3 Myths You Should Stop Believing About Podcast Music

4 min read

This is a guest post from Zach Watson–Zach is the Content Specialist at Soundstripe, a royalty-free music provider on a mission to “Keep Creators Creating.” His work has been published on ConversionXL, Hubspot, InVision, and elsewhere around the Web.

The standard of podcast music has never been higher. Groundbreaking shows like Serial, This American Life, and S-Town all use original music to seize listeners’ attention and draw them deeper each episode’s story.

Music has become so central to podcasts that WNYC, which produces and distributes not only the three shows above but a plethora of others, employs inhouse composers to continually create music for the station’s podcasts.

When big budget podcasts start rolling out amazing intro music or arresting background music, you want to follow suit. Because you want your audience to be just as engaged and keep them coming back for more.

This has lead many budget-conscious podcasters to search for quality tunes while trying to save some money. A worthy cause, but this quest has given rise to several myths about how to use music in podcasts.

It’s important to understand why these myths are in fact wrong, because violating copyright law can put you in serious legal jeopardy. iBus Media, which runs several poker-related podcasts, is being sued by Universal Music Group (UMG) for using unlicensed in their shows.

How bad is it? UMG is seeking the maximum amount of $150,000 per copyright infringement, i.e., per song use.

This article examines each of the most prevalent myths about music in podcasts and provides affordable options where you can legally find all the music you could ever  need.

3 Myths About Using Music in Podcast

1. The 10 Second Rule

This myth would have you believe that as long as you use a song for 10 seconds or less, you’re all good. This is very wrong.

To use someone else’s intellectual property — like music, film, or photography — you must have permission. You can get permission through a licensing agreement from whoever owns the rights to that piece of intellectual property (IP).

This is tricky when you’re trying to license music, because many musicians don’t own a controlling interest in their work. When artists sign with music labels, the label typically gains a share in the copyright of what the artists creates.

So even if an artist wanted to license their songs to everyone, they couldn’t because the label would refuse.

This process actually gets even more confusing when you factor in songwriters and publishers, but suffice it to say, if you do not have written permission to use a piece of content from every copyright holder, you are committing copyright infringement under U.S. law.

It doesn’t matter how long you use the copyrighted material.

This is closer to being legal, but still no cigar. Just because you credit the artist or copyright owner does not mean that person gave you permission to use their work.

In a licensing agreement, all copyright holders must agree with how you plan on using the content, which can’t happen unless you actually ask for permission, or the copyright holders have explicitly said people can use their IP without asking. Just offering credit does not constitute a licensing agreement, either!

More on that soon.

3. Revenue-Neutral Exceptions

This myth states if you’re not making money, you have carte blanche to use songs without permission in your podcast.

Again, this is not true. Copyright law doesn’t change based on the amount of money you make from the use of the copyrighted material. Plus, even if you’re not making money now, if your show becomes successful, you might suddenly have a lot of eyes on your older episodes where you’re using copyrighted music.

How to Legally Find and Use Music

Alright, now let’s look at viable means of finding quality podcast music for your show. (Licensing music directly from record labels or publishers didn’t make this list, because it’s almost always very expensive.)

Creative Commons

The Creative Commons (CC) systems allows artists to make their work available under certain guidelines.

Under CC, artists choose how they want to allow people to use their work, which means some rights may be reserved. So a musician may make a few of their songs available for use in video or podcasts as long as you provide the right attribution, i.e., mention their name.

There are a few websites where you can license songs under Creative Commons. Here are a few of the best:

You can find a longer list of CC websites here.

Music Licensing Companies

The drawback to relying Creative Commons is that your choices are limited.

Luckily, there are companies dedicated to providing affordable stock music. These organizations are typically called music licensing companies, and they work directly with musicians to create audio libraries of quality music that’s easy and affordable to license.

Finding good tunes for your podcast doesn’t have to be an impossible journey. There are well over a dozen options for music licensing, and if you have absolutely no resources for music, there’s always Creative Commons.