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Buying stock music on a subscription-based model has become a trend in recent years and it’s led by music industry leaders who are trying to convince customers to purchase unlimited access to download and use their entire catalog for a monthly charge. In this article, we will discuss who can actually enjoy from that new pricing model and who should avoid it? 

I hope to shed some light on the complicated subject of music licensing and help you decide if you’d better avoid risking your marketing efforts while trying to save a few bucks along the way. 

I have a list of music companies that are going to HATE what I’m about to expose here. Here’s what I discovered about subscription-based royalty-free music licensing services. Using these services could be a potentially risky business move for you and your brand. This is the truth about what’s happening in the murky licensing waters of the stock music industry today. 

If you’ve ever considered registering for a subscription-based “membership” for the rights to use royalty-free music, this article is for you. Before you do, here is exactly what you need to look out for when it comes to Subscription-based Royalty-FREE music licensing services and plans.

PART I – Subscription Licensing Exposed

With a monthly (or yearly) subscription at your local stock music store, you get access to unlimited royalty-free music, however, restrictions do apply (unless you pay more). Let’s examine why creative professionals should avoid using subscription-based licensing when it comes to buying royalty free music. 

Think twice before you agree to a long-term, legal commitment that requires constant dues just to retain your rights. Always remember that the Terms you agree to can (and will) be changed at any time without notice. If the legal terms can change in an instant, what could that mean for your project? No control and no monetization.

Note: It’s not a gym membership, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a legally binding license agreement and it should be treated as such… otherwise, your project could end up being a major fail.

ONLY the Music Labels can “rent out” music with a paid license for a set period of time, and that’s because it’s not royalty-free. This type of music license pays out its royalties to the artist for each performance of their music. It’s not the same for royalty-free, unless you’re a sucker.

Royalty-Free music does not require the payout of royalties and therefore, you only need a license. To legally use the music, you must remain within the limitations of the Terms. Every license has its Terms of use clearly defined and you must abide by the terms in the license whenever you use the music in your project. Whether you’re a startup business or an independent content creator, it all boils down to the terms in the license. 

The whole idea of royalty-free music is to avoid paying out royalties for the rest of your life.

Every subscription-based licensing service will charge you extra fees to use their music in a commercial manner and when publishing to various platforms like TV, radio, cinema, theatre, movies, video games, social media, etc. Don’t believe me? See for yourself in this video by The Week I Review

Bottom line… in order to maintain your rights, you need to maintain your membership. If you want to monetize your project, you need an even more expensive Commercial license. And if you want to publish it on television/radio, you’ll get a quote.

Don’t forget, what happens to your license rights when you decide to end your subscription? Without the license rights, you cannot fully control your project’s monetization. Since you don’t own the music and the terms can be easily changed, there’s really nothing you can do about it. It happens every day. Even if your project goes viral, all new revenue is returned back to the original song owner. 

Here’s what to look for in the Terms of a Commercial music license that’s royalty-free: 

  1. Check the service’s terms for Commercial licensing and which publishing platforms are included i.e. television/radio, internet/digital media, or as a standalone product.
  2. Identify which license you require; Commercial or Non-commercial? (If your goal is to generate business, even as an individual, it will require a Commercial license).
  3. Verify the time duration that the license is valid through, preferably in perpetuity.
  4. Whether it can be reused multiple times in future projects, or not. 

First, figure out what the long-term goal is for the project that needs the music and then buy a license to suit its needs. Make sure it covers you from all the angles listed above. You’ll find it to be a lot more affordable in the long run than using a subscription-based licensing service, especially when it comes to monetizing your creative content.

A basic membership to download unlimited royalty-free stock music just won’t be enough to generate real business numbers without upgrading and paying more for Commercial licensing. 

PART II – Subscription Licensing

Websites with stock music subscriptions are constantly being updated and refreshed. 

When a song suddenly disappears from the catalog, it’s usually because the business contract has ended between the company and the artist who initially submitted their music to the site. When the contract ends, the rights go back to the artist – who is then able to turn around and re-sell their music catalog to another stock music website under a new (and hopefully better) contract agreement than before. This guy’s video from Stock Music Licensing explains it all.

There is zero guarantee when it comes to getting 100% high quality sound production. 

High quality sound production matters, especially when it comes to your professional content. You cannot risk low quality sound being matched up with HD graphics or an HD voiceover. The vast majority of music being sold on stock music websites is submitted by independent artists who produce music on their own terms, and rightfully so.

Being a music producer is an artistic craft, but each track still needs to be professionally mastered to the industry standard. If not, the sound levels will be all unbalanced and the track will be way less effective. Every producer knows this, but not everyone can afford it. For a track to be properly mastered, its sound levels need to be enhanced with precision adjustments by a sound engineer and a professionally trained ear.

