Royalty Free Libraries. Should You? Who's Right?

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    Let’s not break this down to a couple of cues and what they make or made. Simply stated: The totality of my catalog earns me 12 times more in Pro Libraries when compared to RF earnings. At best, RF should be considered a “chump change side show” not a realistic way to earn a liveable wage.

    No one is addressing the alarming issue of market price destruction and how super bowl big business (The lion) is showing up to chomp on baby zebras for $17 a track.

    Again, young composers…shoot big, craft the best tracks you can, get them in PRO based libraries, if those efforts fail, dump them off in RF land so you can collect monthly chump change. No one should ever be shooting for, or focusing on “small time”..and that is what RF is.

    And Michael you are 100% right, don’t bank on cue sheets from RF…it’s hard enough getting that done properly in PRO libraries, not a chance the RF folks are going to composer a favor by filing cue sheets.


    After playing the RF game for 2013 to test it out

    At best, RF should be considered a “chump change side show” not a realistic way to earn a liveable wage.

    The problem I have with this MA is, first of all you have only tested the waters for a year or less, by your own admission, yet come very quickly to your conclusion that its a “chump change side show”.

    Pretty one sided and misleading really. I am not claiming that RF or library music in general is an easy buck , but to make judgement based on “playing the RF game for 2013 to test it out” is silly.

    Someone who claims to have the success you have in the exclusive world surely couldn’t have made that judgement after a year, could you ?

    If I am misreading something here please correct me as I am directly quoting you above

    Grant Tregellas

    This whole “PRO vs RF” debate is becoming tiresome. In my short time here on the forum I’ve seen it come up and derail a lot of the best, most informative threads. Just like the ongoing debate between those who support the “digital revolution” vs “we want the record industry to go back to the way it was” its an argument that will never be won.

    The best part of MLR is the goldmine of info re: music libraries as well as the practical “in the trenches” info from seasoned pros. Thats why i joined and become a paid member.

    Theres a place for this “RF vs PRO” debate for sure. Maybe someone should start a forum just to address this topic?

    My other suggestion, and Im not being sarcastic about this: It seems, based on the view points of the most vocal people here, that the membership of this site is split between RF and PRO. So why not have a forum just to discuss the ins and out of each side. Like “RF music library report” or “PRO MLR”, you get what I mean?

    Then people, such as MichaelL and Mark Petrie who have a lot of info to share can do so without having to be derailed and forced to defend their position all the time. This goes for the PRO camp as well.

    And then if people want to get into a debate, take it outside this forum.

    Thats my 2 cents.

    Emma Seapeaess

    First off, I don’t mean to annoy anyone here. This is a touchy subject and always ruffles feathers. But I hope I can offer a different perspective on why there seems to be a gulf between perception and understanding of RF v non-RF or however you care to word it. Please understand that my perspective is simply from someone who cares about music and our industry.

    “…Maybe those composers and library execs don’t come here because they see a bunch of grown men spending their weekend arguing about royalty free sites for the one millionth time…”

    Tim’s post was refreshing and it is quite obvious he speaks with experience and knowledge. Certainly, serious library composers and execs don’t post on here because they don’t have too much respect for the RF model unfortunately, and it is that which is the main focus of debate on here. It is staunchly defended but you can’t help feel that the prickliness one sometimes detects in these defensive posts comes through an insecurity and desperation that for some, a failure of the RF model would snuff out any composing aspirations altogether. Everyone, seemingly, wants to be a composer. And that is not good…

    The proliferation of sub-standard libraries over the last few years has brought our industry down in that ‘library music’ is now a tarnished term. Quality, artistic values, musicianship…these all count for nothing seemingly as new writers hurtle at great speed to their 250th cue of the week. The achievement is not in creating one beautiful, memorable, usable track, but in pumping out thousands upon thousands of cues and uploading them, unchecked, unheard, unvetted, to a massive repository where sub-mediocre music goes to die. And for those RF tracks that get a ‘hit’ on some insignificant show or some insignificant cable channel, this somehow reinforces the view that what they are doing has merit and a future. Just look at the ‘credits’ listed on a number of RF repository sites as an example of where they’re at. If that’s the best they can come up with with all that in their catalogue…

    There is not a great future for RF composers IMO, save for the few lucky ones that can generate a modest income from their catalogue. As can be seen on here though, these people are few and far between and perhaps highlights that old saying “the exception proves the rule.”

