The Essential Guide to Music Licensing for Video Creators

By David Winter
Feb 13, 2024
15 minute read
A corporate lawyer listening to some music to check the licencing

Music is not just a background element in video production; it is the soul that breathes life into every frame, setting the tone, influencing emotions, and enhancing the storytelling. However, the path to integrating the perfect track into your video is fraught with the complexities of music licensing—a minefield of legal terms and copyright laws that can seem daunting for the uninitiated. 


Navigating music licensing is crucial for enhancing video projects with the perfect soundtrack. This guide simplifies the complexities surrounding copyrighted, royalty-free, and public-domain music, alongside practical advice for using music on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Aimed at both beginners and seasoned creators, this blog provides essential insights for integrating music legally and effectively into your videos.




This blog serves as a primer on music licensing and is not intended as legal advice. Lightworks holds no accountability for the advice presented here. Any legal decisions regarding music licensing should be consulted with a legal professional.


Understanding Music Rights


Before diving into the pool of licenced tracks, you must grasp the basics of music rights and copyright laws, ensuring your video project sails smoothly through legal waters.


The Basics of Copyright in Music


Copyright in music protects the creator's original works from unauthorised use (using it without their permission), granting them exclusive rights to their compositions. Imagine copyright as a protective bubble around your favourite song, ensuring the artist's hard work is rewarded and respected. This bubble means you need permission to use the music in your video, which is where licensing comes in.


Understanding the difference between copyrighted and royalty-free music is essential for anyone creating content that includes music.


Copyrighted Music


This category includes music protected by copyright laws, meaning the creator retains exclusive rights to their work. Using copyrighted music typically requires obtaining permission from the copyright holder, which may involve negotiating terms and paying a licensing fee. This process ensures that creators are compensated for their work and that the music is used in a way that respects their preferences.


Royalty-Free Music


Royalty-free music, on the other hand, is licensed to allow purchasers to pay a one-time fee to use the music without paying any ongoing royalties. This doesn't mean the music is free; instead, it's free from the need to pay royalties for each use or in each specific project. Royalty-free music often comes with certain conditions regarding how and where the music can be used. However, these conditions are generally less restrictive than those for copyrighted music, making it an appealing option for content creators looking for cost-effective and legally precise music options.


Royalty-free music provides a practical alternative for creators needing quality music for their projects without the complexity or expense of licensing individual copyrighted works. It's an especially useful resource for those working under tight budgets or deadlines.


Public Domain


Public domain music refers to musical works not protected by copyright. Timeframes can vary, but generally, music will enter the public domain around 60-70 years after the death of the original artist. Anyone can freely use it for any purpose without permission or payment. 


Music can enter the public domain for several reasons, such as the copyright expiring or the creator explicitly relinquishing their rights. Utilising public-domain music in your projects is straightforward because there are no copyright restrictions.


How to Use Public Domain Music


  • Verify the Status: Ensure the work is genuinely in the public domain. Resources like the Public Domain Information Project can help verify this.
  • No Attribution Required: Generally, you don't need to credit the creator, but it's often good practice to do so when possible.
  • Freedom of Use: You can freely use, remix, and share public domain music in your personal or commercial projects.


Popular Examples of PUBLIC-DOMAIN Music


  • "Happy Birthday to You": One of the most well-known songs worldwide, it was ruled to be in the public domain in the United States in 2016.
  • Classical Compositions: Works by composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, who have been deceased for over 70 years, are typically in the public domain.
  • Folk Music: Many traditional folk songs worldwide, such as "Greensleeves" or "House of the Rising Sun," are in the public domain.


It’s important to note that the public domain applies to specific song versions. So, while the lyrics of the original House of the Rising Sun (named ‘Rising Sun Blues’ at the time) are public domain, the specific arrangements recorded by Bob Dylan or The Animals are not.  


Using public-domain music offers a hassle-free way to add historical and classical depth to your projects, enriching them without copyright infringement concerns.


Different Types of Music Licences


Understanding the various music licences is pivotal for video editors and content creators, as each licence serves a unique purpose in music and media production.


Here's a breakdown of the different types of music licences using a single, technically detailed sentence for each:


Sync Licence

A sync (synchronisation) licence is granted to synchronise music with visual media, including films, TV shows, commercials, video games, and online content, aligning the audio track with moving images or other visual content.


Master Licence

Held by the owner of the recorded music (usually a record label or artist), a master licence allows the licensee to use a pre-existing recording in conjunction with a visual or audio-visual work.


