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Here at Steve’s Digicams, we typically try to complement our camera reviews with quick video reviews to highlight the particular cameras’ video capabilities. But every time we do, there’s always one obstacle we face in our creative process: finding the right kind of music to use for our video, one that not only sounds great and is a good fit, but is also royalty-free.
Many content creators, from Instagram influencers to YouTubers and vloggers, face the same issue especially when they’re only starting out and don’t have access to many resources. It’s not like someone can just grab a WAV file of their favorite Vampire Weekend song, slap it on their video, and publish it without the band’s express permission. At best, the record label will send a takedown request. At worst, that person will get sued for copyright infringement. Forget about music licensing, which can be a complicated and also expensive process.
This leaves content creators with very few options. They could collaborate with a musician or a friend who writes music, which may not be as sustainable especially if they’re constantly producing content. Or they could use free songs offered in places like YouTube’s Audio Library where, if we’re being honest, there are more misses than hits.
This is why companies that offer quality royalty-free music in exchange for a monthly or yearly subscription are practically a godsend. Recently, we spent a few weeks testing out the services of one such company: Artlist. This music-licensing site’s target markets are filmmakers and content creators. Much of what they offer therefore—from the types and genres of music available down to the clean, almost minimalist look of the website—are catered to such consumers.
How does it measure up to our video making needs as well as our musical sensibilities? To sum it up, we’re seriously considering getting our own subscription for our own personal projects. Read more to find out why.
There are several excellent music-licensing websites available today, each one offering its own pricing system and subscription prices. Some offer pay-per-license pricing while a few have monthly or yearly subscriptions. Others still offer their clients both options for flexibility.
In Artlist’s case, it’s an annual subscription of $199 that you can pay yearly through PayPal or with a credit card. We know; it seems a little pricey. But think of it this way: that’s only $16.60 a month. In exchange, you’re given access to Artlist’s full catalog and license to use any song from that catalog for any private and commercial video content you create on any platform worldwide, whether you’re publishing your own videos on YouTube/Vimeo or you’re creating content for a client.
Comparing that to MusicBed’s subscription, which goes from $9+/month for personal use to $99+/month to cover client projects (and even with that, there are still some limitations), as well as Epidemic’s $41.58/month Social Media subscription, which restricts use to branded & social media content and editorial productions, it’s obvious that Artlist’s subscription is more than a decent deal and perhaps the most affordable.
The best part is that once you download a song with your active subscription, you have the license to use that song forever… even after your subscription expires.
Artlist Music Selection
Of course, the most affordable subscription isn’t necessarily the best one if the songs available to you might as well be offered on YouTube for free because of their amateur quality. It still all boils down to the quality and amount of music available.
Luckily, Artlist boasts many good songs in its impressive collection of over 8000 songs, encompassing 20 different genres—from the typical electronic, pop, and folk music that many content creators seem to gravitate towards to children, holiday, and even world music. Essentially, for $199/year ($16.60/month), you are getting access to not just a diverse selection of songs that you can use royalty-free for any type of project. You’re also getting songs that are professionally made and are of decent to high sound quality.
Obviously, you may never see your favorite commercial artists like Beyonce, Halsey, or The Weeknd on that catalog because getting music licensing for their songs would set you back thousands of dollars per song. However, it seems like the Artlist team does a good job in selecting the artists they work with based on the quality of songs we’ve listened to during our review.
It does look like there’s the same handful of people that are producing many of the songs. We might be assuming things here, but it seems like the Artlist team may have commissioned these artists to write songs, perhaps to help populate some genres. You’ll see a lot of Ian Post in different genres, for example. But they’re putting out good songs that make for great backing tracks so we’re not complaining.
The production value of every song we’ve heard is very professional. Though we do want to mention that that production value seems like it sounds very similar from track to track, as if they all recorded in one studio (which probably isn’t the case and isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
Be warned. At the time of this review, Artlist’s hip-hop selection may feel a little weak and dominated by white hip-hop artists. Plus, their rock selection feels a little 90s generic. In fact, there are some songs in the rock section that we feel should be taken off the shelves. But if you’re looking for a hip-hop or rock backing track, many on the list would definitely fit.
Besides, music is mostly subjective anyway. Overall, we’re pretty satisfied with Artlist’s selection of music and their sound quality. However, it would be a nice feature if there were access to the stems, especially with songs that might be perfect if only they were instrumental tracks.
