Lots of podcasts have a signature jingle, and The Tony Kornheiser Show, a top-rated sports series, is no different. Co-host Gary Braun campily croons “Here comes Tony’s mailbag!” as he intros the segment where Tony reads listener letters. What a lot fans probably don’t realize is that the iconic “Tony’s mailbag” podcast jingle is sung over a piece of music that Braun pulled from a royalty-free jingle library.
You can access these libraries for your podcast, too. While high-quality royalty-free tracks typically cost money to access — they’re free of royalties, not free-free — you can easily recoup your investment down the road. And in going the royalty-free route, you’ll be playing by the rules of copyright law while reaping the rewards of podcast theme music.
3 reasons to use music in a podcast
Podcasts benefit from music, whether it’s an opening jingle, theme music for segments, or background music as the hosts talk. Here are three ways that high-quality music can level up your podcast.
- It creates an aural signature. When your podcast begins with the same familiar podcast intro music, you subconsciously stamp your brand onto the listener’s consciousness. Each time they hear those opening notes, they immediately associate the jingle with you and your brand.
- It conveys professionalism. High-quality music and sound effects boost the overall production value of your podcast. This helps you come across as more professional to listeners and potential advertisers.
- It keeps things interesting. Podcast music adds an important layer of texture that naturally blends with the human voice. And more importantly, it can improve the pacing of your show when you interject theme music for specific segments, run background music beneath a monologue, and establish opening and closing themes. Introducing musical cues with different tempos, tonalities, and levels of complexity can also completely change the energy of any podcast.
4 types of music to use in a podcast
If we’ve convinced you to use music in your podcast, now you have to decide where to insert those musical cues. These four applications will make a big impact.
- Intro music. Use a podcast jingle or theme song to introduce each episode of your podcast. Use the same intro song every time to create a musical signature. Most podcast intros are pretty short — maybe 10–20 seconds, with the host talking over part of them. To hear a short introductory theme, check out Unaffected, a podcast that highlights obscure singers from the mid-20th century but starts off with an original theme by host Ethan Stoller. For a longer theme, listen to the Sound Opinions intro, a mashup of popular songs. (Note that the Sound Opinions theme uses copyrighted songs, which involves special music licensing considerations per the terms of U.S. copyright law.)
- Segment music. Introduce specific segments of your podcast with their own short musical cues. These cues tend to be extremely short — about one to three seconds long. Check out the mini cues in The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast to hear how this works.
- Outro music. If you kick off your podcast with an intro jingle, consider bookending it with some outro music. Many podcasts use the same music as their intro theme — or a slight variation of it. The podcast Politics War Room with veteran politicos James Carville and Al Hunt uses the same theme to introduce and conclude each episode.
- Background music. Some podcast hosts use background music, or underscore, as they speak. This can be particularly effective in narrative podcasts, where music helps set the mood. Check out the true-crime podcast Up and Vanished for an example.
How to use licensed podcast music
A large number of podcast cues require a license for legal usage. This even applies to royalty-free music for podcasts. A musical license is a contract that gives specific permission to use a piece of music. Some music licenses permit users to place a musical track in a podcast while barring the licensee from using the music in any other context. Other licenses cover more online contexts, such as YouTube videos, but forbid other uses. Still other music licenses grant unlimited usage of a music cue, but do not transfer actual ownership of the music.
Here are the three most economical types of music for podcasts.
- Royalty-free music. Many podcasters favor royalty-free tracks because they’re pretty cheap and straightforward to use. You pay a one-time fee to license this music; you will not have to pay royalties every time a listener streams your podcast. These tracks are still copyrighted music, which means you don’t own the piece — you just pay for the rights to use it.
- Copyright-free tracks. If you’re determined to spend no money at all, you can get some copyright-free sounds for podcasts, including musical cues and simple tracks that are more like sound effects. While you probably won’t find any groundbreaking symphonies or earworms in this category, you’ll get truly free podcast music that you can use without restriction.
- Creative Commons music. Creative Commons music is music that is distributed by the nonprofit organization Creative Commons (CC). This music does have a type of copyright, but it permits free usage. Typically all you need to do is credit the composer, and then you have free use of the track. There are six types of Creative Commons music licenses. Most work for podcasting, with one exception — tracks labeled CC-NC, which stands for “Creative Commons, non-commercial.” As long as the license doesn’t include the “NC” designation, you’re safe to use it.
6 podcast music providers
You don’t have to know a professional composer to source great music for your podcast. Check out these online services to find the perfect musical cues for any podcast production.
- Epidemic Sound. Looking for a massive library of royalty-free music for podcasts? Check out Epidemic Sound. The company works on a subscription model. As a subscriber, you can partake in a multi-platform licensing deal that includes podcasting. It also includes video-only platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitch. If you pay for a year upfront, personal subscriptions come out to $9 per month and commercial subscriptions $19 per month. Month-to-month rates are slightly higher.
- PremiumBeat. For another music library option, look into PremiumBeat, which offers 20,000 tracks categorized by mood, context, length, and more. The service uses a subscription model, and $65/month gets you five downloads per month.
- Envato Elements. Perhaps you’re the type of creator who’d benefit from a service that bundles royalty-free music, stock photos, videos templates, graphics templates, and more for one subscription price. If this sounds like you, check out Envato Elements. For rates starting at $16.50/month, you can download music for podcasts and also access downloadable resources for all types of visual projects.
- SongsForPodcasters. SongsForPodcasters uses an à la carte model and specializes in micro-licenses: simple, highly limited licenses that only cover the use of music on a certain number of platforms. If you value streamlined processes and minimal legalese, it might be a good match. The service also includes a proprietary search function that quickly matches you to the kinds of songs you’re looking for, along with transparent pricing so you’ll know exactly how much you have to pay.
- FreePD. Podcasting on the lowest of budgets? You may benefit from the free music on FreePD.com. Most tracks are completely free to use and require no attribution. These tracks come with a Creative Commons 0 license, which means the composer and publisher have relinquished any copyright. You’ll find fewer choices on FreePD than you would on other platforms, but it’s hard to beat the price.
- Blue Dot Sessions. If minimalist, acoustic sound is what you’re after, check out Blue Dot Sessions. The library — searchable by mood, genre, or instrument — has thousands of tracks composed and recorded by professionals at Blue Dot Studios, plus multitrack stem files (if you prefer to make your own mix). Even better, all tracks are available under Creative Commons license, though stem files require a subscription starting at $25/month. Or, for one-time projects, you can opt for project licenses on a sliding scale, and license only the music you need.
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