Do I need music in my podcast?
Music plays an important role in podcasts. Even if featured briefly as intro and outro to an episode, it adds an extra layer of polish to a production and is often the first impression you make on a listener. While the content and way listeners consume podcasts may be more in line with talk radio, the format and episodic nature of the medium feels more like television series. Every TV show has a theme song during opening and closing credits sequences.
In podcasts, the intro can set the tone of the show, introduce the hosts/guests, or establish the topic. Likewise, the outro signals that the episode is over which is not always evident in a talk-driven, audio-only medium. Music is important to making these sections stand out, even if used as an underbed to an announcer.
Good music that fits the topic and tone of the show is important, as well. Think of your favorite television show, something you’ve seen many times. How do you feel when you start a new episode and that theme song kicks in? It’s something that’s become familiar to you. Ideally, it sets off a reaction that gets you excited for the program or puts you in the right mindset.
I’ve always been of the opinion that a theme song can and should do the same for podcasts. Whether it’s listening to friendly voices talk about pop culture, a narrator taking you through a twisting true crime case, or an expert setting you up with the knowledge you need to succeed. Good, reoccurring music will put first-time listeners in the right mindset or set up expectations and give returning listeners a reminder of why they keep coming back.
Or perhaps you need an underbed for an ad spot or something to transition in and out of an interview? Point is, nearly every podcast needs music but you can’t just use any old music you find.
Where can I find music to use in my podcast?
Where can you find music to use in your podcast? Fortunately, there are many ways to get quality, legal music for your podcast and some of them are even free! No, simply buying an album does not grant you rights to use that music commercially. Take a look at my article Is it okay to use copyright music in my podcast? for more on why you should think twice before inserting your favorite pop song into your latest episode.
Here are my recommendations on how and where to find music for your podcast. I have no connection to any of these stock music sites. They are simply sources I have had experience with in my time as a podcast producer. First, where to find free music for your podcast!
Best site for free music.
FreePD is perhaps the only free music site I can confidently recommend. The site’s title stands for Free Public Domain and that is what you’ll find there. Why I feel comfortable recommending FreePD over other “public domain music” sites is because Kevin MacLeod is behind the site.
Kevin MacLeod is a bit of a hero among many online creative circles, particularly YouTube creators, audio drama producers, and indie video game developers, for contributing heaps of royalty-free music via his site, Incompetech. Incompetech is another good resource for finding free music.
Where FreePD gets the edge, though, is that Incompetech requires attribution. This is not so with FreePD. Don’t get me wrong. Attribution is a small price to pay for quality music. You simply need to include a credit and link to the site in question if you use music requiring attribution. However, I’d prefer to avoid licenses that require me to include extra information in each episode description. If for no other reason than it’s one less thing you have to remember.
With FreePD, the music is released under a Creative Commons 0 license meaning no attribution is required. As the website says, the music is free for commercial use, free of royalties, and free of attribution. It is also “copyright free to the extent that the law allows.” That is another can of worms but the site’s legal page has a very clear and simple explanation of what this means.
So, what’s the downside? One major downside, and one that you’ll face with many of these sites, free or not, is that you will not get an original work. This is compounded by using public domain music. It is likely any music you find there has been used in countless other projects and you may have a listener recognize it. I don’t find this to be a terrible thing but if you are searching for a theme song for your podcast, you may not want something that people associate with another podcast or project.
The other con to FreePD is that the selection is limited. Overall, there are a good number of highly usable pieces, nicely divided by genre. In comparison to some of the premium stock music options you may be hard-pressed to find the right piece you need.
More free music.
There are many other viable sources for royalty-free and public domain music that deserve a mention. I will add a word of caution, though. Some of these sites allow users to freely contribute to their collection. This is great, of course, and makes for a larger, more diverse pool of music to pull from. However, this opens up the possibility for users to upload music that they do have the rights to offer up.
These sites may well have checks and systems in place to prevent this and I am not discounting or attempting to discredit them. When it comes to matters of legality, particularly in regards to a podcast or creative project, I opt to err on the side of caution. If not downright paranoia.
Also, check the license of any track you are thinking of downloading. There are multiple Creative Commons licenses, each with varying stipulations on how the work can be used, many requiring attribution. You can read more about Creative Commons licenses and what requirements may be involved and what uses are covered by each on the CreativeCommons.org website.
Can’t find the perfect song in the public domain or Creative Commons? Or maybe you are looking for something more unique. There are, of course, many options if you have even just a small budget to invest in podcast music.
Stock Music Sites
There are numerous stock music websites that offer much more flexibility and a far wider variety than the sites mentioned above. An aspect many stock music sites feature that I particularly appreciate is multiple versions of each piece. For example, you can find a song for your podcast intro and use a slightly different version of the same theme song for the outro. Think of how music often has chorus and verse sections. The same song but different arrangements or feel. This can be very useful for adding variety to the musical sections of your podcast while still retaining consistency.
Some sites offer multiple licenses and it can be difficult to discern which one you need. Fortunately, podcasting is often covered by many service’s most basic and inexpensive licenses. Again, be sure to visit the license section of each site to ensure the license covers your use case.
Here are some recommendations for stock music sites. These are sites that I have used myself and am very impressed by the quality of the music.
Perhaps you want a truly original theme song for your podcast. Unless you happen to be a musician yourself the best option for original music is simply to find a musician to create it for you. The cost of this can vary widely, of course. You may need to license the music from them, meaning some kind of ongoing royalty payment agreement may be needed. This is not always the case, though, as some musicians will sell the rights to use the music commercially for a one-time fee.
Regardless of the payment arrangement, remember to always pay an artist a fair price. Not only are you asking a musician to use their time and talent to write an original work but you are also asking them to hand that piece over to you to use in your own work. As a podcaster and content creator yourself, you can surely identify with the importance of intellectual property. NEVER ask a musician to use their music with the only payment being “EXPOSURE”. There are very, very few times in which that is a fair trade and never if that music is to be used as your podcast intro/outro music.
Where to find a musician to create original music for your podcast?
The simplest option is to find a freelance musician through a website like Fiverr.com or UpWork.com. I’ve found Fiverr to be a bit easier to quickly find musicians and see right away what their pricing and licensing options are. Don’t be mistaken about Fiverr, either. It is NOT a bottom-of-the-barrel “$5 will buy you anything” site. They opened up their pricing tiers years ago now. It is a legitimate venue for finding freelancers of all price and skill ranges.
As mentioned above, I do not have any connections to the stock music sites. I HAVE had freelancer profiles on Fiverr and UpWork. However, I do not offer music services on those sites at this time and there are NO affiliate links in this article. I mention those sites because I have experience with them as a buyer AND a freelancer.
Another, more grassroots option is to simply ask around on social media. There are so many talented musicians online that it’s not hard to find someone who can create what you are looking for. This is going to require a bit of vetting and working out the license and payment arrangement directly. An experienced freelance musician will have licensing information ready to go, though.