Background Music in Videos is one of those topics for which there are as many opinions as there are people who have them. Should there even BE background music? Should it be continuous, or only during certain portions of the video? How loud shoud it be? How loud when there’s nothing else (i.e., speaking) going on, and how loud should it be when someone is speaking? Where do you GET it? What is the proper style/mood/tempo/genre for the background music? What are the copyright issues and considerations for using this music?
The questions are legion, and there are truly no definitive THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE answers. Fortunately, there CAN BE some definitive this is how it should NOT be answers. Sometimes you have to make a YES decision by weeding out all the NO answers to your questions.
In this article, which I intend to update semi-regularly, as I do more and more research, and receive feedback from you, my readers (please use our CONTACT US form to give me feedback), I would like to address the various issues as they arise.
Following this introduction, I will put an INDEX to the topics in the rest of this article. Let me know what you think.
COPYRIGHT ISSUES AND CONSIDERATIONSBack to INDEX
You must always consider copyright when thinking of adding background music (or actually, any music) to your videos. The only time you will be free of copyright considerations is if both the composer and the performance copyrights are either (a) owned by you, or (b) are in the public domain.
Both the composer copyright and the performance copyright are two separate copyrights, and you can get in trouble for violating either one.
COMPOSER COPYRIGHTS. In that this article is not intended to be a treatise on copyright law and its interpretation let’s just say that in the USA (and this is true in a similar fashion for most other countries, although the details may differ), any tune composed within the last 70-95 years is very likely still protected by copyright. This means you cannot make a copy of it – in any way – without the permission of the composer, or the permission of whoever the composer has assigned the copyright to (the copyright administrator). If you wish to use a tune protected by copyright in your video, you must somehow obtain permission (a license) from the copyright administrator for the composer of that tune.
There are tons of procedures in place for getting these licenses; I’ll address some of those in the Sources section below.
PERFORMANCE COPYRIGHTS. Once a tune has been composed, the very first recording of a performance of that tune must have specific permission from the copyright administrator. After a tune has been recorded the first time, anyone else is free to “produce and distriburte” a new recording of that tune merely by playing a compulsory license fee, also known as a mechanical rights license. They do not need permission to make that recording – they must only pay the fee.
Curiously, making a new arrangement of a copyrighted tune for the specific purpose of making a new recording is covered by the compulsory license fee, as long as it does not destroy the original style of the tune. Any other arrangement of a copyrighted tune requires the permission of the composer’s copyright administrator.
Once a recording of a tune has been made, the performer (or their assigned administrator) of that recording owns the copyright to that performance, and you must have a license from them to use that recording in any video.
SYNCHRONIZATION COPYRIGHTS. Whenever you want to use a specific piece of music in a video, this is considered different than a straight audio recording. The copyright law refers to a straight audio recording as a “phonorecording,” whereas music put into a video requires a “synchronization” license.
I know, I know. This is all starting to sound like a royal pain in the patoot. But don’t worry, there are some fairly simple ways around all this complexity. I’ll go into those simple ways later in this article.
WHEN YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY. The only two conditions under which you don’t need to worry are when you have composed and performed the music you use, or when the music is in the public domain, and either the performance is also in the public domain or you have performed it yourself. Whatever you have done, you own the copyright to that, automatically.
BACKGROUND MUSIC SOURCESBack to INDEX
There are literally dozens upon dozens of websites out there yearning to sell you music to use in your videos.
I’m not going to go into the paid sources here. You can easily find those by doing an internet search on “Background Music for Videos.” Instead, I will list here a few of my favorite free sources.
- YouTube Creator Studio. This is my first go-to source for background music for my videos. Many of their offerings are absolutely free to use in your videos, but read carefully because some of them require attribution as their “license fee.” Attributions are no problem, however – simply include them in the description of your video.
- Bensound. This site has a lot of very nice free music. Some of their music requires a fee, but lots of it is free.
- Free Music for VLOGs. This is a YouTube channel that has exactly what it says. You will have to extract the music from the YT video yourself, but there are dozens of websites that will do that for you.
The biggest problem with any of these sources is that there is so MUCH music out there. It’s a major effort to filter through what’s there to find exactly the right tune that fits your video.
Of course, as a professional musician myself, I also use quite a bit of music I have created on my own, performed either by me (on my computer) or by a live music group of which I am the director and business manager.
BACKGROUND MUSIC SPECIFICSBack to INDEX
Piano Rolls / Music Rolls. In the late 1800s up through the early 1900s, player pianos were very popular. Less popular, but still somewhat so, was an instrument called an “Organette,” a tabletop-sized reed organ.
Both of these instruments played music from a long roll of paper, perforated in locations that caused the instrument to play specific notes at specific times. Player pianos usually operated by alternately pressing on foot pedals, and organettes operated by a hand crank.
With very few exceptions, all music on these player rolls is in the public domain.
Quite a large number of these player rolls have been converted to MIDI files by various people and organizations. Curiously, if you were to lay out one of these player rolls, the holes in it would look a lot like a graphic depiction of a MIDI file.
A few of the videos I have produced have used this music as background music.
My procedure is to get the MIDI file, load it into Finale notation software, and have Finale render it to a WAV or MP3 file, which I then use in the video.
Synthesizer Music. If you have (or have access to) a sequencing synthesizer, such as a Yamaha Clavinova or an Ensoniq ESQ-##, you can easily create your own music, and this is something I have done, and have used the music from this – my own compositions – in my videos. As I mentioned above, when you compose the music AND perform the music yourself, then you own the copyright to it, and don’t need to worry about getting permission.
YOUTUBE OPERATIONS – Copyright ConsiderationsBack to INDEX
I have been working with YouTube for more than a dozen years as of this writing, and have watched them evolve through dozens of phases on every aspect of their operation, including what they do about copyrights.
What I’m about to tell you here is MY UNDERSTANDING of how they operate regarding copyright. Please go directly to their site to get the latest and most accurate information.
First, YouTube not only discourages copyright violation, they actively pursue any violators, and they use technology to help them do this.
YouTube Robots (i.e., computers) continually scan music posted to videos on their site. Considering they have, according to one recent article, more than 500 hours of video posted to the site every minute, there’s no way they could do this without computers. My opinion – backed by nothing more than my own experience – I don’t have any inside information – is that they scan both the actual music itself, and all the text posted with the video – title, description, and even text in the video images, to find matches to tunes in the copyrighted music database. And no, I don’t know for sure that there IS such a thing as a “copyrighted music database,” but I cannot see how they could do this without one.
When a computer finds a match to a copyrighted tune, YouTube does the following (again, this is MY UNDERSTANDING and experience):
- Looks up the copyright administrator of the copyrighted tune, and notifies them of the potential copyright infringement. In this notice, they tell the copyright administrator (a) please check and see if this is your tune; (b) if it is, let us know what to do. You have three choices: Ask us to take it down; Leave it up as-is; or Leave it up but put ads on the video and send us some revenue.
- The response from the copyright administrator tells YouTube how to handle things going forward.
Quite often, the copyright administrator will either leave it up, as-is, which is very common for those who want to see and hear their music promoted, or they will say “send me the money.” Who would turn down extra money?
In my experience, it is very rare, although it does happen, for the copyright administrator to tell YouTube to take it down. When that happens, the entity that posted the video with the copyright-infringing music gets a “copyright strike.” I’ve never followed up on what happens then, but I suspect it might be “three strikes and you’re out.”
All in all. if you are reasonably aware of and observant of copyright law, you shouldn’t have any problems posting music in your YouTube videos.