A view from above of white musical notes laying on a wooden table

Should I have original music on my podcast?

How you begin your podcast will excite and entice your listeners. A catchy tune sets the feel and tone for your podcast, setting the stage for the show that follows. Whether you have an established podcast or are preparing to launch your show for the first time, you should consider how your theme music will help shape your podcast’s identity.

No set rule says you must have theme music—plenty of shows open with talking and jump right into it or have no music at all. But having your own theme music creates an identity and adds a level of professionalism. When your listeners first hear it in the intro, they know they’re in for a great time. Music not only sets a tone, but you can use it to separate segments, to denote ad breaks, and to bring your show to a close. Every podcast producer wants to cut through the competitive noise. Having a theme tune will make your show one of a kind. 

Theme music style and tone

The style of music you choose makes a huge difference. It will shape the overall feel of your podcast and essentially become part of your brand, making you recognizable. You need to keep in mind the type of content you have and the emotional connection you are trying to build with your audience. For example, if your content features news, financials, or business advice, you probably want to pick music with a more serious, upbeat, or classical feel. If your show is about American barbeque, you might want to explore bluegrass jazz or Americana. 

Don’t forget to consider sound effects and segment change music. Sound effects can enhance your show by helping it come to life for the listener. Segment change music will let your listeners know when one section or topic has come to a close, and a new one is beginning. It can also be a great way to introduce a guest. Additionally, if you’re cutting segments together, segment change music can hide differences in any sound or audio quality.

Where to find music for your podcasts

There are many ways to find music for your podcasts. Depending on your budget, the sky is the limit! But, you need to be very careful about copyright infringement on existing music and get the appropriate permissions to use the music on your show.

Before we share where to find great music for your podcast, we want to dispel a few music copyright myths first:

  1. The 10-second rule. Some believe that if you only play up to 10 seconds of a music clip that it’s fair game. This could not be further from the truth. If the music is someone else’s Intellectual Property (IP), you must get permission through a licensing agreement from whoever owns the rights to that IP, regardless of how long you play the copyrighted song.
  2. Just credit the artist or copyright owner. Merely crediting the copyright or IP source does not constitute a licensing agreement. With a licensing agreement, all copyright holders (including artists, studios, publishers, and songwriters) must agree with how you plan on using the content. That can not happen unless you explicitly ask for permission.
  3. Your podcast is revenue-neutral. If you’re not making any money, then you don’t owe any creators any money, right? Wrong. Copyright law is independent of the amount of money you make while using the copyrighted material. Furthermore, if your show gains serious popularity in the future, you’ll end up with a larger audience listening to copyrighted music in your older episodes, opening up even more liability. 

If you want to dig deeper into how copyright laws work with podcast music, we recommend listening to Podcraft’s interview with Gordon Firemark. He goes into detail about copyright and fair use from his perspective as a media lawyer.

Sourcing the music yourself

If you have any musical inclination, you can compose your own theme music. Even with an ounce of a musical gift, the free music composition software available today makes it easy. You can create different tracks for individual elements (percussion, vocals, instruments) and edit them to your liking. Windows PC has free composition software, and all Apple computers come with the song-producing app Garageband. 

Not even remotely interested in creating your own music? Ask a family member, friend, or co-worker that is and would be willing to work with you. You will need to establish a transfer of rights for what the composer wants in exchange for their IP (a free beer? Home-cooked meal? money?). Another low-cost way to go is to find local student musicians or local garage bands that are looking for some exposure or want to add to their portfolio. A simple Craig’s List ad will bring (undoubtedly) interesting prospects!

If you’re an established podcast, ask your listeners for help creating your new theme music. This is a great way to engage your audience and make them a part of your process. You can announce that you’re looking for talent to create music on your show, in a newsletter, or on your social media. Your fans will come through for you!

Sourcing existing music

If you want to use music that someone else has created, there are options. You must do your due diligence and make sure you have acquired the appropriate permissions to use other’s music. There are three types of existing music you can use:

  1. Royalty-Free. You can buy the license for a piece of podcast music that allows you to use it as you please for the duration of the license. Typically, one-off music purchases will give you a lifetime license. There are also ‘subscription’ services that extend you a license for as long as you keep your subscription active. If you do choose a subscription service, familiarize yourself with their terms and conditions.
  2. Creative Commons. Most Creative Commons licenses allow you to use music for free and without permission, so long as you credit the composer. But, and this is a big but, some Creative Commons licenses permit commercial use while others do not. Be sure to read and understand what uses are allowed when choosing music from the Creative Common arena. If you are considering Creative Commons, you need to understand the nuances to the various types of Creative Commons licenses.
  3. Public Domain. Copyrighted material will eventually go into the public domain after the death of the artist or copyright holder. The amount of time differs from country to country, but 70 years is a good rule of thumb. There’s a grey area here, too– the song itself may be in the public domain, but the recording or performance may still be under copyright. 

Free podcast music

Yes, you can find free music for your podcast! But, keep in mind that this music will also be used in many other podcasts because of their free availability. The trade-off here is that you will take a hit on branding and professionalism. If you’re on a tight budget or a hobbyist, this may be the perfect route to go. You can always upgrade later. Also, be sure you read their terms and conditions and what the license allows for each track you’re looking at.

Some great free options to check out:

Commercial podcast music

If you have some budget to work with and want to elevate your production quality, you can hire professional musicians or buy commercial podcast music. Your theme music will be unique and add branding that will differentiate your show with sophistication. Here are some of the best paid podcast music sources:

No matter which option you decide to go with, having theme music will elevate the quality of your podcast and draw listeners in. Over time, as your audience grows, when they hear those opening notes, they’ll know they’re in for a treat.

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