We love a video game with a great soundtrack, but even some of the best soundtracks don't always fit the mood you want for your stream. But playing music in your Twitch stream isn't as easy as hitting play on your favorite Spotify playlist—there are rules about using music in your Twitch streams, and following them is essential for keeping your account active, monetized and legally sound.
In this guide, we'll explain the ins and outs of using music in your Twitch streams without getting in trouble.
Can you play music on Twitch?
In a word: yes, you can play music in your Twitch live streams and recorded streams (videos on demand or VODs). But it’s not a free-for-all—there are very specific rules about what music you can use in your streams, especially if you record and republish your streams.
What music is allowed on Twitch?
You can use non-copyrighted music or music you have permission to use in your Twitch streams. What we mean by “permission” is that the copyright holders (usually both the songwriter and the record label or whoever owns the actual recording) have given you explicit permission to use their work in your streams. Even if you own a copy of the song or pay for a streaming service subscription like Spotify, you need clearance from the copyright holders to stream their songs.
What is copyrighted music and why does it matter?
Copyrights are the rights creators keep when they write and record a song. These rights include the exclusive right to make, sell and distribute their music. That includes the right to stream their music, which technically falls under the umbrella of music distribution.
Copyright holders have the right to make money from different revenue streams, including streaming. Music copyrights can get complicated, but basically, playing music during a live stream falls under the umbrella of a live performance. It’s the same as a radio station or background music in a restaurant.
Restaurants and radio stations purchase something called a blanket license so they can legally play any songs they want. In other words, they have permission to play any and all music. If a restaurant or radio station didn’t pay for a blanket license, they could be fined, sued or both.
Live streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch don’t pay for you to use music under a blanket license, and it wouldn’t make financial sense for you to buy your own—you’d need a lot of streamers to be able to afford it.
But what if you record your live stream and publish it later? Even if you had rights to play the song on your stream, it doesn’t mean you have the right to reproduce the song in your video later. It’s confusing, but it’s a different license—a synchronization license.
Movies and TV shows use synchronization licenses to play music in movies, and it’s an entirely different process that requires you to reach out to each copyright holder individually rather than an overarching blanket license.
What happens if you play copyrighted music on Twitch?
If you play copyrighted music on Twitch, you risk having your account penalized and ultimately deactivated. If music is used during a live stream that’s not uploaded later, it’s less likely that you’ll get in trouble, but the risk isn’t worth it, either. Other than no longer being able to stream on Twitch, the maximum penalty for illegally streaming music is a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get caught if you upload your video to Twitch or YouTube after the initial live stream. That’s because these platforms use automated programs to listen to music in video content and compare it to music distributed online through record labels and self-serve platforms like DistroKid.
At the very least, you might have your video muted and any monetization options taken away from videos with unauthorized music use. At worst, your account could be deleted and you could be fined or sued.
Can you play copyright-free music on Twitch?
Yes, you can play copyright-free music on Twitch, both in livestreams and uploads of previous streams. You’ll want to confirm that any music you use is indeed copyright-free.
The CC mark is used to designate a creative work that has been donated to Creative Commons and that not all rights to it have been reserved.
Much of the music that’s copyright-free has aged out of copyright protection—which happens with much older music that was released 96 years ago (so 1925 in 2021) or was first published before 1964 and didn’t have its copyright extended—and has entered what’s called the public domain. As you can guess, a lot of this music is quite old and may or may not fit the vibe you want to establish in your stream.
Artists can also donate their music to the public domain or issue free royalty-free licenses of their songs, and it’s not uncommon for them to do so. If you’re familiar with free stock photo websites like Creative Commons or Unsplash, it’s similar to their models.
Royalty-free means that the copyright holder maintains the rights to their work, but gives the rights to anyone who wants to use their work in an agreed-upon way without incurring an additional fee each time. Usually, these royalty-free licenses are purchased, but there are free sources for royalty-free music, which we’ll get into shortly.
How do Twitch streamers play copyrighted music?
Twitch streamers play copyrighted music by:
- Getting written permission from the copyright holder
- Using a tool like Twitch Soundtrack to find approved music (more on this later)
- Playing songs that offer royalty-free licenses
- Breaking the rules and risking their account getting deactivated
How to find music for streaming on Twitch
Though you can’t push play on just any Spotify playlist when you stream, there are several ways to find music for your live and recorded Twitch streams.
Websites with copyright-free or royalty-free music
While most musicians and songwriters hold on to their copyrights, some creators prefer to release at least some of their work into the public domain or offer their music with free royalty-free licenses to whoever wants to use their songs. That means you can use their songs in your live and recorded streams without worrying about breaking any copyright laws.
An example of a musician donating their art is Harris Heller of Alpha Gaming’s project, StreamBeats. With StreamBeats, Heller created and distributed music to YouTube and Spotify and issued a master usage and synchronization license to anyone who wants to use those songs in their streams.
That doesn’t mean you can use Heller’s songs however you like. The agreement on the StreamBeats website specifies that you can use Heller’s music, “solely and exclusively in connection with User videos that are contained on User’s Twitch, Mixer, Youtube, Podcast or equivalent channels.” If you read the entire agreement, you’ll see that there are plenty of things you can’t do. You cannot:
- Distribute or sell the music
- Pass the music off as your own
- Use the music in specific types of videos (e.g., defamatory videos)
- Make changes to the music
But what’s in it for Heller? Though StreamBeats offers free synchronization licenses for its music, it doesn’t mean Heller has signed away all his rights to make any money. When you stream Heller’s music on Spotify or Apple Music, he still gets payments from those platforms, and it can add up.
StreamBeats isn’t the only source of copyright-free or royalty-free music. Here are a few other places to find copyright-free or royalty-free music:
Twitch soundtrack (note: anyone can opt their music in, but Twitch curates their official soundtracks)
Twitch Soundtrack—which went live in September of 2020—is a “rights cleared music tool designed for Twitch creators.” Essentially, musicians can opt in to allow Twitch streamers to use their music royalty-free in Twitch broadcasts and replays.
To use Twitch Soundtrack, you have to download the app to your computer and sync it with your Twitch account by logging into Twitch via the app. Then, you can scroll through playlists that are designed to match moods or have been curated by other streamers or musicians. You can also play radio stations that are broken up by genre.
Remember how we said you couldn’t play copyrighted music without permission? Well, you can always just ask for permission!
This is easier said than done, and it’s really unlikely that Lady Gaga and her record label are going to give you written permission to use her music in your live and recorded stream. And the key here is “written permission.” While verbal contracts are a real thing, they don’t hold as much legal protection as written agreements.
That being said, independent performers and smaller acts might be willing to let you use their music in your streams. To get permission to use their songs, all you need to do is contact them—look for contact info on their website before trying to contact them on social media—and explain how you’d use the song. The worst they could say is “No,” but be polite anyway, even if they decline your request.
How to play music on Twitch
If you use Streamlabs OBS, it’s easy to add copyright-free music to your live streams. If you download Twitch Soundtrack, it will ask you if you’re using Streamlabs OBS. Click yes and follow the instructions to set up your audio.
Next, add Twitch Soundtrack as your audio source within Streamlabs OBS by clicking the plus sign under sources.
After you’ve added your new audio source, you can mix Twitch Soundtrack to your desired audio levels and you’re ready to go!
Now that you know how to stream music to Twitch, you might want to learn about streaming to multiple platforms and making money on Twitch outside of their affiliate program!