Using Music in a YouTube Video

Including music in YouTube videos can be a treacherous journey for those unfamiliar with the terrain. Using the right track can carry your narrative and strike a proverbial chord in your viewer. The wrong one can make the video feel uninspired or flat.

So how do you navigate this landscape?

This is a look at how YouTube manages music, the options available to content creators, and how to avoid common pitfalls.

YouTube Content ID

Using unlicensed music in a YouTube video is one of the fastest ways to get a copyright notice or strike. An artist devotes hard work to their craft, a publisher invests money to market it, and YouTube has a system to defend it.

Meet the Content ID algorithm. This is a YouTube database that catalogs all of the audio and visual content submitted by copyright holders. Every video uploaded to the site is compared against this database to ensure there is no infringement. It’s very good at it too.

Restrictions aren’t limited to background tracks. Filming in a location where music is playing in the background will subject your video to checks as well. If you’re uploading your wedding reception to share with family, be prepared for a flurry of warnings, even if the video isn’t made public.

Of course, you can license that song through the label, however, that is costly and includes restrictions on how and where that song can be used.

The good news is there are several alternative resources you can utilize to get professional and safe to use music for your content.

Royalty-Free Music Sites

Epidemic Sound

This is a very popular resource for online content creators. Royalty-free music sites provide libraries for production use. This is a far more cost-effective model—typically in the form of a small monthly subscription—opening access to thousands of tracks creators can use without staring down the YouTube Content ID barrel. Epidemic Sound, Audioblocks, and Soundstripe are just a few of the many sites offering this service. Royalty-free sites usually already have their own copyright system in place that works in tandem with YouTube to prevent copyright claims from happening. If a claim still occurs, it’s usually an error and these sites have easy-to-use dispute processes that resolve the claim.

Public Domain and Creative Commons

Recordings that have expired copyrights enter the public domain and are free to use. Many online libraries allow access to these tracks and a simple Google search will net several results. Confirm the song is in the public domain and not a newer rendition of an older recording. A song performed and recorded in 1926 may be in the public domain, but a cover version recorded in 2015 is not and may be subject to a copyright claim.

Creative commons media is another free public access to content, however, it requires something that the public domain does not: attribution. This declares the media is free to use providing you give credit to the original creator.

There are several types of creative commons licenses and you should familiarize yourself with them before using the associated content. Some licenses grant you permission to copy, display, perform, and remix the work in your projects as long as you provide attribution to the original creator. Other licenses allow you to copy and use, but do not allow you to remix or make derivative works from the original piece. Under the “Share Alike” clause you are permitted to use the work in your projects under the condition that your work now becomes available for free use under the same terms. This is just a sample of some of the many conditions creative commons licenses allow.

Many YouTube channels offer music free to use under creative commons and they will typically include the license conditions in the video description along with the attribution text that you can copy and paste.

YouTube Audio Library

If you don’t want to license a song or pay for royalty-free music, then YouTube provides its own library of free content. You can find these tracks under your YouTube Studio dashboard and select “Audio Library” from the menu. There are thousands of tracks available across many genres and under the YouTube license they are free to use in your project.

The quality of the music varies and may not always be at the level of licensed music, but they are a free and valuable resource when you need a good music bed. Even better, they are already registered in the Content ID system and most tracks should not get flagged for any claims. Pay close attention to the “license type” in the audio library as you will see one of two icons. If you see a small YouTube logo then that indicates the track is free to use. If there is a “CC” next to that track, that indicates a creative commons license and you should be aware of those conditions before using it.

Create Original Music

There is always the option to commission your own music granting you the copyright and ownership of the work. There are several ways you can go about this, such as writing and producing your music yourself. You can license sheet music and either produce it yourself or hire others to perform it for you.

For those of us who lack proficiency in such skills or have tighter budgets, there is the option to use low-cost freelance sites, such as Fiverr, to create something original. This can be a viable option, providing you do your homework and make sure the freelancer’s quality is on par with your expectations.

Cautionary Practices

While all of the above options are viable ways to include great music in your YouTube videos, you still have to exercise diligence. There is always the possibility of a copyright claim sticking its foot in the door so being attentive can help limit the liability.

If you are hiring a freelancer, this is considered a “work for hire”. Sites like Fiverr have this clause in their terms and conditions but read the individual freelancer’s service description carefully. Make sure they have not included any language that indicates they are retaining the ownership of the work.

Read the terms and conditions of royalty-free sites as well. Many have the caveat that you can use their library under the condition that you are a current subscriber. If you cancel the membership you may no longer have access to new music and may lose the right to use currently downloaded tracks in future projects. As of the time of this writing, Audioblocks grants you the perpetual right to use any music downloaded while you were a subscriber, including using previous tracks in future projects. Epidemic Sound does not, and as soon as your subscription ends, so does the right to use the content.

Producing a video for YouTube should be a productive and rewarding experience. The right music track can elevate your project to higher performance. Be attentive and use sources responsibly so you can sidestep the quagmire of YouTube copyright claims.

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