Public Performance Licence

Obtained by venues and broadcasters to legally play music in public spaces, including concerts, radio, television, and public establishments.


Mechanical Licence

Necessary for reproducing and distributing a song in a physical or digital format, covering the rights to record and sell the music as CDs, digital downloads, or as part of an album.


Theatrical Licence

A theatrical licence is required to use a song in a live stage production, and it covers the right to incorporate music into theatre performances.


Print Licence

Allows the reproduction and sale of the sheet music, granting permission to print the composer's music for commercial or educational purposes.


Among these, sync licences are the most relevant to content creators, especially those involved in video production and editing. Sync licences are critical for ensuring that the integration of music with visual content is legally compliant, enhancing the emotional and narrative impact of the content without infringing on copyright laws.


Breaking Down Sync Licences


Sync licences are crucial for content creators who wish to pair music with their visual content harmoniously and legally.


Here's a deeper dive into sync licences and what obtaining one entails:


  • Permission for Pairing: Sync licences allow you to pair the music with visual elements, ensuring that songs can legally accompany your video content.
  • Covers Various Media: These licences are applicable across a wide range of media, including films, television shows, commercials, online videos, and video games.
  • Negotiation Is Key: The terms of a sync licence, including duration of use, geographic scope, and cost, are subject to negotiation between the licensee and the rights holder.
  • Rights Holder Approval: Obtaining a sync licence requires approval from both the copyright holder of the music composition and the owner of the master recording.
  • Fee Structure: Fees for sync licences can vary significantly based on factors such as the song's popularity, the duration of use, and the size of the intended audience.


By securing a sync licence, content creators ensure that their use of copyrighted music in videos is legally sound, which not only respects the rights of the music creators but also enhances the quality and appeal of the video content itself.


Is a Sync licence Realistic for Beginners?


For beginner or entry-level content creators, navigating the world of sync licences may seem daunting due to the complexity and potential cost involved. However, understanding when it's realistic to pursue a sync licence is crucial for planning your content strategy and budget accordingly. There are always some factors to consider:


Budget Considerations

Sync licences can be expensive, especially for popular songs, which might not be feasible for creators with limited budgets.


Project Scope and Audience Size

For smaller projects with a limited audience, the cost of obtaining a sync licence might not justify the investment. As your audience grows and your projects become more ambitious, investing in sync licences becomes more viable.


Alternatives to Popular Tracks

Many entry-level creators opt for royalty-free music or tracks under Creative Commons licence as cost-effective alternatives while enhancing their videos with quality music.


When Should Beginners Consider a Sync Licence?


Professional Growth

As you transition from hobbyist projects to more professional work, such as paid commissions or commercial content, sync licences become increasingly essential to maintain legality and professional integrity.


Increased Budget

Once you start generating revenue from your content or have access to a larger budget, investing in a sync licence for a specific, impactful track can elevate your project's quality and viewer engagement.


Brand Partnerships or Sponsorships

Suppose you're working on a project in partnership with a brand or sponsor. In that case, they may allocate a budget for music licensing, making it realistic to obtain sync licences for higher-profile tracks. They may even ask for all necessary documentation as part of their signing off procedure.


Steps for Beginners Considering Sync licences


Evaluate the Necessity

Determine if the visual content truly benefits from the specific copyrighted track or if a royalty-free alternative could suffice.


Research Costs and Licensing Terms

Before reaching out for a sync licence, research potential costs and the licensing terms to ensure they align with your project's scope and budget.


Consider Professional Consultation

If you're serious about obtaining a sync licence, consider consulting with a legal expert or a music licensing professional to navigate the process effectively.


Explore Partnerships with Music Libraries

Some platforms and music libraries offer pre-cleared tracks for licensing at more affordable rates, which can be a good starting point for creators looking to legally use copyrighted music without the high cost of direct licensing negotiations.


Exploring Music Licensing Platforms


These platforms are the go-to spots for finding music that fits your video. They offer various tracks from various genres and moods, making matching the music with your project’s vibe easier.


They also offer:

  • Wide Selection: You can access thousands of tracks, from upbeat pop to sombre instrumentals.
  • Search Features: Good platforms help you filter tracks by mood, genre, or beats per minute to find what you need quickly.


Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive licences


When choosing music, you’ll come across exclusive and non-exclusive licences.


Here’s the difference:

  • Exclusive licences: You’re the only one who can use the track for your project. This is great for unique projects but can be pricier.
  • Non-Exclusive licences: These tracks can be used by multiple people. It’s more budget-friendly and still offers quality music for your video.


