“The picture is locked. We didn’t budget enough for music. Now I’ll never get into Sundance!”
We’ve been getting a good amount of queries recently along the lines of…”I’m working on this project (short film, no budget feature, webseries) and have no money. Can I still get music?” So we thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consolidate a bunch of our answers here as a general resource to our filmmaker friends out there.
The short answer is basically, “Yes, you can!” Your choices are obviously much more limited to what’s out there at any given time. First though, make sure you’re not just searching for public domain music. Public domain means that the publishing has gone into the public domain but that the master is most likely still owned and controlled by someone you’ll have to pay. There is not a lot of music in the public domain, or at least as much as one might expect. Next, you’ll have to define who you are (amateur, professional, student, non-profit) and what rights you are seeking. If you think your work qualifies as Fair Use (US only), then that’s a whole other ball of wax. Here is an interesting primer on “Fair Use Best Practices“ to investigate if your use might qualify.
This list focuses on internet-based, very low budget (or royalty free) libraries*, but before you start researching, you should try to narrow down the rights you’re looking for. Period, territory, media, etc.
Creative Commons, which basically pioneered the idea of offering/assigning different freedoms on licensable materials, has an excellent resource for various entities offering free music:
- Free Music Archive is a collaboration between a lot of indie radio entities like WFMU, CASH, dublab, KEXP, and others and has a large library of music, much of which is royalty free.
- Jamendo - offers many types of amateur and professional licenses for songs in its database. Some tracks are free to use commercially, but many are not.
- BeatPick has a solid interface to let you break down the type of media, rights, and duration of license for their library. I found rates for independent producers as low as $75 to use a track in perpetuity on an internet-only film (no out-of-context uses).
CC warns that “Most importantly, you need to use music that is not licensed under a No Derivative Works license. This means that the musician doesn’t want you to change, transform, or make a derivative work using their music. Under CC licenses, synching the music to images amounts to transforming the music, so you can’t legally use a song under a CC No Derivative Works license in your video.”
As far as other options, Moby Gratis is a site designed by licensing wunderkind Moby. Unfortunately, it’s limited to non-profit and non-commercial works.
Vimeo has its own music store, where you can find songs at different price points based on usage ($.99/personal use, $1.99/personal ‘premium’ use, $99.00/commercial use) – and some offered free under Creative Commons attribution licenses.
YouTube also has a music store, where it offers free music and sound effects. The library is quite small, unfortunately.
iLicenseMusic is a subscription service that requires a monthly fee of $89. Their model is interesting; you can use up to ten pieces of music at any time per month for any type of media. You can cancel your subscription any time, but you must be subscribed if your media is being published. Recommended for short-term projects that you would need 5-10 pieces of music for.
Another interesting service is ScoreAScore which is a marketplace where producers can post proposals for work and then different composers can bid on your project. Sign up, post your call for work (and budget), and you’ll have people sending you bids in no time.
Musopen is a non-profit that seems to be heavy on classical composers and recordings . Everything is free, and donations are accepted. They also have a useful FAQ on public domain in music.
Audio Jungle is another database of affordably priced music (many songs between $5-$15).
Premium Beat has a decent selection of music, on average about $30 per track.
Additionally, many pieces of video editing or audio software – like Final Cut X, for example – come with built-in (or purchasable plug-ins) of royalty-free music. And there are still CDs with royalty free music that you could buy when people used to buy physical media, but please read the fine print and make sure the entities that published the CDs still exist.
If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, try convincing a composer or producer to make the song you want. You should consider finding a young/up-and-coming composer from a college/grad level composing program. Many film schools have partnerships with composers’ organizations or schools, and there are a lot of both in cities like LA and New York. Even better, look for people going after a composing for film degree. These are the people you want to talk to. Many of these composers are open to doing a work for hire (for free!), as they, like yourselves, are often more concerned with gaining exposure and experience than upfront cash. If you need some suggestions on where to find these, please let us know.
Whether you’re paying for music or not, you still have to give the proper credits, especially if you’re going the CC route. Some rights holders don’t require you to give credit, but, when in doubt, give a proper credit or contact the rights administrator.
We’re hoping this will be an ongoing series/conversation so if you have any suggestions or ideas or have any firsthand experiences (good or bad) with any services, feel free to shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions.
Happy Digging, PP
*We’ll tackle traditional library sources, library-as-reissue, and other related topics in a future post.