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AIR x Epidemic Sound: Partnership + Royalty-Free vs. Direct License

Editor’s note: Don’t forget! AIR and Epidemic Sound have partnered up to bring members of the network a one-year membership at $250, down 60% from the original price of $600 per year. This subscription will grant storymakers unlimited access to over 25,000 tracks of music and sound effects licensed from musicians and sound designers. Founded in 2009, Epidemic Sound does all the negotiating so that you can select what works for you from their library. When March ends, the promotion will continue with a smaller discount at $400 for a one-year subscription, so grab this bargain while you can!

This week, we’re celebrating the collaboration by sharing an article originally published on October 11, 2017 on the Epidemic Sound blog. It answers the age-old question: What’s the difference between royalty-free and direct license music? The music landscape can be tricky. Read on for Epidemic Sound’s insights, then access the AIRsters-only promotion here!


By Alva McNeela

Unfortunately, the title throws people off and royalty-free music actually relates to the license attached to the piece of content and not the content itself. It sounds like a really broad and open term, but the exact usage and application of “royalty-free” differs across the music industry from one music library to the next.

This is why there’s a huge confusion over what is direct license music and what is royalty-free music.

Royalty-free music licensing as a concept originally blossomed because of TV and radio. Producers wanted to quickly and easily be able to add tracks to their productions without going through collecting societies and negotiating licensing deals – especially when background tracks might not be the most important element of the show they produce.

Producers didn’t really have to worry about payment and licensing anyway, as their broadcasting company is the one liable for public performance fees and most broadcasters possess blanket licenses with Performance Royalty Organizations (PROs).

Running through every style, sound and genre of the industry, royalty-free music is widely available. It’s music that is created by independent artists and composers who by making original music instantly own all their own copyrights. Those copyrights are generally split into several rights categories:

Synchronization: the right to include in another medium or alongside something else

Mechanical: the right to make duplications of new content featuring copyrighted content

Performance: the right to publicly perform

Many stock music sites sell licenses for music enabling its use immediately in other productions or content, like a YouTube video, for a flat fee without any further royalties having to be paid.

However, the first issue is that royalties from this very rarely go to the small independent singer-songwriter or amateur composer. The second issue is that by using this method (remember, it’s the license, not the music) it grants synchronization and mechanical rights but quite often does not cover public performance rights.

In fact, in recent years most of the bigger stock music sites have adjusted their mechanical rights licenses, limiting the amount of reproductions or duplications produced featuring content that they offer.

With the advent of the internet and technology moving at such a fast rate, there’s never been more choice with royalty-free music sites offering tracks for wider use.

But by having thousands of competing vendors, it can diminish the quality across the board as competing companies try to get the upper hand by offering value and quantity at the expense of quality.

Some artists and composers are uploading original work to these vendors without being aware of the implications or the quality provided – it’s commonly-given advice to always use a reputable provider for production music.

If you’re keen on protecting yourself, you could read the fine print of each and every stock music site who offers royalty-free music but you will realize that vendors vary wildly across the board and there’s no real strong structure.

Remember this: No matter what music is used in a production or piece of content, there is always a license fee paid (directly or indirectly) for its use, reproduction and performance.

Feeling confused yet? It’s no wonder that from composers to content creators it’s a constant headache and a grey area in the industry, but there is a solution and here’s where direct license comes into play.

Direct License provides one large blanket-cover of licensed music to creators for an up-front fee so that they can rest assured they are covered to use an entire and extensive library of high-quality music in their productions.

For composers, there’s payment up-front and piece of mind. For creators, there’s ample choice and value. For everyone involved, there’s less risk and more standardization.