*Updated January 2022
Licensing music has never been easier for creators. But it wasn’t always that way.
Until very recently, there was only one way to get permission to use a song in creative work, and it involved a convoluted negotiation process between multiple copyright holders.
Following this method, you typically had to convince
- the label
- the songwriters
- the artists
- and the publisher.
Here's a visual of how that looks:
Now, these people aren’t all on the same page. They don’t have the same agenda. So if even one of these stakeholders says no, then you can’t license the track — regardless of how much time you’ve put in to the negotiation.
Plus, licensing music this way can be really expensive.
Thankfully, the industry began to change around the late 2000s. (You can read more about royalty free music and music licensing here.)
New types of music licensing companies started negotiating directly with artists and creating their own music libraries, which gave independent creators more options for where and how they could license music. This also allowed creators to license quality music at a much more affordable price.
It’s no coincidence this innovation coincided with the Youtube boom and the rise of digital creators.
Now, we’re in a third wave of music licensing. Music licensing companies have made their platforms easier to use, there are more of them than before, and there’s a lot more music to choose from.
In this article, we’ll break down 9 of the best music libraries where you can license songs so you don’t have to spend hours scouring the internet — or months emailing 6 different copyright holders.
The 9 best music licensing companies / libraries
- Epidemic Sound
- Music Vine
Some criteria for choosing the best music library
Music (and Sound) Quality
The best way to ruin a good video or podcast is to pair it with terrible music.
And I don’t mean terrible from a taste point of view; I mean terrible from a quality perspective.
There’s a difference between a painstakingly-crafted track that’s recorded with top tier equipment and a collection of noises that sounds like the newest remix from keyboard cat.
You’ll know the difference when you hear it. And so will the audience when they hear the music in your work.
So when you’re perusing music libraries, put song quality at the top of your list. Your viewers / listeners will thank you.
So you found a music licensing platform with stellar music. Great.
But how easy is it to use? Is the interface simple to navigate? How quickly can you find the song that match the mood or tempo you’re going for?
The more time you spend looking for music for your projects, the less time you have to actually work on these projects.
So make sure to prioritize ease of use when you’re making your choice. You’ll save a lot of time and avoid a lot of frustration.
Creative projects typically work on a tight budget, so every little expense counts.
When it comes to music licensing, there isn't a universal standard for the cost. Some platforms, like Soundstripe, offer subscription plans that grant you unlimited song downloads from their library. Others may offer a membership with a cap on the number of downloads. Still others may focus more on single song downloads.
And of course, there’s a number of companies that mix and match these three models.
Before you dive into specific dollar amounts, ask yourself how much music you need. Do you need one track for a podcast intro or will you need to continually get new background music for your weekly vlog?
Once you know that answer, you can identify the pricing model that’s right for you. Then it’s time compare actual dollar amounts.
As I covered at the top of this post, the traditional form of music licensing is rough. It’s complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.
Music licensing platforms have done a lot to make this process simpler. The platform acts as a third party that negotiate the rights with each artist and songwriter and then licenses the work directly to you.
Because you would rather spend your time creating (and you value your sanity), this is a very good thing.
But not all music licensing companies give out the same kind of licenses. For example, some companies restrict which channels you can use a song on (TV vs Youtube for example), and they may also charge more based on the number of views or downloads your work accrues.
For some general licensing context, here are five common types of music licenses:
- Synchronization (or sync) license
- Mechanical license
- Master license
- Public performance license
- Theatrical license
Typically, you'll need to have both a sync license and master license to use a song in a video, podcast, or other project. And the public performance license comes into play whenever a song is being broadcasted publicly (i.e., on TV, radio, YouTube, etc.).
If you're licensing music for a commercial project, it's less likely that you would need a mechanical license or theatrical license. (But if you do want to learn more about these licenses, check out this blog post.)
Every music licensing company takes a different approach, so be sure to read about how the licensing works for each organization. Obviously, simpler is better.
The 9 best music licensing companies / libraries at a glance(in no particular order)
Oh hey, look who made the list. Did you think I would write about music licensing companies and not introduce Soundstripe?
Like a few others on this list, our model is subscription-based. So signing up for a membership gets you unlimited access to all of the songs in our audio library.
We care about quality, so we hire music professionals in-house to ensure that all of the stuff in our catalog is top notch.
Our licensing is structured to be straightforward. Every time you download a song, you get a single-use license. So you can use it on a project for as long as you want — even after you cancel.
The interface for our audio library is also designed for usability so you can find the right music faster. We also release themed playlists every month with our best stuff.
If you’re wondering, a marmoset is a species of monkey in South and Central America. Marmoset also refers to a music licensing company and music agency in Portland, Oregon.
Marmoset bills themselves as having a “roster of rare and emerging independent artists,” which means they’re choosy about who they publish in their audio library.
The Marmoset Music platform is simultaneously easy to use and detail-oriented. You can search songs by Vocals, Mood, Arc, and several other unique filters. If you’re feeling spontaneous, you can try your luck with the algorithm gods and see what you find on Marmoset Radio.
