Stock music, explained

Do you have a question about stock music? Here are the answers.

By Matic Broz, the editor-in-chief with 10+ years of experience with design, stock media and licensing, and photography.

Updated on | 0 Comments

If you buy something from a Photutorial link, we may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.
Stock music explained

There’s nothing like an explosion of music news to leave you thinking, “Um… what’s going on here?” That’s the feeling I’ve experienced while reading about stock music selling for millions or being used in the latest blockbuster film.

In the past decade, since stock music exploded in popularity, the situation has only gotten more complex. Songs have been licensed for tens of millions of dollars, there’s been an endless supply of headlines about massive copyright lawsuits, and corporate music libraries have only gotten bigger.

All this news may have left you wondering: what is stock music, anyhow?

Okay, let’s start with the basics.

What is stock music? Who uses it?

Stock music, also known as production music or library music, refers to recorded music that can be licensed for use in films, TV shows, commercials, video games, and other media.

Unlike commissioned music that is created specifically for a project, stock music is made ahead of time and sold through libraries or sites on a royalty-free basis. That means you pay a flat fee to use the music rather than paying royalties every time it’s used.

So it’s like premixed pancake batter?

Sort of! Except instead of saving you the hassle of measuring out ingredients and mixing them yourself, stock music saves content creators the time and money of commissioning original scores.

Stock music lets you skip right to the “cooking” step of dropping songs into your project. The music is already recorded and can be licensed immediately.

How is stock music made?

Stock music is produced by composers and recording artists specifically for licensing. They may write in certain styles, tempos, and moods based on what production music libraries are looking to add to their catalogs.

The music is recorded at professional studios, often incorporating live instrumentalists and singers. Top libraries demand high production quality to appeal to a broad range of media producers.

So stock music isn’t just cheap royalty-free stuff?

Not at all! While there is plenty of budget-friendly stock music out there, major libraries also offer exclusive tracks from Grammy-winning artists and composers.

For example, renowned composer Hans Zimmer has released albums through production music powerhouses like Universal Production Music. A popular artist’s song could sell for thousands or even tens of thousands for a license.

Who uses stock music?

All kinds of media creators license stock music, including:

  • TV shows and networks
  • Filmmakers
  • YouTube creators
  • Video game developers
  • Advertising agencies
  • Brands and marketers
  • Podcasters

It allows them to add high-quality, professional music to projects without blowing their budgets on original scoring. Especially for shorter videos or online content, custom music may not make sense.

Stock music also saves a ton of time. Need the perfect background track for a commercial? Search a library for the exact mood and style you want instead of trying to explain it to a composer.

I need music for my TikTok dance. Can stock music help?

Absolutely! TikTok creators and other social media influencers are a major market for stock music companies.

Platforms like Epidemic Sound and Artlist offer subscriptions with thousands of songs you can use in videos and even monetize without worrying about copyright claims. There’s music in every viral trending style, from dance tracks to emotional ballads.

Stock music is beginner-friendly, too. You don’t need to know music licensing inside-out; just search for a song and license it right within the platform.

What about sampling old songs?

That’s where things get tricky. Sampling from existing copyrighted material, like using that one hook everybody knows, usually requires direct permission from whoever owns the recording and composition rights.

Of course, some TikTok creators take the risk of using short, uncleared samples and hoping not to get struck down by YouTube’s copyright bots. But licensed stock music eliminates the legal grey area.

Can I use stock music in my indie film?

You sure can! Stock music is used all the time in both studio blockbusters and indie films. Directors can find tracks matching the exact vibe they want for a scene without blowing the music budget.

With a stock music subscription, you may even be able to use songs in film festival screenings and limited theatrical releases. Just be sure to read the license terms closely.

The key advantage over licensing popular existing songs is that stock music is designed to fade into the background and not distract from dialogue and action. It supports the visuals seamlessly.

What about Spotify? Can I release an album of stock music?

Releasing stock music on streaming platforms like Spotify is a bit tricky. When you license a stock track, it’s usually for “synchronization” only – pairing it with visuals like in a YouTube video.

You’d need to negotiate additional streaming rights with whichever library owns the music. Some companies do offer this, but streaming isn’t the typical use case for stock music licenses.

However, some artists record separate versions of their stock music for release. Often these will be longer, remixed, or re-recorded with new vocals on top. So in a sense, stock music can make its way onto Spotify indirectly!

