FAQ For Musicians
Welcome to the section of our FAQ for musicians and music producers! If you like, watch our webinar on the topic, click through our slide deck from the presentation, or peruse our FAQ below. If you have questions about licenses, please read our License Guide.
I want to add my music to the Free Music Archive. How can I make this happen?
We are a curated site, which means that not everyone will be added to FMA as a matter of course. The best way to let us know you want to join the party is to email us directly via sendyoursongs (at) freemusicarchive (dot) org.
1. Send us a link to the work you would like to share. We suggest that you pick out 3-5 of your best/recommended tracks; what you might like to use as a first impression of your work. Our curators will take it from there. Please do not attach mp3 files to your email. (we accept links from YouTube, Vimeo, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Jamendo, Internet Archive, etc - not Dropbox, WeTransfer, etc for reviewing purposes. Emails with mp3s attached will be deleted.)
2. Send us a license to consider with the tracks. If your work is under an open license such as a Creative Commons license, please let us know by including a link to the license. If it's not, let us know which you would consider.
3. Let us know if you're already here. Your FMA Username (if you've already signed up), and let us know if an FMA curator has showcased your work in the past.
4. Review our Upload Policy and make sure your music is a good fit.
5. Be patient! Once you send us your info, we will review your work (we get a lot of stuff to review constantly) and will be in touch regarding how to move forward.
How can I get in touch with FMA artists?
Some FMA artists offer their contact information here on the website. This makes is simple if you are interested in acquiring permissions beyond the scope of the license, or would like to share your proud creations with them. Many CC artists don’t know about all the cool places their music has ended up, so feel free to send them a note!
Email addresses, personal websites and social media accounts should be listed on their Artist Page, which you can find using the Search Page. Click on their name and you should see contact info listed (if they have provided contact information). If no contact info is given, we recommend a simple web search. We often have luck with Facebook, Bandcamp and Twitter, as well.
Can I use music from the Free Music Archive for my internet radio station?
The music you can use on your internet radio station depends on a lot of things. Here are just a few questions that come to mind.
1) Is your internet radio station commercial? Are there ads on the website, or on the stream? If so, you can only use Creative Commons music that allows for commercial use.
2) How will you give the artists credit? Will their names and websites appear on your website as well? All CC music requires attribution in a manner appropriate to the medium (such as posting playlists on the website or giving credit in the stream).
3) Is your radio broadcast also offered with a Creative Commons license? If not, then you can't use the materials on our website that say "Share-Alike" without additional permissions.
4) Will you blend, remix or modify the songs? If so, you shouldn’t use “No Derivatives” works without further permission.
When in doubt, ask. If you are unsure your use is allowed, ask the artist.
Can I use music from the Free Music Archive in my podcast?
The music you can use on your podcast depends on a lot of things. Here are just a few questions that come to mind.
1) Is your podcast supported by commercials? Are there ads on the website, stream or in the podcast itself? If so, you can only use Creative Commons music that allows for commercial use.
2) How will you give the artists credit? Will their names and websites appear on your website as well? All CC music requires attribution in a manner appropriate to the medium (such as posting playlists on the website or giving credit in the piece itself).
3) Is your podcast also offered with a Creative Commons license? If not, then you can't use the materials on our website that say "Share-Alike" without additional permissions.
Can I play music from the Free Music Archive on my radio show?
The music you can use in your radio show depends on a lot of things. Here are just a few questions that come to mind.
1) Is your station supported by commercials? Are there ads on the website, in a web stream or in the broadcast itself? If so, you can only use Creative Commons music that allows for commercial use.
2) How will you give the artists credit? Will their names and websites appear on your website as well? All CC music requires attribution in a manner appropriate to the medium.
How can I tell which license is being used for a specific track?
First, click on the song title. This can be done from our search page, from a mix, or on the homepage. Then, look at the far right column. The license information should be below the box that shows the number of downloads and listens to a track. For more information about what that license means, click on the name of the license.
I want to license music from the Free Music Archive for commercial use. What should I do?
The Free Music Archive is a repository for great CC music, and some of it is already licensed for commercial use. You can find the license associated with a track by clicking on the name of the song and looking in the far right column. However, if it’s not licensed for commercial use, we do not and cannot offer alternative licenses for the music you’ll find here. The Free Music Archive doesn’t create music on the site, so we don’t own copyright to anything on the site - that belongs to the creators. Please contact the individual artists, curators or record labels to work it out with them directly.
How should I give attribution for music I use?
