Last Updated on September 16, 2022 by Vasco Lourenço
There’s never been a better time to become an independent musician selling stock music online.
Imagine you could build an automatic stream of income with your music, making money while you sleep selling your music.
Waking up in the morning, checking your email, and seeing emails like these is the dream, right?
In December 2020, I generated over $400 only from one music library. 90% of those commissions came from two Christmas public domain tracks that I recorded and jazzed up a bit.
We all know that festivities boost sales.
What’s more, I recorded and uploaded those two tracks 1 year before, in December 2019. Now, imagine what happens when you register with multiple libraries.
In this article, I’ll explain how you can leverage the music industry in today’s digital world. I’ll also show you how stock music licensing works so you can start generating some sales.
Why I started composing stock music
By working as a professional sound engineer for almost 10 years on a major dubbing studio, coupled with my classical and jazz piano journey, I found it quite easy to embark on music composition for media.
Before making library music for royalty-free music websites, some friends used to say that I should compose original music. When people know that you play an instrument, they always encourage you to play! I never knew why I should compose music and for what purpose, anyway. I always preferred to play and study what came to mind rather than compose.
Stock music changed that.
I finally found a purpose for writing music, and people all around the world can actually use it.
What is stock music?
Stock music, also known as production music, is those music tracks, songs, or jingles that enhance commercials, training videos, software applications, podcast intros, YouTube videos, games, corporate videos, and many more media projects.
Most people online are more familiar with stock images and stock footage. These are all over the internet.
Websites that sell these stock items are called stock libraries. For example, if you type “happy family on the beach” on Adobe Stock, you get these results:
You see these photographs and graphics on commercials, poster advertisements, and throughout websites.
The same applies to a stock music library or production library. Different production libraries offer different types of music.
A simple search on Audiojungle for “energetic classic rock” gives you 2,163 tracks.
Music styles or genres vary from corporate music, classical, pop, rock to techno, disco, lounge, ambient, and many more. We can then subdivide every single one of those genres into subgenres even further. This is also true for stock music.
I wouldn’t call stock music a genre because it’s an entirely different world in terms of purpose. While non-stock music has an end on its own, stock music is composed specifically for media.
You can sit down and listen to an entirely Frank Zappa album and find a message, a meaning, a story, a beginning, and an end to it. The music speaks for itself, as he wrote it that way.
Stock music needs a vehicle so it can enhance its emotions (a bit like film music). It’s written not for itself, but a film, a video, a photo slideshow, a presentation, as background or ambient music.
For this reason, some “real” musicians think stock music equals low-quality music. I used to think that way too. But just like film music, now I can see the purpose of stock music. And when you get the hang of it, it gets easier and easier to compose and record.
With time, you can even finish a track in less than a day.
Overall, stock music, or stock audio, is a good way for fellow musicians to make passive income online.
The specifics of stock music
If you want to sell music to stock music libraries, you need to know the specifics of stock music. In other words, what sets it apart from other types of music.
Stock music is mainly used in YouTube videos, TV and radio broadcasts, trailers, advertising, jingles, software apps, multimedia, etc., as background music.
Since musicians compose stock music specifically for media, you need to compose it in a way that can be chopped, looped, and edited in several ways.
This is probably a unique characteristic of stock music that sets it apart from non-stock music.
When composing this type of music, remember that a video or sound editor may slice or loop it to sync it with the video he’s working on. A good stock music track is versatile.
And since all these media outlets may have a narrator, stock music should not be distracting. It should convey an overall background ambient bed for the voice narrator.
Sometimes, people also call it background music.
Besides the main track, composers usually make alternate versions. Examples include a version without drums, a 60, 30, and 15-second version, or a looped version.
Most commercials you see on TV or radio have a duration of 60, 30, or 15 seconds.
Is stock music the same as royalty-free music?
There have been many debates regarding this question, especially by consumers, not composers.
Stock music is also known as royalty-free music. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s free. It means that you only have to pay a one-time fee for the track, and then you have clearance to use it indefinitely without needing to pay any royalties.
“Royalty-free” is a type of license that royalty-free websites sell.
However, it does not mean the composer relinquished the copyright of his music. Suppose his music ends up in a TV show or radio commercial. In that case, he may still be entitled to performance royalties paid by those broadcasting companies.
The same doesn’t happen with songs by pop artists. Here, you are granted a license to use it in a specific media outlet for a specific duration, usually 1 year. Besides, with the money you’d spend on such a song, you could purchase hundreds of stock music tracks and use them forever without paying additional fees.
That’s the price of using pop star’s songs.
This is why royalty-free music has become so popular.
Stock music is music that’s already composed and ready to license. Instead of “custom music,” where a composer makes music for a particular project, be it a commercial, film, or another type of video, stock music is already in stock.
A client browses the music library (the stock library) and looks for music that might suit their project’s needs. This is a very popular business model for agencies, as it’s cheaper than hiring a composer.