Advantages of Specific Platforms


Different platforms have their strengths. Some might offer exclusive tracks you can’t find anywhere else, while others might have better prices or more flexible licensing terms.


  • Curated Playlists: Platforms with curated playlists based on themes or moods streamline the music selection process, saving valuable time for creators.
  • Custom Tracks: Some services offer the option to commission custom music, providing a unique soundtrack tailored to your project's needs.
  • Broad Licence Coverage: Certain platforms offer broad licensing coverage, ensuring your music can be used across various mediums without additional fees or permissions.
  • Exclusive Content: Access to exclusive tracks ensures your project stands out with unique music unavailable to the general public.
  • Volume Discounts and Subscriptions: Some platforms offer volume discounts or subscription models for frequent users, making regular content creation more cost-effective.
  • Direct Support from Artists: Platforms that facilitate direct communication with artists can enhance the customisation of music and foster collaboration between creators and musicians.


Top 10 Platforms for Licenced Music


Epidemic Sound

Offers a vast library of royalty-free music and sound effects. Known for its high-quality tracks and simple licensing, Epidemic Sound is a favourite among content creators for its ease of use and wide variety of genres.


Amazing Music Tracks

Features an extensive collection of both exclusive and non-exclusive tracks across various genres. Amazing Music Tracks is praised for its quality and diversity, providing options for every type of project.



Renowned for its massive library of video clips, Pond5 also offers a significant selection of music tracks. It’s a go-to resource for filmmakers and video editors looking for a wide range of music and sound effects with flexible licensing options.



With a subscription model, Artlist provides unlimited access to its entire music catalogue, which is continually updated. It’s ideal for creators looking for high-quality music with a straightforward, all-inclusive licence.



Musicbed stands out for its focus on quality over quantity, offering a curated selection of tracks from talented musicians. It’s perfect for projects that require emotive compositions and unique soundtracks.



A Shutterstock company, PremiumBeat offers high-quality, royalty-free music tracks with simple licensing. It’s known for its curated playlists and collections, making it easier to find the perfect track.



Part of the Envato Market, AudioJungle offers a vast selection of music and audio tracks at various price points. It’s an excellent platform for finding budget-friendly options without compromising quality.



Soundstripe provides unlimited access to its music library through a subscription service. It’s favoured for its high-quality tracks and ease of use, particularly for YouTube creators and corporate video producers.



Known for its royalty-free music collection, Bensound offers various tracks for different project needs. It’s a good starting point for beginners and those working on non-commercial projects.



Marmoset is noted for its handpicked roster of indie musicians and bands, providing unique and high-quality tracks. It also offers a tool for custom music creation, ideal for projects requiring a personalised touch.


Legal Implications and Avoiding Copyright Infringement


Navigating the complexities of music licensing is essential to ensure your video projects stay clear of legal issues. Just like driving a car requires understanding and following the road's rules, using music in your videos demands a comprehension of copyright laws to avoid pitfalls that could potentially derail your project.


Common Copyright Infringement Mistakes


Beginner video editors often fall into the trap of using copyrighted music without the necessary permissions. While usually unintentional, these common mistakes can lead to legal challenges and potentially compromise your project.


However, with the proper knowledge and careful planning, you can easily avoid these pitfalls:


  • Unlicenced Use of Popular Music: Incorporating popular songs without obtaining a proper licence.
  • Assuming All Online Music is Free to Use: Misunderstanding that music found online can be freely used in any context.
  • Overlooking the Need for Sync licences: Forgetting to secure sync licences for music accompanying visual content.


Understanding these common errors and how to avoid them is crucial in ensuring your projects remain compliant with copyright laws.


Creative Commons and Royalty-Free Music


Creative Commons and royalty-free music provide accessible alternatives for enhancing your videos without the complexities of traditional music licensing. 


Navigating Creative Commons Music


Creative Commons music represents a boon to creatives, offering a range of works shared by artists under flexible terms that facilitate their use in various projects, including videos. Utilising Creative Commons music requires adherence to specific licence conditions, including attribution, non-commercial use, and no derivative works.


  • Licence Varieties: Understanding the spectrum of Creative Commons licences is crucial to ensure compliant use, ranging from the most permissive (CC BY) to the most restrictive (CC BY-NC-ND).
  • Purpose and Attribution: Ensuring that the use of the music aligns with the licence terms and appropriately crediting the original artist as specified by the licence.


