If you’ve ever worked on a video or film project, then you’ve probably run up against the wonderful world of music licensing. Filmmakers need awesome music for their work. A good track can make a decent project great, and a bad track can make a good project suck. Unfortunately licensing music is expensive, and can be a huge pain in the ass. And if you’re thinking about doing it renegade style, and going license free, expect a cease and desist (or even a lawsuit) from the whiny music industry. At the very least YouTube will probably strip your audio track and that is major bummer.
So what do you do if you have a masochistic obsession with music cue sheets, and/or you absolutely must obtain legal rights to your tracks, BUT you’re not swimming Scrooge McDuck style in a pool of Ad Agency gold coins?
Quick Reference of Stock Music Sites (Full write up below):
- Jamendo (generally affordable).
- DeWolfe Music
- Jingle Punks
- Vimeo Music Store
- CC Mixter.org
- SoundCloud Creative Commons
- Pump Audio
- Beat Suite
- Electro Freaks
- Free Play Music
- Free Sound
- Groove Addicts
- iStock Photo
- Premium Beat
- Sound Dogs
- Sound Rangers
- Stock Music
- Zero Fee Music
- MySpace Music
- Footage Firm
- Vimeo Community List
(Edit 6/19/12: We now have an account with DeWolfe Music, and like it very much. All the It’s a Rough Life episodes are scored with DeWolfe Music, as well as a lot of our recent client work. Our friends at Pandora are using Jingle Punks, so any videos we’ve put together with them are scored with music from that library. Vimeo also has its own affordable library now.)
We’ve worked on projects ranging from television news documentaries to web 2.0 (3.0?) interactive hybrid videos, and our clients generally have one thing in common… free lunch syndrome. Everybody wants awesome video and audio, but nobody wants to cough up the cash to pay for it. We’re just as guilty with personal projects. We want the rad, but we just don’t have the funds to license 36 Chambers.
With that in mind we’d like to present to you, dear reader, with some of TeamJaded’s solutions for Royalty Free Music. We encourage you to explore them, and if you have better solutions, please send them our way. We need them.
The cheap and dirty way to get free music is to just make it yourself, DIY style. If you read our blog than you know we’re DIY evangelists. Theoretically, you could use Garageband, Soundtrack Pro, Logic Pro, or any number of other software programs, not to mention playing a freaking instrument to score your own films, but we wouldn’t know, we’re not musicians. In this one instance we’re going to distance our selves from DIY.
Why should you make the music anyway? If you’re like us, you probably already Produced, Directed, and Shot the project. Now you’re staring down a Final Cut Project that you’re going to edit, and you’re thinking, “maybe there was something to that old media division of labor thing. This one man band draws the line at actually being the band.” We’re with you.
This is the moment to sucker… we mean gently ask a friend who is musically inclined to score your project for you… for free… ok for beer, but no credit… ok, beer and credit… fine. This is the model favored by our friend Whit Scott who often uses his friend Carl Atilano for scoring video projects. If you do sucker… convince one of your friends to score your project, the relationship doesn’t need to be one sided. Exposure in a popular film can be a great way for musicians to get their name out. We’ve often snuck our friends Mothership into projects for exactly that reason. (Kinda like we’re doing right now.)
If you don’t have any friends, a clever way to get free music is to design your project around a particular song, band, or music scene. That way the artists volunteer their tracks. On that same note, you could produce a project that is near and dear to a group of musicians, which has almost the same effect. This model is working well for our friend Pete Koff on his project Supercharged, the Life and Times of Tim Brauch. So many Bay Area musicians were friends with Tim that they are lining up to donate music to Pete’s documentary.
Another option is MySpace Music. We’re sure that just reading the words MySpace practically sends you into a seizure imagining all those custom pages. We all know what sucks about MySpace. The signal to noise ratio is terrible. If you’re searching for artists to work with, rather than bands to listen to, then the search function is pretty much worthless. Sometimes, you can’t even listen to an artists tracks because their page is peppered with annoying comments and apps that are spewing audio of their own, and you simply can’t track them all down to turn them off… You could end up dealing with some clueless sixteen-year-old kid in Kansas, or even worse his mom. Unless you want to screen capture the track, you’re going to be at their mercy to send you a high quality file. Then you’ll probably have to deal with an ever-growing list of insane demands like gold doubloons, or even producer credits.
On the other hand, there are thousands of bands in every genre imaginable. Some of them are good, and many of them are small or even unsigned. If you’ve got the time, you can find great tracks on a compensation scale ranging from inexpensive to just credit. If you’re really lucky you could develop a relationship with an up and coming artist that will be mutually beneficial for years to come. We’ve had some luck with MySpace, finding bands like Hightower, Hottub, and Bad Strip to work with us on a recent project.
