5 Ways to Get Music for Your Songs When You Don’t Play an Instrument
You wrote some lyrics and you think they’re pretty good. But lyrics on their own do not make a song. A good song needs a good backing track to make it come to life.
If you’re reading this article then you probably are not coming from a music production background, which means you don’t know where to start in building your own music instrumentals. But that’s okay, because there are ways for non-musicians to get music for their songs anyways.
Where Can I Find Music for My Lyrics?
So where can you find music to make a full song out of your own lyrics? If you have no experience in music composition or playing an instrument, your best bet is to find someone with that experience to partner with or hire.
But even if you don’t have a production budget, it’s not the end of the world.
Music can be found online if you know where to look—and you understand the implications of using it. You are absolutely going to need original music to go with your original songs, but finding or making novel backing tracks is far easier in this world full of social media than the decades prior.
Here are the 5 most common ways you can obtain music for your songs:
- Free beats
- Leased beats
- Build backing tracks from samples
- Hire a composer or producer
- Collaborate or partner with a musician
1. Free Beats
A beat is an instrumental intended to be used by a singer or rapper as backing music. It’s essentially a song without the singing or the lyrics, ready for a vocalist to add the final touch. Beats are extremely common in modern music production, and even the big name artists at the top of the Billboard charts are using beats. But beats don’t always come cheap. Depending on the usage rights you want for one of these backing tracks, a beat can cost anywhere from $5 to $5,000.
Take a deep breath, though. Because not all beat producers even charge for their pre-made beats.
It’s a very common tactic for new and unknown beat makers to offer free instrumentals on their social media in order to gain experience and build connections. In exchange for an e-mail address, you can quite easily get an original backing track without shelling out any cash.
Cons of Using Free Beats
However, free beats are not without their caveats. Here are a few of the downsides to using this method:
- Free beats tend to be available only in MP3 format and with some basic mastering. This means it can be more difficult to get your vocals to sit in the mix and blend with the instruments. These free beats work fine if you’re just making demos to share online and build an audience. However, they are not going to be in a high enough audio resolution to upload for distribution.
- Free beats are usually not allowed to be distributed for streaming on sites like Spotify, Pandora, etc. These beats are being offered to anyone who wants to download them, so if one person uploaded it to distribution with content ID on it, every other person who made a demo with that track would get hit with a copyright notice if they ever tried to post on social media like YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram. Free beats work off an honor system: everyone who downloads the track agrees not to upload the song through a distribution service.
- Free beats are usually marked as “not for profit”. This means, again, that you cannot send it out to streaming services to earn royalties. You also are not supposed to sell the tracks on Bandcamp or your own web store. That would infringe on the rights of the beat maker who possesses the copyright. However, if you do want to distribute the song commercially later (perhaps it gains a lot of traction online) nearly all beat producers will grant you permission for a nominal fee or a cut of the royalties for their part. You can learn more royalties and how to split them in this article.
2. Leased Beats
Perhaps all of the caveats of free beats make you uneasy or you need more refined results when you search for tracks. If you’re willing to pay some money for a beat, then dedicated beat stores can provide much better filtering options and detailed agreements of usage.
Now when you pay for a beat, there are usually two general pricing options:
- Lease – this means that you are paying for the right to use the beat for a specific time frame or a certain number of plays, but you are not buying it outright. Think of it like a car lease, where you return the car at the end of the contract. The idea here is that you will only rack up a certain number of views or plays on the song using this beat, and if you go over that amount you should technically go purchase a higher level lease option. Multiple people can lease a beat at any given time.
- Exclusive – this means you are paying for the right to be the only person using that beat. Exclusive agreements usually mean unlimited usage of the beat as well. You should not have to worry about anybody else using the same track as you at a later date.
As you can imagine, exclusive agreements cost a lot more than lease agreements. But you can purchase them in the same way from the same stores.
3. Arranging Samples
Using pre-made beats requires very little music theory or composition knowledge. But if you are willing to learn some theory and production skills, you can make your own beats—even if you don’t own a musical instrument. Learning those skills will save you money in the long run anyway by allowing you to produce, mix, and master your own songs and share less of the royalties.
A common way of making beats at home is by using samples. A sample is a small piece of music that can be looped and used to form the background music—or any other element of—a song. Because samples are usually repeated throughout a track, they are also called loops by music producers. Like I said, you don’t need to know an instrument to put together samples, but you’ll need to understand the basics of keys, scales, tempo, etc. so you can put together samples that actually fit with each other.
If this sounds like a route you’d like to take, head over to my article about sample-based backing tracks.
4. Freelance Producers
Another option for finding music for your songs is to cut out the middleman (beat stores) and go straight to the source (composers/producers). Rather than sort through beats to find one you like, you can hire someone to make original beats just for you. Or instead of purchasing backing tracks from a web interface, you can try approaching producers and arranging a partnership with them directly.
While it requires more finesse and social interaction, a lucrative long-term music business relationship could be forged with as little as a DM on Instagram. It could be as simple as asking for a bulk discount on buying multiple beats, or asking if they want to collaborate with a singer-songwriter to expand their audience or build their portfolio.
Lastly, you can contact music producers for collabs, which are a different breed of music relationship than just repeat business at the same beat maker’s shop. A collaboration is when two music makers agree to finish and produce songs/tracks together. With beat leases, you pay for the music and that’s it: what you do with it after that is largely outside the beat producer’s scope or interest. But with a collaboration, you work with a producer throughout the production process to create a finished track. For example, you may write the lyrics and sing the vocals, then the producer mixes those vocals into the beat and you agree on a distribution plan with a royalty split.
Some producers are willing to work with newcomer artists in order to build their portfolio. If he’s trying to sell beats to other singers or rappers, it’s a lot easier to close the deal when the prospective buyer can see examples of his music actually being used for a final product—a finished song.
Now some producers will give you the cold shoulder because they are only making beats to make money. These are the kind of producers you want to avoid anyway. If a beat maker/producer is serious about music, he will at least consider the benefits of working with other talent. He may not do the work for free, but he may provide discounts for repeat customers.
These are the most common methods for obtaining music for people with no instrument or composition skills. But if you are serious or passionate about music, I cannot stress enough the importance of learning composition and production. If you only ever write and sing the songs but neglect to compose the music, then you will always be at the mercy of other people to finish your songs—other people dictating your musical expression.
However, if you are a beginning singer-songwriter and you’re not ready to invest all that time and money into equipment and skills, then there is no harm in trying these methods instead. You are better off testing the waters with your music with some low-cost beat leases or samples just to get your toes wet.
Other Articles to Consider
Thanks for reading! If you found this guide helpful, here are a few more articles to consider reading: