What is Royalty Free Music?

The term “Royalty Free” is confusing for more reasons than one. In fact it simply means “Free of Royalty”. The term is in opposition to “rights managed” licensing where the purchaser pays fees (royalties) according to the number of times it will be used as well as the size of the territory. With Rights Managed licensing or “Needle Drop” licensing you would need to pay a fee every time the music is used or as the old term expressed every time the “needle is dropped” on the record.

For example you purchase a Royalty Free Music license for a video on your website. You pay one single price whether you have 100 visitors or 10,000 visitors, and whether you use the music for 1 month or 10 years. Or you purchase a TV advertising license for your new restaurant. You pay once and the commercial can play once a week or 50 times a week, for 3 months or for 5 years. You pay once and you use it for as long as you want.

Why is it so confusing? Is there not a better term to describe Royalty Free Music?

The truth is that although I have yet to meet a single person in the industry who actually likes the term “Royalty Free Music”, it is the term that appears to be “sticking” at this time. Chances are in fact that you are reading this because you Googled these words.

Other expressions have been proposed by several people in the industry to describe Licensing from Music Libraries like CRProductionMusic.com. These terms are better in many ways. But none of them are sticking for now. Here are few expressions that have been proposed to replace the confusing “Royalty Free Music”:

  • Pre-Licensed Stock Music
  • Pre-Licensed Production Music
  • Pre-Licensed Music Library
  • One-Stop Stock Music library
  • Single Fee Stock Music
  • Single Fee Music Licensing
  • Single Fee Production Music
  • Pre-Paid Production Music

So should we call it One-Stop Pre-Paid Production Music Shop Licensing Library?

I guess for now we’ll stay with Royalty Free Music

What Royalty Free Music is NOT

Royalty Free Music is NOT Stock Music

Although most Royalty Free Music comes from Stock Music Library such as CRProductionMusic.com they are not synonymous. A Stock Music Library is a music library that offers music already in stock – already made and ready to license and use. Although some people consider Stock Music negatively as cheap “canned music” it is not the case at all. You have the full range of music quality in stock music from very amateurish poorly mixed music to highly professional music tracks. Stock music is understood in opposition to “custom made” music that is created for a specific product – a film, a commercial, a TV show… Many stock music libraries offer their music on a Royalty Free basis, but other libraries prefer to offer their music with a Rights Managed model or “per usage” based on the frequency of use as well as the size of the territory.

Royalty Free Music is NOT Copyright Free

I am not sure there is such a thing as “Copyright free” music since anyone who creates a piece of music automatically owns the Copyright for that music. The creator may not care and say that anyone can use his music for any purpose. In this case the Copyright owner is giving you the “right to copy” his music for any purpose. So it may be free to use but that does not make it free of Copyright. And this does not mean that the composer has given up his Performing Rights if his music ends up background music on television for example. The composer as the Copyright owner may want to receive his composer’s royalties for the public performance of his music. Even the recordings of Public Domain music are not Copyright Free. The composition may be Copyright Free but not the actual sound recording (also called the Master).

Royalty Free Music is NOT always Royalty Free!! Say what?

Usually Royalty Free Music licensing does not include “public performance” royalties. Those are royalties paid to composers when their music is performed publicly – on television for example. But these royalties are not being paid by you (the music purchaser) they are being paid by the network that is broadcasting the show where the music is performed either as a featured piece or more commonly on television as background music. Performing Rights Organizations (PRO) like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, PRS, etc. are being paid by the networks and are in charge of distributing the performing royalties to the music composers. So for the person purchasing the music license it is entirely Royalty Free but if fact some royalties may be paid to the composers by the Pros, Wikipedia mentions this as well on its Royalty Free Music page.

Royalty Free Music is NOT a specific genre

It can be music in any genre from Classical to Heavy Metal to Country music. Instead it is a type of “Music Licensing” for commercial use. Commercial use here means using the music for more than your private usage (your home, your car, your iPod). Private usage is the right you get when you purchase a music CD or pay and download your music from iTunes for example. That does not provide you with any broader rights (your website, your videos, your slideshows, TV shows, etc.).

Royalty Free Music is NOT poor quality music

Any music can be licensed as Royalty Free music. The good the bad and the ugly. This choice for music licensing has strictly nothing to do with the quality of the music itself. The quality will vary enormously from one library to the other. The quality of library music has more to do with management policies, whether the music is hand-picked or not, whether composers are screened or not, etc.

Royalty Free Music is NOT cheap music

Royalty free music can be licensed at any price. It is not a price structure; it is simply a licensing model. You can find Royalty Free music for $30 and you can find it for $600. It has nothing to do with pricing; it has to do with the licensing model of not charging royalties each time the music is used. This being said most of the time music licensed with a Royalty Free model is inexpensive and affordable for most people.

More Tips for Writing, Producing, and Submitting Your Music

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When writing, composing and/or producing production music the most important tools you’ve got are your creativity, your unique style, and your commitment to quality. If you take nothing else away from this article, please remember this: Anyone with a credit card can get the same gear – the same instruments, the same software, the same loops, sound libraries, boutique mics and exotic preamps as you. So put your most important tools to work, the three mentioned above are free, USE THEM and make the most of it! Let’s face it:  When we’re talking instrumental cues, anyone can throw a bunch of loops into a DAW, let the software match the key and tempo, then stick a fork in it and call it done. Set yourself apart by aiming higher than that. Be a composer. Make music that you’re proud of.


● You’ll want to maintain the same key for the entire piece

● You need a button ending, meaning the piece stops definitively rather than fading out. Endings that combine hard stops with big hits that then fade out quickly can also be very useful for an editor, and will greatly increase your chances of getting your music placed. An editor could cut the song after any of the hard-stops, or after the last hit that sustains and fades. Give the editors some cool options!


