6 reasons why free stock music sites suck
Ok, before I start, a little disclaimer that this is an opinion piece and, as I run this site to make some shillings to feed my wife and daughter, I obviously have a biased perspective! To my customers out there, know that I love you and appreciate your business no end, this is more an article about the dangers of using music willy nilly that you find out on the Interwebs. To everyone else, I hope you’ll hear me out as there is value in what I’m going to talk about. If you disagree with me, you’ll at least now have a bunch of sites to visit that do offer free music!
Why would I advertise the competition on a site where I sell my music?
Because I’m not stupid and trying to lie to myself that my ‘competitors’ (if you can call them that) aren’t just a click away when using search engines like Google and Bing. So, let me start by being frank about what I see free stock music sites doing to the industry and why they’re such a bad idea if you want music for your project, especially for commercial purposes.
Free music sites actually complicate music licensing
The intention of many free music sites is to offer regular people hassle-free music to use in their projects without paying any money. Creative Commons try to solve this with their licenses this along with sites like the Free Music Archive and even YouTube’s Audio Library. And this all sounds appealing until you start to look under the bonnet and realise:
1. There is often no vetting procedure in place for many of these sites
This meams anyone can upload anything for people to download. This is also true of free photography websites where the disclaimers on these sites basically relay the responsibility onto you if there’s a breach of copyright. Not sure about you, but I wouldn’t use stuff that I wasn’t 100% sure was licensed properly for fear of getting sued!
2. YouTube’s Audio Library is primarily for use within YouTube only
That means it is often flagged for non-commercial use / can’t be monetised from what I hear, it needs attribution and apart from anything contains music from music hobbyists who are looking for the fame and glory of being used on a YouTube video. That means you need to wade through a bunch of reaaaally shitty music (this isn’t just me saying this by the way). You might also want to check the author has properly licensed the sounds / loops they use in the track too as YouTube certainly doesn’t do that…
3. Creative Commons Licenses aren’t always for commercial use.
Their site even states: “you need to make sure that what you want to do with the music is OK under the terms of the particular Creative Commons license it’s under. CC-licensed music isn’t free for all uses, only some”.
4. Many sites just offer an option to filter tracks
Sites like SoundCloud allow uploaders to mark their tracks as ‘ok’ for commercial use. Again, no checks are in place to ensure that the author is the creator of the music or has the rights.
5. You want exclusivity…
Any company worth their salt knows that if they want to distinguish their brand from others, then ‘audio branding’ is as important as visual branding. Free music stock sites can’t offer that as it defeats the point of their existence, so without that option, Bob’s Fish and Chips in Wokingham could be using the same music as you have in your slick fintech animation about the blockchain revolution. Here, for example, the option to reserve the use of a track is available to you because I wrote the music and therefore own the rights. There’s also the option of getting a custom score (just get in touch).
6. The music is flagged on YouTube and FaceBook because they are registered with AdRev.
So, you can’t remove the adverts from competitor businesses appearing on your video because the user ‘beanbagsrcool’ who uploaded the track isn’t responding to your emails. Not cool, really not cool and this is why an official license to be able to remove AdRev claims is provided with all the tracks here.
I heard some composers give their music away for free?
And it’s true. You’ll find a few rookie musicians who offer their tracks for free like Kevin MacLeod who completely miss the bigger picture of giving away so many of their rights. Apart from undermining the hard work other composers put in to make a living from their craft, he markets himself as the ‘free guy’ yet actually profits off it.
How? By requiring attribution when anyone uses his work, he attracts traffic to his site where he earns money from advertising revenue, streams on YouTube and Spotify playlists via mandatory ISRC numbers for his music and actually licenses his tracks (like a good boy should). By offering music for free, both he and other free music stock sites give a big finger up to composers like myself who invest heavily in their studios, learn their craft, travel to stay ahead of the trends and keep the musicians economy going by doing things like paying session musicians to play in our music.
So as you can probably tell, I’m not a fan of the Kevster and free music sites as I believe they act like snakes within the community by cheapening a market that’s already in need of some help. That said, I do believe giving away some freebies is necessary in todays market to get noticed. Just not your whole catalogue. FFS.
Hang on, I’m not with Johnny McFreebie
If you license your tracks, then you should get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that not only is your music properly licensed and cleared for commercial use, but you are supporting an industry that is horrendously complicated to survive in. If you’re a customer or even a subscriber here, then thank you, you get it, and you’re helping me feed my little splodgy 6 month old daughter at the same time.
Actually, I am here with Johnny McFreebie
Then I would genuinely like to know who you are and understand what stops you from paying for music – it’s not to track you down, I promise, it’s to see if there are other ways to help you license music without breaking the bank.
For example, it’s no secret that many of you are looking for free music for your projects or come from countries where the license fee is too high in comparison to the salaries you earn. I can see it in my site’s analytics, the messages I receive and even the piracy of my tracks across the Internet (yes, even that is traceable to some extent).
I choose not to act on it unless it’s a company abusing their position as I think we all agree a multinational corporation like Sony can afford the license fee. But I do understand your position. I’ve been bootstrapping this site from the beginning along with various other projects in order to sell my music and the more I spend the less I have to survive on. Times are tough, budgets are tight and generally who wants to pay for anything these days?
