This article first appeared on PostLine, the web’s newest post-production blog, in April of 2016. It’s been slightly modified for use on this site.
Music is responsible for much of what an audience feels when they watch a film. So if you’re truly serious about storytelling and moving your audience emotionally, the last thing you want is generic, boring stock music.
Luckily, in 2016, several companies have stepped into the limelight to provide filmmakers with high-quality licensed music at legitimately affordable prices. This post explores a few of my favorites options.
Now, there’s one thing that I need to be up front about before continuing. I (Robert Hardy) am on the payroll of one of the companies on this list, as I'm the editor-in-chief at PostLine, the blog founded by Art-list. So while I wholeheartedly believe that Art-list a superb option for licensing quality music, I recognize that there’s a significant conflict of interest here.
So, with that said, you have my word that this won’t be shameless self-promotion of one company with a half-assed description of our competitors. I plan on telling you what’s good about each of these options, and what’s not so good, and that includes Art-list. If you feel I've been unfair in my assessment, feel free to send me an email (use the contact page on this site) and I will do my best to correct it.
With that out of the way, there's just one more quick note about the services I've selected here. These are not the cheapest, lowest-budget solutions on the market. Instead, they're the best options if authentic, high-quality music is what you're looking for in your project.
Now let's check out the best music licensing services of 2016!
Musicbed is the gold standard for modern licensing services. It’s the one against which all of the others are judged, and for good reason. In the past few years, Musicbed has established itself as a leader in providing a highly-curated selection of emotive, cinematic music from independent artists. Its interface is very well-developed and designed, making it easy to find whatever you’re looking for. Basically, everything Musicbed does exudes quality.
- Like I mentioned before, the quality of their music is objectively outstanding.
- The pricing can be very reasonable (depending on how you intend to use the music).
- The interface is clean and intuitive.
- On top of all that, it’s a cool company that does a lot for both musicians and filmmakers alike.
- Plus they have the classiest blog ever. Seriously, go check it out once you’re done with this article.
- Prices that rise very quickly. If you only intend to use Musicbed for personal or non-commercial projects, you should be able to snag some great music for a reasonable price. However, once you start delving into commercial territory, Musicbed’s prices start to climb quickly and dramatically.Depending on the scope of your commercial use, it’s not uncommon for a single license to hit anywhere between $200-$800.
- Though I still like the interface, it’s gotten more and more minimalist over the years, and with the removal of the album artwork thumbnails, I find that it doesn’t have the same visual flair it once did. Also, those thumbnails served as a quick, visual way to spot artists you knew and liked. With them gone, it feels a bit more tedious to navigate through their library.
Unlike the other services on this list, Art-list is a subscription service that offers unlimited access to its entire catalogue of curated music for a flat, yearly fee of $199. In addition to the unlimited access, all of the music is licensed universally so that you can use it in personal projects, commercial projects, and even broadcast projects without any additional fees. That’s really the main selling point of Art-list. You could download 10 songs during your yearly subscription, or 100 songs. The price would be exactly the same, which is just plain awesome for people who work on lots of projects thought the year.
- Unlimited music for as long as you subscribe. I can’t stress how huge this is, especially for corporate filmmakers, wedding filmmakers, YouTubers, etc. Basically, if you create work in high volume and want to license good music for everything, Art-list is a no-brainer.
- High-quality music sourced from a growing number of independent artists around the world.
- A lovely interface loaded with beautiful graphic design and plenty of attention to detail.
- Ultimate simplicity in licensing. There is only one license, and it covers everything you’d need to do with the music. The theory here is that it prevents you from worrying about the intricacies of licensing and helps you get back to being creative. It’s a music service that gets out of your way and lets you focus on just the music, not the details and logistics.
- Price. No matter what you do, the price of Art-list is $199/year. That doesn’t change even if you use the music in corporate videos for massive companies, or even in broadcasting (both of which are traditionally outrageously expensive).
- First off, Art-list is in its public beta right now. This means that you might encounter occasional bugs when browsing the service, especially as new features are added (which is fairly often at this point). Luckily, I have yet to find a bug that can’t be fixed simply by refreshing the page.
- Right now, the selection of music is still relatively small. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still well north of 1000 unique tracks, but it lacks the breadth and depth of more established music libraries.
- No ability to sort by genre. Sometimes you just really want a hip-hop song or a rock song. In those cases, Art-list’s “mood” and “instrument” filters won’t do much to help you narrow down the library for exactly what you’re looking for.
