Where to find the best royalty-free media of every type
You want great multimedia for your next project, but don't have the budget for licenses. Royalty-free media is inexpensive or free and of great quality.
If you are creating media, whether it’s purely recreational or for work, chances are, you’ll probably need supporting media of another type. That blog post you're writing is going to need relevant photos and your YouTube video will feel pretty flat without any background music, as will your podcast. But the Internet is no longer the Wild West where you could just slap any image or song into your work, throwing copyright to the wind. Paying royalties every time a song is used or getting extended licenses to use copyrighted work can be expensive.
First of all, what are royalties? In the simplest of terms, royalties are payments made to the creator or copyright owner of applicable works. If you're paying royalties on media included in your work, in many cases the more popular your work is, the more you'll have to pay.
That’s why every creative should have a source of good, royalty-free media. To make sure all your projects are on point (and to keep you out of copyright jail, which we hear is totally a thing), here are some of the best places to get royalty-free music, royalty-free images, free icon packs and more.
If you’re going to get in trouble for unlicensed use of media, this is most likely where it’ll happen. The main reason you need royalty-free music: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites have advanced algorithms that quickly recognize copyright infringement. At best, the music will be removed; at worst, you’ll have a legal team knocking on your (virtual) door. The easiest solution is free royalty-free music. Sure, you won’t have Beyonce backing up your latest vid, but you can find the right style and mood through any good, free music archive. Note that not all royalty-free music is free to purchase, but the licenses offered on these sites for premium music are usually pretty inexpensive.
Free Music Archive
Don’t pretend you’re not impressed by that segue. Freemusicarchive.org has been a repository of royalty-free music for over a decade. It very nearly bit the dust a couple of years ago due to lack of funding but has recently been relaunched, now offering both free music and premium tunes that can be purchased affordably. With over 100,000 songs on tap, this is a great resource to support.
This is one of the most popular places to find royalty-free music for videos, royalty-free music for podcasts or whatever your needs might be. It becomes a lot more impressive when you find out that the majority of the music, and there’s a lot, is created by one guy (spoiler: his name is Ben). He composes in every major genre from hip-hop to acoustic folk. If you do have a budget, bensound.com also offers different licenses depending on your planned use.
YouTube Music Library
Don’t like new things? Okay, scardey-cat, now you’ll be able to add music to your YouTube videos without ever leaving YouTube. Their free repository is actually pretty good, with a host of music tracks and sound effects that are searchable by mood, genre, instrument and other categories.
Free is great and all, but sometimes you need some truly premium tracks without the corporate pricetag. Artlist.io is the go-to for many vloggers and even professional digital media creators on a budget. There are no free downloads here, but there is a ton of high-quality music and sound effects for your next important project. Sites like Premium Beat and Audio Jungle offer a similar service.
Royalty-Free Video and Images
Bad news: that Google search for relevant images or video isn’t going to cut it anymore. We’re all hoping our media gets out to the widest possible audience, and if we succeed, those uncleared visuals are going to bite come back to bite us in the you-know-what. Even if you hope to claim fair use in a non-commercial setting, it's often not cut and dry. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to get royalty-free video and royalty-free images, some even free of charge.
If you get a slight “too good to be true” feeling from pexels.com, you’re not alone. There’s no trickery here though, just beautiful HD footage that’s 100 percent free to use. You don’t even have to credit the source for the license to be valid. But, you know, don’t be a jerk and credit them anyway, m’kay? As icing on the cake, Pexels also offers great still images.
One of the best-known sources of royalty-free still images, pixabay.com also has a pretty solid collection of royalty-free video clips as well. Unlike Pexels, there are a few 4k options to choose from as well. Everything is free for both personal and commercial use.
Where the above sites shine most in terms of video quality, videvo.net may be the way to go when the quantity of clips to choose from is more important. Don’t get us wrong, there’s great high-quality stuff here as well, but you will also come across more amateurish footage. Still, with thousands of community-sourced videos, you’re likely to find one that suits your project perfectly here.
Free royalty-free image sites
Royalty-free image sites are the best-known type of royalty-free media, so rather than introduce you to names you likely already know, we’ll outline which may be your best bet. Use Unsplash when quality is of the utmost importance because you’ll only find beautiful shots by talented amateur and professional photographers here. Everything can be downloaded and used free of charge whether for personal or commercial use. Pixabay may have shots of varying quality, but with nearly 2 million images to choose from, your chances of finding a fit are pretty good. There is one site we’d like to highlight though…
Rawpixel.com stands out from the pack because it is clearly geared toward graphic designers and other creatives needing a bit more from their royalty-free images. The media here is incredibly diverse, consisting of both free and paid options. There’s a wealth of illustrations, vector images, and other visuals that designers will find useful. There are also intuitive filtering options to help you find exactly what you need. The personal use and commercial use subscriptions that give you access to everything on the site are surprisingly affordable as well.
Paid royalty-free image sites
If you’ve often needed to procure very specific, great quality photos, you’ll know that the paid sites have a distinct advantage here. Image repositories like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock and iStock have hundreds of millions of professional-looking images to choose from. Single photo purchases won’t break the bank, but if you regularly need royalty-free photos, a subscription will quickly pay for itself.
Icons are an often overlooked type of royalty-free media. Whether we’re talking cutesy illustrations, company logos or country flags, icons are often needed for design work or personal media projects. Scouring the net for a decent Spotify logo to add to your “Streaming Now” post is a thing of the past thanks to icon pack websites.
This usually ends up being our one-stop-shop for icons. Flaticon.com has nearly 80,000 quality icon packs. You’ll have to pay for some of them, but many of the ones most of us are likely to use are free of charge and only require you credit the creator.
This freakishly large collection of icons and icon packs is another one that deserves a bookmark. The filter tool iconfinder.com uses is very intuitive and helps speed up your search. Like Flaticon, many of the icons are vector images and can be edited to suit your needs.
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