I’m sensing…foreshadowing?

Nice catch! Yes, we’ll get into how stock music is evolving later. For now, back to the basics…

Can video games use stock music?

Absolutely. Video game developers license stock music just like other forms of media. A fast-paced action game might use driving rock or electronic tracks, while a strategy game could license mellow, ambient background music.

One cool example is how Certain Affinity licensed commercial stock music from APM Music for the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 “Blackout” battle royale mode. The songs added flavor to the pre-game lobby island.

Of course, bigger game studios still commission original scores for those iconic sweeping themes. But stock music fits nicely into many games.

What about YouTube videos?

YouTube creators are one of the most eager markets for stock music. Having an unlimited library of commercial-grade songs for your videos is huge, especially if you post frequently.

Some stock music companies like Artlist and Epidemic Sound offer YouTube-specific licenses. This allows you to use their music without worrying about copyright claims and even monetize your videos through the YouTube Partner Program.

For creators just starting out, stock music is a lifesaver compared to hiring composers or risking strikes. It lets you ramp up video production value fast.

Wait, how much does stock music cost?

Great question. Stock music licensing fees can range from budget-friendly to sky-high:

  • Individual track downloads often start around $10–20
  • Unlimited subscriptions at entry-level libraries may be $10–15 per month
  • Larger catalogs offer subscriptions from $100–500+ per year
  • Exclusive/premium tracks at top libraries can cost $500–5,000+ per license

With subscriptions, you pay a flat rate for unlimited access rather than per track. This works well for power users like YouTubers and filmmakers.

Of course, there’s a vast middle ground between $10 songs and $5,000 songs. Compare libraries to find the right balance of price and quality for your needs.

Can I just steal stock music?

Well…you shouldn’t.

When you license a stock music track, you’re paying for the right to use it in a specific way laid out in the terms, like in a video or podcast. Downloading a song from a library you don’t have a license with would be copyright infringement.

YouTube’s bots are pretty good at detecting unlicensed music, leading to video muting, demonetization, or deletion. Libraries also watch social media closely for unauthorized use.

Think of stock music like buying ingredients from a store. Just because they offer a product doesn’t mean you can take it without paying!

Of course, the web is a wild place, so unlicensed use does happen. But sticking to reputable libraries is safest for avoiding legal issues.

Can I edit or remix stock music?

It depends on the license. Many allow you to make reasonable edits like trimming length or adjusting volume.

But alterations like adding new instruments, chopping up the song structure, or combining with other music usually require additional permission and licensing.

The terms vary between stock music companies, so read closely. When in doubt, reach out to their support team and ask if your intended use case is covered.

Remixing stock music can be a legal grey area, so tread carefully. Small tweaks are often fine, but transformative changes are best avoided without clearance.

I want maximum music for minimum spend. Any tips?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Consider an unlimited subscription for the best value if you need a lot of music
  • Look for exclusive discounts from influencer partnerships
  • Take advantage of free trial periods to test libraries out
  • For individual tracks, check out “microstock” sites with lower licensing fees
  • Follow libraries’ social accounts for special deals and free music giveaways
  • Don’t automatically go for the priciest premium tracks if cheaper ones could also work
  • Look for libraries that offer YouTube monetization approval
  • Avoid unauthorized use just to save money – it rarely ends well!

The stock music landscape is very competitive. A bit of research can uncover some stellar deals. But don’t sacrifice ethics just to save a buck.

So in short, stock music is evolving quickly! Licensing models and music styles come and go. It’s an exciting time, but also turbulent. Not a day goes by without some stock music-related drama!

More than anything, stock music is convenience and creativity combined.

So next time you hear a peppy ditty promoting paper towels or a cinematic track swelling as Godzilla knocks over a building, don’t roll your eyes. Appreciate the art and science behind stock music!

I’m a producer. Should I submit my music to libraries?

If you’re interested in getting your music licensed out to media creators, stock music libraries are a great route. You retain ownership of your tracks and collect royalties whenever they’re used.

Major libraries are extremely selective, so you’ll want high production quality and compositions that fit their briefs. But placing your music in a stock catalog means potential for passive income for years to come.

Just be sure to read the terms closely and consider whether you want to be exclusive to one company or spread your music around. Building relationships with libraries can lead to fruitful long-term partnerships.


Leave a Comment