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What Is Royalty Free Music: Breaking Things Down For Creatives

“What is royalty free music?” You should know the answer to this if you wish to use other people’s music regardless of personal or commercial use.

It is no longer a secret that being a vlogger can be a financially rewarding venture.

From your classmate back in high school to celebrity chefs, people have been making good money off YouTube.

And because of this, countless YouTube channels have popped up with their owners dreaming of internet vlogging fame – and the monetary gains that come with it.

But in this rush to kickstart their virtual careers, some jump in headfirst without realizing that there are legalities attached to vlogging – especially when it comes to background music.

Of course, you are able to create a video without any background music. In fact, ASMR videos do have a sizable following on the platform – spawning its own set of celebrities.

What is ASMR you ask?

ASMR is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response which is defined as a pleasurable and calming feeling or state followed by a tingling sensation.

Search for ASMR on YouTube and you will be taken to videos with people lightly brushing things over their microphones, tapping, lip-smacking, and whispering.

All of the videos under this niche are void of any background music as having one will ruin the entire vibe of the video.

So unless crumpling and rubbing things over your microphone is all you want to do on YouTube, then you definitely need background music.

And this is where the hopes and dreams of countless YouTube creators are shattered with the dreaded copyright claim/strike. A notification that prevents you from monetizing your content – and can even get your channel closed down.

So if you are a new YouTube creator, or maybe just planning to start your own channel, do you know the answer to what is royalty free music?

If you’re not 100% sure of your reply, don’t worry as has got you covered.

In this article, we will try and explain the ins and outs of what royalty free music is, how to get hold of a license, and the legalities attached to it.

Are you ready?

What Does It Mean If Something Is Royalty Free?

As the name suggests, it is an image, content, or in this case, music, that does not require you to pay “royalties” to its creator.

In terms of definition, this is how Investopedia defines what a “royalty” is, and I quote:

“A royalty is a legally-binding payment made to an individual, for the ongoing use of his or her originally-created assets, including copyrighted works, franchises, and natural resources. But royalties are predominantly associated with musicians, who receive such payments whenever their originally-recorded songs are played on the radio or television, used in movies, performed at concerts, bars, and restaurants, or consumed via streaming services. In most cases, royalties are revenue generators specifically designed to compensate the owners of songs or properties, when they license out their assets for another party’s use.”

Now in terms of what is royalty free music, it pertains to a one-time pay, music licensing agreement that gives you the legal right to use a piece of music for an unlimited time period.

For example; let’s say I am interested in using a piece of music for a YouTube video.

So what happens is I’ll browse around the royalty free music for YouTube section of, find a piece of music I like, make a one-time payment for the license to use said music – and then I’ll be able to use said piece for as long as I want, wherever I want without ever having to pay another licensing fee.

Is Royalty Free Music The Same As Copyright Free Music?

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As a rule of thumb, you are not allowed to use any copyrighted material without paying royalties or asking permission from its owner. 

Royalties can either be in the form of a recurring payment; or by giving the owner of said copyrighted material a percentage of the profit. 

With that said, no, royalty free is NOT the same as copyright free.

Copyright Free Music

To start with, copyrights have an expiration date.

And though this may vary from one country to the next, copyright protection typically lasts throughout the life of the content’s owner; with an added seventy years on top.

Now once copyright for a song/track “expires”; it then falls under the “public domain” umbrella (which we will talk about more later)

When this happens, anyone is free to use said track or song without any legal complications.

Royalty Free Music

To start with, do not be fooled by the “free” part as royalty free music is copyrighted. 

The “royalty free” part only pertains to you not being obligated to pay the owner or creator of the copyrighted music royalty. That obligation falls under us through an arrangement with the said composer or musician.

It’s like this.

The owner of a copyrighted piece of music gives the rights to sell licenses so media producers like you can use said music; either in the form of a one-time payment or other arrangements.

The deal is “royalty free”; thereby giving the holder of the new license (you) mechanical and sync rights to use the music; with the licensee not obligated to make any additional payment to use the material.  

Are you able to follow things so far?

Let’s expound more on these two shall we?

What Is Royalty Free Music: “Free” vs “Paid” and Their Different License Types

When you started asking what is royalty free music, did you expect it to be this complicated?

Well, it’s not rocket science or theoretical physics, but we admit it comes with a bit head-scratching.

So if you want to skip everything, you can just shoot us an email, tell us what you need; and we’ll explain things to you. 

Anyway, moving on….

“Free” Royalty Free Music

Its two main license types are:

  • Public Domain 
  • Free Licenses

Public Domain

Again, this is when copyright for a piece of music expires, so no permission is required to use said music. Said music can be interpreted, adapted, distributed, copied, and/or can be used in public for free.

So is anyone free to record their own “interpretation” of any public domain song/track?

The answer is a yes with a “but”.

The “but” part stems from a very important aspect of licensing music.  

Since the earliest known music composition, the legal ownership of all music has been split in two parts. There is one copyright for the recording or the performance and another copyright for the composition (sometimes referred to as “sheet music”) – which we will discuss in detail later.

Anyway, the composition pertains to the musical arrangement of the song/track on paper; while the recording is the audio version of said song/track.  In lax legal terms, the composition and the recordings are two different entities and have different copyrights.

So again, a recording of a song or track that is under the “public domain” tag is free to use.

Now if you choose to record your “own version” of the song/track; then you must obtain the rights to the composition.