    Why the RF model fails in the long term…(several reasons. I’ll highlight a few)…

    1. It is a phantom market…

    Certainly here in the UK virtually NO RF music is ever used. I doubt if the BBC has ever in its history used one RF track. And the BBC is perhaps the most significant ‘per minute value’ broadcaster in the UK. It is a phantom market created by the perception that by simply ‘uploading a track’ to a repository, you are ‘in the game’. As composers starting out, we all want to feel we have a chance of our lottery ticket coming in. It is great to feel you are ‘in the game’. Even if you hold that lottery ticket and the chances of success are small, at least there is some chance and that’s what keeps us going when we start out. But isn’t the overall picture a bit more than that folks? Isn’t the reason we do it because we want to be full time composers and realize the dream? So, if someone tells me they are happy to earn a few hundred $$$ a month or get the odd usage, I would perhaps say they are kidding themselves. To make a decent wage with even thousands of RF tracks, you need alot of lottery tickets and helluva alot of luck! Even then, can that be sustained for 20-30 years?

    And all this business about ‘composers’ uploading other peoples tracks just highlights even further the unprofessional standards of the RF model.

    2. When is a composer not a composer…

    I just don’t think a model based on mediocrity and numbers can survive because what is being produced is mainly (from what I have heard) poor music. Often, not even ‘composed’, more like blocks of samples just joined together. You are just stitching together someone else’s work. No points for that I’m afraid. I know a track of this nature can be knocked together in minutes but really, is the end result going to have any value? Do you really, deep down believe in what you are doing? Some guys have thousands of tracks on websites – someone earlier mentioned 30,000 tracks – I can only imagine at how low the bar must be set in order to pump out such a huge number. For me, composing is about writing stuff down, getting real players in, recording orchestras, getting it mastered properly, liaising with producers, honing and honing a track for weeks so that some end user just has to use it. If it is good enough it will be used over and over again for years and make alot of money.

    Often, the key ingredients that make music powerful and therefore usable with a long lifespan, are sadly lacking. My dad has a saying, “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. Well, it is and they are! But what the RF contingent need to understand, and was touched upon by Tim, is that high end library music is a whole different world. You don’t upload a zillion ad hoc tracks. Each project is thoroughly researched and briefed. So the marketing department has found a need by meeting with clients (BBC execs for example) and then develops concepts and releases ideas based on those findings. So it gets used because they have identified a need. All tracks are thoroughly vetted for quality and structure and to see whether it works to picture. The production must be first class. Need strings? Let’s go to Abbey Road and record some then. Whatever is required must be fulfilled. No shortcuts. Everything is real. No samples. Sounds will be thought out and not just out of the box patches. Tracks will have development rather than simply copying those first 16 bars straight after the middle 8. One library I know of will tell you “it must not sound like library music”.

    So by doing this and going through these processes you are becoming a real composer and imparting real emotional value into the music. You have constructed something, hopefully of quality, out of nothing rather than being a ‘loop stitcher’. What continues to amaze me is how, in an age where you can get a really good violinist to come and do a session for maybe $300, some ‘composers’ still want to take short cuts. Does that solo violin patch really sound as good as a human imparting musicality and feeling and tone changes and subtle volume and vibrato inflections? By not going the extra mile, it shows they don’t care and perhaps justifies their track earning zilch.

    3. You Come To Us v We Go To Them…

    I would like to know how RF sites market their product. It would be interesting to see how they can represent the interests of thousands of composers and zillions of tracks. Well, the answer is they can’t. RF libraries can’t market because that’s not what they’re about. The don’t put out focused, briefed material or spend hours in meetings and on phones with clients selling the product. That requires too much resource and they don’t have it because their resources are busy wading through ten tons of sub-standard tracks. So you immediately have a ‘You Come To Us’ culture. Which in the marketing/sales world doesn’t work. This is why we have door to door salesmen! The libraries I work with (exclusive ones of course) have marketing departments staffed by young, attractive and exceptionally hungry people. They are born to do that role and just love to schmooze with clients. And their hunger and infectious drive and enthusiasm sells the product. That is the ‘We Go To You’ mentality and that certainly works I can tell you.

    So in summary, as far as this site goes, it would be great if it weren’t so RF-centric and that those of us working in the MCPS model for example, could have a voice.

