Our ultimate guide to podcast music answers all the frequently asked questions about scoring your content with a tune or two. We also list our favourite podcast music libraries so you can pick something safe and legal to use on your show. You can jump straight to those recs now if you like.
We have some exclusive deals and coupon codes for you there, too!
Or, read on for our musical masterclass… (don’t worry, nobody is going to sing at you)
Our ‘Best Podcast Music’ guide was originally written in 2016. We update this post periodically to reflect changes in technology, our recommendations, and because we’re always learning new things!
This post contains affiliate links to services we think you’ll find useful. We may earn a small commission should you choose to sign up to them, though never at any extra cost to yourself.
There’s no rule saying that you must have music in your podcast. Plenty of good podcasts have no music at all. But having your own theme tune adds a layer of identity and professionalism to any show.
So how do you go about finding podcast music that’s suitable (and legal) for you to use? That’s what this article is all about: what kind of music you’re allowed to use, and where we recommend you find it.
Types of Podcast Music
First up, let’s look at the ways music is typically used in podcasting and audio content.
Podcast Intro Music
Your podcast intro music is also known as your theme tune. It’s the music that opens the show, and it’ll usually play towards the end of your episodes, too (where it would, unsurprisingly, be known as your podcast outro music).
Podcast intro music lets folks identify your show within a second or two of it starting. The likelihood is that your latest episode is in a playlist with a few other shows, so if the listener isn’t looking at their phone, they’ll still know that it’s you almost immediately.
With podcast intro music, you want to keep it short and sweet. Anything longer than about eight seconds without any talking can begin to grate on listeners. They’ll just hit the skip button or use an app like Overcast to auto-start a minute or two into every episode. Remember, this isn’t like TV, where at least some visuals occupy people during theme music.
Likewise, don’t force people to sit through a long theme tune at the end. Five to eight seconds is more than enough. You can still use a lot more of your music by fading it underneath your voice, both at the beginning and end of the episode. You just don’t want to force people to listen to a song and nothing else. If they wanted to do that, they’d just put on their favourite album.
Background music can also be known as a “music bed”, which plays underneath a vocal segment to add some ambience and mood. This type of music can also be used to fade up and transition between different content segments.
Going down this route means it’s going to take you a lot longer to edit and produce your podcast. Podcast listeners also don’t tend to expect this type of music, either. If done well, it can be a nice bonus for them. But will it impact your ability to release new episodes on a consistent and sustainable basis?
There’s also a very real risk of getting background music wrong. A tiny bit too loud, and it can drown out the vocals. Go that wee bit too long, and it can start to annoy listeners. For most podcasters, the potential cons outweigh the pros here.
What Kind of Music Can I Legally Use in My Podcast? Podsafe!
So, now that you have an idea about how you’ll use music in your podcast, let’s talk about what music you can legally use. This type of music is often referred to as “Podsafe”.
It’s your duty to make sure you have permission to use whatever music you play on your podcast. Generally, there are three ‘Podsafe’ options available to you.
1. Royalty-Free Music for Podcasters
With Royalty-Free music, you buy the license for a piece of podcast music (as opposed to paying ongoing royalties, hence the name!). This entitles you to use the music as and when you wish, for the duration of the license.
Most one-off music purchases give you a lifetime license, and a lot of the newer ‘subscription’ services give you a license, as long as you have an active subscription. That doesn’t mean you need to go back and remove music from old episodes when you’re no longer paying a subscription – it just means that you shouldn’t be adding tracks to new episodes after that point.
Terms and conditions will vary, however. Be sure to familiarise yourself with this information when you choose a particular platform.
2. Creative Commons Music for Podcasters
There are various types of Creative Commons licenses. Most entitle you to use a piece of music for free and without permission, so long as you credit the composer.
Some Creative Commons licenses permit commercial use, whilst others don’t. It’s usually pretty clear which is which, though. Again, read any license carefully to make sure you’re covered.
3. Public Domain Music for Podcasters
Music goes out of copyright and into the public domain after a certain amount of years. Usually, this follows the death of the artist/copyright holder. That law and time period differs from country to country, but 70 years after death is a good ballpark figure.
That said, there’s a further grey area here. There’s a big difference between the song itself (which may be in the public domain) and the recording or performance of it. If a musician today performed and recorded an ancient public domain song, they’d be the copyright holder of that rendition, and you wouldn’t be allowed to use it without their permission. Err on the side of caution when thinking of using music you believe to be in the public domain.
