There’s no rule to say that you must have music in your podcast. Plenty of good shows do without using podcast music at all. But, there’s no doubt that having your own theme tune can add a layer of identity and professionalism to any show.
How do you go about finding music that’s suitable (and legal) for you to use, though? That’s what this article is all about: what kind of music you’re allowed to use, and where we recommend you find it.
What Kind of Music Am I Allowed to Use?
It’s your duty to always make sure you have permission to use whatever music you play on your podcast. Generally there are 3 options available to you.
Royalty Free Music
You buy the license for a piece of podcast music that entitles you to use it as and when you wish, for the duration of the license.
Most one-off music purchases give you a lifetime license, while a lot of the newer ‘subscription’ services give you a license as long as you have an active subscription.
Creative Commons Music
There are various types of Creative Commons licenses, but most entitle you to use a piece of music for free and without permission, so long as you credit the artist.
Some Creative Commons licenses permit commercial use, whilst others don’t. It’s usually pretty clear which are which, though, so just read the license carefully.
Music goes out of copyright and into the public domain after a certain amount of years. The time period differs from country to country.
There’s a further grey area here; there’s a difference between the song itself (which may be in the public domain) and the recording/performance of it. If a musician today performed and recorded an ancient public domain song, he or she would be the copyright holder of that rendition, and you wouldn’t be allowed to use it.
If you want to dive a bit deeper into how the law works with podcast music, check out this interview with Gordon Firemark on Podcraft. He’s a media lawyer and went into some great detail around copyright and fair use.
Where Can I Find Free Podcast Music?
It is possible to get podcast music for free, but beware. Because there are only a few options, here, and the libraries aren’t big, then the music is really, really common. If you listen to more than a few dozen shows you’ll start to hear the same music pop up, again and again. This doesn’t help your audio branding or make you sound very pro.
Free music also tends to be a fair bit worse in terms of quality and polish. So, if you’re on a budget, then by all means start out this way, but aim to upgrade to a paid tune over time.
Incompetech is an extensive library of free-to-use music created by New York-based composer Kevin MacLeod. A lot of his work is actually scored for film and video work, so can really work well on fictional pieces if you’re an audio drama or documentary creator.
There’s still a whole load of tracks on there that would certainly fit as the theme tune to a spoken word podcast though. You can use the music on Incompetech for free and without permission (so long as you credit the site), or if you didn’t want to list credits you can buy a standard license for any particular track.
This is really important – if you intend to make any money from your show, you need to make sure you’re using the right license. There are tracks on DigCCMixtr which are non-commercial only. That means if you take any sponsorship, product sales, affiliate recommendations or even a few little donations you’re breaking the license.
You’ll find the commercial safe music here, but make sure to double check the license when you download.
How Can I Buy Commercial Podcast Music?
To me, it’s worthwhile paying a wee bit extra to license some commercial music. It means you can find much higher quality tracks, that sound far more polished. They’ll also be infinitely more unique, because there’s far more choice, and fewer people are willing to pay.
There are three main options here:
1. Looking for 1 track for a theme tune?
In this case, you’ll want a lifetime license in exchange for a one-off purchase. That means you can buy a track for one single payment and use it forever more. This is great for regular theme tunes that you want to use for months or even years.
Beware of licenses like this that actually have a cap on the number of downloads you’re allowed or the length of time it covers. Some have a limit of, say 10k downloads, or require renewal every year.
2. Looking for a big range of tracks, loops or effects for regular use?
In this case, a subscription license might be better. That means you pay a monthly subscription for access to many (often thousands) of tracks.
Sometimes the license allows you to use as many tracks, loops or FX as you want on any episode, as long as your subscription is active when the episode is released. That means you don’t have to be subscribed forever to keep your old episodes active. But, you have to be subscribed when you release new episodes using their music. But, the service we use and recommend below actually lets you download tracks and use them forever, even if your subscription expires!
3. Custom made podcast music tracks
This is pretty self explanatory – you can get totally unique theme tunes or idents, made just for you, by a professional producer or musician. This is totally unique to you and will tend to be great quality. But, of course, it’s expensive!
What are the Best Paid Podcast Music Stores?
Here’s where we get our music. Just to let you know, we have a partner deal with each, so we get a small commission if you use them. But, don’t worry, we signed up for that because we love them all, and really use them in our own work. They’re great!
Lifetime License: Jamendo
Jamendo is a hugely comprehensive collection of Royalty Free podcast music. This is where we buy all of our one-off purchase music tracks – those that we plan to use long-term, either as theme tunes or regular music beds. The quality is brilliant, the variety is huge and a ‘standard license’ covers commercial use and costs around £35/$50 per track.
The website states that they currently list 200,000 tracks by over 40,000 independent artists, so you’re guaranteed to find something you like here.
Jamendo also offers a music composition service, so you can place a request to have your theme tune custom composed by a musician of your choice.
If you use our link above, you’ll get 5% off your first track purchase.
Monthly Subscription: Audioblocks
Audioblocks have a huge catalog of excellent music tracks, loops and sound effects – over 100,000 by their last count. You’ll find something in there to suit the mood and tone of any podcast series or episode. For the monthly fee (around $15) you can download as many tracks as you like and use them forever.
This is great for people who want access to a variety of music on a regular basis. For example, if you want to use one or two different music beds each episode, just to add polish to an interview, to highlight the key points. Or, if you want to use sound effects to draw attention to things or really visualise things for the learner.
Use our link above for a 7-day free trial so you can test them out before jumping in.
Custom Podcast Music: Music Radio Creative
Music Radio Creative go beyond simply helping you choose music for your podcast. They will also work with you to design tailor made intros, outros, transitions, stingers, and jingles. They work with some of the best voice over talent in the world to craft your message into these segments.
Their client list boasts some of the top podcasters around, like Pat Flynn, Cliff Ravenscraft, and John-Lee Dumas. They are very much the premium option, which automatically makes you think they’d be really expensive, but actually you can get something great for between £100 and £200
There are a surprising amount of musicians out there who upload their material for free use on a Creative Commons basis. A big benefit of going down this route is that you’re a lot less likely to bump into another podcast using the same theme tune as you.
Some musicians will also be open to working with you to custom score some podcast music if you’d like something unique put together. I’ve often worked with Kevin Hartnell who’s a first class musician and a really nice guy. He scored my sci-fi audio drama Kraken Mare a few months ago and did a fantastic job with it.
Ask a Friend
If you have a musical friend, you could approach them to see if it would be alright to use one of their songs in your podcast. In exchange you could always make sure to credit them at the beginning of each episode and direct your listeners to their website, so this can be a beneficial relationship for both parties.
Just be sure to never word it using the phrase “for the exposure”, as that’s a sure fire way to get yourself a slap from most creative people. You can of course offer to pay them for their music, or buy them dinner, or repay them with a ‘skills exchange’. That could be anything from helping them carry and set up equipment at a gig, to mowing their lawn.
Wondering How to Use Music Well?
We have a couple of articles around this that you could check out:
We also do a lot of highly produced podcasting ourselves, from Hostile Worlds to UK Business Startup, and do a lot of that for clients too.
We’re always happy to coach you through the same process if you’re a member of the Podcast Host Academy.
Join us there and we’ll help you use music to make your show really stand out.
Any Other Suggestions?
If you’ve sourced podcast music from somewhere I’ve not mentioned, let me know in the comments section. I’ll be updating this post periodically so all recommendations are welcome.