Free Beats And Beat Licensing Explained
If you’ve spent any time on YouTube looking for beats, you’ve almost certainly seen videos with titles like [FREE] Drake Type Beat–”Tears” (prod. by Yung Such n Such). What does this mean, and why would a producer freely give away their hard work? As you might have guessed, nothing in life is truly free.
In recent years, buying beats online has become increasingly popular. Unknown artists can now easily create and distribute professional-quality music.
An aspiring rap artist can purchase beats online for much less than a thousand dollars, record a project in an increasingly affordable home studio setup, and upload their music to Spotify to be heard by the masses for less than a thousand dollars.
That’s exactly what rapper Lil Nas X did with Old Town Road, turning a $30 beat lease into a number one hit. Though it may appear simple, the process of purchasing beats online can be quite perplexing. Should you purchase exclusive rights or lease them on a non-exclusive basis? What exactly does the term “non-exclusive” imply? Is it better to use a WAV or MP3 file? What’s the difference between the two? These and other questions can easily cause analysis paralysis in aspiring rappers, effectively stopping them in their tracks and rendering their musical ambitions a pipe dream. However, there is some good news:
BUYING BEATS CAN BE EASY
It doesn’t have to be difficult to buy beats online. You can arm yourself with all the information you need to make wise purchasing decisions with just a little research. As a result, you’ll be in a better position to advance your career as a recording artist. You’re already on the right track in that regard if you’re reading this article.
In this article, I’ll go over every aspect of online beat licensing so you’ll have a better understanding of the product, the process, and the intangibles. Let’s get started.
THE MANY TYPES OF LICENSES
Buying beats online usually falls into one of two categories: exclusive or nonexclusive, with the latter usually having a number of subcategories. We’ll go over both of them in detail.
It’s crucial to understand right away that when you buy a non-exclusive license to a beat, you’re not actually buying the beat. You’re merely purchasing the right to use the beat for a limited time. The producer retains complete ownership of the composition’s copyright. He or she is also permitted to sell non-exclusive licenses to other artists for the same beat. This can go on indefinitely unless someone buys the exclusive rights. The beat can no longer be distributed at that point, and ownership rights are transferred to the exclusive buyer.
But what if you buy a non-exclusive license and someone else buys the exclusive later? Is it necessary for you to turn off your music? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding NO! The status or validity of previous licensees is unaffected by the purchase of exclusive rights to a beat. This means your music can stay up for the duration of your lease agreement, wherever you have it.
As previously stated, non-exclusive beat leases have a number of restrictions. These differ from one license to the next, and from one producer to the next. The more expensive the license, the more comprehensive your usage rights will be. The majority of these restrictions impose a limit on the number of copies you can sell. They could also refer to the maximum number of streams your song can receive before you need to upgrade your license.
A pricing table with a breakdown of the major stipulations of each license offered by most producers can be found on their websites. This makes determining the best option for you simple.
It’s always a good idea to READ THE ENTIRE CONTRACT, regardless of which license you choose. You must be fully aware of your legal rights. Again, these will differ from one producer to the next. Contact the producer directly if you have any questions. He or she will be more than happy to provide you with a more detailed breakdown in order to complete the transaction.
When you buy exclusive rights to a beat, you get unlimited usage rights to the master track (your song). The beat will be taken down from the producer’s website and will no longer be available for purchase in any format.
The term “exclusive” is defined differently by each producer. The typical split sheet, on the other hand, is a 50/50 split sheet, with the producer retaining copyright ownership of the music they created. The publishing split will be negotiated and will differ from one producer to the next.
The industry standard is for the producer to receive 50% of the publishing revenue. The majority of the time, a producer will offer a fair split that benefits both parties. If the exclusive is sold for a large upfront fee, some producers will accept a lower publishing fee; similarly, if you’re on the rise, most people would rather get 15% of a number one record than 50% of something no one has ever heard of. This must be worked out on an individual basis, and it is always advisable to seek legal advice from an entertainment attorney if at all possible.
WHEN IT COMES TO THE ARTIST, WHICH IS BETTER?
It is debatable. If you’re a well-known artist who falls in love with a beat, knows you can make a hit with it, and can’t imagine hearing it played by anyone else, you should consider purchasing exclusive rights.
If you’re a newer artist working on your first project, however, leasing the beat may be the best option. It’s a lot less expensive than buying exclusive rights, and you can always upgrade your license if your song becomes popular.
EXPLAINING FILE TYPES
When buying beats online, you usually have three options: MP3, WAV, and tracked out stems.
