If you’ve been making YouTube content for any amount of time, you’ve probably come across the term “royalty free” when looking for music. If you’re wondering “what does royalty free mean?”, don’t worry! We’re here to help you understand the term and why it’s kinda a big deal.

First things first – what’s a royalty?

You’ve probably already gotten your head around what copyright means in music and you probably know that when you use music in your videos, you’re only allowed to use music with permission. You probably also know that it can cost money to get that permission. What’s not as commonly known is that paying for permission to use a song on a video comes in two forms.

Number one is an upfront fee. You pay the owner of the song (or their representative) directly for permission to use the song in your video. That’s simple enough, but something else happens after the video is released. By law, money is owed to music Creators for broadcasts (or plays) of their tune as a part of videos, shows, or anything else they might be used in. This money is called “royalties”, and the rules around what royalties are owed when, and by who, can be tough to navigate.

music royalties

What is royalty-free music?

For a YouTube Creator, keeping track of royalties can be nearly impossible, not to mention expensive, so sometimes music is offered on a “royalty free” basis. This means the music creator has waived their rights to these “backend” royalties, because they understand your plight and want to help!

That’s what “royalty free” means, in a simplified nutshell.

The most important part to understand? “Royalty free” does not necessarily mean “free”. You may still need to pay something up front but after this initial fee, you may be free to use the song as you please without having to pay more fees.

What does royalty-free mean for music?

The best way to highlight what it actually means for music, is to show you what it means in a real-world example.

Say you want to add one of the most popular songs for YouTube videos; SAD! – XXXTENTACION as the backing track to your upcoming video. If you purchase a royalty-free license for this track, you’ll pay the price you’re quoted a single time. It won’t matter whether you have 10 subscribers or 10,000,000, or how many platforms you want to use it on. Once you’ve paid that initial royalty fee, you won’t have to pay anything further.

What royalty-free music does not mean for music

While I’m sure this has you bursting full of ideas and ready to start creating, there are a few things you need to know about music royalties & copyright and what royalty free doesn’t mean when it comes to music.

Royalty free music isn’t free

Sure, in some instances people will offer you their music to use for free and that’ll still be royalty free but generally, royalty free music is not actually ‘free’. You’ll still have to pay for the right for that music to be free from royalties, usually with a one-time initial fee. Then, after you’ve done this the music will be royalty free as you’ll not have to pay any further costs.

Royalty free music isn’t stock music

Stock music simply refers to music that has already been created and is ready to use off the shelf, rather than music that’s been custom-made for your use. While many stock music libraries off their music royalty free, either after an initial fee, as part of a subscription, or on some occasions, completely free, many will offer it on a model where you have to pay per usage or one that changes depending on your region.

Royalty free is not copyright free

There’s a distinct difference between these two terms. Music becomes copyright free after the passage of time. This varies from country to country. In the United States, for instance, it’s 70 years after the last surviving writer passes away. This makes it very limiting. The other instance is when a writer completely passes up their rights to a piece of work, which again is very rare. There are a few ways to tell if a song is copyrighted.

Both of these instances are different to royalty free though. Royalty free music is still copyrighted, you just aren’t having to pay royalty fees on it.

Royalty free isn’t necessarily cheap

The last thing to really hit home is that just because something is royalty free, it doesn’t mean it’s going to come cheap. Royalty free is simply a way of licensing music, and how the rights owners of that music choose to price the usage is down to them. This means you could pay just a handful of dollars or thousands, and there’s no real rule of thumb.

Claims free – even more important to YouTube Creators

You can probably see now why it’s important to understand what royalty free means, at least on a basic level. But there’s something even more important for YouTube Creators to understand, and that’s what we at Lickd refer to as “claims free”.

Claims free means that you won’t get stuck with a YouTube Content ID flag when you publish your video. That’s super important, because you can’t monetize your video if it gets flagged by Content ID for using copyrighted material.

content ID

A song can become “claims free” in a number of ways, but the basic gist is, if it’s not copyrighted at all (say if it’s in the public domain) or if the song owner takes a song out of the Content ID system, it won’t trigger a Content ID tag.

But very few songs are in that category. You’ll find some claims free music in the YouTube audio library, and that’s an ok option, but not always the best. So, what to do?

Lickd songs are “claims free” because affordable licensing fees have already been negotiated directly with the music industry. When Creators upload a song they’ve downloaded from Lickd, the platform’s proprietary software – VOUCH – steps into protect you from copyright claims triggered by Content ID.  Lickd is here to help you find music for your YouTube videos without worrying about claims.

An important distinction – royalty free vs. claims free

As you can see, there’s a difference between a song being “royalty free”, meaning you won’t owe money for ongoing use, and a song being “claims free”, meaning you won’t have to worry about getting dinged with a Content ID copyright claim.

Ideally, you want both. The best way to do that is to use a music licensing platform like Lickd which will offer you an affordable upfront fee with no backend royalties and no copyright claims to worry about later.

Lickd platform

Sometimes, companies handle the royalty free part, but not the claims free part, and that can be a huge hassle. Another thing to watch out for – sometimes a “royalty free” library is a dumping ground for cheesy, generic music. So much so that the term “royalty free” can be synonymous with “bad” – the best artists avoid “royalty free” libraries.

Lickd is different. We make sure our music Creators are fairly compensated while still keeping fees affordable for you. We’ve gathered over 85,000 tracks from real artists, with real careers, real fanbases, and real music, all pre-negotiated and ready for you to use in your next video. Royalty and claims free.

Check out our collection, and never worry about a Content ID claim again.