Royalty Free vs. Royalty Based Music Explained

If you’re a person in a creative line of work, then odds are that audio and video play an important role in your output.

The following guest post comes from Michael Dowson, Associate Video Editor of Motion Array, a proud partner of DMN.

Videos are now a commonplace way to showcase everything from professional achievements to personal milestones.  While we all enjoy the sight of our biggest victories playing out on the screen in front of us, getting the right audio sample for this video may prove to be a bit tricky.

Academy Award winning composer Aaron Copland wrote one of the seminal essays on the subject back in 1940. In the essay, he talks about five critical ways in which music serves the screen.

  • Creating a more convincing atmosphere of time and place.
  • Underlying psychological refinements.
  • Serving as a kind of neutral background filler.
  • Building a sense of continuity.
  • Underpinning the theatrical build-up of a scene, and rounding it off with a sense of finality.
Source: No Film School

Not only does music give a sort of psychological background, but it also adds value and builds a deep emotional tension that translates to the video having a much greater psychological impact.  All of this leads us to the big question, where can you get a hold of the perfect music for your video?

Well, for most amateur and professional video creators out there, it’s a toss up between royalty free or royalty-based music, depending on the scope and budget of their project. Let’s take you through both these types of music.

Royalty: What It Means and How Royalty Free and Royalty Based Music Are Different

What is Royalty Based Music?

One of the biggest legal binds in the world of music are royalties. This is a sum of money paid to the creator or composer of the music by a third party who is interested in using his music for personal or commercial purposes. In fact, royalties can be the highest mode of earning for many musicians.

If you take a look at the Billboard list of highest-paid musicians, you’ll see that a vast majority of their earnings come from royalties.  This is a list that includes Metallica, who earned $8.7 million from recorded music royalties, Ed Sheeran, who earned $11.5 million from recorded and music publishing royalties, and the likes of Lady Gaga, Roger Waters, The Weeknd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Coldplay.

There is no fixed amount when it comes to royalties, as it’s really difficult to put a price on creative work.  In the US, there is a statutory rate set by the US Congress, but of course, record companies are free to re-negotiate and fix their own rates.  The whole process is massively complicated and changes from time to time and country to country.

The key difference between these types of music is eponymous. In the case of royalty based music, the musician will be paid a sum of money, either at the time of acquisition or on a periodic basis, in exchange for permission to play and use their song.

What is Royalty Free Music?

On the other hand, royalty free music involves no payment of royalties to the musician or composer.  However, there may be a one-time payment to the provider of the royalty-free music, after which you can use it for your personal and professional needs.

While most royalty-based music is composed by famous musicians, royalty free music has mostly been created by session artists who aren’t very well-known outside of the industry.  In terms of ownership, royalty based music is usually owned by the artists or the record labels who have signed the artists.  However, production music libraries are more often than not the owners of royalty free music.

It is also much easier to gain access to royalty free music, with a number of top music libraries such as Motion Array, Purple Planet, and Hook Sounds offering audio clips online at very reasonable prices.

Which One Should You Choose?

When it comes to personal or small budget professional videos, you should definitely opt for royalty free music. Not only is it available at a cheaper rate, but it will usually be the kind of music that not many have heard of. So, you can choose the right tone and melodies that reflect the emotions you are trying to portray in your video.

Royalty free music is the perfect choice for wedding videos, birthday videos, anniversary montages, university projects, and short-films. Royalty based music is usually the preferred choice of people who want to gain better publicity through the music of a famous artist, which is why many high-budget events and movies often opt for royalty based music. This is also tied into the end purpose of the video or film, with a bigger budget available for films that are looking to make a profit and view royalty based music as a profitable addition.

However, if you’re creating a video without the profit factor to keep in mind, then royalty free is the way to go!

2 Responses

  1. mjn

    “On the other hand, royalty free music involves no payment of royalties to the musician or composer. ”

    Not true. An RF library offers a license that allows the purchaser to use the music in multiple projects, while only paying for the music license once. In other words, the purchaser is “free” from paying an additional “royalty”. Performance royalties may still be collected by the songwriter if said music is used in a broadcast or public performance.

  2. Louise Byrne

    Great article. That’s a really good point raised by mjn. The royalty free music industry is not regulated. When using any music library check the terms of the licence. Some libraries call themselves “royalty free” but yet their songs are registered with collection societies. It is a fun industry!!! ?