Exclusive vs. non-exclusive music libraries
There are many stock music libraries out there, and I sell on a handful of those. However, I’m still only selling on non-exclusive music libraries, as I like to spread my portfolio across the internet as much as possible. The more it is out there, the more chances I have to sell.
When you begin to make stock music and are trying to find the best libraries to upload your tracks, bear in mind the two types of libraries that exist: exclusive and non-exclusive.
Exclusive music libraries
An exclusive music library is a library that is officially authorized to be the sole seller for a specific track. This means you can’t upload that track to another library unless you want to break the agreement and get into trouble. While it may seem unfair in case you’re not generating any sales from that track, selling your music on an exclusive library has its perks:
- You can get a higher upfront fee or a higher percentage of royalties for a single track.
- TV and movie production companies usually rely on exclusive libraries to license music, as the tracks typically have better quality.
- The library dedicates its efforts to promoting your tracks.
The downside is you can’t upload your exclusive tracks to any other stock music site, even if they are not selling. Also, exclusive music libraries require your track to be high quality, from composition to recording and mixing.
This is why many stock music composers start by uploading their tracks to non-exclusive music libraries. Although many decline low-quality tracks, they have a broader acceptance rate.
Non-exclusive music libraries
As the name implies, non-exclusive music libraries have a non-exclusive agreement for selling your tracks. This means your tracks are not tied to a specific library. You can upload all of your tracks in as many non-exclusive libraries as you want, expanding the reach of your music and exposing them to more buyers.
Here are the benefits of selling your music on non-exclusive libraries:
- You can upload the same track to different websites.
- Choose different prices for the same track in different libraries.
- Greater flexibility in managing your portfolio.
- They expose your music tracks to more potential buyers.
- Accepts lower quality tracks.
As a downside to non-exclusive libraries, you have fewer opportunities to sell your music to TV and movie companies, and you get a lower upfront rate.
Although it seems tempting to upload your tracks to all non-exclusive music libraries (there are many!), you can spend a lot of time uploading to libraries that don’t sell, ending up wasting your time. The uploading process of each library is different, and some require more patience than others.
Licensing your stock music
Personally, I’ve known companies that were caught in the trap of buying a license for a stock music track and then getting into trouble because they used it outside the scope of that license.
There are different ways to license your music track. However, they depend on the stock music website you’re selling them. For example, Audiojungle has 5 different licenses, each one with its price tag:
- Standard License
- Broadcast (1 Million)
- Mass Reproduction
- Broadcast (10 Million)
- Broadcast & Film
You can find tracks for $20 (standard license) that go up to $499 or higher (broadcast & film). Since Audiojungle lets composers choose their prices, you can see a lot of variations here.
Some authors at Audiojungle price their tracks at $10 (or even less), but they’ll only get about $3 or $4 per sale, which is nothing, considering the time it takes to make a good quality track.
Actually, I find it an insult to composers, even for themselves. By tagging a low price, they’re killing the market and also breeding self-frustration when receiving such low commission for their work.
Anyway, every music library website has its own set of licenses, and not all let you set your price.
Some royalty-free libraries, like Motion Elements, let you offer your music for free. While you may do that to some of your tracks, it’s always good to keep them to a minimum unless you don’t want to make money from your music.
Free stock music may be enticing to new customers and content creators. However, they’ll soon find out that those free stock music tracks are being overused over the internet, making them less appealing for unique creative projects.
PRO: Performance Rights Organization
If you’re a stock music composer or a music producer and want to get an extra stream of revenue, it’s a good idea to register your tracks with a performance rights organization (PRO).
As a composer, each time a live venue, a restaurant, a TV show, or a radio commercial plays your track, it entitles you to performance royalties. These TV networks, radio stations, and venues consequently pay the royalties to PROs, who then distribute the earnings to their composers and publishers.
What this means is if a marketing agency buys your track from a royalty-free music library website, they only pay once for the track. However, if, for example, they use the track in a TV commercial, the TV network has to pay performance royalties to its country’s PRO.
How are composers tracked down?
All broadcasting stations need to provide a cue sheet to PROs, reporting all the music used in a specific production. Your music track plus your CAE/IPI code (provided by your PRO) will be written on this cue sheet.
Actually, on Audiojungle, you can see the invoice with the name and address of each buyer. Sometimes, you may find a TV network bought your track. However, there’s no way of knowing if it will be used at all unless you contact them.
If you want to know if your tracks are being broadcasted, you can register with TuneSat or Soundmouse. With their audio recognition technology, these two services scan TV channels and websites around the world so you can discover where your music is being played.
Most music libraries accept music registered with PROs. However, some, like Melody Loops, only accept non-PRO music.
Perpetual and non-perpetual agreements
Besides being exclusive or non-exclusive, some libraries require a perpetual commitment. This means you can upload your tracks, but you can’t take them down. They’ll stay there forever. So if you want to upload one of your best tracks to such a library, think twice.
Here’s an example.
AudioSparx states in their vendor participation options:
We require a perpetual license so that we can maintain a stable and professional shopping environment for our large, professional client base where tracks don’t suddenly disappear as a result of a takedown.
