Whether you’re starting a podcast, making YouTube videos, or working on any other kind of content creation, music often plays a central role in your finished product. But just because you have the perfect song in mind for your project, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legally available for you to use in your content.
What are public domain songs? How are they different from commercial music? And where can you go to source public domain audio?
We answer all your questions about public domain music and how (and where) to find the best royalty-free songs:
First things first: It’s important to understand the difference between public domain audio and commercial music.
There’s no doubt you’re familiar with commercial music. These are the kinds of songs you likely listen to every day—and you can find them easily via services like Spotify or Apple Music. Think top hits like “Blinding Lights” from The Weekend or “Here Comes the Sun” from the Beatles.
The big difference between commercial music and public domain audio is intent.
Commercial music is intended for personal entertainment purposes, i.e., it’s made for people like you to simply enjoy listening to. This means it cannot be featured in creative projects.
Enter public domain audio.
Public domain audio can be downloaded and used in podcasts, videos, or other creative projects—all for free.
How does it work? When a song is in the public domain, nobody owns it. This means that there are no active copyrights on the song and anyone is free to download it and use it any way they want.
Where to Find the Best Public Domain Songs
Unfortunately, public domain audio often gets a bad reputation for being low quality—but there is plenty of high-quality royalty-free music out there. You just need to know where to look.
Here are the top five places to find royalty-free music for podcasts:
When it comes to finding good-quality royalty-free audio, Free Music Archive is one of the very first resources for content creators.
Created in 2009 by independent East Coast radio station WFMU, Free Music Archive has an impressive library with 16 different categories of music, including blues, country, hip-hop, pop, rock, and old-time.
Bear in mind, though, that all of the music from Free Music Archive isn’t necessarily public domain audio. Instead, much of the music here is governed by the Creative Commons license, which gives you the right to share, copy, remix, and redistribute songs—so make sure you read the fine print before downloading.
And true to its name, you can access Free Music Archive’s wealth of resources 100% free.
Next in the line-up is Open Music Archive. Developed in 2005, this site is a collaborative project between UK artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White. The two musicians created Open Music Archive to source, digitize, and distribute out-of-copyright sound recordings.
Like Free Music Archive, you can find a wide breadth of music genres and styles here—from folk to blues to instrumental to piano and more. Unlike Free Music Archive, however, you may find this platform a bit more difficult to operate, as the music is organized via a series of tags.
While you can’t stream songs directly on the Open Music Archive’s webpage, you can download tracks instantly without having to create a user account or deal with frustrating website ads. Alternatively, Open Music Archive’s catalog is available for streaming through SoundCloud.
While Free Music Archive and Open Music Archive both offer quite a range of genres, Musopen is all about public domain classical music downloads. While this may not be your cup of tea when it comes to casual listening, classical music may just give you some of the best songs for a podcast you’re working on.
And just because it’s all classical, it doesn’t mean you’ll be wanting for variety. With Musopen, you can easily browse scores of songs, filtering by composer, instrument, period, length, license, even mood, and more.
As an added perk, Musopen also lets you download the sheet music to accompany the track. Plus, you can head to their classical music radio page to stream more public domain songs on desktop, laptop, or mobile.
Bear in mind, though, that Musopen limits users with a free account to five downloads per day.
International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) is another great option if you’re on the hunt for public domain songs. With more than 500,000 music scores, IMSLP offers ripe pickings for creators. Here, you can search by composer name or composer period, get access to first editions of popular historical works, and even find royalty-free songs in a variety of different languages. And, like Musopen, IMSLP also offers access to public domain sheet music that you can download as PDFs.
Keep in mind that IMSLP does include some scores that are not in the public domain, so make sure you read carefully before downloading. There are also some commercial recordings available on the platform—but you’ll need a membership to access those songs.
Finally, Freesound offers something a bit unique when it comes to public domain audio.
Like other websites with public domain songs, Freesound gives you access to downloadable sheet music and tracks—but it also offers hundreds of thousands of just plain sounds, e.g., birds chirping, rain, etc.
This massive database of audio snippets is under the Creative Commons license, so it’s free and available for you to share, copy, remix, and redistribute as desired. Plus, this database is active. Besides just downloading content, you can also upload your own audio snippets under the Creative Commons license and interact with other artists.
When it comes to sourcing public domain audio for your podcasts, your YouTube videos, or any other creative projects you’re working on, there are many resources out there for you to find the royalty-free songs and audio content you need.
But don’t forget that songs and audio may move in and out of the public domain and their creative licenses may change over time. To stay on the safe side, always be sure to read the fine print before downloading.
About Dan VanPatten: Dan is a full-time technology writer with interests in gaming, gadgetry, and all things PC tech related. He writes about a variety of topics including technology news, product reviews, and software. His experience stems from years of experience writing & producing content for technology newsletters & publications.