You’ll typically use one of the structures described below.

ABA Start with a very short intro and then build some variation on ABA (ABABA, AABA, etc.), where the successive A sections are bigger, more developed, more exciting than the last, or maybe broken down and then built back up – your goal being to balance interest with unity. This is the closest to normal song form that you’ll likely produce as an instrumental cue. If you work at it, you’ll be surprised how many variations you can create with just those two sections. Music is really subjective but upbeat, fun tracks are always in style. C section?  Nope. But You Do Need Edit Points. It’s rare that you’ll need a distinct third section comparable to a bridge. What you will need, though, are some edit points, which are spots in the cue where things halt or at least break down enough to let a show’s music editor cut away from the music cleanly and easily. This doesn’t have to be difficult! Genres like dramatic orchestral lend themselves to breaks really well – you know, BOMP BOMP… BOMP! But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find ways in any genre to create breaks and even to do them at ad-friendly times like 14-15 seconds in, 29 seconds in, 59 seconds. A, another A, another A, etc. … and that’s it. This form has no intro; it comes out swinging with what songwriters would consider a chorus, then builds and differentiates mainly with textural changes to maintain interest and create movement. These intense cues will only last a minute or so, and they should make up only about 20% of your catalog. Drones and Underscore Cues Like all cues, these exist to create a mood. There might not be a true musical statement beyond the mood, perhaps some instrumentation and scale choices that indicate geography/ethnicity. And there might not be a clear delineation of sections, or much if any harmonic movement. You’ll hear plenty of these that sustain a single bass pitch with subtle changes above to create motion. It needs to set a mood without distracting from the action. Note that in some cases, the supervisor will request an alternate mix – that is, a mix with at least one part removed – rather than the full mix. You should always have alternates, and/or reduced mixes ready upon request because these decisions and deals happen very quickly so you must be ready. For instrumental cues, 2 minutes is a great target length, because it gives you ample time for a basic ABA form with some nice edit points. As mentioned, those edit points are crucial! If you have advertising hopes for the track, put the edit points at around 14-15, 29 and 59 seconds.


There are many possible answers, depending on your own career stage and circumstances. As far as in-demand genres go, dubstep is in demand, dramedy (light orchestral with a mischievous vibe, often quirky or sneaky sounding, using elements of urban, and/or hip hop), some other in-demand genres include: Urban, Hip Hop, Current Pop, Orchestral, Drones/Underscore, and often genre bending cues such as Gangsta Grass (aka hick hop) or rock with hip hop/urban overtones.

More tips:

● Within a genre, stay current (unless you’re asked for specific past era). Visit billboard top charts for whatever genre you’re working in, check the charts, then; study the top three tracks to pick up trends.

● Finally, if you’re just starting out, try new genres! You never know where you might discover a hidden talent. Then, as you build your catalog, analyze which genres are working best for you, then focus your energy there.


© CR Production Music


Tips for Writing and Producing Production Music

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Production Music is an ingredient in the soup that will be the final production, so it is not the star, but must play a supporting role. What makes a good song does not necessarily make a good production cue (i.e. melodic hook or song structure).

The most important factors (other than the obvious performance and sound quality) are mood and energy. Often these cues are spotted to picture and end up being an underscore, so mood and energy should be apparent immediately and the track should develop quickly, If not, the Music Supervisor or client will hit the “next” button.


  • Production music DOES NOT need to sound repetitive or looped, even though on TV (for example) it can often sound that way.
  • It is possible to develop a piece by adding or subtracting elements or textures to keep it interesting and provide change-ups that are useful to the editor.
  • In general, most production cues at their longest length are 2:30-3:00 minutes. Often only a few seconds may be used in the final production, and editors can be reluctant to take up more hard drive space with longer cues so it is best to keep them around 2 minutes.
  • Cues should allow for easy edit points. Often, melodies that don’t resolve make editing difficult if not impossible, which means that they are far less likely to get used.
  • Typically button endings are preferred; this means the cue should have a short natural ending that does not fade.

With some genres (such as New Age and certain types of Electronica) some composers have a tendency to include sound effects (i.e. ocean waves, rainforest-type sounds, or even abrasive sounds that come out of left field). This in general is a big “no, no” for production music. If a track has for instance waves in it, it generally would only make sense to be used in a scene where there are images of waves, and even at that, it would probably create a conflict with the sound design that is being used in the production. By including elements like this that describe a specific scene, you are very much limiting the ability of getting your cue placed. After all, if a producer wants sound effects in a scene they will add it as a separate element in the sound design.

  • Cues with busy leads (especially in the higher register) are problematic because they tend to compete with the voice over and/or dialog.
  • Elements that are hard panned (far left or right) in the mix can be troublesome because the can either gets lost in the mix once all other audio is added to the production, or they can have the opposite effect and really cut through. This is not a “rule” per se, but it is something to be aware of.
  • More is not always better when it comes to arrangements. Often, mood can be achieved very effectively with solo performances or very limited instrumentation, and it is frequently the understated that can deliver the most emotional punch.
  • With vocal performances, lyrics should be very universal (no people, places, times) as to not tie the message of the song to something or someone so specific that it limits its potential to be licensed. Also a wall-to-wall lyrical approach potentially limits a track’s usage as it provides little room for dialog or voice over to cut through and can also be more difficult to edit.


  • As with any submissions, there are a number of ways for you to shoot yourself in the foot by creating tracks that:
  1. Sound too “synthy,” stiff, or have samples played in unrealistic registers or unnatural ways.
  2. Take too long to establish the mood and develop sonically.

Are over compressed — tracks need dynamics (sonically), if it’s a wall of sound (as with many albums) it can interfere with dialog and or the voiceover and ultimately become useless.

© CR Production Music