When you’re editing a video, it’s important to get the music right. With the wrong music, your video will come off as a bit weird at best. It can be downright awful at worst.
Choosing the right music, though, isn’t an exact science. It’s difficult, and it takes practice. There are millions of songs out there, each with their own merits, and some of them will be better for your video than others. How are you supposed to know which track to use?
The seven tips below will help you nail the music in your video. Read on to find out about choosing the right track, understanding license agreements, volume selection, and more.
1. Understand Foreground vs. Background Music
Before you start seeking out the perfect music for your video, you need to make a decision. Is the music going to be in the foreground or the background?
Foregrounded music is often used in videos that show people doing some sort of activity, but not talking (or at least not talking very much). It’s the main audio focus of the video. Take this cardistry video for example. There’s no dialogue; all of the audio focus is on the music:
Now look at this film trailer:
2. Choose the Perfect Track
Once you have an idea of the role your music will play, you can start thinking about the tone of the song.
For example, videos with a positive theme are well-suited to music that’s in a major key; these songs are often peppy and happy.
A more serious video might use a somber tone of music. If you’re playing to people’s emotions, you can use music that elicits the emotion you’re targeting, adding to the impact of the video. An improvisational jazz background can give feelings of turbulence. Dissonance can provide tension.
The cliche example of music playing on viewers’ emotions is Sarah McLachlan’s video for the ASPCA. It might be cliche, but it absolutely works:
You can evoke almost any feeling you want with music—it’s just a matter of finding the right track.
There are many places to find music for your videos online. But you’ll still need to take the time to figure out what sort of atmosphere you want to provide in your video. If your video is more than a few minutes long, you may even have multiple tracks that evoke different emotions.
Before you start browsing the catalogs at music download sites, watch your video a few times and think about what sort of feelings you want people to have as they’re watching it. It’s a good idea to do this while watching, because you may feel differently when the video is playing than when you’re just thinking about it.
Write down a few feelings or moods that you’d like to be present in your video. Once you’ve done that, you can start your search.
3. Remember the Role of Music
The main focus of your video is either the visual information you’re presenting or the things that people are saying. (Unless you’re making a music video, but that’s a different sort of project altogether.)
Don’t spend so much time on choosing the right song for your video that you forget about what really matters. Your video is made to share information, not music. So whatever music you choose should bolster that information-sharing.
As I mentioned earlier, music can go a long way toward evoking the emotions you’re trying to get your audience to feel when they watch your video. Focus on supporting your video content with your music, and you’ll get it right every time.
4. Get the Volume Right
You may have noticed in the examples above that foreground music is quite a bit louder than background music. This is intuitive; if music features more prominently in your video, you want the volume to be higher so people notice it. If it’s in the background, you want people to be able to hear whatever else is happening in the video.
Experiment with volume before you publish your video to make sure that the music is exactly as loud as you want it to be. Music that’s too loud or too soft can be distracting to viewers, and that’s what you want to avoid.
This is a good place to ask friends, colleagues, and anyone else you can find if they think the music is good for the video. If you can get someone from your target audience, even better.
5. Know the Music Rights for Your Track
If you want a detailed breakdown of the rights and terms you should be paying attention to, check out our article on where to download music for your videos.
The short version, however, is that you should pay close attention to the rights listed on any song you’re considering using for a video. Adding copyrighted music to your video is a quick way to have someone request that you take it down. You could also face legal action.
Fortunately, Creative Commons licenses make it easy for you. The labeling scheme is simple, and many CC-licensed tracks allow you to do whatever you want with a song as long as you credit the original artist and link back to where you found it.
Some others don’t allow commercial use, or require that whatever you create with that song also be licensed under Creative Commons. Almost every Creative-Commons-licensed track you’ll find has an easy copy-and-paste attribution as well.
There are also songs that you have to pay for, and even some that require royalties. The main lesson to learn here is to make sure you absolutely know the license under which you’ve downloaded a song and what it entails.
No matter which type of licensing agreement you use, make sure to double- and triple-check your rights before publishing your video.
6. Decide Whether You Should Use Free or Paid Songs
I mentioned a moment ago that there are some songs that you can use for free, and others that you’ll have to pay for. Why, if you can get something for free, would you pay for it?
The answer largely comes down to quality and convenience. While there’s a lot of great music that you can download for free, there’s also a lot of low-quality stuff that you may have to sift through, depending on where you download your music.
Professional-level sites that sell music licenses are much more likely to have a catalog full of high-quality songs that will benefit your video.
If you’re willing to shell out some cash for a song to add to your video, you may find that the licensing agreement is easier to work with. If you pay enough, there will be no attribution, no limits on what you can do with the song, and no royalties to worry about.
Even if you don’t pay for an unlimited use, royalty-free song, it’s in the best interest of sites that sell music licenses to make it as clear as possible how you can use the song and what you need to do. They probably even have a staff that can answer your questions about how you can use the music.
Is it worth the expense to not have to worry about that stuff? That’s up to you. But it’s worth thinking about.
7. Use the Right Tools to Edit Songs and Videos
We have a full guide to adding music to video files, and if you want to get into the details for various apps, you should check it out.
Most video-editing apps will make it easy to add music to any video file. But if you’re using a very simple editing app or you don’t have one at all, it’s a good idea to download one. iMovie, the free editor that comes with Macs, has plenty of audio-editing capabilities. Photos, the app you use on a PC, isn’t quite as good (but you can always download Shotcut for free).
With all of these options, adding a track to your video files is pretty easy (even if it does take some getting used to with the more powerful software). Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll be able to add and edit a track in just a few minutes.
Of course, you’ll get better results with better tools. So while it takes time to download and familiarize yourself with more advanced video editors, I recommend going that route every time.
And (Of Course) Practice
Like any other part of videography or video editing, adding music to your videos is a skill, and it requires practice. Choosing the right track, editing it to fit the video, and getting the volume right are all acquired skills.
When you get started, it might not seem like there’s much to it. But as you edit more videos, you’ll see that music can make a big difference in the end result. And once you’ve been doing it for a while, you’ll develop your own style.
You’ll also probably find that you cringe at the music choices you made in your early videos. But that’s okay. Keep working at it and you’ll get the point where choosing the perfect track and editing it so it feels natural in the video is second nature.