Podcast legal background music

Can You Play Music On A Podcast? 2021 Guide with Examples


At the early stage of every podcasting journey comes the question, “can I play music on my podcast?“. I had the same doubts, and although there are nuances to this question, I’ll lay it here simple.

In general, you need the rights to play music on a podcast. If the music is copyright-protected, you need to pay for the license. A royalty-free music license is most affordable. Many free samples are available under the Creative Commons license. In specific cases, Fair Use for Journalism applies.

It is extremely important to understand what kind of music for a podcast you need and where you can use it.

Publically available podcasts may be scanned for the use of copyright-protected music, and if you don’t have the right license, then episodes or an entire show may be taken down.

Can I use music on a podcast – quick guide:

  1. In general, music is protected by copyrights. Don’t infringe them – pay the license for your music, and there are many places where you can get inexpensive, unique, and high-quality music,
  2. No exceptions for short (under a few seconds) or heavily remixed samples – there are multiple myths about exceptions, and specific rules, that wave copyrights, but in most cases, those are not true,
  3. There is a Set of Principles in Fair Use for Journalism – some copyright-protected material may be used in podcasts, but in the form of reporting journalism,
  4. You can find many free music samples under the Creative Commons license – Creative Commons is an awesome solution, where you find tons of free music samples to use (you may need to credit the authors),
  5. Royalty-free music – Professional samples can be purchased inexpensively on sites like Soundstripe, HookSounds, or PremiumBeat, to elevate the quality of your show,
  6. Get unique music on a podcast – If you are looking for unique jingles made on-demand, check out professionals on sites like Fiverr, where they create custom-made podcast music, intro, outros, trailers, etc.
  7. Popular hits – to get the right to play a popular hit on your show, you need the rights from the label, which will be a long and expensive process for most small podcasters,
  8. Music on Anchor – Anchor, a podcast hosting platform owned by Spotify, allows you to create shows, where you combine narration with songs from Spotify’s catalog. You need to host your show with Anchor, and you can’t freely mix the tracks, so this is a very specific use case (similar to creating your own radio station, where you talk and then play music).

Now, let’s go into details and discuss details of playing music on podcasts.

Why can’t I just play any music on a podcast?

Due to the provisions of the law and court rulings majority of the available music, unless specified otherwise, is protected by copyrights.

The reuse of a fragment or entire piece of music is called music sampling. Protected by copyright are also all components of a song, so the sample also refers to rhythm, melody, speech, etc.

Can I legally play popular music on a podcast?

It is technically possible. But a legal sampling of popular music can be extremely expensive. The process of getting permission is known as clearance. This process can be complex and costly.

Sampling without permission can infringe copyright. While you probably won’t face serious legal and financial repercussions, your episodes may be taken down, and you risk your podcasting directories to remove you from listings.

In general, if you are an independent podcaster without a company behind you to help you handle copyrights licensing and deal with labels, avoid using copyrighted music in podcasts.

What is the time limit for the sample to be within fair use?

There is no limit or threshold. There are many rumors and myths about music samples being within fair use for podcasting if the used fragment is less than two seconds (or 3 or 5, it doesn’t matter). This is not true. Any usage of protected material can infringe copyrights.

Can I use the music sample for the podcast if it is altered and not easily recognizable?

You can’t use any sample without infringing copyrights, regardless of how short or how much altered. Court rulings in the early 2000s on music sampling effectively eliminated the usage of fair use for a very small, altered part of the sample. It does not matter if the sample is basically unrecognizable.

Can a music sample be used in remixes and arrangements?

No, it is the same situation as described above. Taking a sample and rearranging it without clearance would still violate copyright.

If you are looking for good software for combining audio samples with your recorded voice-over, check out our recommendations on the best podcast editing software.

Can a sample be used in the ad of the product I’m promoting for a sponsor?

It can’t even be if the sponsor of your show has used this sample in any other commercial you heard publicly. If your sponsor asks you to emit any specific ad already recorded with samples, make sure that the sample has been cleared.

Endorsing a product with a protected sample not only may infringe the copyrights but also can violate the right of publicity. This is because it may give the impression that the author of used music endorses the product also. The usage of samples in ads requires an additional type of clearance.

In what types of situations fair use can be applied for music on a podcast?

You could potentially use music samples for the purpose of parody. But you have to be careful. Samples can be used if you are parodying the piece itself, criticizing the product, author, text, or any other component of the work.

However, you can’t create parody podcasts making fun of general issues. Court rulings, in this case, have distinguishing parodies of the piece from broad satire, where you criticize, e.g., some social aspect of society not directly tied to the sample you are using. Since you can express this satire without using specific samples in broad satires is prohibited.