Finding the perfect song for your video with Artlist’s clean, minimalist design and organization. The song used in this video is also by Rex Banner, downloaded within seconds through Artlist.
Considering the amount of music available on the site, searching through more than 8000 songs might seem daunting. However, Artlist’s clean, minimal look and thoughtful organization presents a very straightforward experience for users. A side-bar allows you to easily browse not only by genre, but also by mood, video theme, and instrument, effortlessly directing you to the type of tracks you’re looking for.
Additionally, you’re able to narrow your options even further using drop-down menus listed above the track listing for Tempo and Duration. And that’s without touching the option to sort by New, Most Downloaded, or Staff Picks, or using the icon, a crossed out microphone, to remove all the tracks with lyrics. During our review, these actually helped us narrow down our options while looking for instrumental folk tracks that were perfect for a video we were working on.
Previewing the music is just as easy. Each song is listed starting with its artwork, the artist and song name, genre, mic symbol, track length, and waveform. Alongside those are clickable icons for purchase, adding to collection, marking as favorite, and sharing, all listed on the far right. Additionally, you can also preview lyrics, where applicable, when you hover over the mic symbol allowing you to avoid those songs whose message might be inappropriate or conflict with your video.
When you select a song to play, it actually shows up in the play bar below where you can stream the track and jump around the interactive waveform so you can preview different sections of the song without having to play the whole thing. It’s also perfect for imagining where you might make your cuts or figuring out what portions you want to use.
That’s only when you’re in the Browse section. You also have the My Music section, which takes you to a page that lists your Download History, Collections, Favorite Artists, Favorite Albums, and Favorite Songs in tabs. Much like the Browse section, it’s also simple and easy to navigate through. However, we have at times experienced when one of these tabs won’t display anything. While it didn’t happen in the Download History tab, it did happen a couple of times in the Favorite Songs and Collections tabs. It’s very likely that it’s just a simple bug in their code, easily fixable. But until then, you might have to log out and log back in to clear the issue when you encounter it.
Other than that, however, we’re pretty pleased with the site’s user interface and effortless browsing experience.
Downloading Your Music
Downloading music is a breeze as well, though we do feel that it could use some improvement. Don’t get us wrong; Artlist gives users several ways to download tracks without much fuss. The Shopping Cart icon on the site’s top right-hand corner displays all the songs you want to download in a simple pop-up page that only includes a list of the songs and a big, yellow Checkout button.
Once you click on that button, the site then displays a confirmation message telling you that the songs have been sent to your email inbox as well as to your Download History tab in the My Music page, giving you two places to download your “purchased” music.
In both the email message and Download History, each song you’ve “purchased” has three buttons next to it—an L button to download the song’s license, an MP3 button to download its MP3 file, and a WAV one to download its WAV format. It’s pretty easy and straightforward.
Downloading 10 or more songs at a time on Artlist can be a time-consuming process. Song by Ian Post, downloaded through Artlist.
Unfortunately, the issue comes when you’ve downloaded more than 5 songs at a time. Artlist doesn’t actually offer a Download All option in their download emails. Nor do they offer the option to select a few songs in the Download History tab and download these songs all at once.
What does that mean for you? Well, if you’re making a movie and you’ve just downloaded 10 songs off of Artlist for your soundtrack, you’ll have to download every license and every music file one at a time. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, but it can be time-consuming and a tad inconvenient.
Artlist: Value & Verdict
At $199 a year, Artlist is a total money and time saver. It’s among the cheaper options available for a music licensing library, and it comes with a slick, intuitive interface that’s simple to use. While its music collection is not perfect, it generally consists of higher quality tracks, which can be used for just about any project imaginable, whether personal or professional, on any platform without limitations.
Royalty-free libraries are much more hit and miss, quality-wise. Individual song licenses, on the other hand, will eclipse the cost of Artlist by the time you get to that second track. Plus, any license and download you obtain with an active subscription on Artlist can be used in perpetuity, even when your subscription has ended.
When you’re constantly in need of new music for your videos… heck, even when you’re only producing 2 or 3 videos a month, Artlist’s $199 annual subscription more than gives you your money’s worth.
Start your Artlist subscription now
…and get 2 extra months for free!
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