How to buy Stock Music

After reading this article you will have a clear understanding of what stock music is, you will be able to browse stock music content confidently and find what you really need. These below are the tips from a composer.

Important disclaimer: this is not an article about stocks or trading, it’s about stock music, a type of music that is often used in films, advertising and video games.

What is Stock Music?

If you are a video editor or a game developer you will eventually come across a variety of ready-to-use audio assets, stock music is one of them, sometimes you’ll hear the term “library music” too (we’ll get into that later). Overall we are talking about music that was made, named, tagged and placed on a catalogue so that you could find it when you need it based on: mood, instrumentation, style.

First, let’s get a few technicalities out of the way:

Production Music VS Stock Music:

Production music libraries tend to be exclusive companies, they have a roster of composers working for them, these musicians make themed album that get reviewed by content curators and uploaded on the catalogue. Upon request, the music library will guide the client through the content selection and licensing process. When browsing production music you won’t see prices, fees are handled at the licensing stage.

Stock music websites are generally quite large, they have many authors contributing to their catalogue and you can search music via the internal browser. Plus they have highlighted sections to show you the most popular or recent works. Of course stock music is reviewed too but the main perceived difference is the scale: when browsing these assets you will find a huge database of songs, not necessarily grouped by album but always identifyable by tags and metadata. You will find prices alongside each track and will be able to purchase a license via the built in e-commerce.

Royalty Free VS Non Royalty Free:

Music that is not registered to a PRO – Performing Rights Organization (such as PRS for music, BMI or ASCAP) is often called “Royalty Free” because you only pay an upfront fee when licensing it, whereas music that is registered to a PRO will earn royalties every time the film or ad containing it is aired. These royalties are paid by the TV channel so you don’t have to worry about it, nevertheless some people prefer buying music that is not registered to any PRO.

YouTube Content ID:

Some stock/library music is registered for YouTube ID content, which will prevent unauthorised use, some of it isn’t. When licensing music that has YouTube ID content you need to keep hold of your license: YouTube might place a claim on your video when you upload it and you will be able to prove you’ve purchased it, in order to do that you will need your license copy – if in doubt contact the author!

As above, some clients prefer music that doesn’t have YouTube ID content.

A good example of this is “Soundtrack by Twitch”, a newly launched tool for Twitch content creators, in essence a catalogue of audio assets that can be used for streaming without having to worry about strikes against one’s channel.

Always check the website you’re buying from to see if their music is Royalty Free or not and if it’s registered for YouTube Content ID or not, that’s the only way to make an informed decision and get a license that suits your needs, which licence is right for you depends on your goals, budget, on the scale of your project and where it’s going to be distributed.

The downside of Stock Music:

You’ve found a website that you like, where tracks are reasonably priced and the website also offers the type of license that you want, you now proceed to browse the catalogue: you type your search terms, for example “epic action trailer”, into the built in browser and press enter…there are literally tens of thousands of tracks with these keywords, definitely more than you’ll ever be able to hear. Yes you can narrow your search by entering more specific keywords but there’s still too many tracks and your newly inserted search terms might not be what the author included when they filled the metadata for the song.

Your perfect soundtrack, the one you had in mind, is probably there but your chances to find it are slim. Sorry.

If you’re in a hurry you will probably only have time to listen to the first 10-50 results that came up and then pick one that seems right, this means that your search is virtually limited to the most “visible” tracks but doesn’t necessarily give you access to the ones that are most relevant for your project. No doubt what you’ve picked is well produced and sounds awesome but maybe it’s not exactly what you had in mind, if you’re lucky it’s close enough. But what if you were able to get even closer to what you wanted, without having to pay somebody to create a custom soundtrack?

The solutions:

  1. Use production music

as long as you are happy with the business model, these libraries have knowledgeable catalogue curators who know the tracks really well: you can send them a brief and they will be able to offer a good match, furthermore they can also talk to composers within their roster and search for music that may be ready to use but not on the catalogue yet (i.e. it’s still in the composer’s hard drive).

  1. Contact a stock music author

yes. We’re back to the huge stock music website scenario and you’ve found a track that sounds really good, you like the style, but it’s not exactly what you wanted. Consider proceeding to the author’s portfolio, because what you need might be right there, but also don’t be afraid to contact the author asking for an edit or simply saying what you like/not like about the track: that very author might have the perfect track uploaded on a different website, maybe under a pseudonym or they might be happy to customize a track that was “already almost there” for you.

  1. Contact a composer

composers often have their own private catalogue of tracks. Even those who don’t sell stock music officially have ready-to-use tracks on their hard drives and they might offer you a licensing deal without middle-men and the whole process might be easier than you think….and if a track of theirs is close to what you wanted, they’ll be more than happy to customize it for you.

In other words, the earlier you involve a human being in your search the better. Algorithms and browsers are great and all but this is all down to how these assets are labelled and then found, so if you can talk to someone, whether that’s a catalogue curator or an author, you will have the opportunity to better explain the mood and style of your project and find the perfect match. And if that track doesn’t exist yet, it can always be made from scratch.

Don’t forget to read the guide on “How to get the most out of your custom music order” as well.

Do you have questions about this article? Contact the author.

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