Putting the "royalty" in "Royalty-Free"

For us content creators out there, we’ve been in the situation where there are certain aspects of the creation process that we cannot completely control. We want our vision to come as close as how we see it in our heads, but sometimes the resources or funding aren’t always there.

Yes, this is a stock image. Yes, people actually do use these stock
materials for projects (I think).

This is where ‘stock’ websites come into play. There are resources available for creatives seeking to incorporate something like an image into their project. These websites provide a catalog of media that a user can download. It could be a stock photo, music, sound bit, video, graphic art…the list goes on.

It is always important to note that there are rules and regulations to using stock content. Before, we get into the subject of “royalty-free”, let’s discuss the “pay” method of acquiring stock content.

When I started my first podcast, Theater N’At, a couple years ago, I needed some music that could break up the introduction (what was called a “cold open”) and the rest of the content of each episode of the podcast. I was lucky enough that I had previously purchased some music that was used in a short film prior to the podcast.

Since I had purchased the license to the music, I was free to use that music as our opener and closer for the podcast, without the need to provide any information on where I had acquired the music.

If my memory serves me correctly, this music was downloaded with the purchase of a Standard License, which covers all the basics of use. I believe the price of use was around $50, but once again, you’re getting unlimited use out of this music track.

Most stock websites are very explicit about what they want done with their resources and how they want credit to go towards said resource. Is your project for commercial or personal use? That’s also factored in.

Now we come to the term you might find on some stock websites: “royalty-free”. Instead of paying for a license, sometimes the creator simply requires you to credit their work somewhere in your project. If the stock content is a video clip that is included in your own video project, you may be expected to include information about that clip in the credits at the end of your video project.

It all depends on what the stock provider expects from their user. If you’re searching for something specific to add to content that you are creating and editing, don’t always go with the first result that pops up in the Google results. Sometimes it’s better to take the time and do your research.

Which brings me to my next big project. My next podcast, Decipher the Media, was also in need of some music to serve as an introduction. Instead of using that previous track that I’ve purchased and continually recycle, I decided to find some new music that would fit well with the podcast.

First, I went to the Google machine. The top results were all “sponsored”, but I decided to leaf through them to see what they offered. Like the music I already had, most of them required a Standard License purchase for about $50. I wanted to work around having the pay that price for my startup podcast, but I also didn’t want to give required credit in my work for something “royalty-free”. So, I dug a little deeper.

I found a website called freestockmusic.com. As generically questionable as it may sound, it actually provides some decent tracks with very few restrictions for usage.

Basically, here’s how this website operates, based on the FAQ:

“You sign up for the site and we give you free music. If you still aren’t buying it, you can read the testimonials of our users who will happily agree there is no catch at all.”

“We are sponsored by a stock footage company called Footage Firm. Because of this sponsorship, we don’t worry about making money — we only worry about delivering the best resource possible for free production music. In exchange, Footage Firm gets some good PR and marketing.”

“Our music comes with a royalty-free, worldwide license agreement that never expires…You are permitted by our license agreement to use our music commercially as long as you add substantial value to the songs.”

“The term “substantial value” means you modify or add to the music in a way that makes it uniquely yours. Simply by adding it to a video or singing lyrics on the song, you add substantial value to it.”

Digging even deeper, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a catch. I also needed an elaboration on the music usage, since there was no current mention of usage in audio media, such as podcasts.

Here’s what I found in the more detailed user agreement:

“For any Stock Files you obtain from us, you may incorporate them into any project, commercial or otherwise, including feature films, broadcast, educational, print, multimedia, games, merchandise, and the internet. Once you incorporate a Stock File into your project, you can share your finished project freely, but you may not share the underlying individual Stock File as a standalone file with anyone else. (That said, you can share individual Stock Files with your client or someone else for the limited purpose of getting their help with your specific project, assuming you are adding substantial value to the project apart from inserting the Stock Files. Otherwise, they need their own license.) You also agree to use your best efforts to avoid letting the Stock File be accessible to others as a standalone file, but since that’s not always possible, your inability to prevent copying will not be considered a breach of this License.” 
To my understanding, as long as I’m not just sharing the unaltered music file, I am free to use it in any sort of media project. This includes commercial use. That’s a pretty good deal.
As implied, it’s important to read these agreements because every royalty-free website is going to have different rules and regulations for using their content. You don’t want to get caught in any sort of legal situation just because you didn’t read the fine print. So, always do your research.

The particular track I used is now the current opening and closing tune for my podcast. I’m sure that I’ll try to switch it up in the future, since these tracks can still be particularly generic and may not be the closest thing thematically.

This is a particularly interesting topic that I’m sure I’ll touch on in the future, hopefully in a different format, such as stock video or images.

Until next time.


This is actually part of a whole series of stock photos. Seriously. Look it up.


Author: Steven E. Croner

Hey, everyone. How are you? I’m doing pretty well. My name is Steven. I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for a few years now. What sort of projects have I been working on, you ask? Well, I’ve assisted with several indie film productions in that time, mostly directly behind the camera or working with camera operations. It has been pretty fun. I’ve also been working on several other projects individually. This website is a collection of those projects that I do on in my spare time. Please click on the links above to learn about some of the work that I do in digital media and writing. I hope you enjoy my collection, which is a combination of old, archived work and new content I am compelled to share with you. Please feel free to interact, engage, and help me make some friends and colleagues in the creative media communities!

2 thoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s