    I would also say any composer wanting to make a real sustainable income from writing library music should evaluate their position and ask themselves if they are creating honest music. Is it their own voice or are they loop-stitching? If you have a talent and a unique voice, great, develop it and work towards developing a style and a fantastic product that you can impress a good exclusive with. Take a while honing it to perfection and you will reap the rewards for years after. It might be your pension pot. If you are a loop-stitcher with a 50 a day habit (tracks, not cigarettes) then do yourself and the rest of us a favor and go and get a job stacking shelves as it will a) earn you more in the long run and b) act as a positive reaction to tarnishing the pot.

    Emma Seapeaess


    Art, you should consider giving Emma a free lifetime membership for that last post! 🙂

    I don’t agree with everything in it, but it was well thought out and presented perfectly.

    I certainly don’t want to get into the “other” hot-button issue brought up of live players vs. samples etc! We’ve been down that road before! But, I believe that the “volume track dump” vs. quality submissions is a real issue. I believe the “composer” must feel as if he/she has created something unique and will stand the test of time when they are finished with a track. Otherwise you are a DJ.

    In the end, it is the libraries “choice” to market Composers or DJ’s. Choose wisely my friends. 🙂


    First of all Emma thanks for your detailed post which is from your perspective in the UK and I respect that, the 30,000 cues is I think from Jingle Jared who believe me is not struggling.

    I will repeat this forever, there is no right or wrong, there are different types of libraries for different markets. I do agree with Emma that the Internet/Garageband/Loops has made it easy and more importantly affordable for composers to enter the market. There is substandard music in all libraries if you you like to label it that way, the difference now is the the production values are high enough to be broadcast quality. I am uncomfortable with the term substandard TBH, I don’t think One Direction are substandard ( many I am sure would disagree) its a very personal definition.

    I will relate again a personal experience, in my time running a studio we would regularly get copies of mixes from U2 as they were finishing them in the mix room in the 80s. Terrible drum sound, not a major 9nth chord in sight, same bass line etc etc etc we would sneer.Substandard music we would say, wont sell, Steely Dan are a real band blah blah. Musical arrogance is what that is called, I either like or dislike music these days. OH BTW the album was “The Joshua Tree” and went on to sell over 30 million copies and I think would be very highly regarded. Music appreciation is a personal thing not a judgement put on it by others.

    Emma speaks from a UK perspective and she is correct about TV usage, there is a very strong and professional library base there, also their PRO rates are very good BUT whether I or anybody else likes it , library music is a global internet business with all the pro and cons that that entails. If I am making a living doing exclusive cues for the BBC I would hold a position very different from the average composer out there who is starting out.

    It is possible to make a living in library music using ALL forms of libraries, I simply don’t make absolute judgements based on other peoples experience. I will certainly listen and take on board what they are saying.

    MA stated he/she tried it for a year and it didn’t work, therefore it should be dismissed out of hand, its a slightly arrogant statement to make. Its based on the belief that your music is of such a hi standard that the RF libraries you tried simply didn’t know what they were doing. There are a few composers here who would counter that with a completely different experience, to demeanor them is not on. Language and nuance are very important on forums, and what is true for you is not the truth for everyone generally.

    To finish, don’t take sides in this debate, try all types of outlets and find the niche or niches that work for you, funneling people down a predetermined path based on someone else shouting louder does not make a good career move, whatever position they may take.


    But isn’t the overall picture a bit more than that folks? Isn’t the reason we do it because we want to be full time composers and realize the dream? So, if someone tells me they are happy to earn a few hundred $$$ a month or get the odd usage, I would perhaps say they are kidding themselves.

    That isn’t the dream for me.

    I want the people that aim to be full time composers to be highly successful. But those that do not have such lofty goals are great people too. Royalty free libraries help those that want to be ‘professional hobbyists’ to achieve their dreams.

    I make money from royalty free music libraries, non-exclusive retitle libraries, and exclusive music libraries. I make money from my PRO every quarter. I am already living the dream!

    Art Munson

    To finish, don’t take sides in this debate, try all types of outlets and find the niche or niches that work for you, funneling people down a predetermined path based on someone else shouting louder does not make a good career move, whatever position they may take.

    Here, here Denis! You have put into a simple paragraph the truth!

    Art Munson

    After reviewing this thread I decided to re-open it. There a number of good points made by all sides. I removed a number of posts (including my own) that were not relevant.

    So, let’s try again but please no bickering and no off topic posts as they will be deleted.

    Thank you!


