Finding the right music for your podcast can make a big difference in the overall spirit of the content itself. The wrong music will come off awkward and mismatched while the right music can create an emotional expectation and set the bar for the entire viewing or listening experience with the audience. The biggest problem: how do you find music that you can use for your podcast? How do you know that music won’t get you into legal trouble down the road?

To first address the legal issue, this article is no substitute for actual legal counsel. I am simply relaying my own personal way of going about finding music to use, and not in any way making any guarantees that these methods will work for you.

Public Domain / Royalty Free
You’re going to want to look for music that is royalty free or in the public domain. These tracks are usually very old, pre-dating copyright or having fallen out of copyright since their creation. Some musicians release their music as public domain or royalty free in cases where they don’t intend to make money off of them. In some cases, audio and video editing suites come with a set of royalty free bumper music for you to use freely in your creations. Apple is one of these companies, providing jingles and loops for users to apply to video and audio projects. Some content creators who use these loops make blanket claims on their content, so don’t be surprised if you see ads played against them from time to time on YouTube.

Creative Commons
Creative Commons music is also good, but you will need to make sure you’ve followed the required steps posted by the musician in order to use their music. In many cases, this means agreeing not to distribute the music at a cost. This may keep you from releasing a DVD collection or other paid special product including that music in the future, so be careful. Most Creative Commons music is made available with an attribution clause. This means that any time you use their work, you should give them a listing in the credits and/or description posted with your podcast. This gives them the attention they need to grow their own audience while allowing you the use of their work with your podcast.

Ask a Musician
Another option is simply asking a musician. There are countless independent bands and recording artists out there who would love to grant limited permission to use their music in a podcast. If the show takes off, they get more exposure as an artist. There’s no problem with asking, but be wary of signed artists. Many recording companies charge heavy usage licenses for the rights to use their music for anything other than personal purposes. These are the same people who brought you DRM.

You may also know someone who can whip together a good jingle or bumper as a custom piece. You may or may not pay for this service, depending on the artist, but many podcasts out there have their own individual tune to set them apart from everyone else. There are plenty of musicians who make a living doing commercial jingles and other small work, and the exposure of a podcast featuring their tune is a great way for them to advertise.

Ask the Community
On that note, never be afraid to ask your community. You may have some talent within your own audience, and what better way to say thank you and leave your own mark on a podcast you love than by creating something for it? Granted, this may not help you on your first episode, but having a community-created jingle is a great way to promote your podcast as being more about the community and less about business.

Paid and Subscription Services
Last, but not least, are paid and subscription models. There are a handful of great sites out there that have pre-recorded jingles ready to be bought and used, often at a pretty significant price. These jingles are generally fairly professional and the licensing agreeement may or may not guarantee you exclusivity. This can be one of the faster and more business-centric options out there, though you do lose some of the customization of a community-created song and the cost-effectiveness of a Creative Commons or royalty free license.

Here are some sites that can help you start your search:
Music Alley
Royalty Free Music
Magnatune
Loopsound
Stockmusic