Your favourite TV series and films likely use it, and you have probably heard it hundreds of times in advertisements, but royalty free music remains an unknown or misunderstood concept to many.

Even strident music aficionados remain in the dark about what is behind its creation and use, so just what is royalty free music?

It must first be noted what royalty free music is not. ‘Royalty free music’ does not refer to any single style or genre, and the label actually describes how the music is used and the conditions in which that use is allowed, as will be expanded on shortly.
Likewise it says nothing about the quality of the music either, despite royalty free music having negative connotations to some, as this quality depends entirely on the skill of those writing and performing it.
This results in a very mixed collection, with royalty free music including everything from masterful orchestral compositions to the everyday strumming of chords on an acoustic guitar, recorded and performed with varying degrees of quality.

The music track in this video is "More Justice" from our album Epic Piano .

Returning to defining what ‘royalty free music’ is, however, put simply it is generally any music that is licensed so someone can purchase this music licence once and then use the music for as long as they wish. The term ‘royalty free music’ refers exclusively to the type of license agreement in place. For example you may purchase the license to use a collection of music on your website, meaning the license is valid and the music able to be used regardless of how many or few hits your site gets. Likewise a song could be purchased as the introduction music to a television series you are making, and the royalty free license would allow the series producers to distribute it between channels as much as necessary. This can be applied to video games, advertisements or films too, with this function of the music and license being very similar in all cases. Therefore, as royalty free music is defined by its License rather than content, this leaves anything open to becoming royalty free music as long as the licensing and terms of use are properly established.

The music track in this video is "Hunter at work" from our album Chase run .

Royalty free music itself is often made by individual composers and then either sold to users personally, or sold to a music library that compiles such music and acts as a comprehensive bank for people looking for royalty free material. The cost of purchasing this music can vary widely and the copyright is automatically granted to the composer just as it would be with any other music, with the composer having the option to waive or alter it as they wish depending on the circumstances.
It should be noted that the term ‘royalty free music’ is somewhat inaccurate, however, as using this music is not always entirely free of royalties as you might expect – notably when used in public performances. For example, if a piece of royalty free music is used in a television series then the series producers will likely have purchased the music and are able to use it as they wish, but the broadcaster may still have to pay some royalties for their station to use it, meaning a Performing Rights Organisation is often needed to calculate this and duly pay the composers.

what is royalty free musicWe see royalty free music widely used, and the reason for this popularity is because of how convenient, straightforward and cheap it is, especially when compared to other licensing/royalty options and the exorbitant cost of hiring a composer to create brand new music for your project.

However, legally the issue can become more complex when the finer points are in question, and as previously mentioned circumstances may change depending on your country, whether a Performance Royalty Organisation is involved and what their policies are, and also whether a composer has granted direct permission for the music use.

These varying circumstances can sometimes actually mean further performance royalties need to be paid from somewhere, so it is advised to exercise diligence when sourcing and using such music.

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