Finding and Using Creative Commons Music


Several platforms and websites curate and offer Creative Commons music, making it easier for video editors to find tracks that suit their project needs, such as:


  • Free Music Archive (FMA): Known for its wide range of Creative Commons music, FMA is a staple for video editors looking for diverse genres and styles.
  • Jamendo: Offers a vast collection of Creative Commons tracks, making it easy for creators to find music for any project, from personal videos to commercial use.
  • ccMixter: A community music site with many songs, samples, and acapella tracks, all available under Creative Commons licences for remixing and use in video projects.
  • Incompetech: Created by composer Kevin MacLeod, this site provides an extensive library of original music tracks in various genres, all available under Creative Commons licences.
  • Bensound: Offers a variety of music tracks for videos, animations, and presentations under Creative Commons licensing, with simple attribution required.


Before using a track, verify its Creative Commons licence terms to ensure your intended use is covered and to understand any attribution requirements.


By leveraging Creative Commons and royalty-free music, creators can significantly enrich their video projects while navigating the legal landscape of music use with confidence and integrity.


Music Licensing for YouTube


Music licensing varies across platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and social media, requiring a tailored approach to ensure compliance and maximise the impact of your video content.


YouTube Music Licensing Simplified


Using copyrighted music on YouTube requires careful navigation to avoid copyright infringement issues. Here's what you need to know in a nutshell:


Securing the Right Licences

  • Sync licence: Essential for legally syncing music with your video content. Ensure it covers worldwide use due to YouTube's global reach.
  • Content ID System: YouTube scans videos for copyrighted music. Without proper licensing, your video could face monetisation issues or removal.


Strategies for Compliant Use

  • Royalty-Free Music: Utilise royalty-free tracks to avoid licensing complications. These are often available for a one-time fee or free, ensuring safe video use.
  • YouTube’s Audio Library: Offers a selection of free music and sound effects that are safe to use and monetise on your channel.
  • Direct Negotiations: For specific tracks, negotiating directly with rights holders for a sync licence is an option but requires clear agreement on use and fees.
  • Music Licensing Services: Consider simplifying the licensing process by using services that provide pre-cleared music for YouTube.


Key Points to Remember

  • Global Coverage: Verify that your licence permits global usage.
  • Attribution: Follow any requirements for crediting the music creator or rights holder.
  • Licence Restrictions: Be aware of any limitations on how the music can be used, including content-type or commercial restrictions.


Navigating Music Licensing on Social Media


Social media platforms have distinct policies for music usage, impacting how creators can incorporate music into their content. TikTok and Instagram, two of the most popular platforms for video content, offer unique opportunities and challenges in music licensing.


TikTok Music Licensing


TikTok has rapidly become a major platform for music discovery and viral content, offering an extensive library of songs for users to incorporate into their videos.


Here’s some guidance to help you start tikking them toks quickly: 


  • Built-in Music Library: TikTok provides a broad selection of tracks directly within the app, allowing users to legally add music to their content.
  • Commercial Use: TikTok has specific licensing agreements for commercial content for brands and businesses. It's essential to adhere to these policies to avoid copyright issues.
  • Commercial Music Library: For content that promotes a brand, product, or service, use music from TikTok's Commercial Music Library, which is pre-cleared for commercial use.
  • Licences for External Music: If using original sound or music from outside the Commercial Music Library, you must confirm through TikTok's Music Usage Confirmation that there's no copyright-protected music in the video or that you've obtained all necessary licences for the music.
  • Content Disclosure Setting: When using music outside the Commercial Music Library, ensure the content disclosure setting is turned on to confirm music usage rights.
  • TikTok Creator Marketplace: For videos part of a TikTok campaign, additional information and guidelines for using music can be found in the TikTok Creator Marketplace.


TikTok Music Terms of Service​:


Instagram Music Licensing


Instagram allows users to add music to Stories, Reels, and posts, enhancing engagement and expression through audio.


Here are some instant ways to up your ‘gram licensing: 

  • Music in Stories and Reels: Instagram offers a music library for Stories and Reels, similar to TikTok, ensuring that users can add music without licensing concerns.
  • Usage Limitations: While the music library is extensive, using external music not provided by Instagram requires careful attention to licensing, especially for commercial or promotional content.
  • Live Performances Allowed: Music in stories and live performances is permitted.
  • Use Shorter Music Clips: Shorter clips are recommended due to limitations on full-length recorded tracks.
  • Visuals Required: Videos must primarily feature visual content, not just recorded audio.
  • Uniform Guidelines: Guidelines apply to all account types, including verified and unverified.
  • Geographical Restrictions: The availability of recorded music in videos may vary by location.
  • Facebook's Sound Collection: Access thousands of tracks and sound effects for free, with no limitations.


