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 2017, there are more companies than you could count on five hands that aim to provide filmmakers with high-quality licensed music at legitimately affordable prices. And though I haven't used all of them, I have used quite a few. This post explores a few of my favorites.
1. Music Vine
Music Vine is among the newest licensing platforms out there, but it sets itself apart with a highly-curated selection of music from indie 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 offer an independent film license in the neighborhood of $199 or more, Music Vine’s film licenses start at $90, and if you're just looking for web licensing, you can snag great tracks starting at $45.
- Similar music quality to what the other services offer for higher prices. Which is to say, the quality is objectively 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. Plus I've seen peaks of their brand new design, and it's about to get a whole lot better.
- While the library isn’t huge, it does have plenty of breadth. As someone who's both a musician and who really loves more esoteric types of music (gypsy jazz for the win!), there’s a diversity to Music Vine’s library that I find really appealing. While some music libraries cater exclusively to what's "popular," Music Vine doesn't shy away letting artists create unique and memorable songs.
- The music selection is limited at this point. What’s there is great, and more music is being added on a consistent basis, but here and now it’s just not a very sizable library.
- The site itself is resource intensive on my computer. Whenever I dig through the Music Vine library for more than a few minutes, my poor little MacBook Air starts to get very, very overwhelmed. I'm not sure what causes this, but I haven't noticed this on any other music sites. Hopefully this will be fixed with the new version of the site, which expected mid-2017.
Unlike the other services on this list, Artlist 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 Artlist. 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, Artlist 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 Artlist 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).
- 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.
- The site itself is still occasionally slow and buggy. They came out of their public beta a few months back, and a lot of the bugginess of the first version was fixed. Still, depending on what browser I'm using, the waveforms of tracks won't load properly, and sometimes new songs won't load when I scroll down. This can almost always be fixed by refreshing the page.
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 fairly 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.
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 2017’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.