Examples:

  • you could use a track and then add your own lyrics if the idea is to parody the original artist or a piece,
  • you can’t joke about a random topic and play protected music in the background.

One more area where sampling music could not infringe copyrights is the use of samples for educational purposes. Again you will have to be careful here. Ensure that your podcast is for educational purposes and that its availability for the general public is limited. It would be best if you had a closed audience group for this kind of usage.

Can I use parts of interviews on my podcast within fair use or will this violate copyrights?

Using parts of the interviews is in principle governed by a document called “Set of Principles in Fair Use for Journalism.” This document regulates behaviors for both full-time professional and amateur individuals who report on issues.

The definition of journalism is inclusive, reflecting in our case the situation that through available technology, every podcaster can be a journalist.

Most applicable fair use cases of otherwise copyrighted material for podcasters are:

  • As documentation and proof that something has actually happened,
  • For the purpose of reporting, criticizing, commenting on events and cultural phenomena,
  • As part of reporting and analysis to provide wider context and background,
  • As a historical reference to show how in the past events have unfolded,
  • For the promotion of public discussion,
  • To add value. When you use someone else’s reporting or summaries when they are as important to the understanding of the story as the pure events themselves.

Were can I find legal music for a podcast?

There are a few solutions to get licensed music for a podcast:

  • You can use free samples under the Creative Commons license.
  • You can license inexpensive samples on dedicated sites (we recommend this choice for simplicity, speed (you have your track in a few minutes), and very low cost – check recommended providers below)
  • If you have music experience, you can compose and record your own samples,
  • You can order someone to prepare samples for you.

Let’s focus on licensing inexpensive samples and Creative Commons license as those are the fastest and most affordable options for podcasters.

The Best Licensed Royalty-Free Music for Podcasts

If free samples don’t meet your expectations, there are quality premium, royalty-free music samples available at:

TOPBest Music SourceIdeal for whom?

1

best music for a podcast source

Soundstripe has the highest quality, exclusive music.
They offer 6,000 exclusive songs and over 35,000 sound effects.
check prices

2

royalty free podcast music license

HookSounds offers modern, stylish, and distinctive music.
They focus on originals and even make custom music requests!
check prices

3

music licensing for podcasts

PremiumBeat is one of the oldest and largest royalty-free music providers.
Pick if a huge song choice is your priority (library of c.a. 17,000 songs)
check prices

You will receive a license and will be able to use all the samples in the provided package according to your podcast’s needs.

Those are really inexpensive purchases that can solve your long-term issues. The premium plans, in most cases, offer to use for an unlimited number of projects.

This is a much better option than licensing popular songs from large music distributors.

Good voice samples can help to build and reinforce your brand. If you want more tips on how you can establish a strong brand, check out: 10 step strategy for building a podcast brand and getting more listeners.

What is Creative Commons (source of free podcast music)?

In the early 2000s, Creative Commons (a global nonprofit organization) was founded and has released a set of licenses to the public. Those licenses enable sharing and reusing different content and resources, including music samples.

This was an answer to strict court rulings where the approach that “all rights were reserved” was becoming dominant.

Under Creative Commons, you can find samples where only some rights are reserved. There will often be sources where the license will allow you to use the music sample without any limitations.

Creative Commons is also a good source of images for you to use when working on a logo for a podcast or looking for images on your website dedicated to podcasts.

Where can I find Creative Commons free music for podcasts?

Multiple sites offer a lot of free resources for you to use for your podcast. Most popular with large, easily accessible libraries are:

When you find a clip you like and want to use just double check if it has the necessary license, or if the author asks for a credit to their work.


In conclusion

An effective podcast episode needs to have music samples. We have covered this in our article containing planning tips for podcast episodes.

  • Don’t use music samples of popular music on your podcast,
  • Make sure you have rights to the audio track you want to use,
  • As clearance for sampling music for popular songs can be complex and expensive, avoid this altogether,
  • There are sets of rules allowing for the fair use of samples for purposes of journalism. If you want to use a sample, be absolutely sure your use fits the rules. Don’t overinterpret them for your benefit,
  • If you find a free music sample online, check if the sample is available under Creative Commons license agreements,
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks. Don’t risk getting your podcast taken down. Professional-sounding music samples are available online at a very affordable price – our personal favorite is Soundstripe.

How much are you willing to pay for good music for your podcast?

About the Author

Chris Land

I'm the owner and creator of ImprovePodcast.com, the site dedicated to providing actionable solutions for podcast creators. My goal is helping people to develop their podcasts into effective marketing and sales tools.


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