Instagram Terms of Use (includes music):


Best Practices for All Social Media Platforms


  • Utilise Platform Libraries: Whenever possible, use the music provided by the platform's library to ensure compliance with their licensing agreements.
  • Understand the Policies: Familiarise yourself with each platform's music usage policies, especially for commercial content, to avoid potential copyright infringement.
  • Clear External Music: If you wish to use music not available in the platform's library, ensure you have the appropriate licences, including sync licences, for legal use.
  • Stay Informed: Policies and available music libraries can change, so regularly check for updates from the platforms to stay compliant.


TikTok and Instagram offer valuable tools for creators to incorporate music into their content legally and creatively. By understanding and adhering to each platform's licensing policies and using their built-in music libraries, creators can enhance their social media presence without encountering copyright issues.


Best Practices for Music Licensing


  • Understand the Basics: Learn the difference between sync licences, master licences, performance licences, and others to know what you specifically need for your project.
  • Start Early: Begin the licensing process early in your project to avoid delays or legal issues closer to your deadline.
  • Budget Accordingly: Allocate a portion of your project's budget for music licensing, keeping in mind that costs can vary widely based on the track and licence type.
  • Read the Fine Print: Carefully review the terms of any licence agreement to ensure it meets your project's needs without unexpected restrictions.
  • Negotiate Terms: Don’t be afraid to negotiate terms such as duration, territory, and usage to fit your project's requirements and budget better.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all licensing agreements, correspondence, and payments in case of future disputes.
  • Seek Legal Advice: If you're unsure about the licensing process or agreement terms, consult a legal professional specialising in intellectual property.
  • Use Trusted Sources: Acquire music from reputable platforms or directly from rights holders to avoid counterfeit or improperly licenced music.
  • Credit Appropriately: Always provide proper attribution or credits as the licence agreement requires, respecting the creators’ contributions.
  • Explore Royalty-Free Options: For smaller projects or tighter budgets, consider using royalty-free music, which only requires a one-time fee for usage.
  • Consider Creative Commons: Utilise Creative Commons-licenced music for more flexibility, but understand the specific requirements of each CC licence type.
  • Stay Updated on Licensing Laws: Copyright and licensing laws can change, so stay informed about any updates that might affect your use of licenced music.
  • Be Wary of Public Domain Assumptions: Verify that a piece of music is truly in the public domain before using it, as copyright laws vary by country and composition.
  • Plan for Multiple Platforms: Ensure your licence covers all platforms where your project will be shown, from YouTube to broadcast television.
  • Look into Blanket Licences: For ongoing projects or multiple works, consider securing a blanket licence from a performance rights organisation (PRO) for broad coverage.
  • Respect Artist Intent: Understand and respect any stipulations made by the artist regarding the context in which their music can be used.
  • Backup Choices: Consider alternative tracks in mind if your first choice is not feasible due to licensing restrictions or costs.
  • Revisit Licences for Re-releases: If your project is re-released or distributed on new platforms, ensure your licences still cover these additional usages.
  • Educate Your Team: Ensure everyone involved in your project understands the importance of music licensing and adheres to legal and ethical standards.
  • Support Emerging Artists: Consider licensing music from up-and-coming artists, which can be more affordable and offer a unique sound while supporting new talent.


Following these best practices can help ensure that your use of music in projects is legally sound, ethically responsible, and artistically enriching.




Understanding music licensing is key to elevating your video content. We've outlined how to source music legally, from using Lightworks' integrated stock music providers to navigating platform-specific guidelines. Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently enhance your videos with music, ensuring your projects resonate with audiences while adhering to legal standards.


Remember, continuous learning and professional consultation are vital in keeping up with the dynamic field of music licensing.


Additional Resources


For deeper dives into editing techniques and Lightworks tutorials, visit Lightworks Resources. Enhance your skills, discover community insights, and bring your creative visions to life.


Transform your video editing journey with Lightworks. Whether crafting a short film, a documentary, or a personal vlog, Lightworks gives you the tools to tell your story your way. Download now and embark on your path to becoming a master storyteller.



Author's Note — AI and Content Generation


In our commitment to transparency and ethical practice, we wish to disclose that artificial intelligence (AI) played a role in crafting this piece. However, it remains primarily a human endeavour, with the core content written, edited, and meticulously proofread by our team. 

AI served primarily as a tool for workshopping drafts, researching topics, and ensuring a consistent writing style. Importantly, our use of AI is designed to complement, not replace, our team's efforts. It allows us to efficiently utilise our resources, enhancing our work without compromising or diminishing the value of human skill and creativity.