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6 Ways to find the right soundtrack for your video

Music is one of the most emotive and engaging tools you can use when making a video. It really can make the difference between a video that wows and one that falls flat. These 6 tips for selecting music come from a professional musician with over 10 years in the industry.

Choosing the right music is all about context – finding music that's appropriate for the situation.

You know when you're in a bar and a DJ or jukebox is playing thumping dance music, and you're having to shout to be heard? The music isn't really adding to the experience – in fact, it’s intrusive and could ruin your evening. 

It's the same with video – using music that’s too loud or aggressive can detract from the content.

That’s not to say that segments of fast, energetic music never fit – it may suit part of your video perfectly, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Follow these 6 easy steps and you can't go wrong.

1. Set the mood


This would be perfect for a very calm, relaxed video

The mood of the music should help to reinforce the mood of the visuals. You have free reign in terms of the genre, the period the music is from and everything else – but the feelings the sounds produce should match the spirit of your message.

When you find a potential track, try playing the music over your visuals and see if it strengthens or detracts from your message. If you have any doubts with a track, leave it out and audition something else.

If you get really stuck, watch videos that inspire you and are similar to what you're going for to get an idea of what will work.

2. Speak up – or don't


This is a great energetic track but the fast-paced vocals make it very hard to use as backing music

If your video has a voiceover or contains dialogue, it may be best to avoid a track with vocals. If the vocals are off-message, too catchy or too memorable, people won’t remember the story you are telling (but may remember the vocals from the track instead!).

Unless you can fit the vocals to the video just right, instrumental music may be a better choice.

Chocolate makers Mars used the vocals in New Order's Blue Monday in an interesting way. By cutting the track so the only vocal you can hear is 'How does it feel?', they suggest that things feel better when you have a Mars bar, that it gives you energy and feels good.

If they hadn’t cut the track at that point the vocal would have continued with ‘to treat me like you do’. This would have totally changed the feel of the music. An ambiguous question would have become something a lot more concrete and gloomy – which would have ruined the message of the advert.

Be careful which lyrics you choose to include.

3. Too fast, too furious

The instrumental parts of this would be great for a faster-paced video

The volume of the music is important – you want it to be easy to hear but quiet enough that it doesn’t overpower your voiceover or dialogue.

Try starting with the volume down low, then slowly turn it up until it’s audible and doesn’t require you to concentrate to hear it. Stop when it starts to overpower the voiceover, then turn it back down slowly until you can hear the voiceover clearly again.

That is your ideal level.

You can check you have the right balance by listening to your audio through a few devices – laptop speakers, regular speakers and headphones.

The speed of the music is also important and should fit with the speed of your video.

If your video is energetic and upbeat – energetic and upbeat music will fit well. If the video is a slow and contemplative – you guessed it – slow music will suit better.

4. To cliché or not to cliché?

Morricone's famous soundtrack is unmistakeable

Clichéd music can be powerful for setting a mood but you need to think about the possible ways that music will be read by your audience.

For example, if you listen to the piece of music above you should instantly get a strong sense of the setting, the period and the overall feel of the music.

By tapping into tried and tested moods that work, you can let people's prior associations do a lot of the work for you, but make sure you explore all of the connotations of a piece of music.

5. Location, location, location

Not appropriate for a video about the Bahamas

Geographical links can be very useful in terms of working out what music will fit your video well, and what to avoid.

If you're making a video set on a tropical island, Celtic music probably isn’t going to be a good fit! If the discordance between the setting and the music is too jarring it will just distract from your message.

But Hawaiian or Calypso would probably suit your island video well. It’s the sort of music people naturally associate with hot sunny beaches.

6. Time it right

Never use this music unless you want your video to be associated with a really silly dance

If you don't want your video to sound dated, avoid using music that will time-stamp it to the period the music's from. For example – if your video features the Harlem Shake by Baauer it will automatically be associated with the summer of 2012 and the viral video phenomenon that accompanied this track.

If you use a piece of music that isn’t as recognisable, or has been popular for a long period of time, your video is more likely to stand the test of time.

... And that’s it!

Essentially, you should be trying to find music that fits the onscreen action and reinforces it, helping to give your viewer a consistent overall experience and a strong sense of the message.

I hope this post has helped you think about the sort of music to use with your video. It isn’t hard to pick an okay-ish track, but with a bit more thought you can ensure the music really fits the visuals and strengthens your message.

Which should help you to engage with your audience that much better.

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