Public Domain Music – What Is It and Should You Use It?

Artists and creators need music for all types of content.

Whether you are a filmmaker, or a YouTube creator, at some point in time, you will feel the need for having a reliable and affordable library of royalty-free music to use for sound effects and backing tracks in your videos.

From a bird’s eye view, public-domain music can seem like the perfect choice for such content. But is it?

There are a bunch of other factors that should be considered before going all in for public-domain music. This blog discusses those factors. Let’s see if it’s the best choice.

Table of Content

● what is Public Domain Music ?
● What is a Creative Commons License?
● Is Public Domain Music Free?
● Difference between Royalty-free Music and Public Domain Music
● Drawbacks of using Public Domain Music
● Conclusion

What is Public Domain Music?

As creators and artists, many of us might have come across musical pieces that can be freely reused across YouTube and other platforms. These tracks and sound effects are usually very popular as most creators prefer frequently using them as it’s cost-effective.

Musical pieces (including tracks and sound effects) to which exclusive intellectual property rights do not apply are categorized under public domain music or public music.

This usually happens either after 75 years of the artist’s death or their wish to not restrict their music’s rights and let it be free to use. Also, any music published before 1923 comes under public domain music.

What is a Creative Commons License?

Many times artists produce and publish music across platforms but wish to preserve certain distribution and reuse rights. A creative commons license helps them do so.

Creative commons music licensing allows artists to set usage and distribution rules to their music.

In most cases, a creative commons license allows other creators to use a track or sound effect in their videos, but only with some modifications. Simply copying and pasting the entire track and labeling it their own will get them in trouble.

Also, creators including creative commons licensed music in their content do not have complete claim to the music piece. The rights stay reserved with the artist who holds the license.

Is Public Domain Music Free?

The answer is a big YES!

Public domain music is free and 100% legal for anyone to listen to, download, and use for any reason. Websites offering public domain tracks and sound effects are usually different from music streaming platforms. Any public-domain music you download from the web is completely yours to keep.

Difference between Royalty-free Music and Public Domain Music

Public domain music is free to use, and no royalties are bound to be paid for its usage. Similarly, creators don’t have to pay royalties for using royalty-free music. But does that make them the same or synonymous? Here’s a list of key differences between royalty-free and public-domain music.

Royalty-free music Public domain music
Royalty-free music is copyrighted by the record label, producer, or publisher. Public domain music is free of any copyright clauses.
vRoyalty-free music is not free of cost. In most cases, a price has to be paid to acquire the tracks/sound effects. Public domain music is mostly free of cost. However, many websites may charge a small premium to let users download the full track.
Even after the purchase, rights stay reserved with the owner, but the buyer can use the track. As no purchase process is involved, most public domain tracks are free to use, and the rights are open to the public.
Users can acquire unique royalty-free tracks and sound effects and use them to make their content stand apart. As public domain music is open for everyone, uniqueness is compromised, and songs are repeatedly used by a number of creators.
Users can contact freelance musicians to purchase customized royalty-free tracks or sound effects. Only a limited number of public domain songs are available on the web. New tracks are rarely published, and customization options are even thinner.

Drawbacks of using Public Domain Music

As artists, we understand the importance of budget. Public domain music is a helpful solution that can minimize the problem posed by the scarcity of music for creators. However, the ‘apparently easier’ alternative to royalty-free music has its downsides.

Quality Compromise

Most of the public domain songs available right now are either decades old or just unusually rendered. The common problem with many of these tracks is that they lack sound quality. Due to this reason, they may often be unsuitable for adding to your professional projects.

Lack of Options

As discussed in the differences section above, only a limited number of public domain tracks are available on the web. Many of these tracks may not seem appropriate for your specific creative purposes.

Also, finding the available tracks may be challenging, as most websites may charge a fee even for public domain songs. This is another reason why paying a small premium for high-quality royalty-free music is worth every penny.

Repetition is Highly Likely

Listening and enjoying different covers of the same song is one thing, and finding your video’s background music on every other video in your genre is a whole different story.

Every public domain song is as accessible to everyone as it is to you. For this reason, hundreds or even thousands of other creators in and out of your genre may be using the same track as you for any number of times.

This can take away the uniqueness factor from your content.


Public domain music can be great for entertainment and charming up low-budget video projects. However, using it for all your projects is neither advisable nor easy. In this blog, we discussed public domain music and compared it in brief with royalty-free music. Hope this helps you decide what type of licensed music is suitable for your projects.