What is Royalty-Free Music?

For YouTubers, Twitch streamers, TikTok stars and more, royalty-free music is an essential part of the creative process. So, what is it?

Recording music

You’ve probably heard a lot about royalty-free music in YouTube videos, Twitch streams, TikTok clips and more. Royalty-free music is an essential part of online content creation, but what is it?

We'll cover:

What does royalty-free music mean?

The definition of royalty-free music – not to be confused with copyright-free – is music you can use in content without paying royalties to artists or rights holders every time it’s played. You pay for it once, or on a recurring basis if you subscribe to a royalty-free music service like Epidemic Sound.

Royalty-free doesn’t mean that the music creators don’t receive royalty payouts – it just means you don’t pay it. For example, at Epidemic Sound, all royalties we collect from music streaming platforms are split 50/50 with the music creator.

Is royalty-free music free?

No, royalty-free music is not free. The word ‘free’ just means you don’t have to pay royalties every time you use that track in your content. If you don’t pay for royalty-free music and obtain all the rights, your content may be monetized by the rights holder, blocked, muted or removed.

You still have to pay to use royalty-free music – if you’re doing that, you deserve the best of the best. Check out Epidemic Sound’s catalog of 40,000 tracks and 90,000 sound effects below.

Is royalty-free music a genre?

You might sometimes see royalty-free music being used as a blanket term for music only used in adverts. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Royalty-free music can be used everywhere, from YouTube Shorts to cinematic Premiere Pro cuts, Instagram to podcasts, from Hollywood blockbusters to yep, adverts. 

It can also sound like anything. Royalty-free music can be upbeat, chill, energetic, cinematic, ambient, corporate – whatever. Royalty-free music can lurk in the background of a horror film, spice up a vlog, add some jazz or rock overtones to a TV show, or something else entirely.

Royalty-free music from Epidemic Sound means real music by real artists. The difference is how easy and affordable it is to license.

Why use royalty-free music?

Traditionally, when licensing music for major productions like TV shows or movies, numerous royalties are paid to the rights holder every time the production airs or a copy of the production is sold. It’s an expensive business – Hollywood studios have paid $500,000 to use AC/DC’s 'Thunderstruck' in their movies, which is the highest recorded amount spent licensing a track.

This licensing model works for some, but it’s often very complex. Paying royalties in different countries, for different kinds of distribution, and repeating everything for any reproduction takes a lot of time, effort and money.

In recent years, more and more creators have switched to royalty-free music. This is because it only requires one upfront payment to the rights holder, or a recurring payment if you’re subscribing for continuous use of the music.

Recording music in the studio

What are the other benefits of royalty-free music?

Apart from the price, what else makes royalty-free music so great? Let’s have a look at some of the other benefits:

  • Unlimited access to a huge catalog. If you use a royalty-free music provider like Epidemic Sound, you can access a wide range of tracks through one subscription. In our case, you can choose from more than 40,000 tracks and 90,000 sound effects, from polka to heavy metal, trap to classical.
  • The process of licensing is a lot simpler. Paying different people for different licenses for different platforms in different territories – the traditional licensing model gets pretty complicated. Royalty-free music from a company like Epidemic Sound, who are the sole owners of the rights to the music in their catalog, streamlines this process. That’s because there’s only ever one license and provider to deal with.
  • You can make the world your oyster. For example, an Epidemic Sound subscription gives you access to adjust every track to suit your needs. New tracks are added daily, so you can always keep it fresh. The user experience, both through the Epidemic Sound app and via web, is built and maintained by world-class developers. You wanted the best? Use Epidemic Sound’s royalty-free music and take your content to the next level.

Where do you get royalty-free music?

Epidemic Sound has a massive, top-tier catalog of royalty-free music. With a monthly or yearly subscription, you get unlimited access to over 40,000 tracks you can’t find anywhere else, plus 90,000 premium sound effects.

Since we are the sole owners of the rights to the music in our catalog, including public performance, you'll avoid any problems with copyright by licensing music from Epidemic Sound. Synchronization rights, mechanical rights and public performance rights? All included. Additional fees or royalties? Forget about it. We’ve got you covered.

What is royalty-free music

Are there different types of royalty-free music?

As we brought up earlier, there are different types of licenses for royalty-free music. Depending on who’s offering the license, royalty-free music could be presented in a variety of ways.

Some of these names include:

  • Pre-licensed music
  • Single-fee music
  • Pre-paid music
  • One-stop music
  • All-in-one music
  • Copyright-free music

It can get a little confusing, so let’s keep things simple. We’ll only refer to our catalog as royalty-free music and sound effects, because that’s what it is.

The difference comes with the specific license you’re granted. At Epidemic Sound, we offer a direct license. So, let’s cover that term, and how it gets you the most out of royalty-free music.

What's the difference between royalty-free and direct licensing?

Royalty-free music companies typically don’t own all rights themselves. They may own the rights to some music in their catalog, but not to every track. They usually operate as a go-between, clearing the rights with the rights holders and then licensing them to customers.

This means the customer can be responsible to pay for rights not included in that license, like public performance, or simply to other rights holders who also have ownership of the rights to the music. Royalty-free music doesn’t automatically include public performance rights, meaning you still might have to pay royalties when you publish your soundtracked content on digital platforms.

Listening to music

More often than not, people will be unaware of this, which usually results in their content being copyright claimed once live on public platforms like YouTube.

Direct licensing, on the other hand, goes further. This model means you get a license from a music provider who are the exclusive owners of the rights to the music, including all necessary rights. You can then publish anywhere online without worrying about copyright or royalties. Epidemic Sound gives you a direct license to use our entire catalog.

Is royalty-free music stock music?

You’ll probably see royalty-free music described as ‘stock’ music or ‘elevator’ music. That’s a sweeping statement. Some royalty-free music does fit that description, and so does some traditionally licensed music.

Stock music is shorthand for ‘cheap’ or ready-made. Low quality, in a nutshell. If you dig into a royalty-free catalog like Epidemic Sound’s, you’ll discover the opposite.

Our tracks are crafted by real artists, and best of all, we guarantee that they’re paid fairly. We provide upfront payouts for every track, the 50/50 streaming royalty splits we mentioned up top, and an annual $2.5 million bonus that’s divided between our music creators.

… That doesn’t sound like they’re making stock music. Read more about how Epidemic Sound works with artists here.

If you want top-tier, royalty-free music under one subscription, with full monetization rights and none of the copyright hassle, check out our catalog.

We’re more than royalty-free. More like worry-free. Get started with Epidemic Sound below.

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