You can listen to most music free on ad-supported services like Spotify, or YouTube. However, using music in your own media content requires licensing.
There are a number of free music websites including the YouTube Audio Library and Free Music Archive. Many of which utilise Creative Commons licenses to allow the use of the music. And while everybody loves free music you can run into issues.
There may be situations where it is best to pay to use music and have certain assurances. This article discusses some of the known issues.
① Music Copyright Is Complicated
There are several copyrights in music. For example, when a band writes and records music, the copyright may be owned by several people. This is something that its creators aren’t always aware of.
To promote the music and get band exposure they may upload their album to a free music website. However, if the band splits up or they get a deal with a label or publisher this could backfire.
Let’s say that the music is free for several years and used in thousands of YouTube videos, but then a new publisher for the band decides to put the music in Content ID, this will trigger a copyright claim on every video using this music. Likewise, there could be claims from other agencies too for other aspects of the music copyright.
② Free Music Websites
A free music website can give exposure to new artists and bands. However, whether a person has the full rights to upload the music is not always clear. Using the band example in point one, the singer of a band may think they can upload the music for free as a way of promotion, while the other members may not be aware until later. Also, people find what they think is free and then re-upload it elsewhere for others to use. This has happened to a number of composers that I know.
While sharing may give you a warm fuzzy feeling, sharing anything you do not own or have complete control over is wrong and can result in DMCA takedowns.
A DMCA takedown is a method for a copyright owner to stop websites from sharing their content. When this sort of thing happens the recipients of this “free” music can end up with numerous problems.
③ People’s Motivations Can Change
While a new artist, band, or composer may want to get their music out to as many people as possible, they may change their mind as their career progresses.
The deals they enter into may have a bearing on the music you have used and their music may no longer be free to use. For example, if they later register it in YouTube Content ID, all videos that contain that music will suddenly have copyright claims or worse still, a copyright strike.
④ No Support
With free music, you are unlikely to get any support if things go wrong. Usually, if something cost you nothing you cannot expect to get support if there is a problem. Big companies or websites offering free music will simply remove the track, leaving you with no option but to remove the music from your content or face the consequences.
With licensed music that you have paid for through a company, you can always go back to them for help. A person uploading music for free will typically be an individual with no business reputation to worry about, whereas a music library will want to protect their business reputation and will most likely do their best to help.
⑤ The Blanket Effect
If you do experience an issue with music you thought was free, it won’t just affect its future use, it will affect every use of it. There are already automatic mechanisms in place to detect copyright, the most common of which is YouTube’s Content ID. I am sure that in the future we will see more of these types of systems. These identify the ownership of music in a video regardless of when it was added.
Imagine the free intro music you used 1000+ videos ago suddenly triggering a content ID claim. Automatic copyright protection could affect any number of your videos at any point in the future.
Matt Lowne is a popular YouTuber that had such an issue. SonyATV and Warner Chappell claimed the music he used, and they claimed 24 of his videos overnight after he used the YouTube Audio Library.
You can watch his video below where he discusses the situation.
All it takes is one billion dollar corporation to decide they want to start benefiting from your blood, sweat and tears.
⑥ The Inconvenience & Stress
This is probably the biggest downside to using free music when it goes wrong. It can cause huge amounts of stress and a lot of work.
On YouTube, when a company claims a piece of music it simultaneously detects all uses and takes the action decided by them. This can be demonetisation, silencing the music or issuing a copyright strike.
You can file an appeal, but if it is rejected, you will receive a copyright strike and the video will be taken down. It is risky because after three strikes your channel will be removed. Also, deleting the video does not remove a strike.
If you have a lot of affected videos, the amount of time rerendering and uploading new versions with the music removed would be massively time-consuming.
What is the answer?
I would suggest using music where you can trace it back to and contact the music owner if you have any issues. As the owner, they should be able to sort it out. If you are using music for business or income-generating purposes, I would always suggest paying for a music license, but I understand that if you are making content for a hobby, free music is very attractive.
As a composer and music library owner myself, I can see both sides of this argument. We want our music protected and earning an income, but licensing can often be prohibitively expensive for YouTubers.
For this reason, I have made my own music available on a low-cost limited license for hobbyists and vloggers. I want everyone to use my music, but I need to earn an income too. My intention is to make it suitable for all types of budgets. The cost varies depending on your use, and I am always open to negotiation.
BeanstalkAudio is where I showcase the music I own the copyrights to. My Track Packs contain the main track, short edits, loops etc. priced from as low as £1.63 each for hobbyists and aspiring YouTubers that are just starting out. I also have some free tracks on there.
MediaMusicNow offers music from 100+ composers and it is aimed at business users. Introducing lower price points per track on there is not as straightforward as with the music I own, but this is something I hope to introduce in 2022.
Is My Music “YouTube Safe”?
My music has been specifically composed for Stock Music libraries. It is not intended as anything else. I am not looking for a record or publishing deal unlike many of the independent artists. I am a stock music and soundtrack composer; that is my job.
With this in mind, I am careful about where my music is available and what deals I accept for it. My income relies on my clients being able to use my music trouble-free.
My music is in YouTube Content ID via Adrev. I benefit from the ad revenue if it is used on YouTube without my permission. However, as soon as you become a customer and let me know your YouTube channel(s), I can whitelist your channel with Adrev. This means that you will not get copyright claims for my music.
You can license my music confident in the knowledge that it is safe for YouTube. In the unlikely event that there is an issue, I am here to help.
Hopefully, you now understand the potential issues of free music and have more information to help you decide on your music choices.
If you have any questions, or stories to share feel free to comment below.