Royalty Free: The Music of Kevin MacLeod

How much do you know about composer Kevin MacLeod? Chances are you will be far more familiar with his music - from YouTube videos, call waiting tunes and theme park rides - than with the man himself. 


In Royalty Free: The Music of Kevin MacLeod, we discover that the composer has released over 4,000 tracks online. Anyone can use his music for free so long as they give him a credit. As a result, McLeod has the highest number of unique music credits of any composer on IMDB. 


Ryan Camarda’s documentary begins by exploring McLeod's career. We hear from an impressive number of contributors - including friends, colleagues and people who have long used his music in their own work. “More people recognise his music around the globe than almost any other artist,” says Rob Kruszynski, MacLeod’s friend. “They might not know who he is, but they know his music.”


McLeod has not flown completely under the radar, however. In 2015, for example, he won an honorary award at the European Web Video Awards (EWVA). Marie Meimberg, president of the EWVA (2014-2017), discusses McLeod's legacy and the many and varied places where McLeod's music can be found online - from cat videos to porn movies. 


Having established McLeod's intriguing career, Camarda reveals the man himself.  In a series of fascinating and, at times, moving interviews, MacLeod gives us the inside scoop on his phenomenal success. “I write a bunch of music and I run a website,” he says in a wonderfully unassuming fashion.


“Okay, I have got scale," he admits. "A lot of people have heard my music - and by 'a lot' I mean at least hundreds of millions, possibly in the billions.”



In addition to examining McLeod’s life and his creative process, Royalty Free also explores his business model. Camarda explains the concept behind the Creative Commons license and explores the implications - both positive and negative - of releasing music royalty free.


Does MacLeod's method democratise music - allowing more voices to be heard - or does it hurt other composers and musicians? What are the risks of losing control of your work? MacLeod’s music has been used in a variety of, sometimes, controversial ways. While he believes that his music does not belong to him once it is released into the world, Camarda wonders if all composers would be quite so sanguine.


Meanwhile, Royalty Free also looks at the impact of technology in music composition. In the film, we hear just how close machines are to being able to replicate the sounds of an orchestra. Is this a positive development? Does it help composers who would not otherwise have access to such a range of instruments? Or could it destroy the careers of musicians and threaten our access to live music experiences?


There are, of course, no easy answers to these questions. As a result, Camarda’s compelling film is both a celebration of MacLeod’s work and a thought provoking journey into the music industry’s evolving online landscape.


I was lucky enough to talk to Ryan Camarda about his documentary. Click here to read all about the making of Royalty Free.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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