We live in an era where it has never been easier to be a creator. From powerful open source software to the ease of online distribution, creators—if they have something interesting to say—can be discovered by internet users all over the world.
But while all of these tools democratize digital creation, they may be difficult to use. One clear example is royalty-free music. Many creators use royalty-free music. Video editors, game and app makers, authors, vloggers, photographers, YouTubers and countless others take advantage of royalty-free music in their work. While the presence or lack of good audio can make or break a project, it can be difficult to edit music or sound effects without any clear manual or guidance.
One of the most important things to consider is the main purpose of your project. By keeping the purpose in mind, you can select royalty-free audio that better suits your objective and fits your audience’s expectations. As just one simple example, if you are creating a video or game app, the music must not overshadow what is actually occurring on the screen.
But beyond this important point, there are several important things that you should avoid when using royalty-free music. Avoiding the following five common mistakes will ensure that you not only have a smooth experience selecting your royalty-free music, but that you select the best possible music for your project.
1. Avoid loud levels.
One of the first issues with royalty-free music is when the audio is too loud. Creators may not be experienced editors, so they simply overcompensate when including audio in their projects. Especially when they like the music too much. This is often the wrong approach. Whether you are creating a video, app, game or audiobook, you do not want the audio to overshadow your primary content.
Granted, there are exceptions. For example, if you are creating a commercial song, you obviously want your audio to be front and center. But having said this, if your project does not fit into any of these exceptions, you will want to ensure that your royalty-free audio doesn’t overtake your project. It is better to be conservative here. If you are in doubt, lean toward lowering your audio instead of raising it. Your audience will thank you.
2. Avoid royalty-free audio that is too distracting
You need to take a good, hard look at the audio you are using in your project and ensure that it isn’t distracting your audience.
Specifically, we are referring to music choice. The music must fit the theme of your project. For instance, if you are creating a serious, dramatic video about a problem that is occurring in your community, you do not want to include music that is cheery or lighthearted.
There isn’t a scientific formula here. It requires judgment on your part. Ultimately, however, you must ensure that you are using music that fits your project’s overall theme without distracting the audience.
3. Royalty-free music is not original
“It took you two weeks to create that masterpiece and then you finalize it with cheesy free overused stock music?”
From avoiding distracting audio, you must also avoid overused Creative Commons or free audio. This requires some work on your part, but the end result is worth it. Check out what your competitors are doing and ensure that you are not using the same royalty-free music. Try to be cool and original. Research several different royalty-free music sites for exclusive content and don’t be afraid to keep searching. This is especially crucial for marketing purposes, but keep this in mind for each one of your projects.
4. Avoid royalty-free audio that simply doesn’t fit in your project
The music must fit the theme. If it doesn’t, it may be better for you to avoid using audio entirely. For instance, if you are shooting a nature video, it may be better to avoid audio entirely and let the viewer appreciate the natural sound. If you are creating a compilation video about fighter jets, you may want to think about whether the audience wants to hear the jets’ engine sound. Whatever the case may be, ensure the audio doesn’t clash with the inherent nature of your project. Don’t overcomplicate things.
“A simple synth drone is a very powerful way to create awareness or tension in a video”
5. Avoid using the wrong license
Royalty-free music isn’t exactly royalty-free. There may be some stipulations to using the audio—specifically the type of credit (attribution) that you need to give to the original creator if needed. While the legal details may seem boring, you cannot gloss over them. There’s a big difference between commercial use and personal use. You should always check that you are using and complying with the right license. If you do so, you may receive an angry letter—or even worse—from the creator.
Royalty-free music is a godsend for creators. Regardless of your project, you can use royalty-free music in countless different ways. Before using it, however, we recommend that you avoid the five “don’ts” listed above. Doing this will ensure that you aren’t making any unforced errors and that you are creating the best possible work.