Not every brand has the budget for an in-house composer, let alone whatever Lady Gaga charges for a cookie collaboration. Fortunately, you can score (no pun intended) the perfect soundtrack for your next video for free by using free creative commons music.
As with free stock photos and free stock videos, you can peruse creative commons music libraries to find exactly what you need. And we’ve made it even easier by compiling 13 of the best sources below.
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What is creative commons music?
Let’s start with a definition: Creative Commons is a company that issues special licenses to the public, allowing them to use creative materials (like music) at no cost. More than two billion creative works, including videos, photos, music, and more, are licensed by Creative Commons.
There are different types of Creative Commons licenses, which dictate how the work can be used. As long as you follow the terms of the license, you can use the work for free.
However, the key is following the license. If you don’t, you may be forced to take the video down or even face legal repercussions for copyright violation.
Most likely, you’ll want to look for materials that are in the public domain, which will be labeled as CC0, which is fully in the public domain. This means you can remix or modify the track, use it on any platform, and share it without attribution.
There are also six types of creative commons licenses, three of which permit commercial use with attribution.
- CC-BY: This license also allows you to use the music however you like, on any platform and in any medium. However, you must give credit to the creator, and provide a link to the original license (for instance, by adding that information to your video caption).
- CC-BY-SA: This license also requires you to give attribution to the creator. Also, if you remix or modify the track in any way, you also need to make it available under the same license type.
- CC-BY-ND: This license requires you to give attribution to the creator. However, you can’t modify the material in any way.
The other license types (CC-BY-NC, CC-BY-NC-SA, and CC-BY-NC-ND) are only for noncommercial use, which means they’re out-of-bounds for brands.
Why use creative commons music?
Video is more important than ever, with TikTok poised to become the most important platform for social media marketing in 2022. And what is a video without sound? Like a burger without fries, it just feels incomplete.
This is more than just a vibe. TikTok found that 88% of users reported sound is essential to their viewing experience, and that campaigns with sound were more than twice as effective as those without.
But getting licensed music or creating new music for your videos can be expensive. Creative commons music is free and legal to use, as long as you credit it correctly.
How to credit creative commons music
Any license other than CC0 requires you to provide attribution. And even if you are using a work that’s in the public domain, it’s best practice to provide credit to the artist. So learning how to credit creative commons music is valuable, even if you’re planning to only use work from the public domain.
Creative Commons has created a handy guide, and they recommend a four-part format: Title, Creator, Source, and License.
- Title: The name of the track or song.
- Creator: The name of the artist, ideally with a link to their website or creator profile.
- Source: Link back to where you originally found the music.
- License: Include the license type (like CC-BY) with a link to the original license deed.
You can find detailed examples on their wiki.
Now that you’re a copyright expert, let’s find you some creative commons music!
13 sites to find free creative commons music
This is the index of ccMixter, an online platform for sharing remixes. All the music on the site is licensed under Creative Commons (that’s what the “cc” stands for), which makes it the perfect place to explore.
You can use ccMixter to also explore tracks, but there’s no easy way to filter by license type. The benefit of skipping straight to dig.ccMixter is that they have already sorted tracks into categories, including free music for commercial projects. There are more than 4,200 to choose from.
A search bar allows you to find tracks by keyword, or you can filter by genre, instrument, and style. Fun!
Just a reminder that all of these free tracks are licensed as CC-BY, so they require you to credit the artist.
Another site dedicated to Creative Commons music, ccTrax is a curated collection with a focus on electronic genres like techno and house music.
You can filter tracks by license type, genre, and tags like “cinematic” or “shoegaze.”
ccTrax also has an organized collection of tracks under the CC-BY license.
SoundCloud is an online music sharing site with more than 175 million users worldwide, and more than 200 million tracks. That number includes a ton of tracks in the public domain, or licensed under Creative Commons. As a bonus, SoundCloud is very easy to navigate and explore.
There are many ways to search for Creative Commons tracks on SoundCloud, but here are three of the easiest:
- Follow Creative Commons, which has a profile on SoundCloud featuring Creative Commons music.
- Enter the license type (e.g., “CC0”) you’re looking for in the search bar.
- Use the search bar to find specific sounds or moods, and then filter the results based on your needs. This is the best method if you want to find a specific mood or feeling.
Like SoundCloud, Bandcamp is a music distribution site for artists to share their work. And though Bandcamp was founded to pay artists for their work, there is a decent number of tracks that are licensed under Creative Commons.
You can search for music tagged with Creative Commons, though it’s not as user-friendly as SoundCloud, which allows you to filter by usage. Searching for music tagged with public domain is the easiest way to find tracks for commercial use.
Musopen provides sheet music, recordings, and educational materials for free to the public. They have a focus on classical music, and have recorded and released collections by composers like Beethoven and Chopin.
They have a large collection of copyright-free recordings, which can be used by anyone for any project. You can search by composer, instrument, arrangement, or mood.
Additional filters let you search for specific Creative Commons licenses, as well as length, rating, and recording quality.