While I’m running a business here, I appreciate that some people who arrive on this site don’t have the money to pay for things like music for their videos. If you’re one of those people and are looking for music to use in a personal project or work for an NGO / charity, then ping me a message and we can chat about how to get you musically sorted.
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Great article – well written.
I do feel a little sidelined by your comments ‘By offering music for free, both he and other free music stock sites give a big finger up to composers like myself who invest heavily in their studios, learn their craft, travel to stay ahead of the trends and keep the musicians economy going by doing things like paying session musicians to play in our music.’ Kevin’s model isn’t totally my cup of tea however I sit somewhere in between. I have only recently begun to build up a DAW and I also work a full-time job and study. In my spare time I try to compose using what I have at hand which – along with 30 years of being a guitarist/singer/songwriter – I’ve never really been able to afford to do partly due to prohibitive costs. The frustration of this has put me through the wringer and then – voila! Affordable technology! In some ways, offering music for free is not a ‘big finger up’ to anybody and can offer a leg-up to sections of the community who have felt locked out of some aspects of the music business for a long time. I too have learnt my craft over many years and aim to build my studio slowly – I simply cannot afford to travel to keep ahead of trends nor pay session musicians at present. Does that mean I am not authentic in my desire to progress artistically and make some dosh? I understand and agree with your points I just don’t necessarily believe that there is only one way to do these things, especially that there are so many choices now out there to pursue a living. There is room for everyone in my view, no matter how they come to the table.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Just to clarify, I’m not saying musicians shouldn’t give away *some* of their music for free to get exposure, just that it feels disingenuous of Kevin MacLeod to offer his entire catalogue for free while his fellow musicians struggle to earn royalties from Spotify / Apple Music etc, are getting paid less for gigs, licensing budgets are falling and digital sales are disappearing (and that’s after cd sales were destroyed by digital sales). His entire model is about making himself the ‘go to’ guy for filmmakers and then try to siphon off money whichever way he can.
In all honesty, the ‘free’ debate is one that’s been talked about a lot amongst musicians / artists and I can see both sides of the argument. However, the fall in budgets for licensing deals for example is the direct result of companies putting pressure on advertising agencies to come up with more for less because there is so much cheap (or free) music around. Better accessibility to quality tools is a great thing and I admire you for holding together a job, studies PLUS being able to write music! But wouldn’t it be great to move to a model whereby you could survive solely from your music (assuming that’s your aim)?
It’s totally possible in the sense there is enough money within the ecosystem (just look at the label’s ever-growing share of streaming royalties), but currently musicians discount themselves too much by doing things like offer their catalogue for free when really a society or union for musicians to protect minimum payouts is what is needed.
The production music scene is different to the performing artist scene though, I think it’s important to highlight that distinction. Offering production music for free kind of defeats the point of production music which is to offer companies an affordable way to license music for their productions. By offering that kind of music for free (like Kevin and others are doing), musicians are helping kill off yet another avenue of income for those of us trying to survive from our work.
Trust me, in any other industry, there would be riots if bosses started saying to their employees that, bit by bit, we’re going to erode your salary so you’re essentially working for free. Or imagine if your co-worker decided to work for free forcing you to do the same? Is it so different in the music industry to warrant that kind of approach? No, it’s because musicians have reached the desperate stage of offering their work for free because nobody recognises its value anymore because of many factors (the exponential rise of technology and piracy especially), but in particular it’s musicians devaluing our own work by offering it for free.
Anyway, sorry for the rant! Appreciate you commenting 🙂
I have to say Cato that the way you are going about making your living will never die (think print media) and those companies that rely on artists and creators offering services for free are never the companies one wants to work with anyway. Anything free should simply be a taster to than moving to a fee-for-service model – anything else isn’t sustainable (note to self: rethink fb presence!) All the best.
The challenge, as I see it, is to find the people who are into what you do because they can’t find it anywhere else. Or because you offer something that the others don’t. Or you offer the same thing, in a new way. Or you put something in front of them that they didn’t know they wanted until you showed up.
It’s madness to try to compete with free. Rather, whatever you do should serve a niche audience you’re slowly building and not try to dominate generic search results. Music finds a way to reach the right people! Thanks for all your hard work.
Thanks for your comment and apologies for the slow reply, I found your message sitting in my spam folder! Totally agree, standing out within a crowded space (particularly the production music scene) is a challenge as it feels like there is nothing ‘new’ out there. However, at least from the perspective of writing music for yourself as well as others, it’s about developing your own sound I believe as that will naturally give you a unique angle as, well, no one else is exactly the same as you! Your musical take on something will inevitably be different to someone else’s approach and, with time, your ‘sound’ develops accordingly. It’s the people that like your music specifically that you want to attract.
Anyway, with regards to giving away music for free, that’s just another race to the bottom and further erodes the music industry. I believe you should never compete solely on price as there will always be someone else willing to either give away their music for free or undercut you. Much better to focus on continuously improving the quality in order to reach the right target audience as ultimately that is what creates value.
All the best,