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Joe’s Guide to Free eLearning Tools: Royalty-Free, Podsafe, and Stock Music May 19, 2009

Posted by jmullock in e-Learning Tools.

Item: Royalty-Free, Podsafe, and Stock Music

Category: Audio Recording, Editing & Resources

If you need background music, sound effects, or other audio cues in your eLearning production there are some low-cost options available, but you will have to do your homework to stay out of licensing and copyright trouble.  Most importantly, you need to be aware that royalty-free does not mean copyright-free.  In most cases you are going to have to pay to use someone else’s audio in your eLearning production.  Note:  Resources are listed at the end of this blog post, but I encourage you to read through the terms first to get a better idea of which of them may really be useful to you!

Terms and Buzz Words:

There are entire fields of study built up around entertainment law and music licensing, so clearly this little blog isn’t going to cover that kind of detail.  Still, it’s helpful to have a little understanding about certain terms you may run across regarding music copyright and licensing.  Please keep in mind these are general use definitions with the idea of eLearning in mind.  Performance or broadcast licensing would be a completely separate discussion.  Last—but not least—if you feel that nothing short of U2’s latest will do as the soundtrack to your eLearning masterpiece, feel free to contact their lawyers directly for specifics!


As mentioned above, royalty-free does not mean that there is no copyright, nor does it mean  free as in “free beer” !  A royalty-free licensing arrangement will allow specific uses of a piece, but (in general) does not require additional per-use payments.


A newer term developed when podcasters began to discover the complexities of staying above the law when using music in their podcasts.  Podsafe is not a specific type of licensing, but instead a form of shorthand indicating that a particular work has been properly cleared for a particular use (i.e any necessary licensing arrangements have been made and/or adhered to…)

Stock Music

This is very similar to the idea of stock photography:   A library of material made available for the specific purpose of being licensed to others.  In general, licensing of the material is non-exclusive, meaning that multiple parties can license the same piece for different purposes.


Since there are so many issues to consider when licensing music, many providers of stock music offer what they call Buy-Out licensing.  As with podsafe, Buy-Out isn’t really a specific form of license, but instead a form of shorthand to indicate that a particular work has been properly cleared for a particular use.  The folks at CSS Music have some useful information on making sure your Buy-Out really is royalty free.


Almost all licensing arrangements require you to provide attribution for the material being used.  It is possible to get a license which does not require any attribution, but 1) it will cost a bit more and 2) in most cases attribution does not require anything more than a link to a credits page or window within your production.

Public Domain

Items with no (or expired) copyright are said to be in the public domain, and therefore available for use by anyone.  While this may sound like an alternative to the expense of licensing music, the unfortunate fact is that very little recorded work qualifies as “in the public domain” with regard to US and International copyright law.  Still, if you find a catchy little ditty that suits your needs (and happens to have been published and recorded prior to 1923) you might have something that qualifies.

Resources for Royalty-Free, Podsafe, and Stock Music:

With all of that in mind, there are a number of sources that provide audio recordings that–while not actually free–can be licensed to be paid for once upfront.  Here are a few suggestions:


Chances are you have run across or used istockphoto when building a course or web presence.  They also now provide stock music in much the same way.


Not the prettiest web site, but in my estimation the one with the clearest and easiest-to-find actual licensing agreement.


Advertised as “Pay once, use forever”…$29.95 per track.

In some cases, musicians are bypassing the entire publishing industry by providing direct access to their works for a very reasonable cost.  I don’t know either of these gentlemen, but I like the idea of putting money directly in the artist’s pocket, when possible.  According to their web sites, these individuals will also create custom pieces on request for equally reasonable prices.


This site is run by, and all songs written by Kevin Macleod.


This site is run by, and all songs written by Dan O’Connor.

Additional stock music sites can be found fairly easily by searching for “Royalty-Free”, “Podsafe”, or “Stock Music”.  I did not have quite as much luck locating direct contacts to musicians, but if you have any to share, please post them here!


Yes, this week the “Reminder” has morphed into a “Disclaimer”, so here goes:

Not only am I not a lawyer; I don’t even know any lawyers. Copyright law is hugely complex, and I have certainly and grossly oversimplified the topic for this little article.  Hopefully I have not misstated anything, but if I have—feel free to provide a (gently) correcting comment!  In the meantime, each of the sites listed has a licensing page which details what their service does, or does not cover.  Please be sure to use that info and your own best judgment before making use of any of these services.

Next Up: Blogger’s Choice (code for I am still deciding on a topic for next week’s post)



1. Dan-O | DanoSongs.com - November 19, 2009


Great overview on royalty free music. Thanks for mentioning my Website. Kevin Macleod’s creative common music library is excellent and so is AudioMicro.


2. royalty free tracks - May 31, 2014

Usually I do not read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to try and do so!

Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, quite
nice article.

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