Podcast Music Case Studies
As I said at the beginning, there are no “rules” when it comes to podcast music. It’s all about what works best for the type of show you’re doing. Let’s take a look at three of ours, which each take a very different approach.
Pocket-Sized Podcasting: No Music
Pocket-Sized Podcasting is a “one quick tip each day” style show aimed at teaching you how to podcast. Episodes are, on average, only a minute long. We felt that having any music on these short episodes would be overkill, so chose not to include any at all.
PodCraft: Intro & Outro Music
PodCraft is a much more long-form ‘how to podcast’ series where we go in-depth on a particular topic. Episodes can be 45mins to an hour long. PodCraft has a short intro and outro track that long-time listeners will know the minute they hear it.
Hostile Worlds: Music Throughout
Hostile Worlds is a fully soundscaped audio drama and documentary-style hybrid. There are few moments in the show that don’t include music. Beds tend to run underneath each conversation or monologue, whilst music is also used for transitions between each scene.
Can I Use Copyrighted Music on My Podcast?
In short, no. You’ll find a lot of info out there about how you can use copyrighted music for “up to 7 seconds” or debates around what constitutes “fair use” of music. “Fair use” is a defence you can try to use if you get in trouble for alleged copyright violation. But why even take the risk of needing a defence when there are plenty of legal options available?
Here’s a deeper dive into using copyrighted music in a podcast.
In summary: ask yourself, “Will my listeners unsubscribe because they don’t get to hear 10 seconds of Bohemian Rhapsody at the start?”
If the answer is “yes”, then it’s definitely time to go back to the content planning stages!
More Legal Stuff
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 about copyright and fair use.
How Can I Buy Commercial Podcast Music?
Though you can easily find and use free podcast music (more on that soon!), it can be worth paying a little extra to license Podsafe commercial material.
This helps your podcast to sound unique, as your listeners are unlikely to hear your theme tune cropping up again and again elsewhere.
There are three main options here:
1. Looking For One Track for a Podcast 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 forevermore. This is great for regular theme tunes that you want to use for months or even years.
Beware of licenses like this that 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. Some require renewal every year. Fortunately, such restrictive licenses are pretty rare nowadays. But you should always read the small print before diving in and paying for a song.
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 that episode is released. 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. There are exceptions, though, as you’ll find out below.
3. Looking for a Custom Made Podcast Intro Music or Song?
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 of great quality. But, of course, it could also be expensive!
Best Podcast Music Libraries
Alright, time for some resources. Need a tune for true crime? A ditty for drama? Or a cappella for comedy? You’ll find every type of podcast music imaginable on these great podcast music platforms.
AudioHero is an online library of more than 300,000 royalty-free music tracks and sound effects available to you for download. We have teamed up with them to bring you some exclusive discounts, too.
- Get 50% off their annual plan each year using the coupon code TPH50
- Get 30% off their monthly plan each month using the coupon code TPH30
Limited offer: We’ve teamed up with Epidemic Sound to bring you an exclusive offer on their service. Sign up to Epidemic Sound’s annual personal plan using coupon code PODCAST50 to get a massive 50% off!
Epidemic boasts a library of over 30,000 tracks, and they add new ones every week. They also have a 60,000-strong sound effect library. This is ideal if you like to do a bit of soundscaping in your show.
Their subscription tier prices are £10 a month for the Personal Plan and £39 for the Commercial Plan.
Try the subscription plans for free for 30 days when signing up below! Try it, keep it if you like it, otherwise unsubscribe before the trial ends and you won’t get charged.
Shutterstock takes a strict approach to quality control in their library, and they say that most who submit music don’t get accepted. This highly exclusive approach to curation makes their library of tracks stand out.
Shutterstock’s new unlimited subscription includes both Music and SFX. 30,000 tracks and 8,000 Metaverse-ready immersive SFX – starting at $16.60/mo USD.
100% of Shutterstock’s tracks are copyright clear and can be used forever once licensed, and finding the right music for your projects is easy. Their library is optimised for painless search, thanks to precise filters that let you browse by genre, mood, popularity, freshness, and more. The in-house music team adds dozens of tracks weekly, so you’ve always got new music at your fingertips.
With a robust selection of pricing plans, bundles, and licenses, good deals exist for every budget and need. In addition to traditional pay-per-song licensing, customers can sign up for a subscription that offers unlimited downloads.
Shutterstock currently has a free trial offer that grants users up to two Shutterstock Music tracks at no cost.
