In this article I will give a short overview on rap beats and licensing issues. I will talk about free beats and different license types such as leasing and exclusive rights. At the end I will discuss samples and if it’s necessary to clear them.
When it comes to recording and performing rap and trap music, picking beats is an integral part of your work. Instrumentals make half of your track. And no matter how tight your lyrics are, people will always like your music more, if it also sounds good.
Finding beats is surely a matter of taste. You just need to feel the vibe. Further on you should mind the production quality. Especially for live gigs and for playback in clubs, you will need well produced instrumentals to compete with other professional productions.
Free rap beats vs. paid licenses
Nowadays there are tons of free rap and trap beats in the Internet, e.g. on Youtube, Soundcloud, etc. If you are new in the game, free beats are pretty helpful to do your first demo recordings. Some free beats are of pretty good quality. Actually I have heard a couple of free beats which were even better than some other beats for sale.
As soon as you want to achieve more with your music you should have a closer look on licensing when picking beats.
The difference between free beats and free beats
If you find so-called Free Beats on the Internet, you should always have a closer look, especially on Youtube. For example a beat may be titled “Free Beat”, but what does that mean? Is it free for non-commercial use or also free for commercial use? Are there any conditions, such as author attribution, etc.?
Keep in mind: A “Free Beat” always requires further information. It does not automatically indicate it is totally free for any use. Without any license details you will not have any guaranty that you may publish a song with that beat.
In the beginning, copyright issues may seem unimportant, but if you take care too late they may turn into an even bigger plague.
Picking/downloading beats from Youtube
When picking beats from YouTube you should keep in mind that most YouTube videos are released with the Youtube Standard license. The Youtube standard license does not cover any modification (e.g. adding vocals) or re-publishing, etc. To publish songs with a beat which is published under YouTube standard license, you will need an extra permission.
Look out for creative commons beats
If the beat video is published under the creative commons license on Youtube, you may use it under the conditions which are written there, such as author attribution. More information about Creative Commons can be found on Wikipedia.
In any other case, you should contact the author to make sure you may use the beat. For example you may ask the author to grant you the rights under the terms of a common license (such as CC0) via E-Mail.
Attention: YouTube content ID protection
Also keep in mind that any beat you download may be protected by digital rights management such as YouTube Content ID. If this is the case, the instrumental may be recognized when you upload your song and the video will be claimed. Then it might happen that the music will be removed or the copyright owner will earn money with advertising on your video. If you have a license or permission to use the beat, you can easily remove the claim and everything will be fine.
Professional artists do not use YouTube converters etc.
The soundtrack of YouTube Videos is compressed with a lossy audio codec (AAC or MP3). If you download an audio file from YouTube with an external converter the quality will never be as brilliant as the original HQ beat file, which was exported from the producer. If you convert from YouTube to “HQ Wav”, it is pretty much eyewash. The lossy codec is put on the audio during the video upload, so you cannot undo this while downloading.
Further keep in mind that the YouTube terms do not allow downloading of YouTube content with 3rd party websites, converters, etc. If you find a real free rap beat instrumental on a serious YouTube channel, then there should be a legal way to download an mp3 or wav without any converter tools. In addition there should be at least some basic notes about the usage/license of the beat. Otherwise you’ll have absolutely no warranty for using the beat.
The fairy-tale of “non-commercial” use
Many people believe that you may do whatever you want with music for a non-commercial purpose. This is a misconception with a long tradition but still not true. Copyright applies to any public use and not only to commercial use.
The fairy-tale of “copyright-free” music etc.
Often you read terms like copyright free, no copyright etc. which are misleading terms, because for any creative work there is an author who is holding the copyright just for the reason of his authorship. Although an author may publish his work for free use, but creative work is never free of any copyright.
Real Free Beats under a Creative Commons (CC0) license
The most save way to use Free Beats is a Creative Commons (CC) license. There are a few common license types such as CC BY, CC BY-SA and so on. A detailed list can be found on the Creative Commons website.
YouTube is a nice tool to find beats which are released under the CC BY license. Just type in your search, then open the search filters and select “Creative Commons” in the features column.
