Why you need to learn about music licensing before you start an internet radio station

One of the first challenges newcomers to online radio broadcasting face is finding songs to fill out the music programing on their station. Most people start by looking for free music for online radio. And you’ll probably even find search results for royalty-free music. But don’t be fooled. Broadcasting music through online radio is very different from listening to music online. You can’t just go to YouTube or Spotify and play your favourite tracks on your Airtime Pro station.

Why not? The short answer is: Music licensing.

What you need to know about music licensing for your online radio – different options

We won’t go into the full explanation of music royalties and licensing rules here, but the key point to remember is that radio stations must pay a fee to broadcast music. (If you have an Airtime Pro or other internet radio station, this means you.) How much you pay and which licensing agency you need to buy a licence from depends on several factors, including:

  • The country where you live 
  • The countries you are broadcasting to 
  • The kind of music you want to play
  • Whether your online station accepts advertising

Even songs licensed under Creative Commons agreements have specific conditions for use. While songs licensed as CC0 or CC-BY could be considered broadly safe to use, it is best to check with the artist or consult a lawyer before you start playing them on your station.

But don’t despair. There is great music out there waiting to be found. A number of sites offer subscriptions and other kinds of packages that let you broadcast emerging independent artists for an all-in fee that won’t break the bank. We’ve listed some of the top choices below.

Find a licensing package that fits your internet radio station

Bandcamp: Has been around since 2008 and claims to be home to more than 12,000 unsigned bands in all genres. Artists can sell their music here, and even merchandise such as t-shirts and vinyl. Bandcamp’s payouts are favourable to artists. They take 15% of sales (compared to the usual 30% on a service such as iTunes) and a 10% cut on merchandise. The music you buy from Bandcamp artists is subject to a number of use restrictions; see a sample scenario here.

Jamendo: A Luxembourg-based community of music published under Creative Commons licences. It boasts 4 million members and more than 40,000 artists on its platform. You can buy individual licences or subscriptions from Jamendo itself.

Soundcloud: A go-to place for independent bands. It’s easy to find and follow new musicians here, and the site’s recommendation algorithm is a real strong point, guaranteeing that you’ll be notified about emerging acts with just the kind of sounds you’re looking for. Note that you can use Soundcloud to search for “cc0”, “creative commons”, “free music”, “copyright free” etc, but even then each track will have its own copyright info, and many of them won’t be totally free.

Hype Machine: To keep abreast of emerging trends and read the latest reviews of indie bands, Brooklyn-based Hype Machine should be one of your first stops. It impressively aggregates content from hundreds of music sites and independent blogs.. Unlike other music sites, their offering also includes other creative assets, from stock photos to web templates. Their price list is here.

Tribe of Noise hosts more than 34,000 composers, singer songwriters, producers and performing artists from 194 countries. They recently acquired famed New Jersey radio station WFMU’s Free Music Archive, an online repository of music with more than 100,000 recordings. But free music in this case is more like free speech than free beer. ToN is focused on compensating artists for their work; here is an overview of the licences they offer.Finally, don’t discount older sites like Tumblr and Myspace. Both were once popular social networks, and are still lively places where independent bands maintain pages and bloggers write about their latest music discoveries.

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