The Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Royalty-Free Music for Your Project


The Power of Music

The right music will enhance any project. You may not even be aware of music when you watch a film or listen to a podcast, given how ubiquitous it is, but music is almost always being employed, adding to your enjoyment of any emotional experience. It adds emotion, pace, and immediacy. Even so-called silent films, which didn't need recorded dialogue, used music. Whether you're working on a podcast, video presentation, or any audio or visual project, music is going to be key to its impact.

If you've begun to look for music, you'll know that you can immediately come up against issues with rights, clearances, and licensing fees — and you likely don't have the budget or legal knowledge to deal with those issues.

Royalty-Free Music in a Nutshell

Royalty-free music allows you to pay a reasonable fee upfront. That fee gives you the license to use a track as many times as you like (rather than dealing with copyright issues per stream, for example). All the clearances have been taken care of, so you don't have to do any additional work. For example, Stock Music is a site that allows you to search hundreds of high-quality musical tracks to find the one that's perfect for you. Payment is straightforward, with plans so you can either subscribe or purchase single tracks. Once you have paid the fee, the music is yours to use as many times and in whatever ways you like.

Of course, that takes care of the legalities. But you also want top-quality music that enhances your presentation rather than detracting from its message. We understand that can feel overwhelming.

Don't worry! We've prepared a comprehensive guide to help you find the best royalty-free music for your project.

What's the Heart of Your Project?

The best royalty-free music for your project is the music that helps your project achieve its goals. So when selecting music, consider the simple question: What do you want people to get out of your project? What are you aiming for?

It may help you to break it down a bit and consider your project's dominant emotional tone. Is your project lighthearted? Emotional? Suspenseful?

Researchers at the University of California–Berkeley have shown that music evokes at least 13 identifiable emotions. These emotional categories include:

  • Calm, relaxing, serene
  • Energizing, pump-up
  • Joyful, cheerful
  • Indignant, defiant
  • Dreamy
  • Anxious, tense

You don't have to worry too much about whether your idea of exciting music matches your audience's. According to research, the emotions generated by music are universally legible. So if you listen to a piece of music and it gives you chills, chances are good that it will do the same for other listeners. Stock Music allows you to search its collection by mood. So if you're looking for the perfect meditative piece of music, like Offering 1 by composer Daniel J. Schmidt, you can find it easily.

Stock Music also allows you to look up music by its instrumentation, like acoustic guitar or even upright bass. So if you know you need some excellent royalty-free strings to give your project some class, there is a library of tracks featuring strings to choose from.

You can enjoy listening and narrowing down your options. Try auditioning a few against your content to see what fits your needs best.

Go to the Best Music Source

Royalty-free music solves the problems of copyright and licensing, but not all royalty-free sites are equal. Stock Music has a vast library of excellent royalty-free compositions. Stock Music's collection has been relied on by major studios like NBC, FOX, HBO, and Disney, and large companies like Intel and IKEA. Stock Music has a deep bench of artists and composers. A quick browse of their artists' credits shows they've written music for major films, interesting independent projects, video games, and many more cool projects.

Stock Music gives you the chance to use the products of their talent for a fraction of the cost it would take to commission an original score. They are also an international crew of composers, allowing you to gain access to authentic international sounds and talents when you need them. Stock Music also takes pride in answering your questions quickly and can provide guidance as needed, pointing you to top-quality and popular royalty-free music.

Use Your Budget Wisely

Once you determine your budget, think about how to best use it. If you're on a tight budget, this could mean finding one epic track and then cutting it into discrete portions. Or it could be a question of just finding one cool New Age track and using it consistently to create an atmosphere and ambience for your project. An unlimited monthly or yearly subscription may be the way to go. Regardless of how you pay for your royalty-free music, using music in an economical, targeted way is important to the impact of your project.

Start Sourcing Tracks Early

Finding the best music doesn't have to be time-consuming. It can be simple — inspiration strikes, you search the right site, and find the exact piece right away. But it's still best to start early rather than leaving it to the last minute or the end of the process. That way, you can match it to the content so that they go together like a hand in a glove, and if you really like a track, you can even let it influence how you edit your picture (in the case of a video project) or an introduction or interview (in the case of a podcast).