If you do obtain the rights; and create a new cover for the track, it is referred to as “derivative work”.

Free Licenses (Creative Commons)

This one pertains to the creator of a piece of music placing limitations on the distribution, reproduction, and copying of said work.

So if you want to use a track with this license as background music for a YouTube video; then you need to “credit” the copyright owner on the description section of your video.

For example:

Let’s say you’re using a free license song with the title “Song Number 100” by Mr. X, okay?

This means that you don’t need to pay any royalty or fees to Mr. X, but you are required to write something like – “Song Number 100 by Mr. X is under a Creative Commons license.”

Different Types Of Creative Commons Licenses

Attribution – You can use the music for free but is required to credit the “author” of the music you’re using.

Non-commercial – You can use the music for free so long as it’s used for non-commercial purposes. Meaning, you cannot make any money off it, or on the content the track was used on.

No Derivative Works – You can use the music for free so long as you do not transform or create a derivative work from the track.

Share Alike – You can use the music for free, and create derivative versions of it, so long as the same license is applied to the new derivative work.

“Paid” Royalty Free Music

Remember, this is a one time payment to get the right to use the  music in a non-musical production.

So after reading all the talk about Public Domain music; why would you want to purchase a royalty free music license?


  • Because you don’t need to attribute the creator of the track
  • You can modify or edit the track
  • You’re allowed to use royalty free music for commercial projects
  • They often are produced with better audio quality
  • You are creating the media for a client project – where crediting the author of the song/track might be difficult or impossible
  • You are legally protected

For example:

If you are a YouTuber who’s looking for background music that will fit a video you’re making; choosing a paid royalty free music is the wise choice since it allows you to use it in a commercial setting, with no restrictions on usage; and with only a one-time usage fee.

If you choose a public domain track, then you can say goodbye to monetizing the YouTube video you’ll be using it in.  It’s simply not permitted.

Difference Between a Song and a Sound Recording: Copyrights, Legalities & Licensing

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As mentioned earlier, the copyright ownership of any music is split into two.

  • Copyright for the “song” 
  • Copyright for the “recording” of a song

Song – Pertains to the melody, arrangement, and lyrics.

Recording – Pertains to the sound recording of the song. 

The usual legal arrangement when it comes to copyright is that there will be a different owner for both.

The songwriter or composer, or the publishing company he or she belongs to; typically has copyright ownership of the “song” while the record label that released the recording of the said song usually has copyright ownership over the “recording” of the song.

Now if you think that’s already complicated, when a song is recorded by another act; said version is considered a different version, thus having its own set of copyrights.

And then there’s the issue of “music licensing” to consider – which is split into three types.

Music License for Public Performances

In order for you to legally play a copyrighted song in public, you need a public performance license issued from a PRO (Performing Rights Organization).

In the US, PRO entities are:

  • BMI
  • GMR

Now you may think that since the platform that you’ll be using said music in is YouTube; that this might not apply to you.

Well technically, yes. But there are gray areas.

For example, the word “Public” pertains to places like a retail store, cafe, bar, or a conference hall. So if your video is played in any of those places; and if you have not secured a public performance license – you are violating copyright laws.

Music License for Videos & Presentations

In order for you to use a song as background music for your YouTube video; you need to have a “sync license” for it.

A sync license is an understanding between you (the music user) and the owner of the copyrighted song – giving you permission to use said copyrighted music in video format – in this case YouTube.

Music License for Other Uses

The definition may be a bit vague, but the scope of this license can be very broad.

For example, if you wish to use a copyrighted song in a training video – regardless if it’s just for your team or premium customers – you first need to secure copyright-licenses pertaining to the use of the song and it’s sound recording. 

Yes I know, it is very complicated.

But if you want to drop the head-scratching and the headache of understanding copyright laws; we might be able to help.

Our mission at is to make it easy for anyone to use copyrighted music for YouTube videos.

Send us an email and ask us how we can help!

What Is Royalty Free Music Q&A

Q: How do you know if a song is royalty free?

A: This is actually the wrong question to ask as almost all music tracks are copyrighted.  

The correct question is “what are you going to use the music/track for?”

Will it be for personal, educational, or commercial use? By asking that question, you can easily decide what type of license to go with.

Q: Can I use 10 seconds of a copyrighted song?

A: Many would attest that this is completely legal, however it is not.

Regardless if you just use two seconds of a copyrighted song, you are technically using it illegally. And if you are a YouTuber, this can get you a copyright claim or strike. 

So no, don’t do it.

Q: Can I use royalty free music on YouTube?

A: So long as you obtained a legal sync license, of course you can.

Q: How much does royalty free music cost?

A: On, you can get access to an unlimited amount of music for as low as $16.67 per month.  If you just need one track; it’s only $39.95 for a lifetime of usage in as many projects with no restrictions.

Come browse our Production Music Library and check to see if there’s any track/song you like.  We are certain you will love the high quality of our hand-selected library that includes every genre; mood and instrument you have ever heard before; and many you might not have before!

Q: Is YouTube audio library copyright free?

A: Yes it is. The problem however is the YouTube library is small and you might end up using the same music as many other YouTubers.

Anyway, that’s it for our “what is royalty free music” article.

I hope that it shed some light on what royalty music is, what separates one from the other; and how to correctly use each license type.

If you have further questions about this topic please send us a message to  We would love to hear from you.

Stay safe, and help the world become a better place with good music!

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