Skip to Main Content

Film and Media Studies 294: Academic Internship

Research & Writing Tutors

Research and Instruction Librarian for Music & Fine Arts

Profile Photo
Karen Olson
Christiansen Hall of Music 147 (Music Library)
& Rolvaag Library 306

Commercial Background Music


Content creators -- whether they are YouTubers or news organizations -- almost never create their own music. Instead, they rely on library music, searchable databases of music that can be accessed (usually for a fee) to use as background tracks. This music is often advertised as being royalty-free.

"ROYALTY-FREE" DOES NOT MEAN FREE. It means "licensed." Royalty-free music still costs actual money to use.

Royalties are fees paid to creators each time their creation is used. If someone writes a book and receives a royalty check, that check is a percentage of the price of each book sold. More books sold = bigger royalty checks.

Royalties don't work for situations like online videos, where a creator can't predict how many times their video will be clicked and the background music will play. Instead, content creators license the use of music on whatever platform they need.  Library music companies specialize in providing searchable lists of music  and sound effects (by mood, style, etc.) and negotiating the licensing terms with the composers. Subscribers to the library can either pay monthly subscription fees (like your Netflix fee) or they can pay the individual track. Make sure to check the licensing program matches the platforms you want to use (broadcast media, YouTube, etc.)

SOURCES FOR LIBRARY MUSIC -- Sites You Should Know As A Professional

These libraries tend to work more with long-form content and major news and entertainment corporations. Most do also offer personal accounts as well.

These libraries specialize in music for short-form content, like YouTube videos, but may also offer long-form content support.

Free Music Sites

There are some sites and creators who offer free licensing, usually through Creative Commons licenses. 

If you are monetizing your video, make sure the license includes commercial use. And always follow the musician's instructions for how to credit their work!

Public Domain Music

Commercial sound recordings only entered the public domain in 2022! Bear in mind, these are recordings from 1923 and before, so the sound quality is a little (actually, often a LOT) scratchy! But if you want that authentic old-timey sound, here are some places to look.