The perfect soundtrack for your podcast is an opportunity to establish a unique identity that leaves a lasting impression on your listeners. Music works its magic not only during intros and outros but also serves as a dynamic tool to punctuate commercial breaks, seamlessly transition between topics, or act as a background ambiance to enhance storytelling.
As a podcaster, you don't have the same musical resources as other productions—film crews operate on larger budgets, and social media influencers have access to pre-negotiated music libraries—but there are options for creators to use royalty-free music in podcasts.
How Music Enhances Podcasts
Surprisingly enough, music plays a much bigger role in the enjoyment of multimedia content like podcasts or films than you might think, capturing the emotions of listeners in ways we often don't realize.
It’s also an extremely good branding opportunity, as you can see from this fan-made video of the Joe Rogan Podcast’s intro song that racked up 166k views as of May 2023.
But why would an intro song get so many views? Fans expressed their emotional connection to the tune in the comments, “It’s so satisfying to finish a [Joe Rogan] episode and hear that little guitar riff at the end”.
And that’s not all. Music can enhance your content in more ways than one. It can be played during breaks, ads, and throughout the show to fill in dead air and make your listener feel connected to your story.
Use during breaks
Music is a fantastic way to breathe life into those quiet moments or spice up the "boring" bits in a podcast, like during commercial breaks or intermissions. Adding the right music to your ad read could increase your sales, as music is intrinsically tied to consumer buying decisions.
Transition between topics
Add music to your podcast for transitioning between topics and talking points. This helps create a smooth flow and prevents the pace from dragging. Plus, it cuts down on dead air and makes your podcast even more engaging and enjoyable for listeners.
The Sunday Cool Podcast skillfully uses music to smooth transitions between topics. Take their 36th episode, "Does God Love Bald People Less?" as an example. At the one-minute mark, a host is seen darting between sets. With a fast-paced track playing over the sped-up visuals, the audience experiences a seamless and entertaining transition.
Intro and outro music
A podcast intro is the first impression for listeners, where you can set the tone and spark curiosity—all within 20 seconds. Much like channel surfing on TV, if you don't quickly capture their attention, they'll move on.
When choosing intro music, ensure stylistic consistency and opt for tracks created with real instruments, while avoiding those with tens of thousands of downloads to create a unique brand identity.
As background sound
By including lyricless, instrumental background music in your content, you’ll be able to up perceived production value, support your storytelling, and evoke the right emotions in your listeners. Read more here: 5 Tips for Using Music Effectively in Podcasting by Acast.
For example in the murder mystery niche, music can add to the mysterious atmosphere, sparking the viewer's curiosity and helping to create intrigue. Sunday Cool uses haunting background music and sound effects to complement an anecdote about UFOs:
Pursuing Copyrighted Music: Worth the Effort?
While copyrighted music might be appealing, it's essential to understand the challenges and risks involved in doing so.
Unlike on platforms such as TikTok or YouTube Shorts, podcasters don't have the luxury of accessing copyrighted music libraries with pre-negotiated rights. Social media platforms often strike deals with artists or recording studios, allowing users to include copyrighted music with straightforward conditions. However, podcast creators must negotiate with and pay the copyright holder directly.
Securing permission or licenses to use copyrighted music is extremely time-consuming and costly. If you wish to use a copyrighted song in your content, you'll have to secure two licenses. These are typically obtained from the recording studio or artist and can take a long time to obtain, and are expensive.
Although challenging, it is essential to avoid using copyrighted music without obtaining the necessary permissions or licenses, regardless of whether your podcast generates revenue. This can lead to severe consequences such as takedown notices, fines, or even lawsuits.
In most cases, creators opt to use royalty-free music in podcasts as a more practical solution.
Why Fair Use Usually Doesn’t Cover Podcasts
In an interview with Forbes in 2021, Anne Kennedy McGuire, who heads Loeb & Loeb's podcasting division, clarified that Fair Use does not offer blanket protection to podcasts using copyrighted media despite many misconceptions. Fair Use is a legal defense that permits limited use of copyrighted content without needing permission from rights holders, but it only applies in certain circumstances. If your podcast has ads or is monetized, you cannot claim Fair Use.
However, even if you use copyrighted content according to Fair Use terms, it's still a complex legal topic, and there are no guarantees that you won't be found to be infringing on someone's copyright. Read more: The Essentials of Fair Use for Content Creators
Due to the complexities of rights negotiations, high costs, and the risk of legal trouble, if permissions aren't properly secured, most podcast creators steer clear of copyrighted music.
Sounds Like Royalty-Free Music Is The Way To Go. But Where Can I Find Good Royalty-Free Music for My Podcasts?
To name a few, Pond5, Epidemic Sound, SoundStripe, and Artlist.io are all great paid solutions when it comes to royalty-free libraries. If you are looking to save budget on equipment to make a better podcast but don't want to compromise on the music quality, come to Slip.stream with tens of thousands of other podcasters.
Slip.stream offers a royalty-free library of 65,000 tracks, 100% free for personal use. So if you are running a podcast and looking to monetize your podcast, sign up for a free account and access the library where you can build your unique identity through music, for free. The in-house curation experts have put together podcast music playlists to speed up your search for your favorite music to use in your podcasts.