Royalty free music is audio that you can use in your productions, usually behind a voice over recording, or as part of a video. There. Shortest article ever. Oh, you’d like a bit more information? Well, if you insist.
Great question! This comes up a lot because the word “free” appears right in the name. The English language is a funny old thing. The word “free” does not actually mean “costs no money.” It’s just that English speakers have used it this way for so long, it has taken on that meaning to most people. According to Princeton’s on-line dictionary, the word actually means “not hampered; not under compulsion or restraint.”
When we hear something like “free beer,” what it actually means is “beer that is free of charge.” This particular beer is “not hampered or constrained” by a “charge” of money. So what does this have to do with royalty-free music? Looked at in this way, the term becomes more clear as meaning “music that is free from the constraint of royalty charges.” Put another way, it means that the music can be used legally and the copyright owner of the music does not require royalty payments when someone else uses the music.
I encourage you to review copyright law http://www.copyright.gov/ for more information on royalties. But for now, you may be noticing that I didn't answer the question of whether royalty-free (RF) music is free. The answer is...not usually. It's like anything else. Providers are businesses who charge for their products, though sometimes they give them away. The same is true for RF music. There are many providers on the web.
Once you have purchased the music from them, you are free (no pun intended) to use it in your media productions without having to worry about being charged more royalties or about being sued for copyright infringement. However, there is usually an agreement for the use of RF music forbidding things like turning around and selling the music to someone else, claiming copyright ownership of the music, etc. Be sure you understand the terms of providers on the web.
If you can’t sell it and you can’t claim it, what CAN you do with it? You can use it in combination with other media in your productions. For example, if you have a podcast episode that needs music for the intro and outro, you can add the RF music to your podcast audio. If you need background music for a video you’re producing, you can add RF music to your video.
Oh, you mean “how do I add music to my podcast or video?” If you’re doing video, you’ll likely find that your video program (even Windows Movie Maker) has an “audio track” underneath the video track. You simply paste or drag your audio file into that track. With audio programs, you have to make sure you have “multi-track” capability. For example, the free audio program called Audacity, allows you to stack multiple audio tracks on top of each other.
So you put your narration on one track, then add another track and put the RF music on that one. Then you adjust the volumes of each track to mix it together. After that, you render the result as a single stereo file. Not all audio programs do multi-track, though. For example, audio editors typically focus on mono or stereo files with one track only. Make sure you check this.
So to summarize, royalty-free music is a fantastic way to add spice, emotion, impact, etc. to your audio or video productions. But it usually is NOT “free of charge.” You still have to buy the music most of the time. But once you own it, you’re free to use it in your productions without paying royalties to the copyright owner. If you’d like to try out some RF music “free of charge,” come to the Home Brew Audio website. You’ll find some free music and tutorials on how to use it in your own audio production.