If you don’t have permission to use a piece of music for the background of your YouTube video, you can’t use it. But you can ask the copyright holder for permission to use the song, and then pay their fee.
You can also find online music libraries that have thousands of royalty-free songs for you to choose from.
Background Music for YouTube Videos
There are many content creators on YouTube who use copyrighted music in their videos, sometimes under the assumption that they have implicit permission to use that music. Maybe they’re streaming it off Spotify, maybe they bought the album off Bandcamp, or maybe they say that under Fair Use laws, they’re allowed to have the music playing in the background of their videos.
However, more often than not, using commercially released music takes place without proper permission and licensing from the copyright holder, meaning that the YouTuber is actually breaking the law (whether or not YouTube’s detection algorithm finds out).
A number of YouTubers use disclaimers, noting that the rights for the music belong to the respective owners. While that is true, a disclaimer isn’t legal permission to use copyrighted material. YouTube’s Content ID algorithm will still flag a video for the violation regardless of any disclaimers that the creator has put on their content.
How to Find Music for Your Videos
If you want to appropriately use commercially made music as background music for your YouTube videos, you have to contact both the publisher and the record label.
They own the rights to the music you want to use, which means that they can refuse your request to use the music in your video, and they can charge you for the use.
One way to get around this is to use music that’s in the public domain, where the copyright for the music has expired. However, different countries have different policies on when a work of art can be used without licensing fees. If you make a video in the United States with background music that is in the public domain, your video might still be flagged for a copyright violation in another country.
Sources for Music
To make things a little easier for their content creators, YouTube has its own official audio library. You can select from over 1,500 songs to find a piece of music for your stream that requires no attribution.
Some pieces ask for nothing more than a link to the artist in the video description. You can sort the catalog by genre, length, and other modifiers.
Another place to get background music for your YouTube videos is the Free Music Archive. This is a legal music download library that allows you to filter royalty-free music by genre and popularity. FMA lets you preview and download music, without even having to sign up for the service.
The site operates under the Creative Commons license, so the use of every song that is uploaded to the archive is decided upon by the people who directly hold the rights to the music.
The Legalities of Getting Licensed Music
Music royalties can be complicated. As many as a dozen people — from the musicians themselves, to the record label, to the licensing organization — might have a claim on an individual piece of music. Every person who has their fingerprint on the intellectual property of a song is a partial owner of that song’s copyright.
To legally use copyrighted music on YouTube means to get permission from everyone who has that legal claim. To simplify the process, this is where obtaining a single license, which everyone who has that legal claim signs off on, comes in.
Getting the appropriate license for your channel can take between weeks and months. The more sought-after the piece of music you want to use, the longer the process, and the more expensive the license will be.
But if you want to secure a recognizable, catchy and popular song to use in the background for your YouTube video, you need to jump through a few hoops to protect yourself, and your channel, from copyright infringement.
Using Music: Do I Need Permission? (June 2014). Aspect Law Group.
6 Best Public Domain Music Sites. (February 2021). Lifewire.
What You Can’t Get With YouTube Audio Library. (February 2021). Lickd.