Tips for music sourcing and usage

By Yannick Ireland

1. Music Genre vs. Video Theme
Although there are no restrictions, nor an exact science when choosing a music genre for your video content, there are some reliable genres of music for certain video themes.

For example, you may have a classic cinematic scene of lovers meeting for the first time. These visuals could be well complemented by a more orchestral, classical production, as generally there is a lot of emotive expression in this sort of music.

Another example would be sports video paired with electronic music. The high-adrenaline nature of electronic genres are a match made in heaven for extreme sports content. However, I would like to echo my first sentiment about there being no restriction —you may well choose to use something so unconventional that it creates a shock reaction, which may indeed be the desired effect.

But if you want subconscious acceptance from your viewers that the music really suits your imagery and that they were meant to be together, do some research of successfully similar content and from there you will be able to analyze the genre and attempt to replicate the successful marriage yourself.

2. Instruments for Feelings
Now let’s go a little deeper with the first tip and single out the instruments themselves. Two tracks of the same genre may have completely different instrumentation within their construction, and this could be relevant to your production.

If a filmmaker is working on something cinematic, then pieces of music with an instrumental solo could be invaluable for the feeling you are trying to convey. There have been scholarly articles on this subject with a more psychological investigation for the reasoning behind how certain emotions are triggered by certain instruments… but let’s keep it simple for now. For instance, music box sounds, xylophones and bells have always invoked the feeling of youth or enforced a child-like context in a production, especially as single instruments.

But remember, just because you have decided on a genre for your theme does not mean any good quality track will do. Listen to its makeup and content. Does it fulfill your intention?

3. Keep it Simple
A relatively easy, yet extremely important tip: don’t get an overly congested or epic-sounding track. Going orchestral and epic is fine for a similarly grand moment in your film, but when pairing any audio to video there is always a great danger of drawing the viewer away from the production itself due to overly intrusive music or audio.

Music is supposed to aid and complement your production, not draw you away from it. So even if the track sounds amazing and full at first listen, be aware of its potential to ultimately be detrimental overall.

4. Does the Track Change With Your Content?
Video productions generally change throughout their linear journey, and maybe your music should too. The obvious example of this would be the audio and video both reaching a crescendo together at the production’s conclusion.

In music, there is not always the formula of starting at “A” and finishing at “B,” because modern electronic and instrumental productions have very different middle eights or bridges. The fact that the music may switch up somewhere within the middle may be ideal for your video’s timeline, so perhaps you want to break the mold and change the vibe or content somewhere in the middle of the project. Certain tracks could help you do that seamlessly.

I would like just to suggest you think past the ideal genre and instrumentation, and that you really think about how the track is executed and if it is the best option for your production. The right music can enhance a video project more than anticipated and filmmakers should really get the most out of their audio.

5. Get a Second Opinion
Even working under certain guidelines and being prompted to think a certain way when sourcing music, it is always worth getting a second opinion to see if your experiences with the music are shared. Odds are that with a little extra time, you will find something much better than you may have done choosing something that sounded “good enough.” But never devalue a quick opinion check with your peers.

So, What’s Next?
Now that you know what to consider when browsing music and what potential
attributes to look for (and what to avoid), the next question is, “Where do you get your audio?”

So let’s say you have an ideal, familiar track in your head that would perfectly suit your production. The problem is maybe that’s a famous artist’s track that would cost thousands of dollars to license. So that’s a non-starter. But don’t you fret. Fortunately, there are now affordable and quality alternatives thanks to royalty free music libraries — essentially stock music.

Video editors, filmmakers and content creators of all kinds can visit these libraries to not only buy the track they need, but also get an automated license provided to them immediately with the purchase. There is no contacting artists or record labels, no complications on royalty split or composition and recording terms – it’s simple and consolidated.

The good news is there are plenty of these libraries around, but do your due diligence – and make sure the audio is high-quality and the pricing structure is simple.

High-quality music is incredibly important for all creative video productions. Now it is abundantly available and, not at extreme costs.


Yannick Ireland (@ArtisoundYan) is a musician, music producer and founder of Artisound, which is based in London.


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