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The Do’s And Don’ts Of Using Music in Your YouTube Videos

Manholding smartphone. Image being used for an article on the do’s and don’ts of using music in your YouTube Videos.

A good tune can make or break a video. It sets the pace, draws the viewer in, and makes it way more engaging.

But if you’re creating content for YouTube, there’s much more to it than just picking a song you like. Much more.

It doesn’t matter if you’re making a vlog, a doc or a product video, you need permission to use any song or music you feature. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make awesome content without getting penalized.

To help you navigate the copyright minefield, we’ve rounded up the most important do’s and don’ts you need to know about before using music in your YouTube videos.

Don’t: Just Pick A Song You Like And Use It

It should go without saying, but we really want to hammer this point home: do not grab your favorite jam and stick it on a YouTube video.

Falling foul of copyright is no joke. In some cases, it can cost a lot of money. On YouTube, it’s more likely that your channel will be shut down and you’ll be banned from creating another (we’re talking extreme circumstances here).

Still, it really just isn’t worth it. Plus, it’s not fair on the artists.

Do: Get To Know YouTube’s Copyright Rules

Copyright law is detailed, complex and, if you’re not familiar with it, very, very confusing.

Luckily, the good folks at YouTube have created a nice little explainer on the topic. Sure, you’re not going to be winning any legal battles after reading this, but it does give you a solid understanding of the rules and regulations on using music in your YouTube videos.

As well as a general overview, it explains what “fair use” is, and talks you through both the claims and the copyright enforcement process.

It’s not strictly about music, but it definitely applies so do give it a read.

Don’t: Caption Your Video With “I Don’t Own This The Rights To This Song”

How many times have you seen a video channel do this?

From football highlights and how-to videos to vlogs and make-up tutorials, this lame attempt to avoid copyright is rife on YouTube.

And it never ever works. YouTube’s Content ID tool will figure it out and you will have to take it down. So don’t waste your time.

Do: Use A Music Library

There are tons of sites out there that provide content creators with epic music.

Essentially, these audio banks employ musicians to write original music across a range of genres, or musicians upload their own songs for exposure.

Ukulele folk for your travel vlog. Hip-hop beats for your product video. A low-key house tune for your documentary… you’ll find it all in a music library.

It’s worth bearing in mind that asking for permission can be a really long, expensive process

Some are free, some require a subscription. Obviously, the quality and the breadth choice vary greatly, but this is one of the best ways to soundtrack your videos, without having to worry about copyright.

For free ones, try the Free Music Archive, SoundCloud (always check if you can use music for commercial purposes here) or YouTube’s own audio library.

Looking for something extra? Check out Melodie, an independent music library who we’ve worked with.

Don’t: Forget To Ask For Permission

Got your heart set on a particular piece of copyrighted music? Just ask.

It’s down to the artist to decide whether you can use it or not. And all they can say is no.

The first step is to identify the owner of the copyright. For music, this is easy enough. There are a number of databases that tell you exactly that. ASCAP and Music Services are good starting points.

Then it’s a case of getting in touch with the owner and coming to an arrangement. If you’re planning to use the music commercially, they may want payment, which is something you’ll need to come to an agreement on. Once you’ve gotten permission, get the agreement in writing.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this can be a really long, expensive process – especially if you want a current chart hit or super popular song – and if your budget is small, then it’s not really worth it.

Do: Choose Your Music Before You Start Making Your Video (And See If It’s Useable)

Picture the scene. You’ve shot some awesome footage and picked a killer tune to go with it. Next, you spend hours editing it all together, meticulously aligning your frames to the beat of your chosen song.

The finished video is a work of art. Now, all you need to do is set it live and… oh, hang on a sec. That song is copyrighted – and you need permission to use it.

Even if you do get permission, that’s going to cost you.

The point is music is key to good video. More than sound, it plays a big part in the edit. If you create content based on a song you can’t actually use, you’ll need to go back to the drawing board with your edit.

For more awesome insight into making killer videos, check out these hits from around the blog:

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