'Royalty free music' is undoubtedly one of the most misunderstood terms in the media industry - and for good reason...
First off, 'royalty free music' doesn't straight up mean 'free music'. Simply put, royalty-free means the user of the music is literally free from having to pay royalties to the original creator of the music, for using their property within their own productions. Instead, a license is purchased and there is no further obligation to pay the musician each time that music is used. So for example, a video producer could use the music on a series of YouTube videos and just one purchased license would cover that, without having to worry about paying each time they used the music.
Traditionally, before royalty free music licensing was a thing, users of music (referred to as stock music, library music or production music) would have to pay hefty licensing fees, often via a music licensing agency or music library. A proportion of these fees would eventually be distributed back to the composer in the form of royalties, months or even years later. These fees were mostly determined on how often their music would be played, where it would be played (such as TV, Radio, movies, shopping malls, etc) and how many listeners it would ultimately reach.
Whilst this method is still very much alive today, especially within the television and film industry, this often involves lots of paperwork, usage reporting and administration. Needless to say, this wasn't exactly an accessible option to the general public.
But with the advent of the internet age, platforms such as YouTube popped up and suddenly the world needed background music for their vlog, cat, school and business videos! 'Royalty free marketplaces' soon came into play - such as my own site here - to fill the demand and provide everyday folk, small and independent producers access to music which they too could license at an affordable cost.
BUT ISN'T ROYALTY FREE MUSIC....FREE?
In today's world, the term 'royalty free' probably isn't the best fitting term, as it's often the word 'free' that tends to throws most people off.
Unfortunately this inherited term leads people (especially those who are none the wiser) to believe the music is just plain free. This just isn't the case however, and often adds to the confusion of users looking to use music in their videos or productions.
It's worth remembering that music, like any other property, belongs to the copyright holder and licensing music is really just a way of 'renting' it to use on and enhance your own productions.