Back in the pre-digital days of video creation, directors without the cash to commission original soundtracks to their films had to rely on library music. The folks who put together these massive libraries owned all the rights to the music outright, so it was easy to license recordings for creators to use in their films, TV, and radio pieces. A TV director would flip through his network’s sound library records, pick the track, and then pay for the license. (In recent years, some outré 1960s and 1970s library music has become very collectible amongst a certain breed of vintage vinyl addicts.) Physical sound libraries, and their associated licensing fees, are still around, albeit in entirely digital form.
But thanks to Creative Commons, there’s also an absolute goldmine online of free music in myriad genres whose creators would like nothing more than for you to use their sounds in your own videos, podcasts, films, or remixes. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that developed a group of copyright licenses for creators to easily give people the freedom to use their creative work in a variety of ways, without infringing on copyright. Below are some fantastic resources for CC-licensed music.
A few things to remember: Creative Commons music isn’t public domain. It’s “some rights reserved.” For example, one composer may be OK with you using her music for a commercial video while another may specify non-commercial uses only. Another license might prohibit “derivative works,” which includes using a song in a video to make a new work. Check the details of the CC license. All CC licenses are meant to be understood by non-lawyers. Also, pay credit where credit is due, and call out the CC license the music is under. Lastly, help continue to fuel a culture of creativity by licensing your own creations under a CC license! As Tim O’Reilly has said, ”Obscurity is a far greater threat than piracy.”
Based on the ccMixter community site of CC-licensed remixes, samples, and songs, this resource has instrumental music, playlists, podcast music, and more than 1,000 free tracks that can be used in commercial projects.
This section of the phenomenal Internet Archive hosts music from small netlabels, many of whom put their entire catalogs under Creative Commons license. From exotica to indie rock to deep house, there are neatly 2,000 “sub-collections” of music with hundreds of tracks each. (And if you’re looking for true public domain music, the Internet Archive’s massive Audio Archive is where you want to go.)
As co-editor of Boing Boing, David Pescovitz is a collector of online anomalies, esoterica, and curiosities. He is also a research director at Institute for the Future.