Back to Blog

Keeping It Legal: Everything You Need To Know About Podcast Music Licenses

John Michael

Podcast music licenses: it’s complicated. 

I know it’s tempting to throw in a few seconds of your favorite Queens of the Stone Age song, but that could land you in some seriously expensive hot water. (Yes, even if you only use a few seconds.)

I wanted to go over the basics of music licensing for podcasts here so that you can create some awesome pieces of work without looking over your shoulder for the rest of your recording career.

Do You Need a License to Play Music on a Podcast? 

If you have to ask this question, then the answer is probably yes. 

There are a few exceptions (which I’ll go over below), but you can’t just grab your favorite songs from YouTube and upload them for your podcast intro music. Here’s why:


…and they all expect payment every time someone uses it or plays it. If you’re old enough to remember the Napster fiasco, you know that artists and record labels will spend a fortune in legal fees recouping lost money. 

In addition, adding your voice or intro over the music means that you’re altering the track, which can even create a whole different licensing system too. 

Don’t Fall for These 4 Music Licensing Myths

I see a lot of myths out there on podcasts on Twitter and Reddit. Please don’t fall for these.

  1. “It’s fine if you use less than 10/30 seconds.”
  2. “As long as you give credit, it’s fine.”
  3. “It’s cool as long as you aren’t making money from the show.”
  4. “You can get around music licensing with the ‘fair use’ rule.” 

The “fair use” rule only applies to specific situations – owners can still pursue legal action if you’re trying to use it as a loophole for your podcast music intro.

How to Add Music to a Podcast: The Easiest Routes

“So, what am I supposed to do? Use some bogus jingle?” No, definitely not! 

I recommend starting with these completely legit routes before you try to navigate the confusing world of paying for podcast music licenses from well-known performers.

Find Public Domain Materials that Don’t Require Podcast Music Licenses

Anything owned by a US government agency (and some other countries like Russia) is usually public domain. 

Public Domain 4U offers a wide selection of tracks with expired licenses that are free for anyone to use. Additionally, you can also check Incompetech which lets you browse by vibe, tempo, genre, or length.

If you don’t make money from your podcast (and don’t plan to) check out Moby’s site, Moby Gratis, where he’s made much of his music available for creators. 

Browse Creative Commons Libraries that Don’t Require Podcast Music Licenses

With Creative Commons, artists have made their music available for people to use or even remix under certain conditions. 

Many artists will let creators use their work for non-commercial or commercial production with credit and a link. Just make sure to read every artist’s specific licensing to make sure you’re following their request.

Sites with Creative Commons search filters or libraries include SoundCloud, Free Music Archive, ccMixter, and OpSound

Buy Podcast Music Licenses Through Stock Libraries

Here’s the thing: Podcast music licenses fall under a totally different legal system than music for video or radio production. 

Therefore, it’s important to read the details before signing up for a subscription.

When you sign up for Podcave, you get full access to podcast music licenses through Benztown. We give you world-class beds, loops, sound effects, and genre-specific starter packs to outfit your whole show!

That said, Music Vine and Mixdown Music both offer subscription plans for podcasts. Marmoset offers music licensing, music creation, and they’ll even track down licensing for specific tracks if you’re willing to pay for it.

Ask Your Friends

Tread lightly here. I don’t want you to end up on r/ChoosingBeggars.

If you have friends who make music for fun and don’t expect to get paid for it, you can always ask them if you can use their music in your show in exchange for credit. Just make sure to ask if they sell their tracks first. 

How to Use Copyrighted Music in a Podcast

If you’re dead set on using your favorite artist, I recommend starting by contacting the specific record label. 

Keep in mind that getting the rights for a Fugazi track through Dischord will be a completely different process than a Taylor Swift song from Big Machine (which TSwift is struggling with herself BTW.) 

In other words, if Tay Tay can’t work it out with Big Machine, I doubt you’re going to have much luck either.

People don’t realize that radio and podcasting involve two totally different licensing processes. Every track for podcasting is managed on a case-by-case basis so start saving money now and making the phone calls.

Ignoring Podcast Music Licenses – Just Don’t Do It

TL;DR: If you don’t have permission from the entity who owns the copyright to the music, don’t use it! If you’re unsure, don’t use it!

I recommend planning ahead, too. 

You may not be ready to monetize your show right now–but that could change. Therefore, make sure your podcast intro music is good to go before you find yourself in a legal mess later.

More from the Blog

Your Complete Guide to Podcast Hosting

So you’ve recorded an episode of your podcast, now you want the world to hear it. Here’s where podcast hosting comes into play. But what, exactly, IS Podcast Hosting and how does it work?

Read Story

What Successful Podcasters Know: It’s Not All About Podcast Hosting

New media is emerging, and people love podcasts and follow them religiously. A lot of people looking to create a podcast focus too much on podcast hosting.

Read Story

Why You Need An Accountability Team To Start Your Podcast Right!

Find a group of 5-10 people who will help you with this task. In order to successfully start a podcast and get it out, you will want to make sure you have an accountability team.

Read Story