Rap and hip-hop are somewhat unique genres in that an artist doesn’t have to compose, arrange, or put together a band in order to make music. All they need is some pre-recorded instrumental beats and lyrics to go with them. But not all beats are created equally. That’s why it is so important to know licensing terms.
When you are obtaining beats online, you more or less have three options: free beats, non-exclusive beats, and exclusive beats. It is all explained by licensing. Below is a brief description of how licensing works, compliments of Supreme Tracks in New York City. In addition to selling online beats, Supreme Tracks offers complete online recording and music production.
1. Free License
First up are the beats that are free in two ways: you don’t pay to obtain them or use them. But before you get all excited about obtaining beats at no cost to you, just remember that nothing in life is free. Beats with free licenses always come with catches.
The most common catch is the producer tag. Here’s how it works: every 20 to 30 seconds, the beat is interrupted by a tag identifying the producer. You can continue using the beat for as long as you like. But if you want to get rid of the tag, you need to pay for the beat.
Here are some of the other potential catches:
- They are only free for a limited time
- They can only be used for noncommercial purposes
- They may require that you credit the producer with every use of a particular beat
- They may come with royalty requirements should you earn a certain amount of money from them.
Free beats are not necessarily bad. Just understand that ‘free’ rarely means completely free of all restrictions and monetization requirements.
2. Non-Exclusive License
A beat released under a non-exclusive license is almost always a paid beat. You pay a nominal fee to be able to use the beat in your commercial and non-commercial projects. However, at such time as another artist chooses to buy exclusive rights to that beat, you must stop using it immediately. That means any projects you recorded with the beat can no longer be sold, distributed, etc. for commercial purposes.
Some non-exclusive licenses also require royalty payments after monetization reaches a certain threshold. You would be obligated to credit the producer and ensure, through your own effort, that royalties are properly paid.
3. Exclusive License
Your third option is the exclusive license. This is a scenario in which you pay full price for a beat in exchange for exclusive, unlimited use. Having an exclusive license prevents any and all other artists from legally using the beat.
Some producers charge a flat license fee and leave it at that. Others require a licensing fee along with professional credit. Still others require royalties should you choose to monetize the beat.
If all of this sounds confusing, you are not alone. The music industry is a complicated beast with a lot of moving parts. There are licenses to pay attention to. There are recording rights, mechanical royalties, publishing royalties, and on and on. Making it as a hip-hop or rap artist is not as simple as buying some beats and laying down some lyrics.
Should you choose to obtain beats online for your music, make the effort to understand licensing terms. Those terms will dictate how you can use the beats and whether you will ultimately pay for them. And if you forget everything else, remember this: there is no such thing as a truly free beat.