There are many great filmmakers who choreograph their camera work to a particular song, like the famous sequence in Martin Scorsese's "GoodFellas" set to the end of "Layla" by Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds. Don't try and get the rights to an Eric Clapton song — but do look for a great piece of royalty-free music that can help you craft something really memorable, and don't leave it until the last moment. The more creative decisions you make early on, the more time you give yourself to make something great. It's always creatively rewarding to take a bit more time at the start and spend some happy hours listening.

Find Comps

A "comp" is a track with a comparable sound to the one you're looking for. On Stock Music, you can find music that evokes your favorite bands and soundtracks, which is affordable and also stands on its own. Maybe you love the sound of Tarantino-esque surf rock. Maybe you love the world music-influenced sound of Peter Gabriel. Those selections are likely out of your price range, however. Fortunately, you can probably find a similar sound in the world of royalty-free music. These tracks are composed by excellent musicians who have the same passion for music that you do — such as these Tarantino-inspired surf rock tracks or this piece that has a Gabriel vibe. But Stock Music lets you access the best royalty-free music — for a fraction of the cost of better-known music.

You can start by looking at collections, handy groupings that include:

If you're not entirely sure what some of these categories connote, Stock Music offers helpful descriptions. For example, Stock Music's Indie Music page provides music that allows you to "veer from the mainstream with this collection of indie music that evokes heartfelt and genuine, complex emotions with a do-it-yourself attitude." The "Hack The Net" collection suggests you "lock the bedroom door and dial up to the World Wide Web with this 'Hackers'-inspired collection of 90’s Sci-Fi thriller music."

Music works as a wonderful shorthand, and you may be surprised how much you can evoke in terms of emotion and place with the right kind of music.

If you want clear direction, Stock Music offers the best royalty-free music library, organized by collections like Interview-Based Podcast. That one is made up of "smart, thought-provoking music [that] sets the stage for insightful and bright-minded conversation." Stock Music's other collections are equally evocative and helpfully curated, like Dark Cinema, Trailer Madness, and Urban Crime Series, which all point you precisely where you need to go.

Underline or Counterpoint?

When you're looking at music, you can afford to be a little bit playful to achieve your goal of being memorable. If you're working on a serious project, your music doesn't just have to be dark, and there could be some surprising combinations of music and content that work. You've probably enjoyed Tarantino movies in which he uses great old pop tunes as a counterpoint to onscreen extreme violence, and, as you know, it works extremely well. What would jazz sound like against a true-crime podcast, for example?

If you're working on a horror podcast, try experimenting with music that's more playful or happy. You've probably seen horror movies that make use of children's choirs, to the extent that it's become something of a cliché. But you can still be imaginative and try different things.

You don't want to undermine your point. Sometimes an unexpected choice can really bring it home, though. So if you're looking for the best kind of music for your project, try thinking outside the box. Something funky could add some verve and unexpected soul to a project that needs a bit of an energetic boost.

A Sense of Time and Place

If your project or part of it wants to take place in a historical period, music is an excellent way to establish the project's time and place. The Vintage page of Stock Music is a great place to start if you're looking for the perfect royalty-free track for your period piece. More specific genre pages include Western and classical.

If you're looking to give people an immediate orientation to the world you're conjuring up, music provides a great shorthand for you — particularly if you choose wisely. A few notes can be enough to situate your listeners.

What Tempo Do You Need?

If you're working on a serious interview podcast or fact-based presentation, you can probably guess the tone you want (likely reflective or somber). But have you given any thought to your tempo? Tempo refers to the speed of a piece of music. There are many ways to measure it, but one of the easiest is beats per minute (BPM). Simply put, the higher the BPM, the faster the music is. Faster music tends to amp us up — it's the music you listen to when you're going for a jog or at the gym. Slower music tends to calm and soothe us. However, there are times when even a serious presentation is looking for a sense of pace and rhythm — no one ever wants to bore their audience.

Even if you are giving a somber presentation, consider a faster tempo as a way of keeping your audience on the edge of your seat. Think about Hitchcock films and remember that the great composer Bernard Hermann often employed relatively fast music as a way of building and sustaining suspense. Check out the suspense category at Stock Music to get a sense of how varied music can be and still provide a sense of mystery and tension (which can be helpful no matter what your project or medium is).

Stock Music has a tempo filter you can apply to find the music that's the best fit for your pacing needs. Of course, if your needs are those of a quiet, soothing meditation video or something more sad, don't work against those! But bear in mind that a period of silence in audio can feel very quiet. It's critical to show your audience that they should be paying close attention and that, well, there's more to come. So pay close attention to your sense of pace and tempo.

