You know how it is, you need music for your film, but you don’t know anyone who can create it on your budget, or you simply don't have a budget.
Of course, you could just take a risk and use something without getting the rights, but that’s a crazy, and totally unethical. So don't. However, if you are broke, the awesome power (and creativity) of the internet is on your side.
These days, thanks to the wide adoption of Creative Commons and free-thinking artists, there are a lot of great places to find all kinds of great music across a whole array of genres, but knowing which are the best places to look can be a real headache.
So, with this in mind, I've curated a short list of 5 great sites for finding free music that you can use for your films.
Free Music Archive (FMA) - freemusicarchive.org
The site covers a wide range of genres and subgenres, with everything from blues to EDM, shoegaze rock to spoken word available for you to sample and download.
Good curation is also a big part of the FMA experience - something that is sorely missing from some of the other sites on this list. Just having suggested playlists available from the landing page is a huge bonus for sure.
Quite simply, Moby's music was everywhere: on the radio, TV commercials and in the movies. He just seemed to have a sound that permeated media. Thankfully though, he didn't forget those creatives working on smaller budgets.
Moby Gratis started a number of years ago as an outlet for filmmakers to download his songs and use it in their work.
The site includes a whole raft of tracks from his career, with many well-known songs sitting right alongside unique remixes, demos and unreleased tracks. It's a real treasure trove of his most film-friendly work.
Of course, this is library of one artist - not several, but many of the available tracks do feature guests vocalists and differing styles. As you sample the catalog, you'll find there’s a surprising range of tempos, moods and styles to be had, and sifting through it all is pretty easy - including the option to search by instrument. The site also has the best player I've found on (based on Soundcloud's play bar), which definitely makes things a lot easier.
It's also worth noting that there are two licenses available - a commercial and noncommercial agreement - so you’ll need to be upfront with what you’ll be doing with the film once it's completed. If you're planning on pulling any revenue from it, you'll need a commercial license (the proceeds of which go to the Humane Society).
If, however, you don't think you'll be making any money on it (at least not in the immediete future), a non-commercial license will suffice. This will allow you the right to screen your movie at film festivals and even upload it to web for folks to enjoy. Of course, the moment you begin to make any money from it (including ad revenues), you will need to replace your license for a commercial one.
Bear in mind that if you do you upload your film to Vimeo or YouTube, it’ll probably trigger their automatic copyright robots, warning you of potential violations. Usually, you can file against these types of notices in a few clicks, clarifying that you do indeed have a license, and hopefully resolving all issues quickly enough. Just be sure to keep a copy of your licenses on hand for just such scenarios.
Bensound - bensound.com
The work of a French musician who simply goes by the nom de plume Bensound, this is a surprisingly rich catalog of tracks with a decent sample across a handful of genres.
From cinematic to jazz, the available songs are of a high standard and quickly kick to life via the basic player. Though a bigger player/waveform combination would be useful here, the interface is never impeded upon, and hopping from track to track is fast, never leading you out of the page.
There’s no way other way of saying this, but the Open Music Archive is not the most attractive website out there.
The OMA is a project started by artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White who have made it their mission to source and digitize out-of-copyright tracks, giving them a new (creative) life in the internet age.
The search option is a little misleading (most searches return zero information), and even downloading tracks is not as obvious as it should be. In fact, the best way to browse the library is via the tags (which are mercifully laid out on the home page), but again, it's hit and miss. Instead, accept that you'll be clicking around for a while and just let that be a joy as an old-time tune warms to life.
Much like the Free Music Archive, Opsound is all about inviting musicians to upload and distribute their music free under Creative Commons licensing.
As site, it's one of the easiest to figure out, as it makes great use of whitespace in it’s stripped back style. However, searching for music is not as easy as FMA or mobygratis.com, and even previewing a few tracks fast denigrates into a click-heavy process.
One last caveat; as in any other situation where you’re using the creative output of others, be absolutely certain that you have the correct license for your use case. It could be that you get a non-commercial license upfront, but sell the film at a later date. In this instance, you would need to either get a new license that allows you to use the music commercially, or strip it out entirely and find something new. Either way, keep copies of your the licenses granted (I store mine in Google Drive for easy reference), and be sure to check them over in advance of any scheduled public screening or sale.