Music licensing can be very confusing to the layperson, especially royalty-free licensing. Even on user-friendly platforms like SoundCloud, it can be hard to find or publish royalty-free assets without knowing a few key details.
SoundCloud is a platform that gives users easy access to audio content and content creators easy access to an audience. Whether you're a music producer or consumer, you first need to understand Creative Commons before you can understand the concept of royalty-free music and licensing on SoundCloud.
What Are Royalties?
Before we delve into Creative Commons, it would be helpful first to understand how music licensing works and its history. One way music licenses have worked to benefit artists is through royalties, which are economic compensation for using the artists’ work. This compensation is typically a percentage of the revenue generated from the work over a given period, and the rate can vary a great deal. Royalties are calculated and distributed in several different ways and require some legal expertise.
One of the main value propositions of royalty-free work is that you can use it (generally) in perpetuity for a single flat fee (or even none at all sometimes).
There are several different ways to distribute content under a royalty-free license, one of the simplest methods being through Creative Commons.
Creative Commons Basics
Creative Commons is an organization that provides a licensing framework for intellectual property. It’s specifically tailored to IP in the digital space and has helped artists and content creators share and sell their work freely since 2001.
There are several different types of permissions that make up CC licenses, including the following:
BY (attribution) – You must credit the creator.
SA (share-alike) – You can only share adaptations under the same conditions as the source
NC (non-commercial) – You cannot use work for commercial purposes.
ND (no derivatives) – Work can only be shared as-is; no editing or re-mixing allowed.
CC0 – Work is in the public domain.
Each CC license incorporates one or more (except in the case of CC0, which is public domain exclusively) of the conditions mentioned above. For example:
CC BY (attribution)
CC BY-SA (attribution, share-alike)
CC BY-ND (attribution, no derivatives)
CC BY-NC-ND (attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives)
SoundCloud has options for applying and filtering for these licenses, but they’re easy to miss if you don’t look carefully. Here’s how to do that as a listener and as an artist.
For Downloading Content
Many different user types flock to SoundCloud for their audio needs. Many are simply music fans, but some are also artists who want to find samples for their work (which is a pretty standard use case for royalty-free audio tracks). Luckily, the CC licensing framework accommodates an extensive range of use cases.
Whatever the case, you will need to incorporate the proper search methods to find genuinely royalty-free audio. If you don’t, you may end up with the wrong type of content, potentially leading to discrepancies or even legal trouble with the licensee (which is more common than you might think).
Search For “Royalty-Free”
Unfortunately, SoundCloud doesn’t have many advanced search filters, but they provide an easy way to search by category. Once you enter your search, you can narrow down your results into one of five categories:
- SoundCloud Go+ tracks
Whatever category you are looking for, be sure to include “royalty-free” in your search terms to increase your chances of finding legitimately royalty-free content. But also remember that there could be royalty-free music out there that isn’t explicitly labeled, which is one reason why it’s essential to familiarize yourself with CC licensing if you haven’t already.
Filter For CC Licensed Music
To filter by license, you must click on the “Tracks” category of your search results. This action will reveal a sub-menu underneath called “Filter results” that includes another sub-menu with a copyright symbol beside it.
Click on that sub-menu to access the different license permissions.
If you are creating derivative works from the audio (e.g., for sample-based music like hip hop or electronic), you should naturally avoid any non-derivative (ND) Creative Commons licenses. But you should also pay close attention to other conditions (like commercial use and share-alike, if applicable) when searching for source material.
For Publishing Content
Suppose you’re uploading your music and want to make it available royalty-free. In that case, you will need to follow some basic SEO (search engine optimization) guidelines and know your Creative Commons licenses.
Include “Royalty-Free” Keywords
Since Creative Commons has no explicitly “royalty-free” license, it’s up to you to let users know that your content is indeed free of any royalty obligations. Make sure to include “royalty-free” tags in your upload. Having “Royalty-Free” in your title will help immensely.
Failing to do this won’t necessarily lead to your music falling off the radar completely. But as long as you include those keywords (along with the proper license), royalty-free music seekers will be more likely to find your work.
Choose The Right CC License
Once you upload your track, there are a few fields to populate and options to select, including the publishing license (under the Metadata tab).
Crucial Advice For Marketing Your Royalty Free Tracks On SoundCloud
Mixing and mastering quality will make a massive difference in how well your track performs, but audio quality can be subjective. One of the best ways to discover listener preferences is to test different mixes and masters of your track.
An option for automatic mastering is eMastered , which uses AI to master your track automatically, with optional custom parameter settings.
Test different versions of your track by measuring each mix’s performance (downloads, sales, plays, likes, etc.) over a given period. Since SoundCloud is such an accessible platform for streaming and downloading royalty-free tracks, there should be plenty of traffic and engagement to measure your success.