November 7, 2011 at 11:58 am

Free Music Archive Radio Solves a Big Problem for Remixers, Movie Makers, and More

If you own a restaurant or any other venue where music plays, you generally need to pay BMI and ASCAP. If you want to remix a track legally, you need permission from the copyright holder. And if you want to put music in your independent film project, you need to negotiate a synchronization right for that music.

This makes it tough for non-profit or “pop-up” venues to play songs legally, remix producers still building their reputations to find stuff to play with, and fledgling filmmakers to get music to use, free and clear, in their projects. Making it more complicated: Every song is copyrighted, which is a fact lost even on some experts. All you have to do to copyright a song is record it. A song created by one person in a single day are offered the same default protections as the latest Nickelback hit.

A web app developed at Music Hack Day Boston this past weekend  presents a cunning solution to the problem. Free Music Archive Radio, from Jeremy Sawruk, Robby Grodin and Julie Vera, lets anyone looking for music to use for a reason mentioned above (or others) to create a precisely-customized radio station out of the permissively-copyrighted, high-quality songs in the Free Music Archive, which is maintained in part by the tastemakers at WFMU. That way, they can audition stuff for their projects and use it for free — no lawyers, paranoia, or hurt feelings.

You can enter a band name, select musical styles (everything from 8-bit to “worship music”), pick a mood, and choose which Creative Commons licenses to search, depending on what you’re going to use the music for. Then just click the play button to start auditioning songs. (Every app created at Music Hack Day runs on APIs; Free Music Archive Radio uses The Echo Nest, publisher of, to filter music in the Free Music Archive’s API.)

In testing it just now, I tried to find music that sounds like the band Mogwai, with a mood that is aggressive, angry, complex, harsh, or intense. Sure enough, Free Music Archive Radio served up a lengthy playlist of appropriate songs from Bardo Pond, Do Make Say Think, The Sea and Cake, The Wedding Present, Badly Drawn Boy, and many others.

That’s plenty to choose from, with a variety of licenses, each of which allows you to do different things. It took less than a minute to create the playlist. Compared to the arduous process of emailing bands asking them if you can use their music for free, or even slogging through the Free Music Archive on your own, it’s a big improvement.

Who says there’s no music to license for free? You just have to know where (and how) to look.

  • Suzanne Lainson

    I’d like to see how someone using this in a venue will fare. It’s been tough (i.e., impossible) to convince ASCAP/BMI/SESAC you have permission from songwriters to play their songs in your venue without having to pay fees to ASCAP/BMI/SESAC. Those collection agencies maintain that if you have any music in your venue, by default you must be playing music by some of their members and therefore they will collect on their behalf.

  • Thomas Lindqvist

    I know copyright-law on the two sides of the Atlantic differ somewhat. But actually, all you have to do to have your art protected by copyright law is to create it. No recording necessary. But of course a recording helps if the copyright is challenged. Just sayin’.