disclaimer: None of this is legal advise. Do your own homework. I am in no way compensated by any of these companies and consider my reviews to be 100% honest but I am sure I have biases that surface from my own needs for my project. Your needs might be different from mine. Also note that this post doesn’t in any way cover P.R.O performing rights which is it’s own mess – but mostly not an issue for games. AFAIK… again do your own due diligence.
Music and it’s licensing is bit of a mess. Licensing actual well known songs is generally outright out of the question. The licensing would require contracts with several parties – the owners of the performance/recording and the owners of the composing rights. I recall some developer trying to get an idea how to do this and license music for a trailer – and it failed on several ways. Not only did the band ask $60k for a non-radio-hit song but just finding all different the rights owners proved out to be a colossal task. So unless you have a legal department and significant budget: forget it. Just as a side note however: I don’t think $60k was realistic market price in that example.
As radio hits are out of the question we are left with the multiple providers of royalty free music. The royalty free means here that you are not on the hook for compensating music’s rights owner per each play or download. It doesn’t, usually, mean free music. You pay outright fee and get the right to use the music. Now it’s worth noting that unless specifically stated the license to use the music on your game doesn’t give you right to use same music elsewhere – for example on your youtube videos captured of the game. Each video can be, and usually is, considered an own piece. Some music sellers provide subscriptions which solve this for your own promotional videos as they can allow content to be used in several products published while you are a paying subscriber. It still doesn’t solve the issue of someone else streaming your game or posting a gameplay video on YouTube.
Different content providers
You can go straight to reviews of each content provider from links below.
Premium Beat ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5
Adobe Stock ☆☆☆☆☆ 0/5
Jamendo ★★★★☆ 4/5
Pond5 ★★★★☆ 4/5
Audiojungle / Envato ★★★✬☆ 3.5/5
Soundotcom ★★★✬☆ 3.5/5
The good thing about current media platforms is that the content available is actually very good on many sites. Some have more of a corporate video or broadcast background feel – as I am sure those sell well. But there are also good pieces that sound like legit radio songs – and plenty of cinematic trailer music. But as the previous paragraph suggest there are some complexities even with the royalty free music providers. The biggest problem is that the cheap basic licenses are heavily oriented to podcast and youtube (and similar) content creators – ie. for video and audio. When it comes to using the music in a downloadable app the license policies get often far from clear and often very confusing. Many immediately categorize games as an “enterprise level” product meaning that they don’t even have set pricing but negotiate per deal basis. All this is very much geared towards large corporate customers, prices likely. Below is a list of some of these providers with my reviews.
Premium Beat – ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5
Premium Beat allows the use of their music on downloadable games with their higher tier license of $200/song – but only for 1,000 downloads. So 10 songs and you have spent $2,000 for 1,000 unit sales. Naturally that is ridiculous. On the other hand when I emailed asking about licensing for higher downloads it immediately kicks in the “enterprise client” route. Will not bother going forward as $1,000 song is not for me.
Adobe stock ☆☆☆☆☆ 0/5
First: Adobe license is very difficult to find, you need to google it.
Extended audio licenses are for enterprise customers only. This is not easy to discover.
When looking for a song they push for subscription service and there is practically no way of getting into individual pricing. Any attempt to add music to shopping carts prompts you to sign up for a monthly service. The problem is that the monthly service doesn’t cover game use. On the other hand the extended license required for games is only available for enterprise clients. Being an enterprise client means: “call us and we’ll schedule a meeting to discuss your enterprise needs!”. It is NOT for indie devs but all about how to manage licenses for team of 50 or 500 people etc.
So this might be an ok service for your video content, trailers etc. but for in-game music it is simply a no-go.
The good thing is that a lot of the content sold under Adobe Stock is actually available from other places. Adobe acts as a reseller for companies like Epidemic Sound and Jamendo.
Jamendo ★★★★☆ 4/5
Let’s switch to good solutions. Jamendo scores points especially for good music. But also for very clearly laid out license terms.
One very good feature is that the search interface works well. Many of these services have simply horrible searches. For example changing or adding a search parameter resets all other filtering, like duration, whether songs have vocals etc. Many don’t have filtering for vocals at all and when you add it as a search word you also get the songs with “no vocals” in their label. Argh. Anyway not here. The thing works.
One star reduced for the price which I think is actually very fair but not as cheap as some alternatives when their licenses fit you. Also note that the cheaper standard license should be good for promo videos, trailers etc. This is true for most of these providers.
Pond5 ★★★★☆ 4/5
Pond5 is also provides good quality content. The license terms are not so clear and this is the reason for reducing one star really, more on that further below. Pond5 standard license varies by song and is typically around $20-$40 per song. You can do a monthly/yearly subscription that puts theoretical prices in to the very cheap category. In general if the licensing terms work this is a very good and very affordable choice.
I contacted them via email and their representative stated:
“If the game is distributed in physical form it would be considered Merchandise and would require at least a Business license as outlined in clause 4 of our CLA: https://www.pond5.com/legal/license
If it’s a digital app and only 1 person working with the raw file, an Individual license should be fine given your users can only access the music as part of the game and the standalone file is not available to download. If you need a few tracks, our monthly subscription gives you an excellent value for money: https://www.pond5.com/subscriptions“
Based on this it should be ok for Steam, Meta store, Epic etc. games. But I wouldn’t quite be satisfied with this without further clarification. If it indeed is true this is potentially a winner choice and for mobile app developers the license terms are clear so for that this is very good option.
Audiojungle / Envato ★★★✬☆ 3.5/5
Generally decent quality but in most music more royalty free -vibe than in say Jamendo, Pond5 and Epidemic. I want music that sounds like actual songs – not background ambience and here you cannot find too many vocal songs. Not all are bad though – some really fun songs mixed in there.
Licensing is pretty clear, the cheaper tier license is up to 10,000 downloads and after that you need the higher tier. I think you can upgrade licenses so you could start with the lower tier and upgrade as you get close to the limit. There is no fixed prices but cost is generally in the range of $5-30 per song for up to 10,000 copies, $100 and up for unlimited downloads
The sound effects anr other assets are included in the subscription and this can make it very appealing (more like a 4 or 5 star deal). The minus is the 10,000 download limit is pretty low and the mass-production license with unlimited downloads is fair bit more expensive.
Soundotcom ★★★✬☆ 3.5/5
Soundotcom is a smaller entity, it is very affordable for individual songs at $25 per song or even less with packs of several songs. The license is rather simple and states “all media” covered. I confirmed via email and it indeed includes games. There is quite broad library for themed film score type of songs. This is a good simple source for an indie game if the content matches your needs. Some good songs with vocals too but emphasis is more on the background score type of content.
For its simplicity and price 4 stars could be warranted but the search and, on some genres, limited offering weighed it down a little.
Artists like Aries Beats
Then there are artists who truly provide their music for free. Aries Beats is one of these wonderful individuals. The benefit of such music is that you can potentially solve the youtube streaming issues. Naturally each artist sets their own licensing terms and you better contact them to make sure you are not violating their (or someone else’s) rights.
Also buyer beware there are a lot of “free music” providers in Soundcloud etc. that don’t truly own their pieces. Either the music can be outrights someone else’s or use samples that are not cleared. So navigating these is bit tricky. Also if you do use such sources try to find a way to be nice to the artists somehow or even compensate with $$. AT the minimum make sure you credit the artists appropriately.
Aries beats youtube channel:
I have a few more coming and will append this article hopefully in a few days the latest. But gotta run.