As you filter the search to Creative Commons, you will realize that the number of search results is much smaller.
Advantages of professional (non-free) Beats
As you have read, the field of free licenses is pretty complex: Many so-called Free Beats are released without any license information or even contradictory information, so it is not always save to use them without further permissions.
Licensing a paid beat from a professional producer has a bunch of advantages. If you are aiming for a professional music career you should consider those things:
- Not all Free Beats are save to use (Read the license details!)
- Professional beats are more unique, not used by hundreds
- Professional beats are available as wave file or stems for better quality
- Paid producers may purchase better software and sounds for better quality
- You may want to honor the work of a good producer
Leasing vs exclusive licenses
Most producers and beat stores offer two different license types: The so-called beat leasing is a non-exclusive license which means that others can also purchase the same license for that beat. You may find high quality beats for leasing for just 10-20 dollars. Exclusive beats are licensed just for you and therefore more expensive. Prices in reliable stores vary between 100 and thousands of dollars. Famous producers may sell beats for much higher prices.
For your first releases and demos, leasing beats may be totally fine. Especially if you are confident about your rap style, you should not care too much about some others who might use the same instrumental. In some beat stores you may also see how many licenses of a beat have been sold already. E.g. in my rap beat archive on AudioJungle, there is a small stat icon with a number indicating the “sold” count.
For example in my beats you will mostly find Leasing, WAV Leasing, Stems Leasing and Exclusive Rights:
The proper file format for beat downloads
For a high quality recording you should use a wave file of 16bit/44kHz or better. The beat should be exported directly from the DAW software of the producer and not have too much overall compression/limiting because a master limiter usually applies one more time to the full song (including the vocals). The most professional way is to ask the producer for stems of the beat. These are the separate tracks of the beat, e.g. drums, bass, instruments, etc. Beat stems offer a maximum of flexibility when it comes to mixing the track.
MP3 and YouTube conversion
MP3 files are compressed with a lossy algorithm and therefore not suitable for any professional studio use. Also streaming websites like YouTube, Soundcloud or others use lossy audio codecs like MP3 or AC3. Converting a YouTube video to wave format will not help at all. Once the audio was compressed, it will not have the same quality as an audio file which is delivered by the producer.
Beats with samples and loops from other music
Personally I prefer to produce beats without sampling other music. This gives more place for my own creative work and is better for rap artists and singers when it comes to copyright. But still sampling is a very common approach in modern rap and trap music. So if you want to purchase beats, it’s good for you to know some basic things:
Samples should be referenced
Maybe you have seen beats for sale with a hint saying that the instrumental includes a sample. Sometimes you may also find beats for sale without any hint but a sample is very obvious. This is a shame but unfortunately many producers do not have a good understanding of copyright (or they do not care a lot). In the worst case you may find a beat in which you do not recognize a sample. So you use that beat to record a song. Just after your release someone else recognizes the sample and the copyright owner will charge you and/or compel a take-down of the song.
Samples in Beats should be cleared
The use of a sample mostly requires to be cleared with the copyright owner. The owner might be the artist himself or a record company. In Hip-Hop music it has become popular to use samples without licensing or asking the copyright owner in advance. Indeed an artist may get away with this as long as he is not selling a lot. But the more popular your music becomes, the more risky it is to have uncleared samples in your productions.
One friend of mine who is an EDM/trap producer once used a sample and released a single. The track went pretty well in the dance charts but the copyright owner of the sample claimed 100% of all income because the single was categorized to be a “remix” of the original track. Lesson learned: My friend should have negotiated about a fair share before releasing the track.
Melodies (remixes) should be cleared
Also keep in mind, that copyright protection also applies to reenacted melodies (from other music). Your producer might play the chords and melody of a famous song himself to use it in a beat, but still a license/permission by the original artist will be required.
The save way: Use sample-free beats
To avoid copyright issues with samples, you might use beats without samples like those of Baumann Beats. If you are not sure if a beat is making use of samples, you may ask the author for confirmation. If the producer does not ensure that the beat is free of samples, then it’s better to be careful.