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“General Royalty-Free” vs “Completely Royalty-Free” music5 min read

We would like to try to explain some of the complexities of music use and royalty free music. We’ve tried to make this as short as we could:

General royalty-free music (PRO Tracks):

Most music composers and publishers are members of various composers’ rights societies. Some societies oversee and look after the composers’ works with regards to physical manufacturing of products that contain their music. These rights are called “Mechanical rights“. Other societies oversee and look after the composers’ works with regards to broadcasting and public performance of their music. These rights are called “Performance rights

When you find music listed as “royalty-free” on this web site and other web sites, it usually means that the composer and publisher of the music are not members of any society that oversees their mechanical rights. This means that you can freely use their music on DVD, CDROM and any other physical object that contains their music, and you can have these CD/DVD’s manufactured in a factory, without paying any fee to any collection society for that.

At ALL music is FREE of mechanical rights. We do not work with any composers who are members of any mechanical rights society. This means that ALL the music on our site is royalty-free for use on DVD, CDROM etc.

But many composers are members of a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). These PRO’s look after the composers and publishers rights to receive royalties when their music is broadcast or played in public. It means that anybody who broadcasts their music, or plays it in public (for example, at a trade show, or in a sports arena), need to obtain a license from their country’s performance royalty collection society. In most cases, this does not affect you (our customer) in any way, because the broadcasters already have this license and therefore no additional fees are actually payable by anybody.

For example, you buy a track from us by a composer who is a PRO member. You use the music on a DVD film and manufacture 5,000 copies of that film. No problem, the composer isn’t member of any mechanical rights society, so there are no fees to pay for this. A year later, your film ends up getting broadcast on BBC, or perhaps on YouTube. Now, the composer will receive a small payment for this. This payment is however just taken from the already paid, annual license that the BBC and YouTube pays to the performance rights organization. No extra money is payable by anybody. Nobody has incurred any extra expenses, because the license money was already paid by the broadcaster, as a large annual fee.

So, whilst the music is not entirely free of all strings, it is still fair to call it royalty-free because neither the producer, nor the broadcaster (who already has an annual license) has to pay any royalties.

The only time an actual additional expense would come into this situation would be if you decide to broadcast the music yourself, and you don’t already have a broadcasting license. For example, at a concert or at some kind of venue that doesn’t already have a PRO license. Some countries also consider telephone music-on-hold to be a “broadcast” – other countries do not.

As far as trade shows or sports events, here you would expect the venue/hall to already have a license from their country’s performance royalty organization, but you may want to check that.

Recently, the PRS in the United Kingdom have deemed that a person or company in the UK that uses music on a UK web site is classed as a ‘broadcaster’. And, as a broadcaster of music, if you want to use any music that is composed by a composer who is a member of a performance rights society, you need a license from the PRS. The license typically costs £50 per year. This applies only to UK persons and companies with UK web sites.

Wherever you look for “royalty free music”, be it on the internet or in traditional production music libraries, most of the music you’ll find is in this category. The composers are not members of any mechanical rights society, but they are members of a performance rights society, and it would be fair to call their music “general royalty-free”.

Completely royalty-free music (Non-PRO Tracks):

There are some composers who are not a member of any kind of composers’ society what so ever. They are not members of any mechanical rights society, so their music can be manufactured on DVD/CD etc. without paying any mechanical license fees to any organisation. And they are also not members of any performance rights organization, so their music can be freely broadcast and played in public without paying any broadcasting license to any collection society what so ever. Their music can be said to be “completely royalty free” – also known as “Non PRO music”, “PRS free music”, “GEMA free music” and so on.

If you are going to need music that is entirely Non-PRO, you can choose to Search or Browse only Non-PRO music using our website. When you browse a music genre (by clicking on a genre in the list of music genres/styles on the right-hand side of our site), on top of the result list you can see an option to display “PRO-tracks and Non-PRO tracks” or “Non PRO Tracks Only“. Click “Non PRO tracks only” and your displayed track list will be updated to show only music that is “completely royalty-free”.

If you want to Search by keywords or track titles etc., and you want to display only Non-PRO music, then go to the Advanced Search page, and you’ll be able to see the “PRO and Non-PRO” or “Non PRO tracks only” option there.

Bjorn Lynne

Bjørn Arild Lynne is a Norwegian sound engineer and music composer, now living and working in Stavern, Norway. He was also known as a tracker music composer under the name "Dr. Awesome" in the demoscene in the 1980s and 1990s when he released tunes in MOD format and made music for Amiga games