If you’ve ever come across a “Royalty Free” loop or melody you might’ve asked yourself one of these three questions:
- What the hell is a royalty?
- Do I have to pay the original creator anything?
- Can I officially release music if I’ve used a royalty free loop?
You’re not alone, and with the rise of loop-makers and sample library companies over the past few years Producers are constantly targeted with marketing campaigns for royalty free loops, melodies, and MIDIs, but what does it mean?
What is a royalty?
Let me start with explaining what a royalty is: “A royalty is a legally binding payment made to an individual or company for the ongoing use of their assets”- in more simple terms it means people must pay other people to use their products/creations.
For example, the creation might be a melody or even a full beat, so if either are used by another producer or artist usually royalties are to be paid to the creator if you earn money from the song/beat that contains their work.
You could write a full book on the different types of royalties so I won’t go into it right now, but if you want to learn more I’d recommend reading “Music – The Business” by Ann Harrison if you’re in the UK, or “All You Need to Know About the Music Business” by Donald S. Passman if you’re in the US. Even if you don’t want to learn more I’d recommend reading them!
Royalty Free & Sampling
So how about royalty-free? Surely this means you don’t have to pay anything right? Not necessarily, it all depends on the dreaded small print but don’t worry, it’s not always bad.
For the most part you don’t have to worry about copyrights, paying royalties or even acknowledging the original creator. When you buy something that’s royalty free you can usually use it to monetize (make money from) your work as much as the license allows. This includes releasing your music to streaming platforms and earning revenue on the back-end.
I like to think of using royalty free sounds as a modern way of sampling. If you think about what Producers had to do years back, if they wanted to sample something they’d have to take it from a vinyl record (no YouTube to mp3 software back then!) Then, if they wanted to clear the sample they’d have to find the original creator or owner of the master recording (usually the record label), get it approved and then usually pay a hefty fee plus royalty splits.
Fast forward 30 years and you have royalty free sounds – where creators can agree to give up their royalties in exchange for an up-front fee for their audio material. This makes it so much easier for producers to get their work done without wasting time and worrying about sample clearance etc. It’s essentially a sure-fire way to sample without stress.
Whilst we’re on the topic of sampling, if anyone tells you sampling or using loops is “wrong”, “not real producing”, or “cheating”, they’re forgetting that Hip-Hop was formed around sampling and if it wasn’t for taking parts of other tracks from vinyl records we wouldn’t have any of the sub-genres we have to day including Drill, Trap, and Boom-Bap. If there’s one thing that frustrates me it’s Producers judging other Producers based on how they make music. Some of the biggest songs ever to be heard have samples in them:
- Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise (5 Million U.S Sales) - Sampled from Stevie Wonder – Pastime Paradise
- Notorious B.I.G – Hypnotize (1.2 Million US Sales) - Sampled from Herb Alpert - Rise
- Kanye West – Stronger (5 Million U.S Sales) - Sampled from Edwin Birdsong – Cola Bottle Baby
Plus the average listener DOES NOT CARE how you made the music. If the final outcome is fire that’s all that matters, so put down your ego and focus on developing your own craft rather than worrying about what others are doing.
I find that when people criticise others it’s often a projection of their own self-hatred, they like to throw shade on other’s success to make themselves feel better, when really if they spent less time doing that and more time on themselves they might actually be a step closer to accomplishing their dreams.
Anyway enough of the rant! Back to royalty free sounds.
Like I said, for the most part you’re fine to use royalty free sounds in your productions without any worry, but each creator might issue a different license.
For example, some producers might release royalty free sample packs but have it in the terms that any major artist placement (such as those with major labels) have to contact the original creator for clearance and royalty splits. Essentially you’ll be able to sell as many beats as you like using their loops but if a major artist happens to use one of them you’ll need to credit the sample creator and possibly share revenue.
I don’t think is such a bad thing though, often royalty free kits can contain quality compositions that you might not have been able to accomplish yourself, and if you land a major artist placement that’s a big deal! So why not share the enjoyment with the creator?
Ok so you might have to split some revenue, but you’ve earned yourselves a huge portfolio boost. Seems like a fair trade-off to me.
This is especially the case for packs you haven’t paid for. If someone releases a free royalty-free kit how can you complain if they ask for credits on a major placement, you didn’t pay for anything!
That’s what I did with “The Vici Loop Kit”. I made 20 compositions with another Producer (Bassyy) who gets regular placements with big artists, and we released a free loop kit. We didn’t market it as “royalty-free” but we understood that not all producers have the money to pay for loops, or the ability to make loops to a certain standard. So, we released the kit for free on the condition that Producers share their earnings with us should they sell any beats or land placements – again it seems like a fair trade-off and a chance for others to collab with us in a modern way.
On the flip side, if we sold this loop kit for an up-front fee we wouldn’t expect Producers to include us on any beat-sale splits but we might at least want to be properly credited if you major artist placement occurred.
The other thing to keep in mind is that some companies will provide royalty-free audio but exclude any sync licenses. Sync licensing involves visual media such as TV, so for example if your beat or track was to be played on a Netflix special you might want to check the terms and conditions related to the pack you purchased/downloaded.
Stream and Revenue Caps
Lastly, companies may include terms for their license which limit you to the number of streams or revenue you’re entitled to. For example, a license may limit you to 100,000 digital streams or £50,000 revenue made. Essentially the loop would be “royalty-free” for X amount of streams, then a new license is required. This isn’t common and these are purely example numbers but it might be something to check if you have a song that’s performing really well.
Royalty free loops are convenient, a great way to sample and collab with other creatives, and for the most part very safe to use in your productions.
The only limitations you might come across are with major artist placements, sync licensing (TV), and potentially a cap on the amount of streams or revenue you’re entitled to earn.
If you’re thinking about using a royalty free loop just do it. Too many producers worry about the potential limitations and ask too many “what if’s?” before they’ve had any success with music.
If you’re still quite new to production just make the music first, enjoy the process and worry about the legal side later. After all 50% of 0 is still 0, so worrying about splits and royalties can be an unnecessary waste of energy.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of any repercussions, I want you to be clued up on the business side of music but the actual music itself is the priority.
For royalty free drill loops you don't need to worry about take a look at some of the kits on my site by clicking here. All my kits have no limitations on media platform, and if you purchase one the premium (paid) kits you don't even have to credit me!