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PodSchool Podcast | Should you use music in your podcast?

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Drawing of man playing music on a guitar

It depends what you’re using it for

Using music in your podcast can add something really special to your show but it can also be an unnecessary distraction depending on your content.

If you’re going to use music in your podcast make sure it’s a decision you’ve put serious creative thought into.  Also, make extra sure you’re not using tracks you don’t have the rights to or you might get a little visit from a lawyer.

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Fiction and audio journalism

If your show is focused on story-telling, music can be a fantastic tool to set the mood and draw people into the story.  Having said that it’s important to use it sparingly and think creatively about where you’re placing it and why.

There should always be a reason and it should never be “because this part’s a bit boring and I want to jazz it up.”

To get an idea of shows that use music really well listen to This American Life, Serial, Radio Lab or The Quicky.

What are the different types of podcast?

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Conversational podcasts and interview shows

If your show involves you chatting to your audience, interviewing a guest or having a conversation with a co-host you’ll want to keep music to a minimum.

Why?  Because it’s distracting.

Sometimes people think music will keep their listeners engaged.  But your content should be strong enough to do that without any bells and whistles.

If you’ve sat down and thought about your listeners and what they want to hear you’ll be able to hang onto their ears without needing the trance pumping away beneath you.

How to be an awesome podcast co-host

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Ad breaks

If you have ad breaks in your show it’s a good idea to separate them from the main content by putting music underneath.

Just be mindful of keeping the levels low so the music doesn’t blast your listener’s ears off.

As a general rule if you’re using music it’s best to use it under shorter sections of audio i.e. less than one minute.

Ideally, your ads will be around the 30-second mark, so music will help move things along.  It’ll also highlight that section as something separate from your show content.

How to make money from your podcast

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Podcast intro and outro

This is somewhere you’ll definitely want to use music because it not only sets the tone for your show, it helps package your podcast up so it sounds professional.

Your intro and outro become your audio logo, it’s the thing people recognise when they press play.

Finding the right track can take time but it’s worth putting in the effort before you begin because ideally, you don’t want to change it once you’ve started.

Do you need a podcast intro and outro?

Read

If you’re going to use music make sure you own it

No matter how much you love the latest Beyonce track, you can’t download it and use it on your podcast, unless you’ve got a penchant for being sued.

Using music you haven’t purchased a licence for is a legal nightmare that’s easily avoided.

There are plenty of music sites out there packed with songs for this exact purpose so make sure you go looking in the right places.

Music websites…

These sites contain a whole range of different styles and genres but make sure you read the fine print.

Some tracks will have specific uses or different charges depending on what you’re using it for so it’s important to do your homework.

Trawling through these sites to find the perfect track also takes A LOT of time, so make sure you factor that in.

Premium Beat

Marmoset Music

Audio Network

Jamendo

Audio Jungle

Music Bakery

How to improve your podcast with segments

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A little tip

When you’re searching for music for your podcast try not to choose from the “Most Popular” section if you can help it.

These websites are used by a lot of content creators so if you pick the first song on the list don’t be surprised if you hear it somewhere else e.g. on another podcast, a TV ad or on the radio.

If being unique is important and you don’t want people tuning into your show thinking of an ice cream commercial, you might need to dive deeper into the back catalogue.

Got a burning podcasting question you’d like answered? Send me an email.

Want to start your own podcast but need a little help?  Download my “How To Start A Podcast” guide or sign up for my online podcasting course, PodSchool.

Got some time on your hands? Read the full episode transcript

[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the show. Today I'm going to be talking about whether or not you should use music in your podcast. I get asked this question a lot and quite often the reason people want to use music is they think it will make their content sound more interesting. In radio we often use the term "music bed" which is that bit of music that plays underneath the announcer. Sometimes when people are new to podcasting they can assume they need to put that into their show to keep people's interest. The truth is that in radio it's really only used when you're doing what we call a speed break which is a short 30 second break and the reason for that is that after a little while it gets darn annoying. And the same certainly applies for your podcast. You should absolutely use music in your intro and your outro which are two pieces of audio that you get produced or made by a professional but apart from that you really should keep music out of your show.