Marmoset breaks their licenses down into specific use cases, like independent film, crowdfunding, and small business. Each of these licenses has respective pricing and usage rights.
Pond5 made their name as a supplier of royalty-free video footage. More recently, they’ve expanded their offerings to include everything from film footage to motion graphics to stock music.
Pond5 advertises their library as having over 900,000 songs, which is just a staggering number of songs. If you need variety in your life, this is the place.
Pond5 offers an extensive number of songs available for single purchase. So instead of opening a membership, you can drop in, find what you want, and roll.
The UI offers a couple of unique filters, like Price, Public Domain, and Non P.R.O. tracks, so you can sidestep tracks that require you to pay performance royalties.
The songs you license from Pond5 come with a lot of usage rights. Essentially, you can use anything you download on an unlimited number of projects in perpetuity. Licenses are priced on the number of seats (creators) that use the work and the amount of indemnification.
PremiumBeat is owned by Shutterstock, which means it’s part of a larger marketplace, like Pond5 and AudioJungle.
PremiumBeat’s interface offers the standard filters you’ve come to know and love: Genres, Mood, Duration, and Instruments. What’s interesting is the depth you can explore underneath each of these topline categories.
For example, under the Classical genre you sort tracks by 20th Century, Baroque, Classical Period, Romantic Period, and so on. As a gamer, I was intrigued to see their Gaming genre divided into 8-bit, Adventure, and Fantasy.
The point is you can get specific with this audio library. And that’s a good thing. PremiumBeat also offers single song purchases, so you can choose between setting up a membership or just grabbing new tracks when you need them.
PremiumBeat offers two types of licenses: standard and premium. Standard works for web-based, non-commercially distributed content. Premium is for everything else. These licenses are unlimited usage in perpetuity.
AudioJungle takes a fundamentally different approach to music licensing to many of the other companies on this list.
AudioJungle eschews the classic iTunes motif — where the navigation is on vertical on the left — and instead opts for an ecommerce-esque grid display.
The initial experience also focuses heavily on the artists and the community. In addition to downloading songs, you can engage with other creators on a forum, view artists profiles, or dive into some free tutorials.
AudioJungle still has filters; they just appear on the top navigation rather than on the side. The price for songs seems to vary from $1 to $60. This is linked to how the artist prices their work.
There are five different types of AudioJungle licenses, each of which relates to a different size audience. They are all single-use licenses.
Musicbed was one of the first music licensing companies to market their commitment to quality and they have a reputation for having one of the best audio libraries around.
Musicbed also has a polished user experience for search which lets you exclude types of music from your search. It might sound like a simple feature, but it’s not something everyone offers.
There are also a lot of playlists that are umbrella categories like Genres, Vibes, and Filmmakers, which are playlists made by filmmakers who use Musicbed.
Musicbed offers one-off song purchases and a subscription membership. Most of the licenses are perpetual use that allow for either one or five uses. There are certain licenses that are termed, which means they have a set time period for usage.
Like Soundstripe, Artlist offers a subscription service that stays at a flat rate regardless of how many songs you download. If you’re creating new videos at a high rate, this is the type of resource you need.
Artlist’s licenses give filmmakers a lot of freedom. You can use any song you download from Artlist in any kind of video project you want. A biography of your neighborhood racoon for YouTube? Yep. A commercial for the first all-animal film festival? You bet.
Artlist also has a library full of good music, and they’re growing relatively quickly.
8. Music Vine
After redesigning their site in 2018, Music Vine unveiled a couple of unique search options for filmmakers.
The first is their Style categories, which categorize music in a way that’s more helpful to filmmakers. Examples include Production Type, Movie Genre, and Footage Style.
The second feature is Weighted Tags, which rank the most important characteristics of songs higher in the search. Filmmakers not only get a more comprehensive view of what each song is like, but also get more relevant results.
If designing the most powerful filtering system is an arms race, Music Vine has a pretty impressive arsenal.
When you download tracks from Music Vine, you build your own license to get the coverage you need. This isn’t totally ad hoc, because every license falls into a certain type of category, like Promotional, Film, Personal, or Wedding.
Epidemic Sound has been around since 2009, so they’re part of the old guard of music licensing companies.
That means they’ve had time to create a huge library of songs. And with a huge library comes lot of variety. Epidemic manages to cover a lot of different genres — even stuff outside of the mainstream.
Epidemic’s user experience is set up to encourage single song purchasing, but they do offer tiered subscription models. Each tier is based on how many plays your Youtube channel gets per month. If you’re just getting started, this is a great deal.
Epidemic also has a sizable library of sound effects, which makes this a great resource for creators of all kinds.
So there it is. A list of 9 reliable music licensing companies where creators of all kinds can find quality royalty free music.
Does this list include every possible option known to mankind? No, and that’s a good thing. In my humble opinion, some of the corners of the internet where you can find music simply don't have the quality you need.
The 9 options I've listed above do. You can almost certainly find what you're looking for in one of their catalogs.
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