Production | 8 MIN READ

Making the Most of a Music Archive

The effect of music in the world of production is apparent in almost everything produced. When used correctly, music can uplift a piece to its full potential. It can speak when words fail.

Where words fail, music speaks.

Hans Christian Anderson

Unfortunately not everyone has access to Danny Elfman or Elton John for their soundtrack. So how can you use canned music effectively? The task of picking the right tune for the right video production is in fact an art form. Below are a few tips for using your music in the most effective way.

1. Find balance in your volume

It is really easy to over adjust or under adjust your music selection in your timeline. If the music is too loud then it will drown out your story and if it is too low then it will be lost in the other audio channels. For web videos, I like my timeline voice audio peaking around -6db which means I try to keep my music channel around -20db as an under track and slowly ramp it during sections where the music is up full. With that said, I very rarely bring the music up to the same level as my voice tracks. I also try to make my ramping as gradual as possible. The goal is to make it as uniform as you can with no sudden adjustments or blown out music.

2. Edit to the beat

Editing has a natural rhythm. A tempo and pacing that helps to create the feel of the piece. Music allows you to tap into an easy source of pacing by giving you a specific tempo. It is important to keep this in mind when using music and making your selection. Ask yourself, what feeling are you going for during this section and make your selection accordingly. Once you have selected your music, try to edit to the beat of the song. This will create your pacing and will make your edits feel natural and rhythmic.

3. Don’t be afraid to use only portions of the songs

Sometimes when I am searching for a song, I will hear something that sounds great, but then it will all turn to crap about 25-30 seconds in. Don’t be afraid to use just a portion of a song if it feels right. You can often use elements of songs as transitional or emphasizing moments in an edit. So if you hear something you like, don’t be afraid to chop it up. And if you hear something you love but it doesn’t work for your video, make sure you save it for a future project.

4. Switch it up

A good story always has a beginning, middle and end. During those stages, the viewer should experience highs and lows both in pacing and emotion. Your music should reflect those changes by using different songs for the different chapters of your story. Try to match the tone of your story to an appropriately paced song. It is important to make sure your transitions from one song to the next are smooth. I like to use natural sound or audio to help set up the transition but a simple fade out and fade in will also work. Play around with the music and make sure it all fits with your piece.

If you are looking for some inspiration, two of our favorite music sites include The Music Bed and Warner/Chappell Music. The Music Bed is great for documentary style videos. We use it when we want high end music that sounds great and is well produced. They charge by the song depending on your audience so we use them typically for our passion projects and our bigger stories. Warner/Chappell is a licensing company. They are our go-to library for the majority of our work. The songs are well produced and the variety is great. We have a yearly subscription with them which allows us to use as many songs as we want within their library.

For those looking for free or cheaper production music try Audio Blocks which allows you to search using mood, genre, and instrument and filter the results based on tempo and beats per minute. You can also check out Free Stock Music which has a pretty substantial library for free production music. They add a new track everyday and feature lots of different genres.

Good Luck!

Jody Weldon

About Jody Weldon

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