[00:01:09] There are a number of reasons for this. The first obviously is that it becomes very distracting and people start to listen to your music rather than your content. The important thing to understand is that your content needs to be strong enough to hold a listener by itself and that is absolutely achievable. Sometimes it's just nerves that make you think "I've got to put music under it to keep people engaged" but that's not the case at all. You need to trust that if you've really thought about your content, sat down and thought "What's the best thing for my audience?" and have I cut all the fat so you're just delivering the best of the best, then that is going to keep people listening without any need for music underneath.

[00:01:55] The other reason you don't want to do it apart from the fact that it's distracting is that it is a legal minefield. This is the kind of stuff that companies spend big money trying to work out so that they don't get into a situation where they're being sued for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. If you are a podcast just starting out it is really hard to justify why you need to use music that isn't freely available or royalty free. There are a lot of complex ins and outs when it comes to the rights to use music because different people can own different parts of the song so the words and the music might be owned by a publishing company while the actual sound recording might be owned by a record label or the songwriter. You can sometimes need to get a licence to perform it even if you did your own version of the song on your podcast. It is all a whole bunch of complex mumbojumbo that I don't think is worth the hassle.

[00:03:06] The exception of course is if you are doing a new music show. Sometimes people have new music podcasts where they will showcase unknown artists on their show and even for that you need the permission of those individuals to play that music. But the chances of getting somebody who is trying to get exposure to say yes is going to be much higher than going in seeing if Beyonce wouldn't mind you using a track on the show.

[00:03:35] The only reason that you would need music in your show is in those intros and outros that I spoke about before and there are plenty of royalty free websites. I will pop a few links on the show notes page of this episode which you can find at PodSchoolPodcast.com and just type "music" into the search bar. There you will find all manner of music genre and types and styles that you'll be able to use in your show without having to worry about anybody knocking on the door with an expensive lawyer and telling you to cough up.

[00:04:09] The way that some of these websites work is like a stock photo website so you can actually purchase the individual tracks to use. Alternatively other songs can be available under Creative Commons licences. Whichever way you get the music it's really important to read the fine print, particularly with Creative Commons licences. There can be stipulations about what you need to include if you use music or images and some artists want you to credit them. Others will say that you can use it for commercial use without any worry at all. So it's really important, no matter where you go, that you just double check you are crossing all the T's and dotting the I's so you don't end up in a nightmare legal situation.

[00:04:51] I am a huge advocate for teaching yourself things on Google but this is not the thing to be googling and self educating and then trying to leap through legal loopholes on the basis of a few articles that you've read. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry even if you have a tiny show with two listeners. Obviously nobody is podcasting with the hope that nobody will listen and certainly the more you grow your audience the more trouble you're likely to be in because the more people are listening. And heaven forbid if you are monetising your podcast and selling advertising and using somebody else's music because then it could be argued you're profiting from something that they own and that is just somewhere you do not want to be.

[00:05:41] So play it safe always! Head to the show notes page at PodSchoolPodcast.com type "music" into the search bar and have a look at some of the examples of the websites where you can buy music and use it in your podcast without having to worry about anything.

[00:05:57] A little tip on that - try to delve quite deep into those websites because sites like PremiumBeat.com are used by a lot of podcast producers and you'll start to hear the same music played over a number of different shows. So if you want to stand out and be unique I would advise going as far back into the catalogue and not just going to the most popular options which are probably the ones you're going to hear on other podcasts.

[00:06:27] The other alternative is rope in your musically talented mates. If you have friends who are really good on the guitar and are great at writing music and wouldn't mind even doing something for free or for 50 bucks why not just ask them to write a piece of music for your podcast and then you know you will have no dramas with using that piece of music.

[00:06:48] Just make sure you're always playing it safe and if you are having those niggling little doubts in your head and thinking "oh gosh my content's not strong enough I need to put music under it," let me be the first to tell you that if you think about your content and you think about your listener and what they want you will be able to develop a show that will keep people listening.

[00:07:14] I hope that's helped some confusion when it comes to using music in your podcast. If you are enjoying this show and finding it useful I would love it if you left a review in iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find these tips and the show and of course if you have any questions I would love to answer them on the podcast.

[00:07:34] Just head to PodSchoolPodcast.com, hit the contact page and send me an email there. Thanks so much for listening and until next week happy podcasting.

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