The surprising answer to this question can be: You may not have to license it at all! The Internet is loaded with free-of-charge options, thanks in part to thriving audio technology making almost anyone capable of being a music producer from their own bedroom.

Now granted, you’re not going to get John Williams at free rates. But “commercial business video” isn’t exactly a demanding bar. It calls for music that is simple, inoffensive, pleasant, and not calling too much attention to itself. Let’s dive into our options:

Free music:

FreeMusicArchive.org has mostly Creative-Commons licensed music in the full spectrum of popular genres. They have dozens of curators including the taste-maker WFMU, and have a chart-ranking system so you can sort out the cream of the crop.

FreeStockMusic.com is a similar arrangement, with hundreds of royalty-free tracks, a free sign-up, and no attribution required.

The YouTube Audio Library is hosted at YouTube itself, and has hundreds of royalty-free soundtracks and sound effects to add straight into your videos on the fly.

A special shout-out goes to Incomptech.com, a royalty-free site with hundreds of copyright-free music tracks. What makes this site special is they’re all produced mostly by one artist, who has a vast array of styles and studio mixing at his disposal.

There’s many more sites where those came from, as a cursory search will reveal. There is also public domain music (think Tin Pan Alley recordings whose copyright has expired) and stock music services (think department-store muzak). However, let’s say you want to pay up and get access to a higher tier of artists.

Licensing music:

To get a full music license to a track from a commercial artist requires a two-step plan: A synchronization license form the music publisher, which pertains more to the rights of the music and lyrics, and the master license, which pertains to the recording itself. For example, a cover version of a popular song might have two different master licenses but the same music and lyrics.

You can find the music publisher by searching through any of the databases maintained by performance-rights organizations: ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. In some cases you might need to research copyright through the US Copyright Office datatbase. Failing that, you can try contacting the artist or their managing agent and start asking from there.

In addition, for commercial video you may need to also attain a performance license. The same performance rights organization may also have a separate right held by the song’s composer, if different from the performer. If you’re in need of multiple tracks, you might do better getting a blanket performance license for a one-stop transaction, which is what large broadcasters get.

Good luck out there and happy listening!