One of the things that has made podcasting such a burgeoning industry is the low cost of entry. You still need to have great ideas and a professional approach to production, but it doesn’t have to be expensive to make a successful podcast. One indirect effect of this is that if you want to use music with your podcast, licensing it could be a significant cost.
The first thing to underline is that successful popular music is very stringently protected by copyright. On YouTube, for example, merely having a commercial piece of music accidentally audible in the background could lead to a video being deleted. Even if your podcast is non-commercial, you can’t use unlicensed copyrighted music without risking expensive legal action. Even if you know one of the artists featured on a track, don’t assume that they can give you permission. Music copyright ownership is complicated and could rest with other musicians involved and the record company.
Even if your podcast is about music and you want to play just a few seconds of a song, you still need to be very careful. Fair use might apply, but it’s very subjective what this constitutes, and it varies internationally. You will probably still need a license to be safe, which is likely to be complicated and based on the number of times the music is played. This can be a can of worms for a podcast distributed across multiple platforms – and very expensive indeed.
If your music needs are limited to an intro sequence or some background accompaniment, you’re much safer using royalty-free music instead, which requires a single one-off payment for unlimited use. Some royalty-free music is even available without payment, although this is usually of variable quality. It’s also worth looking out for music with a Creative Commons license. This is a special kind of copyright that enables finer levels of usage rights between completely open and “you can’t use at all”.
With this in mind, there are some services that provide royalty-free music you can use in your podcast, starting with entirely zero-cost options. This is a far from exhaustive list, as there are countless online music libraries to try, but there should be something for every need.
Free Music Archive
The Free Music Archive, as the name suggests, provides a library of free and royalty-free music – although you’ll need to read the details of the Creative Commons licenses for each track to ensure you fulfil the criteria. There’s also a Tribe of Noise PRO partner library that offers premium music. Prices can be as low as $45 for use on Internet productions like podcasts, although the price goes up steeply for broadcasters.
The Freesound library contains much more than music. There are sound effects, loops, and random noises as well. There’s a community element to the website, too, so registered users can follow other creators they like. The musical content is very variable, but generally Creative Commons licenses enable usage without having to worry about copyright royalties, so long as you attribute as specified.
Soundcloud is a familiar site to most of us, essentially acting as the music equivalent of YouTube. Aspiring and even well-established musicians have been using it as a quick way to share their ideas with an audience for over 15 years now. It has also been growing in importance for distributing podcasts. However, some of the music on Soundcloud has been uploaded with a Creative Commons license that would enable it to be used with a podcast. If downloading has been enabled as well, you can grab a track you like and use it in your mix.
YouTube Audio Library
Although YouTube is strict about music copyright, it also offers a library of music and sound effects that you can use in your own work on the platform. It’s a mixed bag, but worth considering as the music is free to use in your own creations.
The MusOpen library is a little different from other collections included here, in that it focuses on public-domain recordings of classical music. If that’s what you need for your podcast, however, the results are all Creative Commons and mostly Public Domain too, which means you can use the music without worrying about copyright infringement.
The Internet Archive, available at archive.org, is most famously the host of the Wayback Machine, a record of websites dating back to the early 1990s start of the Web. But it also includes live music concerts and some obscure audio that could add something quirky to your podcast. Much of the content is “public domain”, meaning that it has no copyright attached. Look out for the Creative Commons logo or a C with a cross through it to show audio that is public domain.
Pond5 provides a vast library of stock content including video and images. The music section is particularly large and organised by genre, mood, tempo, and length. There are plenty of free options, or you can pay from £5. However, to use the free options, you will need a subscription, which starts at £25 a month, so it’s not entirely free. But if you use a lot of music on a very prolific podcast, this can be a cost-effective option. You don’t need to keep subscribing to maintain the royalty-free license, either.
Another huge library of media is Shutterstock. The music database isn’t as extensive as Pond5’s, but still includes plenty of options. You can license a track for as little as £39 for Web usage, but the price goes up to £159 if you want broadcasting rights. Within Shutterstock is PremiumBeat, which offers tracks of a higher quality than the basic options.
If you use Adobe software for content creation, Adobe Stock includes royalty-free music you can add to your mix. Strangely, this isn’t available directly within Audition but it is within the video editing application Premiere Pro. Some of this music will be free for Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers, and some entails a one-off license payment. The quality can be a bit questionable, but as a quick way to add music to your podcast when you’re in a hurry, it’s worth considering. This can also be useful as a scratch music track to try out ideas while you find a more appropriate option.
The StockMusic.com library is another extensive collection of premium tracks, which can be licensed for $29.95 each. The search is allegedly AI-powered, although you’re best off using a recognisable keyword such as “jazz” or “hiphop”.
Creating a music show with Spotify
Although trying to create a podcast containing commercial popular music tracks opens up a huge can of worms, there is one way you can do this while avoiding the risk – with Spotify. Using Spotify for Podcasters, it’s possible to interleave commentary into a playlist, which avoids copyright infringement because the tracks are streaming directly from Spotify. But you have no control over how much of the track to play or the transition between your commentary and the music. Your podcast will only be available on Spotify, too.
If Music Be The Food Of Love…
This is just a snapshot of the music available for you to use on your podcast. With a little bit of searching, however, you should be able to find just the right track to give your introduction some punch, add music interludes, or blend into the background. Make sure you listen to plenty of options before you take the plunge with a premium track. But with so many choices on offer, you’re sure to find what you need.