The truth about royalty free music

Soundlounge Team
April 16, 2019

We know that Royalty Free Music is one of the most maligned and misunderstood areas of sync licensing. So we decided it might be easier to say what Royalty Free music is NOT. Of course you can always call us to find out more.

Music copyright law states that anyone who creates a piece of music automatically owns the copyright for that music (for their lifetime plus 70 years), entitling the author to receive royalties when the piece is used commercially. When it is broadcast on radio or TV the resulting revenues are called performance royalties.

1. It’s easy to be confused by the term Royalty Free Music because it is not actually royalty free. It means the composer (who also makes the recording) has accepted an agreed one-off payment for a piece of music. There are no additional payments, irrespective of how often the library licenses the track to use in a commercial or how much it earns in performance royalties. The library will charge a user for each new license they issue and collect any royalties created by the piece.

2. Royalty Free Music is not registered with MCPS so it does not go through their licensing process or use their rate cards. A fee will be agreed to use the ‘royalty free’ piece of music, the amount depending on the library licensing the track. It is registered with the PRS.

3. Royalty Free Music does not mean there are no royalties. Performance royalties are generated for any music used in commercials. These are paid by the broadcasters and distributed by the PRS to the rights holders (in this case the music library). The fee paid for the music license has nothing to do with the royalty streams generated – which are calculated on the number of plays, on which TV station, and at what time of day.

4. Royalty Free Music is NOT necessarily poor quality music. The quality will vary enormously from one library to the other. This has a lot to do with management policies, whether the music is hand-picked or not, whether composers are screened or not, etc.

5. Royalty Free Music libraries are not based on the traditional production library model. “Royalty Free” is effectively a blanket term used to describe a commercial model where a composer gives away their right to receive performance royalties in return for an upfront commissioning fee. Great if you need an instant money for your new kitchen and not so great if you are thinking about your pension!