Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Five great places to find free (or cheap) music for your films

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 2, 2010

Increasingly music is finding its way into online multimedia journalism, and with good reason. A well chosen soundtrack can pull your viewers deep into your story, keep them hooked and make an emotional point.

Music is, and let’s be honest about this, a way of manipulating how your audience feel. There are those purists who are against that, who argue the story should be strong enough not to need to tell your viewer how to feel.

Whichever camp you lie in, one thing is for sure: if you use music in any piece of online video journalism or digital story it must be legal. There is no excuse for getting your client or your newsroom shouldered with an expensive bill just because that bit of Arcade Fire fitted perfectly with the film. The good news is there are plenty of resources out there for free, or cheap, music. Most, but not all, operate under the Creative Commons Licence, which lets you use music on certain conditions.

01. Audio Network

This UK based ‘music production library’ is used often by the big players, and you have to pay to use any of the music. The prices vary however, from just £0.79 ($1.50) for personal use, to £95.00 ($200) for charities and £195 ($400) for TV commercials.

With the price tag though comes great quality. AudioNetwork has some really good music, well organised, and the sort of thing you could imagine being used in cinema. They have on their books a selection of in house composers and a lot of their orchestral scores are recorded with a full orchestra at Abbey Road, and not on someone’s Casio keyboard.

I have purchased music from them before and it’s a simple credit card payment to download the .mp3.

02. Jamendo

When I cannot pay for whatever reason, my first stop is always Jamendo, and I have sourced free music from here for several films in the last two years.

The secret to Jamendo is its community – it is a home for thousands of amateur musicians, artists and DJs who all put their music up for the world to hear. All the music is released on one kind of Creative Commons Licence. That means you’ll either need to include the artist in your credits, promise not to create any derivative works from it, ensure your production is not for profit, or a mix of all three.

Jamendo also has a very nice search option, which lets you get instant previews of music in a pop-up window before deciding whether to get it. If you choose to download music, you can download the entire album as a .zip file which even includes album artwork.

The big downside of Jamendo is the sheer amount of time it will take you to find anything good. It’s out there, but it’s not easy to find. If you’re producing a lot, I recommend fencing off some time every fortnight or so to rummage through and save any quality tracks for later use.

03. Musopen

If it’s classical you’re after, Musopen is a great resource. This website works along the very clever observation, that after a certain amount of time, the copyright on a score or performance of music expires, and the song enters the public domain.

Their goal is to build repository of public domain music for people to use. The great thing about public domain music is that you can use it and redistribute it as part of a production for profit, without a need to pay license. However, Musopen is based on US copyright laws, so if you’re in the UK or elsewhere, check the rules before you use. Also bear in mind, just because the composer of a song maybe long gone, and their score public domain, a more recent performance of that song may still have copyright rules applied.

04. Mixcloud

More a place to listen to mainstream music, or create and upload podcasts, Mixcloud’s library does contain some creative commons music.

It’s also a good community hub of music creators, DJs and podcast producers. It’s not hugely clear what is Creative Commons licensed and what isn’t so if you do find a song you want to use, it would be sensible to contact the creator for permission first.

05. SoundCloud

Like Jamendo, Soundcloud is becoming a growing community of music makers from around the world (including my brother!)

The majority of music on here is electronic and instrumental, which can suit some productions perfectly, and destroy others. Definitely worth a listen though, and Soundcloud also comes with very fancy ways to embed audio players into websites.

A premium membership to Soundcloud costs €9 a month for creators and upto €59 a month for businesses.

So they’re the five best ones I have used in the last year or so – but are there any not on my radar? Tell me in the comments box and I’ll check it out!