    Some of my favourite pieces of music have been created by ‘loop-stitching’. DJ Shadow springs to mind.


    I have been trying not to get into this thread but I think it’s worth it.

    Firstly, can we have a definition of RF put somewhere to avoid this debate on the meaning of RF! It is not performance royalty free, it is mechanical royalty free. Maybe Art could just put that at the top of the thread. The tricky details are in whether RF libraries require cue sheets and stuff like that, and that obviously varies from one RF library to the next.

    I want to present some points on Emma’s post to begin with.

    1. Her first point. I’m not sure what her definition of RF is, but if it’s the one above then this point is false. I and others I know have had tracks on UK television including Sky Sports and the like, which have been placed by RF libraries. Granted, I’m not talking P5 but they were still RF libraries. In fact I’m sure you’ve heard of Audio Network – well they make the old MCPS libraries really ‘prickly’ because they’re RF and they’re doing incredibly well with performance royalties in the UK. Audio Network is RF in that it permits the licensee to purchase a license to a track and then reuse that track in as many episodes of its show as it wants without further mechanicals being due (for example).

    2. Her second point. I agree: for the ‘good’ placements generally the music has to have something special. However, real instruments are no longer needed to accomplish this in many genres. This is based on, again, mine and my writer friends’ experience. We have tracks in libraries like KPM, airing on the BBC which were made on laptops with no instrument in sight. I am not saying anyone can do it, but I am saying the real instrument argument is incorrect for a lot of genres.

    There are a number of points I wanted to make besides the above:

    a) Surely we must have all thought at one time: If a pro is so good, then why are they concerned about these amateur loop stitchers in the first place? I mean if the pro’s music is so superior why do they need to complain about the competition? I think this is a sign of how the market has changed and conventional pros feel threatened. Barrier to entry to make music is lower – the cost and skill required to make music are lower. But opportunities have grown enormously for licensing. And along the way composers haven’t grouped together so their negotiating positions have become weak(er). So now there are some top quality tracks going for $2 a pop on P5. And that is scary if your library charges $500 per needle drop. But still, after all this, for the best placements you need to make something special – and if you have talent plus some business understanding (plus some luck!) you can still do well.

    b) You can make a living from RF. $100k+/year. But it is also true that the best paying backend placements – from my experience – still come from MCPS or top tier exclusive RF libraries.

    c) There is no ‘morally’ right or wrong. If what we call an amateur wants to make a track with royalty free loops they’ve bought and try to sell it then good for them. If a library wants to offer music with no PRO attachment they are entitled to do so, with certain conditions etc.

    But what I think we should do is educate composers and try to unite. If an ‘amateur’ makes some outstanding music but has no business knowledge then yes, they might get taken advantage of in the sense that they will negotiate very weakly with a potential library / production company etc – that is bad for them, and for us.

    We can’t force other composers to do anything, and we shouldn’t put them down when they do something we don’t agree with. We ‘simply’ need to make sure they understand the market as best as possible and the value of their product so that they can make an informed choice. This will be real progress for bringing composers more power in library music.

    If we can’t even agree on the definition of RF without bickering, how are we going to get behind a common cause: educating composers and exercising our strength together?

    For my part, here are the principles I go by in library music:

    1. I don’t sign exclusively with any library unless they either a) offer me money up front to sign per track or b) have a very strong track record, e.g. that could be Extreme / Audio Network / others like them for example. But when they do meet either (a) and/or (b) I don’t hesitate and I am happy to sign my tracks to them in perpetuity. One caveat: When I first started I had to relax this rule and just take the plunge with a few places. Some of my tracks are in lifetime deals and make nothing, but that’s the price I had to pay to find the libraries which do do well for me.

    2. If working with non-exclusives, I don’t put the same music all over the place e.g. in many different non-exclusives. I also use a pseudonym for non-exclusive libraries. To be honest, I don’t see much value to me in non-exclusives. I’d rather put my music in an exclusive that’s going to go to every trouble to a) market it and b) have its interest in the publishing share so that it goes for the big placements, and then chases up cue sheets and performance royalties.

    3. I don’t put music with companies like JP that offer blanket licenses. I don’t like the feeling of that. Even if I get 0.05% of their blanket fee, I’m not convinced. And apparently you don’t usually get a share of the blanket anyway.