If you denounced MySpace after you signed up to Facebook, then what you need is a Royalty Free music library.
A small library that we use is Incompetech. Kevin MacLeod produces all music on Incompetech. He offers his music for credit under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. This site was passed to us by our friend Joey Rabier of Tech TV and Revision 3 fame. We’ve used it for projects produced for Seesmic and HarperCollins. Incompetech is easy to navigate. It’s also relatively painless to preview and then download tracks. The downside is that the even though Mr. MacLeod produces songs in a variety of styles, one man can only do so much. If you need a wide variety of music, this might not be the best solution… but it sure does work on a deadline.
The daddy of all Creative Commons libraries is CC Mixter.org. This is a substantial resource full of free music… sort of. The tricky part about using Creative Commons music is that you need to pay close attention to exactly what rights the artist is granting you. Be careful because some artists might want more than credit, some definitely want cash, and others have specific wishes about what kind of projects the track can be used in. That’s all fine and good, but you could quickly find yourself in trouble ala the MySpace episode with the kid from Kansas and his mom.
On the upside, there is a wide variety of music here, and the site is conscious of people with differing navigation styles. We love the tag cloud. As with MySpace, if you spend some time searching you can find great tracks.
We do recommend CC Mixter, but before we move on, we feel that it is necessary to leave you with one cautionary tale. Popular artists have been known to upload tracks to the site for remixing. It’s a great way for an artist to build social media cred while giving something valuable to the user community. Unfortunately it can be rather sticky for fil
mmakers looking for tracks with few strings attached, especially if you’re not familiar with the “popular” artist.
Last year we were eviscerated by the kindly folks over on the Slap Message Board for using a track in a skateboarding promo that shockingly turned out to be a remixed Linkin Park song. In our defense, we were far less familiar with the band than our knowledgeable critics who could cite the exact title of the original track… but hey, what do we know? We listen to NPR. The beat worked with the clips, the price was right… and yeah we caved and switched the track.
Another Creative Commons site is Jamendo. For our money, this is the one. We recently rediscovered Jamendo after it was first passed to Jeremey over a year ago by Loic LeMeur, the CEO of Seesmic. Seesmic was using Pump Audio (which we’ll get to in a minute) and Loic was looking for a music solution that was a little closer to free.
At the time Jeremey was pretty busy working on multiple Seesmic projects so he only gave Jamendo a quick look. He thought it was similar to CC Mixter, with way more singing in languages that aren’t English, and it was way harder to isolate instrumental tracks with the appropriate licensing conditions… so he passed. That was a mistake.
We aren’t sure if Jeremey got smarter, or if Jamendo simplified its navigation, or increased it’s user base to include bands from the United States, or all of the above, but Jamendo rocks. It’s easy to search by genre, by country of origin, and by type of license. There is an abundance of choice in the attribution category. If you need a track for commercial use you can buy a license for prices that are so affordable, we think we must be reading it wrong. The tracks are easy to preview, easy to download, and the file icons are the album covers. That’s awesome. And did we mention that the music is good. In fact, it’s just as good or better than more established (read expensive) stock music services. We highly recommend this one. Thanks Loic.
If you’re project has a budget, there are libraries geared specifically toward high-end work. The libraries we used while working for Current TV were Pump Audio, APM, and Extreme. We aren’t going to spend too much time on these, because they are definitely more expensive. If you can afford them, you probably already know about them.
Our favorite of the three is Pump Audio. Its selection is large and its ambient and hip-hop libraries are particularly useful. The navigation is solid compared to many other libraries, and you can browse it through their website or they can even send you a hard drive. As to cost, in our experience Pump is the most affordable of these three libraries. Their fees are based on the type of project, and the intended distribution platform. They’re hip to the use of quality stock music in web video, and their web license is fairly affordable. Not affordable like Jamendo, but still affordable.
If you use Pump enough, you’ll notice their songs all over television.
When that day comes that you have a significant budget, or perhaps you just have your heart set on a popular track, then a music rights group is the way to go. We’ve never gone all the way down this road, but we have met with Brooke Wentz of the San Francisco based Rights Workshop. She was knowledgeable, professional, and had access to major artists. She was also more than willing to breakdown the many legal pitfalls along the path of music licensing. This is not a great solution when you need lots of music quickly, but a relationship with a music rights professional is invaluable for major projects.
We recognize that this list is nowhere near comprehensive. These are simply solutions that we have used in the past.
What do you use?
Other sites we haven’t used yet (this list comes from Mograph via Todd Fuller):
Free Play Music
iStock Photo now has music
Even Moby is getting in on the gratis music game.
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