PremiumBeat by Shutterstock
PremiumBeat’s royalty-free music tracks are 100% exclusive and copyright clear. PremiumBeat collections span multiple styles giving you the feel of big production houses. They have a tonne of sound effects available in their library, too, if you’re working on something a bit more highly-produced!
Get 10% off PremiumBeat sitewide using coupon code PODCASTPB
Envato Elements is the subscription service from long-time royalty-free asset marketplace, Envato. They’re behind some of the biggest creative marketplaces on the web, of which Audiojungle is the audio showpiece.
Envato’s elements subscription gives you access to their full royalty-free music library, boasting nearly 100,000 tunes. Add to that 575,000 sound effects and there’s no doubt you’ll find everything you need. To help with that, Elements offers all the standard categories and search filters, allowing you to narrow down your search super-fast. And one thing that stands out is their vocal sample library, which might interest podcasters who are looking to produce more sophisticated theme tunes to really suit their brand.
Envato costs more than other libraries if you buy it monthly ($33 on a monthly basis). But, buying an annual subscription drops the price right down to around the same as the competition (equivalent to $16 per month).
Envato’s huge advantage, justifying that cost for many, are the other resources you get alongside the music. Photos, stock video, YouTube templates, graphics templates, you name a creative asset, Envato’s got it. So, if you do other things around your podcast – like video or image-heavy social – then this could really work for you.
Podcast Music & Sound Effects With Videvo
Royalty-Free platform Videvo has free stock music and SFX, which are ideal for starting a podcast with little or no money. They have thousands of tracks which you can browse through by genre or mood.
Music With Voice-Over: Music Radio Creative
Music Radio Creative goes 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 collaborate with some of the best voice-over talents 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 you can actually get something great for between £200 and £300. Using MRC won’t break the bank.
Complete Custom: Freelance Composers
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 podcast music if you’d like something unique put together. I’ve often worked with Kevin Hartnell, who scored my sci-fi audio drama Kraken Mare a few years ago and did a fantastic job with it.
Where Can I Find Free Podcast Music?
It is possible to get podcast music for free. But, being free, that music is going to be used on a lot of other podcasts.
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.
But if you’re on a budget or purely podcasting from a hobbyist or creative outlet perspective, then, by all means, go down the free route though. You can always upgrade later on if you feel the need.
Full Free Podcast Music Packs: The Podcast Host
First, check out our own collection of free podcast music packs. This is a small collection of packs that are normally only available to Alitu subscribers. But, recently, we released a selection of them for use by anyone as long as you include a small credit on your website and in your show.
Each pack includes intro music, outro music and transition ‘stings’, as well as a loop or two, all on the same theme. So you can use them throughout your show and create a really polished, consistent brand.
Single Free Podcast Music Tracks: Incompetech
Incompetech is an extensive library of free-to-use music created by composer Kevin MacLeod. A lot of his work is scored for film and documentary. These can really work well on fictional pieces if you’re an audio drama or docu-pod creator.
There’s a whole load of tracks on there that would certainly fit as the theme tune to a spoken word podcast, though. You can use their music for free so long as you credit the site on your episodes and show notes. If you don’t want to list credits, you can buy a standard license for any particular track.
One More Podcast Music Option – Ask an Artist Friend
If you have a musical friend, approach them to see if it would be alright to use one of their songs as your podcast intro music. In exchange, you could always make sure to credit them at the beginning of each episode and direct your listeners to their website. This can be a beneficial relationship for both parties.
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 set up and run their own podcast to carrying and setting up equipment at their next gig.
Final Thought on Music: “Does This Enhance My Listener’s Experience?”
As we’ve learned in this guide, there are loads of ways you can use podcast music and no shortage of places to get it. Just like anything else in podcasting, there are no hard “rules” about any of this. If you’re ever in doubt, always come back to your audience. Here are some handy resources on that front to bookmark for future reading:
And, Once You’ve Picked Your Podcast Music…
You can streamline the recording, editing, production, and publishing of your show by using our ‘Podcast Maker’ tool Alitu.
Alitu is designed to help folks who have never recorded or mixed audio before to create great-sounding content in a quick and simple way.
You can record directly into Alitu (either solo, or with a remote guest), chop out any mistakes, add in your fancy new podcast music (Alitu has its own free podcast music library, too!), and it’ll help you create a nice fade-out effect, automated for all future episodes.
Alitu has hosting and transcriptions included as well, so it’ll really streamline your workflow and save you time, not to mention subscription costs for multiple different platforms. Give it a shot, free for seven days, and see for yourself!