With a free account on Museo, you can download up to five tracks each day. Paid memberships are available for $55/year and provide unlimited downloads, along with other benefits.
6. Free Music Archive
The Free Music Archive is another great site to explore, with more than 150,000 tracks from independent artists. FMA is a project of Tribe of Noise, a Netherlands-based company focused on supporting independent artists.
To find music for your project, search the archive with a keyword (like “electronic”) and then filter by license type, genre, or duration. There are over 3,500 tracks on FMA in the public domain, and over 8,880 licensed under CC-BY.
CreativeCommons also has a curator profile on FMA, which includes a selection of CC-licensed tracks. However, they only have a small number of tracks on their page, so searching the full collection will yield more results.
FreeSound is a collaborative database project founded in Barcelona, featuring a huge variety of tracks and other recordings that are all licensed under Creative Commons.
The look and feel of the website is very Web 1.0— you might get a Geocities flashback while exploring. But they have over 11,000 tracks in the public domain, which can be used without attribution or restriction.
The easiest way to explore FreeSound is by entering a keyword in the search bar. From there, you can use the filters on the right-hand side to select the license type you need. From there, you can filter by additional tags.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit that, as the name suggests, archives all kinds of online artifacts: video, music, images, books, and even websites. You might be familiar with one of their initiatives, the endlessly enjoyable Wayback Machine.
You can find Creative Commons music on Archive.org a few ways. One is to simply search for files tagged with “public domain” or the specific CC license, then filter by media type (“Audio.”)
The Internet Archive also hosts a Live Music Archive, which contains recordings of concerts and performances. However, all of their material is limited to non-commercial use only. This means it’s out of bounds if you’re a brand.
They also host LibriVox, a collection of audiobooks in the public domain. Okay, sure, it’s not music— but what about using a dramatic reading of Frankenstein in a campaign? Let’s think outside the box!
Jamendo was founded in Luxembourg to share music licensed under Creative Commons, and features work by over 40,000 artists. If you’re working on a non-commercial project, there are a ton of free options here to explore. You can browse by genre or playlist, or use the search bar.
They have a dedicated site for commercial projects, which operates on a subscription model. Users can also purchase single licenses for $9.99
9. Fugue Music
Compared to some of the other options, Fugue Music is a well-designed and very user-friendly index of royalty-free tracks licensed under Creative Commons. It’s a project of Icons8, which offers creative resources for designers. That explains why it looks so good!
The categories on Fugue are helpful for creators, with options like “Music for Podcast Intro” and “Valentine’s Music.”
However, all the free tracks on FugueMusic are for non-commercial projects only. So you can’t use them for your brand, or any revenue-generating purpose. Fugue Music offers single-track and subscription payment models for commercial use.
One neat feature? Fugue Music offers a sort of personal-shopper service: users can contact them with a use case, and they’ll curate recommendations.
Uppbeat offers music for creators, and everything on their site is royalty-free for commercial use on any platform. This makes it very easy to search if you’re a brand or content creator who hopes to monetize your videos.
The layout is clean and easy to navigate, with tracks organized into playlists and curated collections. You can also search by keyword to find specific genres, styles, or artists.
With a free account, you can download 10 tracks per month, and explore about a third of their collection.
Uppbeat does have a paid model, which provides access to their full catalogue and gives you unlimited downloads. It also gives you access to a library of sound effects.
FreePD is a collection of music in the public domain, which means you can use it however you want without attribution.
Everything on the site is free to use and download, though FreePD offers the option to bulk-download all of the MP3s and WAV files for a small fee. The site is minimal and easy to explore.
Tracks are organized into categories, like “Romantic Sentimental” or the catch-all “Misc.” Within these categories, all the tracks are labeled with 1-4 emojis to give you a sense of the mood. This is a fun way to scan the listings, and I personally find “🏜 🤠 🐂 🌵” more descriptive than any title.
All the music on this site was created by Kevin MacLeod, who has licensed it all under CC-BY. That means you can use everything provided you give him credit. He even has an attribution template for you to use on his FAQ page. If you don’t want to provide attribution, you can purchase a license.
Incompetech focuses on music for film, so many of the categories and descriptions refer to film genres, like Westerns or horror. If you’re working on a cinematic project, you might find the perfect track here.
You can search by mood, genre, topic, tag or keyword. There are about 1,355 tracks on the site.
Audionautix provides music that is free to use, provided you give attribution. Like Incompetech, it’s a one-man show, created by musician Jason Shaw. Everything is free, though you can make donations to support the site.
The site is easy to explore, with a wide range of moods and genres. You can also search by title, or filter by tempo.
Hearthis is a Dutch music-sharing site for artists and creators. While most of the music is free to share but not use, there are a few ways to find Creative Commons tracks.
One is to search the Creative Commons playlist, which includes a small number of tracks.
Another is to create an account and join the Creative Commons group, which has just over 170 members.
And lastly, you can search by keywords like “Creative Commons” to uncover more tracks. Compared to some of the other resources in this article, Hearthis has a smaller collection of tracks and is less easy to search. But you never know where you’ll find the perfect tune!
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