A couple weeks ago, I led a team in William and Mary’s annual 24 Speed film competition. It’s something we do every year, writing, shooting, and editing a short movie within 24 hours. This year, one of my main goals was to rock the festival (literally). And to do that, we needed some jams. Not just any jams, but good accessible jams, that we could legally used without risking copyright infringement. 

Thankfully I stumbled on the Free Music Archive, a source of songs with Creative Commons license. If you haven’t heard of creative commons, and you too are into low budget film making, let me let you in on a little secret…it’s awesome. Creative Commons material is available for independent filmmakers and assorted creative types to remix and use as they see fit (depending on the license). 

A list of Creative Commons' Licenses 

A list of Creative Commons' Licenses 


Creative Commons licenses come in several flavors, but if you’re looking for music to add that extra spice to your independent film (and don’t want to shell out a bunch of money to license songs), your best friends will either be Public Domain or Creative Commons Attribution licensed music. Public Domain media can be used without restrictions, Creative Commons Attribution licensed material means you need to give a shout out to (aka Attribute) the title of the song and the artist at some point in your movie (usually in the credits).

Generally, if you're using the music for films you want to submit to festivals, you can only use items that are just under Attribution license (or Public Domain works), and not the others (because a festival submission may be considered commercial, and have restrictions on how the film can be shared). 

The song attribution part of the credits for Medley: Fish, out of Water

The song attribution part of the credits for Medley: Fish, out of Water



To show an example of what kinds of songs you might find on a site like Freemusicarchive.org, let’s delve into the (fishy fishy) guts of Laughing with the Storm’s film - Medley: Fish, Out of Water

Pull Your Socks Up - by Jim Rooster

We wanted a gonzo song to lead into our gonzo movie, and the opening piece of this delivered. However, we also wanted a song that matured over the course of the movie, which this one does once the song actually gets going.


Cyphon - by Jason Staczek

For our first mini-film, we needed a tense song to represent the Rookie’s growing anxiety, as well as provide the right mood for our mini action scene. 


Trace Route - by Boxcat Games

Providing the extra energy we wanted during the sting operation. 


One Minute 35 - by Salakapakka Sound System

The Rookie’s anxiety finally gets the best of him

I Am a Man Who Will Fight for Your Honor - by Chris Zabriskie

Our required song for the competition, also helping set the mood for our tone poem ‘Misfit Tribe’


Purse Peekin’ - by The Coachwhips

And to bring us home, the Coachwhips' delightful blend of hard rock energy and hilariously unintelligible lyrics.


A couple of other sites that also provide Creative Commons or Public Domain licensed music that you can use in your films are (don’t forget to check the License information before you use a song in a video!) :

Youtube Audio Library


If you want to know more about finding music for filmmaking, and something is either confusing or not covered here, feel free to drop us a line at: laughing.with.the.storm@gmail.com 

And if you know of another site that you use to find fair-use music for independent filmmaking, please share it in the comments! We can always use new jams.