You’ve probably heard of an MP3 if you’ve ever downloaded a song from iTunes. This is usually the cheapest option on a producer’s website, and you get what you pay for, as the old adage goes. The MP3 is the least expensive option because it is the lowest quality audio file. This file type is never used to record professional music.
If money is extremely tight, an MP3 lease is a viable option for getting your feet wet, but I would never recommend it. If you’re serious about making a name for yourself in the music industry, you’ll want your music to sound as professional as possible. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you don’t want your voice or beat to sound low-quality and amateurish.
Another issue is that most beatmakers try to make their beats sound good right away, so they use mastering techniques on their MP3 files. When it comes time to record vocals, the beat has already been distorted in such a way that an audio engineer will have a difficult time fitting the vocals in. Producers usually include the option on their cheapest license, which is usually around $30, in the hopes that you will upgrade to a more expensive license once you realize how difficult it is to master properly.
When compared to an MP3, a WAV file is larger and has higher quality audio. WAV files are the industry standard for recording in the music industry. Beat licenses that include the WAV file are typically slightly more expensive than MP3 licenses. They also include more comprehensive usage rights. Artists prefer the WAV license because of these additional benefits.
That’s why, if at all possible, I recommend paying a little more for a higher-quality WAV file or, better yet, the stems. These will be of higher quality and will most likely be free of mastering effects, making them the best option if you intend to master the final track with your vocals.
If you look at my beats, you’ll notice that there isn’t a “MP3 only” license available for that reason.
WHAT ABOUT STEMS
When you buy tracked out stems of a beat, you’re getting the beat’s individual sounds delivered as separate audio files. This allows each instrument to be adjusted individually. So, if you don’t like the way I mixed the snare, this is your chance to go in and tweak the various sounds in a beat to your liking.
If you’re going to record your song in a professional studio, you’ll definitely want to get the stems for the beat you’re interested in. As a result, the mixing engineer will have the most control and will be able to ensure that your vocals sound as good as possible. The stems, rather than a single WAV file or, God forbid, an MP3, were used to record and mix 99.9% of the songs you hear on the radio.
Beat licenses with the tracked-out stems are usually the most expensive. They do, however, typically have more usage rights. If your budget allows it, this lease type is the best option.
EXPLAINING “FREE BEATS”
Free beats, free beats, free beats. We read this a lot while browsing trough the web. But what exactly is a “free beat”? Producers use this strategy for a variety of reasons. To begin with, using the word “FREE” in the title of their YouTube videos is a tried and true form of click bait. It’s used to increase the chances that you’ll click on their video and listen to their music. Then, when you get to their page, the first thing you’ll notice is a link to buy the beat in the description. What’s going on?
Many producers do, in fact, provide free beats on their websites, but these are almost always for non-commercial use. This “free beat” strategy is credited by some well-known producers with helping them gain a large following and major placements. What’s more, the free beat you download will almost always be a heavily tagged MP3 file. When you’re trying to make a hit, hearing “PURCHASE YOUR TRACKS TODAY!” or the producer tag on loop on your free beat doesn’t sound professional.
To add insult to injury, you are not authorized to use these “free beats” (unless otherwise stated by the producer). That includes uploading your song to streaming services. If you decided to YOLO it and post a “free” or illegally downloaded beat to such a service, be prepared for the potential legal repercussions. If the song gains any traction, expect the producer to come in hot. Your song will get taken down and the penalty for copyright infringement is hefty:
“Statutory damages are defined in the United States by 17 U.S.C. 504 of the United States Code. Plaintiffs who can prove willful infringement may be entitled to $150,000 in damages per work.”
I sometimes give away free beats, especially to artists I’ve already established a working relationship with. Unlike most of the “free beats” that you can download online, all of my free beats can be used to upload your work because they are coupled with a proper license. I will however receive monetary compensation, as you need to mention me in the split for 50% of any revenue generated by those songs, which is industry standard.
At the end of the day, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Obtain a license from the creator. You are free to post the beat wherever you want, and the producer is compensated for his or her efforts. The relationship with the producer gets off to a good start, which opens the door for future collaborations. Free beats have their use, but they shouldn’t be used in every situation.
Hopefully, this guide has clarified some of the ambiguity surrounding online beat purchases. After all, you have a lot of choices when it comes to where you can get your beats. The most important thing is that you act and begin to advance in your musical career. The only way to move forward is to take the first step. Best of luck in your endeavors, and I hope to work with you in the future!