Just about every Creative Commons license requires giving appropriate credit; these all include, at the very least, “Attribution,” which means giving credit to the creator of the work.
This basically means you need to list the Title, Author, Source & License associated with the work (or TASL, if you are fond of acronyms). Here’s an example:
What exactly is a "Derivative Work"?
Generally speaking, mashups and remixes are derivative works. Under Creative Commons licenses, incorporating a song into a video is a derivative work, too.
More specifically, "Derivative work" is a legal term that comes straight from the Copyright Act. Here's how the law defines it, in part:
"A 'derivative work' is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted."
For more on what is and isn't a derivative work, see the Creative Commons FAQ, "Does my use constitute a derivative work or an adaptation?"
What exactly does "NonCommercial" mean?
First of all, we are no authority on what counts as a commercial purpose, and neither are Creative Commons and their fleets of lawyers who created these terms. What matters is how the licensor and licensee interpret these things. Here's how Creative Commons explains this on their FAQ Wiki:
"CC's NonCommercial (NC) licenses prohibit uses that are 'primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.' Whether a use is commercial will depend on the specifics of the situation and the intentions of the user. In CC's experience, whether a use is permitted is usually pretty clear, and known conflicts are relatively few considering the popularity of the NC licenses. However, there will always be uses that are challenging to categorize as commercial or noncommercial. CC cannot advise you on what is and is not commercial use. If you are unsure, you should either contact the creator or rightsholder for clarification, or search for works that permit commercial uses. Please note that CC's definition does not turn on the type of user: if you are a non profit or charitable organization, your use of an NC-licensed work could run afoul of the NC restriction; and if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term."
In many cases, this definition is easy to apply. Making a mix and giving it to your friend is a non-commercial use; making a mix and selling 100 copies of it isn't. Unfortunately, many cases aren't nearly that simple. This is particularly true online, where ad-supported blogs and other evolving revenue models have blurred the lines between NonCommercial and Commercial.
I'm not sure about whether I have permission to make a certain use. Who should I contact?
As a general matter, checking with artist or curator is a good idea. Creative Commons and the FMA can't give you definitive answers about particular uses. Creative Commons simply makes available a group of pre-written licenses, and they generally don’t know anything about the specific works that are the subjects of CC licenses. Similarly, FMA doesn't know anything about the specific terms under which artists offer their music other than what the curators tell us.
Please note that the terms of a CC license terminate when violated.
For example, if a reuser of CC-licensed material does not provide the attribution required when sharing the work, then the user no longer has the right to continue using the material and may be liable for copyright infringement. The license is terminated for the user who violated the license. However, all other users still have a valid license, so long as they are in compliance with the terms of the license.
Under the 4.0 licenses, a licensee can get these rights back if the violation is fixed within 30 days of discovering it.
The terms of my Creative Commons license have been violated by someone. What can I do?
If you apply a Creative Commons license and a user violates the license conditions, you may opt to contact the person directly to ask them to rectify the situation or consult a lawyer to act on your behalf. Creative Commons is not a law firm and cannot represent you or give you legal advice, but there are lawyers who have identified themselves as interested in representing people in CC-related matters.
You may also want to send them a notice. Here is a “Standard License Violation Letter” from Wikipedia if you would like a template.
I want to put a Creative Commons license on my work. How do I do this?
There is no registration process required to use the Creative Commons licenses. Licensing a work is as simple as selecting which of the six licenses best meets your goals, and then marking your work in some way so that others know that you have chosen to release the work under the terms of that license.
The Free Music Archive has made choosing and expressing a CC license extra easy: Once you've decided on a CC license, simply select the license during your upload (it’s one of the last steps). Your license choice will be expressed through an icon and license notice that appears on the right rail of your track's page, just under the area where stats about your track are displayed.
Elsewhere on the web, depending on the platform, the process of displaying licenses can vary, but Creative Commons provides badges and a license choosing tool that makes attribution easy for anyone who comes along and wants to use your work.
Why does this FAQ leave so much ambiguous? Can't you just tell me the answer?
We wish! Music copyright is one of the most complicated areas of copyright law. Creative Commons licensing is an attempt to offer permissions you don't need to ask for, as long as you follow the license terms explained here.
The FAQ provides general information about legal topics; it does not provide individual legal advice. The FMA provides this information on an “as-is” basis. Use of this FAQ does not create an attorney-client relationship between the FMA and the user, and the FMA disclaims liability for damages resulting from its use.
Special thanks to Eric Steuer for assistance with the webinar, slide deck, and this FAQ.