Recently, they also introduced the RadioSparx-only participation option, which is non-perpetual. If you’re not willing to commit your tracks for perpetuity, then this is a great alternative, although your tracks won’t get as exposed as if they were licensed through AudioSparx.
100Audio is another non-exclusive music library (with the option of exclusivity) that doesn’t allow authors to remove their tracks at will unless there’s a copyright issue. Although they don’t have a specific agreement stating the perpetuity or not of the uploaded tracks, I’ve found myself in a situation where my track couldn’t be deleted.
This information is not clear on their website. Still, by looking through 100Audio’s forum, you can see examples of authors requesting their tracks to be removed, only to find out that the library cannot accept their proposal.
Many libraries have a “delete” button to easily remove your track, but 100Audio doesn’t.
I’m not discouraging you from uploading your tracks to 100Audio because they pay well. I’m getting an average commission of $25 per sale, sometimes even going as high as $89 depending on the scope of the music license sold. Considering my experience with music libraries, these are some of the highest commissions I get.
100Audio is one of the top marketplaces in Asia, and together with VFine Music, they have the highest commissions for authors, in my experience. This is probably because they control the pricing of all tracks.
So beware if the licensing agreement of the library you’re joining is perpetual or non-perpetual, as it will dictate your relationship with it and with your tracks.
Subscription-based music libraries
Besides music libraries that sell individual licenses to tracks as required, some libraries work on a subscription basis. These libraries offer a subscription service where users can download an unlimited number of tracks for a monthly or annual fee.
While an individual license can generate a more significant commission for the author, a subscription-based library pays out differently.
These libraries pay their artists a profit share of what the entire website generates each month. In other words, you can’t set your track’s price, and you might receive a different commission for the same number of downloads, only depending on the overall website revenue.
These libraries can be an extra source of income, although I wouldn’t focus on joining them initially. With libraries such as Audiojungle or Pond5 (which are non-subscription-based), you can get that initial satisfaction of receiving a well-deserved (and higher) commission for your music.
Registering your stock music with Content ID for extra income
Content ID is a digital fingerprinting system that allows authors to protect and monetize their creations on social media, including YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
Currently, it’s one of the best ways for stock music composers to make money on YouTube.
Check out how I made $912 from YouTube without having a YouTube channel.
Each time someone uploads a video to YouTube, YouTube scans it against a gigantic database of copyrighted material, including audio and video. If the video’s content matches your copyrighted content, like your music track, for example, the video receives a Content ID claim.
You can then decide what to do with it:
- Monetize it.
- Release the claim.
- Block the video.
Every time you see information like this in a YouTube video, it means the songs included are copyrighted. Youtube automatically adds the song’s info below the video description.
Whenever someone buys your track from a music library, they get a license for that specific track. If they upload it to YouTube (and your track is protected with Content ID), they receive a copyright claim. Their license is sufficient to release the claim, and now they can monetize their video.
If someone steals your music (believe me, that happens), they get a copyright claim. The claim cannot be released because they don’t have a license. You then have two options: to monetize it or to remove it.
If you choose to monetize it, ads may be displayed on the video. Your Content ID partner will then distribute the ad revenue to you, taking a small percentage of it.
Another way of releasing a copyright claim is to replace the song with free-to-use music from YouTube Audio Library.
Bear in mind that not all music libraries accept music registered with Content ID. Although I understand it can be a hassle to the buyer, authors have the right to protect their content.
Best music libraries for beginners
Here’s a list of the best stock music libraries that, in my opinion, are best for beginners:
Here are some high-end music libraries that require better skills from the composer and better quality music:
Related: Best Stock Music Sites
How to Sell Stock Music: Conclusion
Selling music online has never been easier than it is today.
If you’re a composer and have some sound engineering skills, you should definitely try stock music. You can start generating passive income for years to come solely from your music sales.
It can be a little overwhelming to see libraries like Audiojungle having 1,714,988 tracks and sound effects (growing every day). You might think: will my track cut through all those tracks?
Other music libraries have much lesser tracks, as they’re more selective.
In the end, stock music is a numbers game.
The more tracks you have, the better chances you have of making sales.
And the more you keep uploading, the more you stay on top of the competition.
As time goes by, you keep learning and investing in better equipment, sounds, mixing, mastering, and composing skills. Finally, you’ll be able to join high-end libraries, where you can get more $ per track.
If you want to learn the technical side of composing, recording, and mixing stock music, I highly recommend you to follow Daniel Carrizalez on his YouTube channel and listen to his Stock Music Licensing Podcast.
Daniel is a great inspiration for anyone willing to put in the effort of starting their stock music journey. He has tons of great videos full of tips and resources to make your tracks stand out, so check him out.
And since you’re thinking about composing stock music, why not start a blog or website to showcase your talent? We rely too much on music libraries that we sometimes forget we can sell our tracks on our own website. But for that, you need a reliable web hosting service.
You can get started with Dreamhost for only $2.49/mo (64% off).
Please let me know if you found this article valuable in the comment section below. If not, let me know anyway.
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