Choosing the right background music for a YouTube video - or BGM for short - will give your production a more polished feel. Just as in film, music heightens emotion and fills the dead space between monologues and dialogues. And when used well, it gives a video a particular atmosphere that will set the mood and capture an audience's attention. It's important to learn how to choose your background music and how to add the songs to your video, but before that, you need to know where to look for it.
There are numerous sources of music for videos out there, some songs are free, some are copyrighted, some are royalty-free. Below, we discuss some strategies for finding good background music for videos, so you can make your videos sound good without going bankrupt and without worrying about getting a copyright strike. You need to take into consideration if you want free generic-sounding music for your videos or quality music which you need to pay for. Then, you have to assess your budget to see if you can splurge on a composer or look for royalty-free music, Check out music licensing sites, like Artlist, and figure out what works best for you in terms of cost and license.
Whether you're a YouTuber, a vlogger or any type of content creator, this post is for you.
One quick, although not necessarily an easy way of finding music, is looking in the Public Domain and Creative Commons as your BGM. Let's define these really quickly.
Music in the Public Domain and Creative Commons are two types of non-copyrighted music. Public Domain music is any song whose recording or publishing rights are in the public domain. Creative Commons music, on the other hand, is music that has a free use license but might come with certain restrictions, like crediting the songwriter or not using it in a medium like a film or streaming television.
A public domain song could be something like Delta blues recordings from the 1920s. It could also be something like an early 20th-century recording of an orchestra playing Beethoven and Mozart. Usually, public domain music is older because the recording and publishing rights of music like 1960s rock, disco, and hip hop haven't yet passed into the public domain.
Public domain recordings can be found online at places like libraries and universities, or on a site like archive.org, where these old recordings can be uploaded and archived for easy access and search. Other platforms for public domain recordings include the Choral Public Domain Library, Musopen, Digital History (by University of Texas, University of Houston, and University of Hawaii), NASA On SoundCloud.
However, Public Domain music is not for everyone. If, for example, you're looking for music for your Twitch stream or YouTube background music, old Blues songs might not do the trick. If you're creating a Christmas video, then using free Christmas music might not make your video stand out like you want.
If you're not finding what you want in the public domain, try looking for BGM in the Creative Commons. Again, the music license will be free, but there will also be more opportunities for finding new songs and recordings. But remember, while these songs and recordings will be free, they might come with restrictions when it comes to your YouTube background music.
One type of restriction might be clearly attributing the artist in YouTube upload. Another is that the song can't be used to make money in a commercial way, which is fair since the Creative Commons artist gave his or her music away to the world for free instead of profiting off it.
Some other good options for free music are composer Kevin Mcleod's Incompetech (great for cinematic musical cues), as well as Free Music Archive, ccMixter, and YouTube's Audio Library. But again, pay attention to restrictions. If any music found on these sites cannot be used commercially, that means you cannot use music on the website if you intend to charge a subscription fee to view your video content, or if your video channel is sponsored in any way.
Keep in mind that other videographers and vloggers will also likely be looking for free music in the public domain and Creative Commons, and this means some of the same music will pop up in other videos. This approach may work at first, but eventually, you may want to really brand your video channel; and this can become a bit difficult with only a limited number of songs on these platforms.
There are basically three primary ways of licensing background music for videos. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
The upside to subscribing to one of these royalty-free music sites is that they offer a lot of music. Again, just pay attention to the subscription's specific restrictions:
- Does it restrict the number of songs you can download?
- Does it limit the type of platform you can post your video on?
- Does it forbid you from using a song in more than one project?
One major thing to remember is that Royalty-Free music does not mean the song itself is free. It only means that whoever licenses a song is not required to pay a royalty to the recording or publishing rights holder every time they use the recorded music.
Think about subscribing to a royalty-free platform like Artlist that has a range of songs and sound effects and a license that gives you 3 major advantages:
- Unlimited downloads
- You can use a song in any type of video and as many videos as you want
- Any song you download is yours to use forever, even if your license expires.
Licensing a Song
Traditionally, the first and really only option for obtaining background music was to license an individual song. This is what is called a synchronization fee (sync fee), and it's what advertisers, as well as film and TV studios, often use for their background music needs. The upside is that with a sync license, you can use the song wherever and whenever without any restrictions.
Licensing single songs, especially if they are well-known, can be pricey. But, if you've got the money, then it's more likely that the song will be unique to your video production.
However, pay attention to the fine print details in the licensing agreement. Given that internet video platforms have international reach, you absolutely do not want to be limited to how many times you can use it, or restricted to certain geographies.
Hire a Composer
There are plenty of independent musicians and composers out there eager to get their music in videos. The good thing about hiring a composer is that you will get someone who has an ear for music scoring and often of different genres and styles. And, of course, it will be a great opportunity to enter into a creative collaboration.
How to find a musician or composer? First, you could start by looking at your favorite videographer's credits, reach out to their composer, and ask if they would consider scoring a song for your own videos.
This could get expensive, so make sure you have the budget for it.
Some Other Thoughts
Finding the right background music for your video should be fun, so don't panic. Remember, you have several options available. Consider the factors of cost and quality. If cost is not an issue, you could hire a composer. Can your video do with free music that sounds generic or do you want quality royalty-free sounds so your video stands out? If you do want quality but don't want to overspend, check out Artlist's pricing plans and license. With unlimited downloads and a universal license that covers any project and lasts forever, it may be the best background music source for you. stay creative!
DJ Pangburn is a New York-based journalist, videographer, and fiction writer, with bylines at Vice, Fast Company, Dazed and Confused, and other publications. DJ records ambient techno and IDM under the name Holoscene.