- No ability to sort by track length. This isn’t that big of a deal, but sometimes you just need a song that sits between three and four minutes. With Art-list, you can see how long songs are, but you can’t filter them by length.
Music Vine is among the newest licensing platforms out there, but it sets itself apart with a curated selection of music from artists and composers around the world, and it makes that music available for more more affordable prices than you’d find with other licensing services. The founders at Music Vine are on a mission to democratize great music and make it legitimately affordable for everybody, and so far, the site is very much living up to that vision.
- Comparatively low prices for great music. Whereas most of the services listed here (except for Art-list) offer an independent film license in the neighborhood of $199, Music Vine’s film licenses range from $57 to $111.
- Similar music quality to what the other services offer for higher prices. Which is to say, the quality is great.
- Man oh man does Music Vine look beautiful. It’s got a lovely aesthetic to it that doesn’t get in the way of functionality.
- While the library isn’t huge, it does have plenty of breadth. As someone who really loves more esoteric types of music (jazz for the win!), there’s a diversity to Music Vine’s library that I find really appealing.
- The music selection is quite limited at this point. What’s there is great, and more music is being added, but here and now it’s just not a very sizable library.
- The library is also a bit uneven. This could probably be said for most of the services on here, but the bulk of the songs trend towards popular categories like “cinematic” and “indie folk.”
- They have a “Music Vine” watermark that you hear every few seconds when previewing songs. I’m all for the protection of intellectual property, but it’s annoying and it hampers my enjoyment of searching for music on the service.
Marmoset is another of those companies that just exudes quality and coolness. Rooted in Portland, Marmoset maintains a handpicked roster of independent artists (mostly from the northwest), and makes their music available on the most beautifully-crafted licensing platform around. Seriously, I can’t stress just how awesome this platform is in terms of its usability, especially when it comes to its search functionality. Their story and character-driven search algorithms are truly a fantastic and useful alternative to searching by mood or genre.
- The control and depth with which you’re able to search Marmoset’s library are second to none. They have story, character, and project-driven search modifiers that make it incredibly simple to find something that perfectly matches the emotional tone of your project. And then you can stack a whole bunch of technical modifiers like track length, energy, arc, and instrumentation on top of those results to narrow the search even further. It’s such a powerful and intuitive search process, and I hope other licensing platforms take note.
- Unique music of the absolute highest quality Thanks to the handpicked roster of indie artists, Marmoset might be the only service to offer better music than Musicbed, but that’s just a matter of taste and opinion.
- Build yourself mixtapes within Marmoset’s library. This is great for saving music that you like for later, or just having playlists of really cool music that you won’t find elsewhere.
- Marmoset is also the only place on this list where you can go for completely custom music for your projects.
- Price. Similar to Musicbed, Marmoset songs can get a bit pricey depending on how extensive of a commercial license you need. However, the rest of their licensing options tend to be pretty straightforward, and they even offer a podcasting license for a super affordable price.
- That’s all I can really knock Marmoset on. If you couldn’t tell, I really dig what these folks are doing.
SongFreedom is another major contender in the contemporary licensing marketplace. It’s the only service (that I know of) where you can legally license music from extremely popular artists — think The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Bob Dylan — for a legitimately inexpensive price. The catch here is that the music from these artists is limited in terms of what you can do with it. With that said, SongFreedom still has a ton of other music that is available to license in a number of different ways.
- Legal access to very popular music that would otherwise be inaccessible for content creators to license for personal and non-commercial projects.
- A sizable library, full of new music, old music, stock music, truly one-of-a-kind music, and everything in between.
- Lots of ways to sort said library, ranging from genre to mood to length to license type to intended use of the music. SongFreedom allows you to search for music on your terms, not theirs.
- Affordable pricing for everything.
- SongFreedom’s marketing pulls a little bit of a bait and switch on content creators. The service does, in fact, offer very popular musicians and bands at a reasonable price, but not if you intend to use the music in a film or commercial project. If you just want these songs for a wedding or church video, you’re getting an incredible deal, but if you get into SongFreedom expecting to license some One Republic songs for your debut indie feature, then you’re out of luck.
- Convoluted pricing structure with strange, non-effectual naming of licenses. I don’t know what the hell a “Gold Commercial” or “Standard Platinum” license is without having to dive into the FAQ, and that irritates me.
That wraps up this exploration of 2016’s best options for licensing music that doesn’t suck. As you can tell, there’s quite a bit of my personal opinion laced throughout this piece. But music is a very subjective thing, as are our preferences for how to sort and find it.
Still, this should give you a great idea of the high-quality services out there that are serving the needs of content creators and helping musicians monetize their work.