There’s No Guarantee the music is 100% Original and without copyright infringements. 

Stock music websites receive countless submissions from producers around the world who claim their music is 100% their own. Sometimes, however, even the biggest music stars have been guilty of infringing on someone else’s copyright. When it comes to royalty-free stock music, infringements are only detected after a song gets flagged and by then, it’s too late.

The questionable track is then instantly removed from the service and now you’re stuck without your paid music rights. But hey, it’s written in the agreement that the terms may be changed at any time and without notice, so there’s nothing you can really do. All you can do is hope that the songs you “rent” under a subscription or buy direct are clean and 100% original. 

Subscription Licensing companies give bias priority and promotion to their top sellers. 

As any good business would (and should), why wouldn’t you put your best-selling products placed in the storefront window? The only major issue with this, however, is that we all end up using the same music in our projects. The same music that’s being played in a Facebook ad for cheap tires is also being used for a good friend’s wedding video. Need I say more? 

With an endless variety of stock music to browse through, subscription-based services tend to funnel clients through the same routes. Ultimately, as creative as they make it seem, your project’s overall success is jeopardized as a result. No matter how you slice it, it’s always best to just pay once and let it be over with, especially when it comes to royalty-free music. 

Here are some examples of a few subscription-based companies and the limited terms you didn’t expect: 

Company 1
Licenses require a video component – no radio/podcast – videos only

  • They charge additional fees for commercial use (monetization)
  • Individuals must register as a business account for commercial licensing
  • License cannot be reused and expires with the subscription
  • Songs cannot be guaranteed high quality and you cannot alter them in any way

Company 2
Per specific project single-use; cannot preserve download for future projects 

  • They limit which mediums you can publish on and cater to stand-alone products
  • They can also remove songs from their catalog, even if your subscription is still valid
  • Pricing varies and some subscription packages are strictly annual payment vs monthly
  • License is still valid after subscription expires, but cannot reuse purchased tracks again

Company 3
Intended for social media platforms only, excluding Vimeo and similar sites

  • License is only valid while subscription is active – license expires with the subscription
  • You cannot loop, cut, trim or alter the music in any way, making it difficult to edit and work with
  • Limited amount of views permitted – must buy a license upgrade
  • All the best songs have already been used by a million people; not creative enough

 

PART III – Subscription Licensing

Who can actually enjoy from subscription pricing models?

Independents (non-profit)
If you are an underground vlogger who needs an abundance of various background music tracks every single month, and your creations will not be used commercially to promote any specific brand, this might be suitable for you. But, if you only upload your vlogs to YouTube, then you might as well use YouTube’s free music library since it’s dedicated exactly to (only) YouTube. The general rule of thumb is the content should remain non-profit, educational and informative without any expressed intention of commercial gain or revenue.

Podcasters (non-profit)
If you’re an underground podcaster, then just be sure to check the subscription licensing terms you subscribe to because some companies do not allow any use of their catalog without a video component. But again, it always depends on the terms. Note that when it comes to any commercial campaigns on your podcast or internet radio, however, verify that the music has a proper Commercial license. Check out this guide to podcasting on Live365.com.

Educational / Non-profit / Personal use
Subscription-based licensing is good for feeding the constant need for using royalty-free music in projects that are intended for educational purposes, information sharing, and for a non-profit cause. The moment any kind of revenue starts coming in, you should consider upgrading to a more suitable license. If it’s for personal purposes only, you should be just fine. There’s a lot of great music out there to choose from and it never ends, so have fun.

Sometimes, you can find the same exact tracks for purchase without a subscription on other similar music licensing websites (and this is probably the biggest industry secret in this article). – If you don’t want the monthly subscription pricing, you can always try contacting the artist producer with your license request; I’m sure they’d be happy to sell their music directly to you.

In conclusion: Keep it simple and buy one-single license that can be reused in future projects and in perpetuity. There’s no need for hidden fees and added charges for royalty-free music licensing, especially if the terms can be changed at anytime.

No matter how wonderful the track might sound, always check the Terms of use and make sure it’s an original song, without any risks of copyright infringement. 

We at Foximusic take pride in the niche background music licensing business we call home. Feel free to browse our royalty-free catalog of healthy and stealthy, corporate background music; fully mastered, high quality tracks that are engineered to highlight your project and drive action.  

Disclaimer: It’s not a gym membership, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a legally binding license agreement and should be treated as such. We appreciate and respect the concept of Royalty-Free music and one single license. As musicians and creators ourselves, we’re in it for the love of music itself.

We support the independent music makers of the world and admire their gift of music to us all, as consumers. The purpose of this article is to educate and share more information about this complex topic. We hope this article helps explain some of the various existing licensing structures that exist on the market today and assists you on your way. 

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