Using popular music in your magic shows, ripped from CDs or downloaded from iTunes, is asking for trouble.
There’s a very good chance your usage is not properly licensed, opening yourself up to hefty fines. You’d be absolutely pooched if you ever wanted to put your act on a video for sale, or on TV. Meanwhile, the amount of paperwork to obtain proper music licensing is an absolute nightmare.
Once upon a time I did hours upon hours of reasearch to find out how I could license my magic show to use popular music. I talked with SOCAN, the manager of composition rights in Canada (Equivalent to ASCAP in the USA), about what they’d need. I’d have to get a license for every individual performance I do, and file follow-up repoerts about every music track which was played at each show. If that wasn’t enough, I then learned that was only the half of it! I had to talk to a completely different organization (BMI) about licensing the recording of that composition. That’s right, I needed two licenses to play one song!
That was the day I gave up on using music which required licensing. It’s simply not worth it just so you can wiggle silk handkerchiefs around to the tune of “24 Karat Magic.”
The Simple Solution: Use Royalty-Free Music
Royalty-free music is a music track intended for you to use in your own projects, such as videos and shows, without being subject to pay-per-play licensing, excessive paperwork, or risk of fines. You pay a one-time fee, receive a lifetime license, and you’re good to go.
It used to be that royalty-free music was consistently terrible. Much of the royalty-free music sounds like royalty-free music. It’s made by synthesizers, and sounds rather thin or cheesy. I very rarely find it inspiring, or the sort of thing I really want to use for my show.
In the past decade, thanks to the huge demand from video creators, the royalty-free music industry is bigger and better than ever before, and magicians can sneak in to reap the benefits. Let’s take a look at my favourite source for quality tracks.
Artlist: All The Tunes You Can Carry
I’m coming up on my third year of membership with Artlist. For an annual fee (currently $199 USD) I get unlimited use of their entire library of music. Considering the going rate for individual tracks is about $30, this means I pay for the first 7 songs I use, and get all the rest (thousands!) for free.
This deal was a game-changer for how I use music in my projects. And the quality of the songs are… well… listen for yourself.
Note: I am purposely ruining these audio samples with a little bit of voiceover to ensure they don’t get copied from my site.
Full Disclosure: I am suggesting Artlist because they are my personal favourite and top pick. These links are referral links, and if you do choose to sign up with them I will receive a bonus extension to my own membership. I sure appreciate it if you do!
One big question you probably have is, what happens if I stop paying my annual membership? This is the great news… nothing happens! Any music you downloaded during your membership is licensed for life, and you are free to continue using it in your shows forevermore. I thought I’d do one year, get what I need, and quit. It turns out I’ve had no problem finding a need for seven or more new songs every year.
If you like what you’ve heard so far, I encourage you to go sign up with Artlist. You can start with a free trial and make sure you find the ssongs you like before making any commitment.
My Back-Up Sources
Artlist is made for video producers, and their library caters to them with soundtrack-style music to set the mood. Music intended to blend in. One thing I struggle to find in their library is more quirky songs with unique character which will stand out.
There have been a couple occasions, and I do mean a couple, where I couldn’t find what I wanted in Artlist and went to NeoSounds or Pond5 (referral link) for the solution. Their music libraries are more widely varied in styles. However, they are also more widely varied in quality. (lots of that cheesy synthesizer stuff)
In one case I was looking for a fast tempo, “praise break” style, southern gospel blues track that would provide a huge energy boost in my show. Other times I’ve been looking for a Django-esque acoustic swing jazz track. It took some hunting, but I’ve always been able to find it!
There are many, many royalty-free music marketplaces out there but they are all pretty much the same. They usually charge $30 and up (and up!) for each song.
Fakahatchee Rag by Jonathan Greer
This one comes from NeoSounds. An example of a style that’s rare on Artlist. (though I’ve noticed more stuff like this being added recently)
Incompetech: Honourable Mention
The Incompetech music library by Kevin MacLeod took the world, and the magic community, by storm thanks to one special feature; it’s free! Pretty good quality music, with no license fee.
However, you are required to give credit for every song used, which is difficult to do for a live magic show. (Are you printing and handing out show programs?) Incompetech offers all their music with the option to purchase a license to remove the obligation to give credit, which puts it in the same boat as all the others.
I’m including it here because I have used it in the past. Now, I’d rather not. It suffers from its own popularity, in that certain tracks (the good ones) are used so often they become recognizable.
Monkeys Spinning Monkeys by Kevin MacLeod
I can’t tell if I’m watching a magic show, or a compilation video of cute kittens falling off couches.
Best of luck in your music hunt!
If you’re looking for ideas on where to add music to you shows, I’ve written about that; Ten Ways to Use Music in your Magic Show