough to find musicians willing to let you use their music for no cost (or maybe for a credit) but in reality these are very much in the minority.

So the term ‘Copyright Free Music’, while sometimes used to describe Royalty Free Music, is misleading as the music does have a copyright, but the owner may simply be waiving any charge to use it.

One last point refers to TV broadcast royalties. If a piece of music is used in a film or documentary that’s broadcast on television, the broadcasting network (e.g. BBC, NBC, ABC etc.) is usually required to pay a public performance fee to whoever owns the rights in the music. The networks pay large annual fees to Performing Rights Organisations (PROs) such as ASCAP, PRS, SOCAN etc. who then distribute this money equally to their members. To ensure the money is fairly distributed, the networks provide cue sheets to the PROs which show who wrote the music, how long it was played for etc.

So if you produce a film that goes on to be broadcast on television, you’ll be required to provide the cue sheet info to the network, but this is a straightforward piece of paperwork that lists things like the composer and length of music used, and more importantly doesn’t cost you anything! All performance royalties are paid by the network, so for all intents and purposes, it is still free of any further payments by you, the filmmaker.

But to be technically 100% truly Royalty Free, the composer or musician cannot be a member of any PRO or collection agency, and therefore would not be due any performance royalties if their music is played on TV. Libraries such as this do exist but are generally in the minority due to the fact that this is where a large percentage of their income would be hoped to be generated. Therefore most providers of Royalty Free Music (myself included) would be due performance royalties from the networks if their music is played on television. But to reiterate, this involves no further payment from the producer or filmmaker (i.e. you) and is covered by the networks’ annual blanket payments.

Hopefully that clears up some of the basic myths and misconceptions about Royalty Free Music but if you have any questions or are unsure about any of my terms, please feel free to get in touch and I’ll be happy to discuss it further.