Have you ever watched a scary movie on mute? If you haven’t, here’s a spoiler for you: without the soundtrack, the movie’s not so creepy anymore.

Music is everything. Using the right music in your video can really escalate the emotions you’re trying to display, whether it be an unsettling orchestra track for a thriller, something upbeat and poppy behind an otherwise drab product demo, or a song that plays up the nostalgia factor in some recently uncovered home movies.

That said, finding music you can use legally can seem like a daunting task. So today, we’re highlighting some resources to make the process less risky, and maybe even a little bit easier. 

Most music falls under four main categories

Before we get started, let’s review the four main categories most music you can use in a video falls under.

1. Copyrighted

This covers just about all popular music. DJ Khaled’s record label wouldn’t be too pleased if you used his tracks without paying first, so unless you’ve got deep pockets, here’s a major key: Keep it legal and only use music from the remaining categories below.

2. Creative Commons

Creative Commons songs are copyrighted but can be used for free if you follow the specific terms and restrictions attached. There are a variety of different CC licenses. For an overview about Creative Commons, have a look at our help article. For more specific information, you can reference the Creative Commons website to get a closer look at the types of licenses and what they mean.

3. Royalty free

Royalty free doesn’t mean free music. It means you pay a one-time fee to use a music track and then don’t need to pay any royalties thereafter. Some may ask that you provide attribution or credit in return for using the music, and some may actually charge you to use it. Pro tip: Double-check to make sure.

4. Public domain

This refers to music where generally either 1.) the copyright expired or 2.) the copyright owner deliberately placed the song in the public domain. Most public domain resources usually fall under the former; therefore, a lot of the music in this category is really, really old. Like, made-three-DJ-Khaleds-ago old. Read more about the public domain here.

Our go-to music resources

And now for the reason you’re reading: Our go-to resources for video music!

Free Music Archive: This is a huge database with mostly Creative Commons tracks contained within. You can find just about any genre or style of music you want here.

FreeSound: You’ll find a lot of atmospheric music in FreeSound that would work well as a film score. They also have a large amount of sound effects if you’re looking for those.

CCMixter: This is a pretty awesome resource for Creative Commons songs.

Pond5 Public Domain Project: Pond5 has collected nearly 3,000 public domain audio tracks to explore.

OpSound: OpSound is another nice little resource for some Creative Commons tracks.

FreePD: Everything here is in the public domain and newly composed, but there’s not a huge selection.

PublicDomain4U: This site has a small selection of really old jazz and blues songs, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Incompetech: All of the songs in Incompetech are composed by one guy, span a multitude of genres, and are released under a Creative Commons license.

BenSound: BenSound is yet another great Creative Commons resource.

YouTube Audio Library: Did you know that YouTube has a massive library of free tracks and sound effects? True story.

Make it legal

Before you incorporate any tunes into your project, you should always check the fine print to make sure you’re abiding by their license. Also worth mentioning — if you have the budget to pay a small fee for music, the following sites are great resources: Audioblocks, Soundstripe, Bedtracks, MusicBed, PremiumBeat and AudioJungle.

Whether your music is free or paid-for, it’s always important to double-check and make sure you’re abiding by the license terms restrictions attached to that track, and that you’re following any applicable laws. Music licensing is an ever-changing, complex terrain to navigate. Depending on how you use the music, you may need multiple licenses (one for a public performance and another for synchronization, for example). If you’re ever fuzzy or in doubt, always err on the side of caution and consult an attorney for legal advice surrounding your video’s music needs.

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