What Will Your Audience Respond to?

While giving a sense of place and time is important, some memorable themes from movies and TV shows are in fact ahistorical or anachronistic. For example, Vangelis' haunting use of synthesizers to score the 1920s period film "Chariots of Fire" is a masterstroke because it makes the story of those long-dead runners feel alive and contemporary to us.

Sofia Coppola used pop songs to score "Marie Antoinette." The recent TV show "The Great" also makes use of current bands to underscore the themes of its historical drama about Catherine the Great and make them relatable.

What's going on with these anachronisms? The filmmakers all have a keen understanding of their audience and a good sense of how to best reach it. They are signaling that their takes may not be 100% accurate but instead have a bigger truth in mind.

Finding the best royalty-free music track for your project is informed by the exact same list of priorities that inform crafting every part of your video presentation, podcast, or PowerPoint: How can you best communicate to the audience? If you are looking to speak to a broader international audience, consider music from the World category. Music is often a means to make us comfortable or bring us into a world. For that reason, it's worth considering music that communicates outside your own culture. It can make your show or presentation feel emotionally bigger and more broadly appealing.

How Much Music Do You Want?

Do you need your project to have wall-to-wall music, or would stings be more effective? According to Wikipedia, a sting is "a short musical phrase, primarily used in broadcasting and films as a form of punctuation. For example, a sting might be used to introduce a regular section of a show, indicate the end of a scene, or indicate that a dramatic climax is imminent." Stings can be made from any kind of instrumentation, but percussion is a popular and effective choice. Think about some of your favorite podcasts (although the examples work for any number of media) and how they likely use short musical stings to segue between segments. So do many TV shows — the famous "Law and Order" "doink doink" sound is probably the best known of them all. Maybe the perfect royalty-free music for your project is a short piece under two minutes in length, or simply an excerpt from a much longer piece of music?

You can filter by length. You can also listen to longer songs and pick out the parts that work for you — like a drum solo or funky guitar break. Stock Media allows you to search for terms to help you find the precise music you need.

The perfect royalty-free track is also about the perfect context. The great thing about royalty-free music is you have license to use it as much and in as many different ways as you like. So even once you find the perfect track, you can edit it to get exactly the right amount that works for you.

You may decide you prefer to have ambient music consistently behind your other narrative elements, or create an atmosphere that's haunting and evocative. Or consider a mix, using atmospheric music to support your project — then use stings to emphasize the important points you want your audience to take away. Remember that adding music is fun, and you should be enjoying yourself in this part of the process!

Consider Royalty-Free Classical Music

One exception to the rule of finding comps can be classical music, which as this article points out, is something of a catch-all term but connotes music like symphonies written by composers such as Beethoven, working in the Western tradition.

When it comes to classical, sometimes you can find the real compositions by major composers, such as Mendelssohn's Wedding March, familiar to anyone who has ever attended a traditional wedding, on royalty-free sites. Classical music is often beautiful, soothing, and familiar.

Why go to royalty-free sites for classical music, then, and not just the internet? Because while classical compositions themselves are probably in the public domain, their performances probably are not. Contemporary recordings of classical music, if not explicitly offered on royalty-free sites, need the same clearances as any other music. Even if a track proclaims to be public domain on the internet, you should treat it with caution. The safest thing is to find music on royalty-free sites that done the work of getting excellent classical and old-world music and solving all possible clearance issues. (For example, Creative Commons licenses, though promising freedom, can be very complicated and hinder you from future use of your music by limiting the future use you can explore for your project.)

There are many wonderful benefits to listening to classical music, which include reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. You may not want to lower your audience's blood pressure, but you surely want to give them a sense of calm and focus so they can pay close attention to what you have to say. Classical music can give your project a greater sense of scope, and potentially make it feel like it has a bigger budget than you're really working with. Even if you're working on a sci-fi podcast, it might be interesting to use well-known music by history's greatest composers to back it up and provide a feeling of counterpoint, as discussed earlier.

Finding the Best Royalty-Free Music

Music is powerful and integral to giving your project a sense of emotion and pace, as well as simply holding your audience's interest.

Stock Music is the best royalty-free music library. It offers hundreds of quality tracks for you to use on a royalty-free basis, relieving you of the headaches that can come with sourcing music while giving you a smorgasbord of excellent compositions that can really boost the impact of your work and help you reach your audience. Start searching with their handy filters and find the best royalty-free track for your project today!

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