    4. I also never, ever accept less than 50% of total performance royalties. I will go to 30% on mechanicals if it’s really a big opportunity. E.g. if the tracks are pretty much guaranteed some good airtime and I’ll get my 50% of those performance royalties, well I can accept 30% on the sync in that case.

    5. I would never grant gratis licenses to any entity unless it is an absolute guaranteed-to-air-on-TV placement with a production company directly.

    So there are my principles. Let’s see yours – perhaps we can then work towards something like a library composer handbook which adapts to fit all levels. And this site would be a great place to do that together. Art, what do you think?


    Firstly, can we have a definition of RF put somewhere to avoid this debate on the meaning of RF! It is not performance royalty free, it is mechanical royalty free.

    Which is the case in a lot of them, but not all, AJ does not allow composer to have tracks PRO registered while AS insists on cue sheets if there is a chance of broadcast, so there is the dilemma in the classification of the very broad term “royalty free” and hence the constant to and fro. Composers like you with experience, have a grasp on the nuances between the different models, trying to communicate that without a skirmish , is very difficult around here it seems. I can’t see why this is such a divisive issue, there is no absolute right or wrong.

    Our mission here, I think, is to inform others what the differences and advantages are of individual libraries, no matter what they decide to call themselves.Royalty free/Exclusive/non exclusive/ retitle …….

    Tx for your post Tbone very informative.

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    I’m back. I know you all have missed me. I wrote under MA so I will stay that way in this thread. Anyway, I do agree with a lot of the info above T Bone. I sill side with Emma in regards to soul less midi tracks that do not resonate and vibrate like bows striking strings, but let’s not argue that. Midi is here to stay and grow, unforunately.

    In regards to RF, the most important dilemma is: will it threaten traditional PRO affiliated libraries some day? What if The BBC, and Sky, ABC, CBS, Viacom, Rai, Discovery, CNN, etc etc. all started to go shopping at AJ for their music shows and said sorry PRS, ASCAP, BMI, GEMA, SESAC etc. we’re done with you guys?

    How would you feel about that? Do you think that can ever happen? If not, list your reasons why.

    Those royalties that last forever and ever sure are sweet. One of the greatest themes of all time “Heavy Action” is a piece of music composed by Johnny Pearson. Composed in 1970, and featuring a strong brass fanfare opening, Heavy Action soon became a well established sporting theme tune, most associated in the UK as the theme for Superstars,[1] and in North America as the theme music for ABC and ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which is trhe longest running prime time show in the history of Television. The Show has been on air for 44 years. The theme has been used sing 76 or 77 I believe.

    The Composer has passed, yet his family is still enjoying those sweet royalties.

    Imagine if the BBC or ABC go and pull a $17 license at AJ and make it a theme of a show like Monday Night Football.


    In regards to RF, the most important dilemma is: will it threaten traditional PRO affiliated libraries some day? What if The BBC, and Sky, ABC, CBS, Viacom, Rai, Discovery, CNN, etc etc. all started to go shopping at AJ for their music shows and said sorry PRS, ASCAP, BMI, GEMA, SESAC etc. we’re done with you guys?

    MA you are picking an extreme case here, this is one of the few RF libraries that don’t allow PRS affiliation and yes if all music were sourced there it would be a bad thing and I would be the first to inform new composers of the pitfalls of using that business model BUT

    What if in the above scenario they got their music from AS or AN (both Royalty free libraries), pro money and cue sheet filling are required so that negates the “worst case scenario” you paint.

    You simply cannot paint all Royalty free libraries as the same , they are clearly not and to have a reasonable debate about this we all need to acknowledge it.

    If you want to go after the AJ business model separately then thats fair game and a completely different debate, but it is different model from the other two I have mentioned ( AS and AN )

    and to finally put a nail in this midi is terrible and real is better debate, listen to this. If you think this sounds terrible then I give up.LOL


    This topic has turned in an important direction, specifically understanding the variations of the RF business model.

    If you do not grasp the numerous variations of this model, then you should not begin to comment. It’s like saying all Americans drive big cars and eat hamburgers. We don’t.

    But…there is a new beast in the game, one that everyone should be aware of, and that most of us who bicker here can, or should, agree is not in the best long term interests of composers or libraries in general.
    There will be of course on or two people who will say, what do I care, money is money, I’m in it part time….

    The new beast is Performance Free. This means no mechanicals, no PRO money. The leading library doing this is

    The small upfront fee is not worth it IMHO.

    Yours truly,

    Former Oracle. 😉

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