sign up for our

Home Shop Subscribe Advertise Articles Directories Classifieds Calendar FAQs Contact Us Login

Using Music In Your Voice Overs - What
You Must Know About Music Licenses

December 16, 2014

By Jason McCoy
Voice Actor

The world of music licensing can be confusing, and many people just don’t know anything about it. After all, why do they need to?

But as voice talent, have you ever needed a music track, sound effect or loop to use in your new demo?

Maybe one of your voice over clients has come to you, as the audio expert, for help and advice about finding music for a project. I know mine have in the past! That’s why I made it my mission to learn everything I could about the different types of music licenses, when to use them and where to find them.

Some music is available for purchase and some music is free. No matter which you (or your client) choose, there is always a license which states exactly how you are permitted to use the music.

If you use a licensed piece of music without adhering to the terms of the license - or worse, if you point your client in the direction of a track that they don’t have permission to use - you or your client could face huge fines and damage to your professional reputation.

With that in mind, here’s the lowdown on the different types of licenses that allow you to use music in a project.


Music in the public domain is available for unlimited use, which sounds great, but it’s not that easy to find exactly what you want in the realms of the public domain.

There are two types of public domain music - any song or musical work that was published in 1922 or earlier is automatically granted public domain status because any copyright of it will have expired, and occasionally artists themselves will give their work public domain status.

As you can imagine, the second option is quite rare! One thing to be aware of with public domain licenses for music before 1923, is that although the song itself is in the public domain, any sound recording of it is not.


Despite how it sounds, royalty free music isn’t free!

Instead, the name of the license refers to the fact that you pay for the music once and that allows you to use it without attribution and for as many times as you like - without paying ‘royalties’ every time you use it.


For anyone working on a project with a limited budget, Creative Commons is probably the best bet. That’s because many of the tracks are available for free!

But you need to make sure you know exactly which type of Creative Commons license you have for a track, and what that license means in terms of how you can use the music.

Here is a list and short explanation of each Creative Commons license:

No Copyright (CC0). You can use the music for anything, as the creator has dedicated it to the public domain.  

Attribution (CC BY).
Music can be distributed, changed and added to, and used commercially and non-commercially, as long as the original creator is credited for the original piece of music.  

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA). As with Attribution, the music can be distributed, changed and added to, and used commercially and non-commercially, as long as the original creator is credited for the original piece of music and new creations are licensed under identical terms.  

Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND). Music can be redistributed unchanged, commercially and non-commercially, as long as the creator is credited for it. 

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).
This license allows you to change and add to a piece of music, as long as it’s only for non-commercial purposes and the creator is acknowledged. If you create any derivative work from the piece of music, you don’t need to license the work on the same terms. 

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA).
This license lets you change and add to the work non-commercially, as long as the original creator is credited and any derivatives are licensed under the same terms.  

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND).
The most restrictive of all the Creative Commons licenses, this allows you to share music non-commercially, and the creator must be credited.


Note that some of these license types don’t allow for commercial use of the music, so they wouldn’t be right for any commercial projects that either you or your clients are working on. 

If your client’s project has a limited budget and it’s viable to give attribution to the creator of the music, Creative Commons is a great option, but if giving attribution is impossible, suggest to your client that they go down the paid music route (royalty free).

You’ll also notice that, depending on the type of license, you can sometimes change or add to the music, which can be useful depending on what the music is being used for. If your client has come to you for advice, you knowing the different types of Creative Commons licenses will be invaluable because, knowing the ins and outs of the project as you do, you’ll be able to direct them to the specific license type that suits their requirements.


Understanding the license types is a great start, but actually finding the right music can be a challenge. With so many sites out there offering free music options, some of them can be unorganized to say the least, and you or your client can spend hours trying to find the perfect piece of music.

To help save you search time, I've compiled a list of the 31 top sites for finding free music. The resource includes all the information you need about each site, broken down to save you time. Click here or see below.

Once you’ve found the perfect piece of music for a project, my advice would be to check, double-check and then check again that you fully understand what you or your clients are - and are not -  legally allowed to do with your chosen track.

As voice actors, we’re artists, and by understanding how to use music licenses correctly we’re making sure that we don’t rip off the work of another artist.
Jason McCoy is a North American male voice actor and founder of McCoy Productions located in Maryland. He specializes in voice over for eLearning, commercials, radio imaging and explainer videos. With over 15 years of voice over experience, he has voiced projects for leading brands including Walmart, John Deere, Samsung, Ford, AT&T, Intel, PBS, Honda and many others.

31 Music Sources:

Your Daily Resource For Voice-Over Success
Tell Us What YOU Think!
Please Note: Since we check for spam, there will be a slight delay in the actual posting of your comment.
Your Name:
Your Email Address (will not be published):
Your Comment:
Your Comment:
Security code:     
Comments (4)
Taylor Stonely
12/17/2014 at 6:04 PM
Thanks, Jason, for the information. While I haven't needed any music for my recordings yet, I will keep your list of the top 31 sites handy!
Jason McCoy
12/17/2014 at 3:13 PM
I'm glad you found it helpful Elizabeth and Mike! Hopefully the resource saves you some search time.
Elizabeth Holmes
12/16/2014 at 5:01 PM
SUPER helpful article, Jason!
Thank you SO much for this terrific resource.
Mike Broderick
12/16/2014 at 3:15 PM
Many thanks for this comprehensive article. It's very helpful.
Back to Articles
On Michael Langsner's Voice-Over Roadmap Podcast
With Sean Daeley and Paul Stefano - check it out!
Email alerts to new VoiceOverXtra articles
Inspiring interviews help your VO career