Royalty Free Music

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term ¨royalty free¨ music as it applies to the music licensing industry. Some believe that this means there is no cost at all associated with the music in question, which is not the case. Others believe that the music being licensed under this arrangement is "copyright free", which is also not true. Different libraries will offer different types of deals and the agreements will vary to a certain degree, however, as a general rule of thumb, ¨royalty free¨ music simply means that the end user has purchased a "lifetime synchronization license" for a given song or group of songs. In other words, they have the right to synchronize your music with your audio and/or video productions an unlimited number of times without incurring any additional expense.

There are other types of production music licenses, these include "Needle Drop" licensing where the user pays a fee each time they synchronize a piece of music, and "Blanket Licensing" where the user essentially leases a group of music or CDs, and is able to use the music for a specified set of uses during the duration of the lease (typically a one, two, or three year commitment). Each of these licenses are actually more like renting the music than buying. While the end users don´t actually own the music with a buyout (royalty free) library, they do own a lifetime license to synchronize your music with their productions.

The other big misconception about royalty free music is that the creators of the music don´t receive performance royalties. Television broadcasters pay annual royalties to the Performing Rights Societies for the right to broadcast music on their shows. When music is broadcast on television or cable TV, it is tracked by something called a Cue Sheet. This is precisely where the term Royalty Free does NOT apply and can be easily misconstrued. Cue sheets determine where the royalties previously paid by the broadcaster get distributed. There are no costs associated with cue sheets and most Royalty Free music libraries require that cue sheets be properly filled out when the music is for broadcast use. A cue sheet is a paper trail that ensures writers get paid what is due to them out of the money that has been previously paid by the television stations and broadcasting entities.

In conclusion, a ¨Royalty Free¨ license means that the end user does not continually pay a "synchronization royalty" each time they use a given piece of music and instead only pay a one time fee upfront. It does NOT mean that the writer will not receive the performance royalty, or broadcast royalty, due him or her when his music is aired. This royalty has already been paid in advance by the broadcaster and should be distributed appropriately through the filling out  and submission of cue sheets.

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