Founder's Journal

How To Choose Music For Your Video

William Gadea 06.06.2017

When music and moving image work together perfectly, it feels magical. But unfortunately, there’s no magical shortcut for finding that right music: it’s about determination, patience, and resourcefulness – as well as having a little taste. Here are some tips for how to choose music for your video.

Give It Priority

Since music selection often comes at the end of the project, it’s tempting to skimp on it, both in terms of schedule and budget. In your schedule, you can help yourself by choosing your music early; you’ll find that integrating music early in the process can inform your other creative decisions. With your budget, try to protect the resources for your music, because it’s important. Music and sound should receive at least 10-15% of your budget allocation.

There are two options for music:

  • You can compose and record an original soundtrack
  • You can license an existing soundtrack

Recording An Original Soundtrack

It used to be that a solo composer working with desktop tools would only be able to create music that sounded sterile and electronic. Over the last couple of decades, the quality of instrument samples, and the tools to tweak them has improved dramatically. Now, a composer working in their studio can create respectable orchestral effects. Of course, samples will never match the work of talented session musicians, but often all it takes is a single real instrument – recorded live – to lift a recording and give it warmth and professionalism.

Why record original music at all? Because what a composer can do is hit cues so that the music participates in the storytelling. For example, when you are telling a marketing narrative you often spend the first third of the video talking about the pain point. Then the customer finds the product that solves this problem, and things start looking up! But you can’t take the viewer on that turn unless the mood of the music changes at a certain point.

Commissioning an original score and recording it costs less than you probably think. Some home-studio composers provide acceptable results starting at about $1,000.

When would you not use a composer? If you are not going to use the music as a storytelling device (i.e., you are not hitting cues) but rather are using the soundtrack as a sort of carpet underneath the video, you’ll probably get better and cheaper results with something pre-recorded that fits the mood of your video. Also, you would not use a composer if you don’t have time on the schedule for a creative process that includes some iteration.

Licensing A Track

Obviously, you need permission from the copyright holders to use any kind of music in your video. It is possible to get permission to use well-known songs, but it will be expensive, and the process is cumbersome. Usually, you hire a music clearance service for this purpose; the whole process can take months.

It is far easier and less expensive to visit one of the many online royalty-free music libraries. These often have search tools that let you look for music based on style, tempo, orchestration, or mood. Here are some of the services we have used, along with some comments from our music guru Jared Paul:

  • NeoSounds: Three tiers, prices vary. They have nice search tools.
  • Tunefruit: They use a tiered licensing method, from $20 for student projects to custom quotes for national advertising.
  • Premium Beat: They have a two-tier structure, $49 for web-based or non-commercial, to $199 for non-web commercials. Jared says Premium Beat “offers great value, with quality tracks at price points friendly to indie producers and small businesses.”
  • With the services above, you can usually find music for commercial purposes for less than $200. The following services can sometimes be a bit more expensive, but usually still in the hundreds.
  • Music Bed: Licenses are based on usage and the size of your company. Jared says that Music Bed “tends to have tracks from up-and-coming artists and bands, who would be writing the songs anyway for themselves and their fans, rather than specifically for production use, so sometimes their tracks sound a bit more ‘authentic.’”
  • Music for Productions: This is a more professionally oriented service, based in Montreal. All quotes are customized, and it is less of a self-serve experience.
  • VideoHelper: Attractively designed site that uses licensing based on usage. Jared says their tracks are “carefully crafted to have multiple good breaks and built-in edit points, which gives a lot of good options for editing.”

Most of these services allow you to download a sample to try out on your cut. They may put an audio watermark on this file, or provide it in lo-fi, in order to discourage non-payment. Once you are happy with your music, you can pay for the license and obtain a high-quality, watermark-less file.

How To Edit Music

If you have chosen library music for your video, you may be required to edit your music to fit your cut. Music editing is a lot of fun and is actually easier than you might think it is if you follow some simple guidelines.

  • First, figure out the structure of the music and try not to do too much violence to that structure. For example, you probably don’t want to put two choruses right after each other.
  • Try to keep the beat when you make a cut.
  • Try not to change the key abruptly.
  • Experiment between a straight cut and very short cross-fades (2-4 frames) to see what sounds best.

If you follow these rules, you will probably find a place to put the cut that will sound relatively natural.

Whether you have commissioned an original piece or licensed an existing track, music has the power to complete a video experience. Don’t settle: the sweat and resources you put into music will be paid back to you many times over.

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William Gadea

William Gadea is the Creative Director and Founder of IdeaRocket. Follow him on twitter: @willgadea.
William Gadea
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