Edited by Pat Bitton
January 15, 2020
Paid and Free Stock Music for Videos
Looking at some of the best stock music sites in 2020 immediately invites comparisons with our recent blog on free and paid sites for video stock footage.
The two fields are organized much the same way, with online collections of "production music" (or "stock music" or "library music") that can be downloaded free or for a one-time fee or by purchasing a subscription or membership.
A big difference is that while video stock footage collections mostly launched in the 1980s or later, stock music libraries have been around for a century. The first production music library was formed by De Wolfe Music when sound came to films – though the company had already been selling soundtracks for silent films.
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Audio Libraries Today
In one sense, the basics of Tin Pan Alley have not changed in a century: search a music library (now online), choose your songs, and pay the composer or the library or both. It is just that now stock music sites have gone global with a big presence online and vast collections. Their music is sold not only to the movie industry but to producers of the widest spectrum of videos from marketing to TV series to educational and training to YouTube personal and commercial productions.
Despite the diverse uses of production music, a broad distinction is still drawn between what music publishers work with composers to bring to market and music largely created for music libraries by mostly work-for-hire musicians who do not own any rights to the work and usually remain behind the scenes. Not that the two fields don't overlap, of course; but when a big-budget movie wants to use a hit song there is no "free" or "cheap." We might be talking tens of thousands of dollars.
And, of course, big-budget movies may commission music directly from top composers and independent filmmakers may work with musicians just beginning their careers.
None of that means we can generalize with confidence about "production" music versus "performer" or "creative" or "artistic" music. There is huge talent on both sides of the divide.
What is relevant is that, given the way most "production" music is created, the issue of licensing use of a piece of such music is simplified. Most often, the stock music site owns it outright; no royalty is involved.
Partly because of today's astonishing range of videos being created, almost always including a soundtrack, production music libraries bring together a wide range of styles and genres – often thousands of tracks – and facilitate searches in various ways. Usually, there are search filters for genre, mood, type of instrument or voice, and more. Some libraries make specialty teams who take your "specs" for the music you need and do the search for you, producing options.
What very few video producers or video fans doubt is that music can "make" your video and if you are watching your budget this may not be the place to save money by using the second or third best. Mood and impact have virtually "created" the indelible impression of movies, TV-series, commercials, and brand associations. "Stars Wars" can be heard coming a mile away. And music theme songs from Westerns made four decades ago still play in our heads. And for baby boomers, how about "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier"?
Stock music sites in 2020 can be free, very economical, a necessary investment, or plain expensive. That isn't always due to the quality of the music, per se. Other factors might influence the philosophy of the site (help the best young talent achieve recognition), the auspices (profit or nonprofit), use of music (commercial or not), amount of service requested, or volume of your purchases.
Stock Sound Effects and Music Sites
Here are some of today's premier stock music suppliers including free stock music for videos and for comparison a few paid libraries.
Freesound is set up as a "collaborative repository" of Creative Commons (CC) audio and is nonprofit. Music is uploaded to the site by users and the collection now exceeds 400,000 audio samples with some eight million users. Fortunately, the site has a reputation as easy to search and use. There are different licenses or rules for commercial use of the music. Their range is wide from field recordings to synthesized music.
Free Music Archive is a royalty-free online library. It traces its origins to 2009 to the collection of a New Jersey radio station (WFMS) that now cooperates with other stations to provide music under Creative Commons licenses. Its origination in the world of DJs tends to shape the collection. All music can be downloaded and used in other works. Last year, FMA was acquired by KitSplit, so changes may be coming.
Freeplay has more than 50,000 songs to use for free on YouTube and elsewhere. It markets itself as "one of the most trusted of production music libraries in the world." It now works under an agreement with YouTube that all tracks in its Music Library are free for (personal) use on YouTube. It is a site that can be characterized as motivated by "mission," with an emphasis on quality, service, and ease of access. It divides its offerings very broadly into "scene," "genre," and "mood" and is explicitly promoting music for videos.
Dig.ccMixter announces to visitors of its site: "You already have permission." It highlights instrumental music for film and video projects, free music for commercial projects (with credit to the musicians), and music for video games (including looping backgrounds). It is organized for musicians to upload their music because they want it to be used and dig ccmixter requires all users of the music to carry composer credit.
YouTube Audio Library is your source for access to YouTube's library of free music. Downloads are ready to incorporate as stock sound effects, soundtracks, or any other music in your videos on YouTube. This site has much royal-free music and a powerful filter for locating what you need by length, mood of the work, instrument, and other considerations. Even free music can come with a requirement for crediting the artist, so watch for that.
Storyblocks, like some other paid libraries on this list, is equally big in music, video stock footage, and images. Altogether, its collections run into the millions. Its slogan is "By creators for creators." All sections of Storyblocks – video, audio, and image – work through licenses at various prices for one-time, frequent, and unlimited use. Most lists of the largest suppliers of stock multi-media material put Storyblocks somewhere near the top.
PremiumBeat has a site known for good customer experience and makes shopping for what you want easy. The process is streamlined and the staff has a reputation for working hard on the collection. Here, you pay by buying a license that varies in price ($49-$199) depending on whether you want unlimited use of the track on web projects or some other arrangement. Once you are licensed, though, you are good forever on that track.
Music Vine is a newer site, but growing rapidly, and promises to become a top stock music site. Here is a site dedicated to bringing together the best producers with the best royalty-free stock music. For now, though, its library cannot compete in the size of its stock with other top sites. They have an offer code, STUDIOBINDER, that gets you 20 percent off any license you buy from them this year.
Epidemic Sound is now a decade old and approaches its function with a sense of mission to make music succeed for its creators and users. It is one of the foremost sites for music with no copyright. Epidemic is a Swedish company that has a focus more like music publisher, seeking the best music from artists, composers, and bands, than a production music outfit. If this more characteristically "performance" music is what you seek, and you can pay, Epidemic Sound is very interesting.
Marmoset is a music agency in Portland, Oregon, that represents itself as a "curator" of music ranging from rare to emerging to independent to bands that it represents for music licensing. It has tended to specialize in creating its own original music, soundtracks, and scores for major commercial markets, plus movies and TV, and has an impressive list of brands among its clients. It does have a search engine able filter by story and character. It is among the pricier music agencies.
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