Review: Royalty Free–The Music of Kevin MacLeod


Title: Royalty Free–The Music of Kevin MacLeod
MPAA Rating: NA
Director: Ryan Camarda
Starring: Kevin MacLeod, Hank Green
Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins

What It Is: Ryan Camarda’s documentary on the eponymous composer chronicles the phenomenon of MacLeod’s royalty-free, infectiously recognizable music, which has been used in everything from Oscar-nominated films to YouTube videos to porn. It also details the conflict between electronic composers such as MacLeod and traditional orchestral musicians, who fear this technology will render them obsolete. Furthermore, it delves into the debate regarding Creative Commons licensing versus creatives’ desire to be valued for their output; does ‘royalty-free’ help or hurt creatives in the long run? Above all else, the film is a character study. It is an exploration of an unsung, if highly successful, artist’s psyche, centering on “what makes him tick,” his creative process, his ongoing struggles with addiction, and both the better and lesser angels of his nature. It is a highly effective portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man.

What We Think: I dreaded sitting down to watch this movie. A documentary on royalty-free music–the kind you hear in the backgrounds of YouTube tutorials and commercials–promised to be relentlessly boring. Within the first few minutes, I was glued to the screen. It is charmingly directed (among the film’s “interviewees” is one of Kevin’s puppets, who explains the process of Creative Commons licensing). It serves as a warts-and-all character study of a complicated man. It is funny, informative, and heartbreaking, serving as an in-depth examination of the pursuit of art itself.

Grade: A+, Royalty-Free: The Music of Kevin MacLeod is Academy Award-worthy. Although a worthy examination of ethical issues surrounding technology, Internet culture, and art, it succeeds primarily for the insight it offers into MacLeod himself. It is a wonderful film. One I certainly recommend. 

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