Royalty-Free Music for Video: How to Make a Wise Buying Decision

Page content

No matter how good your shots and cuts are there’s no denying that music is the `tonic’ that lends mood and adds emotional depth to your video. Look around you. There isn’t a single movie, trailer or television commercial without music.

Including your favourite piece of music into your video project is a simple affair. So long as the music file is in a format your video editing program supports, all you’ll have to do is drag the clip to your editing timeline and align it with your video.

To most of us including music means throwing in our favourite songs or instrumental tracks into the timeline. While it’s cool to include a Britney Spears number into a vacation video meant for the eyes of friends and family members, you can’t do that if you’re creating a video for a client or if you’re going to distribute it to the public. You don’t want the copyright owner breathing down your neck and threatening legal action.

Getting permission to use popular music in your video is going to cost you a bomb. You may not be able to afford a music composer either. In this instance, the obvious solution is royalty-free music or buyout music as it’s popularly known. Royalty-free music is ready-made music for which you don’t have to pay royalties to the composer for its use in your video projects. All you have to do is pay a one-time fee and the music is yours to use freely with some conditions though.

Major Disadvantage

While royalty-free music is cheaper compared to hiring a music composer, it has a glaring disadvantage. Royalty-free music can be purchased by anyone and used for any project. So, if you’re doing an important project for a client, you must inform him that he may hear the music you’ve used elsewhere.

This is especially useful if you’re doing corporate videos. A client may associate a piece of royalty-free music with his organization. In extreme cases, music you have used for a corporate client may be used by someone else as theme music for an adult video. That’s the reality you would have to face when using royalty-free music. Don’t pass off royalty-free music as unique to your clients to avoid future misunderstanding.

Tricky Licensing Terms

Royalty-free music, more often than not, comes in the form of CDs. Purchase of the CD means you’re entitled to unlimited use of the music for your video projects. You just pay once and you have access to music you can use on demand. That does not mean you can copy the royalty-free music CD and pass it on to your friends. That would be infringing the licensing terms.

Most companies also prohibit you from selling the license. So, avoid buying used royalty-free music CD from eBay even if it’s offered for a song. You may run into legal problems later. A wiser decision would be to buy direct from the production company.

While most royalty-free music producers give you free rein to use the music for any projects, some impose restrictions.You have to study the licensing terms with a keen eye.

Generally, it would be alright if you use the music for radio or television broadcast. However, some providers make it clear that broadcast does not include television or radio advertising. The license would also be invalid if the music is used for the production of DVD, CD or video games for sale to the public if more than 1000 copies are produced. The former would require a master use broadcast license and the latter a mass mechanical duplication license which you would have to purchase separately.

Seek clarification from the seller if you’ve doubts so that you don’t run into problems after your video project is completed.

Here’s a sample of royalty-free music license terms.

Making a Choice : Disc or Downloadable Music?

After you’ve decided that royalty-free music is the way to go for your video project, you can’t just run to the neighborhood music store and grab the royalty-free music you want. Royalty-free music could be considered a specialty item. More often than not, you would have to fill up an order form to buy a CD set or download such music from the Internet.

Either way, take some minutes to preview the available selection before making a buying decision. Royalty-free music producers often provide a low-quality preview of their music collection on their websites to give their prospective customers a feel of the music they offer for sale. Some are willing to go as far as offering a free demo CD.

If you need a piece of music for an urgent project, the sensible way would be to purchase it online. The advantage is you save on shipping and get almost instant delivery provided you have a broadband Internet service. This is especially useful if you need just a track or two.

Purchasing tracks individually, however, would cost you more than buying a complete CD, but if you see no future use for a complete collection of such music in the future, then there’s no sense in investing in a whole CD. If you think you’ll be using royalty-free music regularly in the long-term, then it would pay to invest in CDs, to cut overall cost and also make it easier for your clients to choose their preferred music.