3 Things to Think About When Choosing Music for Video

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

At the risk of upsetting the visual creatives out there, I’m just going to go ahead and call BS on the idea that when it comes to video, music is only kind of important. Like those guests who are kind of important enough to be invited to your wedding, but then find themselves sitting at the kids’ table.

Nope, music in video is crucial. Choose the wrong background track and all the hard work put in by your video team could very well be for nought. It doesn’t matter what it is (advert, promo, or explainer video) music must be given the same consideration as your visuals (I’m looking at you, animators!). 

The track you decide on will determine the emotional tone of your video and dramatically affect the message you’re conveying. It’s not simply a matter of surfing the audio libraries until you find something that appeals, it’s much more nuanced that that. These three key points will help you use music in video the right way.

What mood are you going for? 

Start by identifying how you want your audience to feel when watching your video. If the mood doesn’t match the video’s objective the end product is going to be off kilter. Maybe you’ll be able to put your finger on it, maybe not, but you’ll know something’s not right. 

Say you’re highlighting the benefits of an insurance company, but then decide to have Jay Z’s ’99 Problems or any type of hardcore rap playing in the background. Not really what you’d call a match made in music heaven, is it?

You need to consider who your target audience is, what message you’re trying to get across, and how you want them to feel. Demographic research and product will largely dictate the first two, so it’s the ‘feelings’ aspect you really need to focus on when deciding on the music for your video. 

If you want your audience to feel good inside i.e. all soft and mushy, best you avoid anything with heavy base and no lyrics. If you want to make people feel as if they can conquer the world, then you could look at something powerful and energetic. If it’s a sense of excitement you’re after then driving and exhilarating is the way to go. Get the idea?

Volkswagen is brilliant at picking music that elicits those feel good feelings. Check out this advert, which shows how the brand has journeyed with the couple from first date, right through to getting married and having a family. By the end of it you’ll have that warm fuzzy feeling for sure. 

Once you’ve got a handle on the emotions you want to associate with your video, finding a music style to match is simply a matter of searching for the relevant term in your preferred music production library. Audio Network and SoundVault are our go-to choices, as both offer extensive search options based around ‘emotion’, ‘instrumentation’ and ‘genre’. 

Next, select a few tracks and watch them alongside your video. This will give you an idea of whether or not it’s a good fit. Just listening to the soundtrack isn’t going to cut it, because often something will sound fantastic, but still be a complete mismatch for your visuals. 

Don’t cut corners and opt for a cheaper track. 

You might not be able to pinpoint it, but you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference in quality. The last thing you want is to go to all the trouble and expense of filming something really great and then drag down the quality of the end product with poor sound.

If you’ve made the effort with your visuals then you absolutely have to do the same with the audio. It makes perfect sense, but you’d be surprised how many people think this is a good area to give the budget a nip and tuck.

Production music options are a dime a dozen nowadays, so it’s easy to be drawn to the cheaper options. But whatever you save in terms of money you’re going to pay for in quality. 

The need to cut costs on a shoot is sometimes unavoidable, I get that, but music isn’t the place to do it. Imagine settling down to watch what you expect to be a really excellent video and then the audio is all crackly like a radio that’s not properly tuned. You probably wouldn’t carry on watching.

Extreme examples aside though, even when the quality is just average you’ll know something’s off. That’s the difference between a really high-end piece library music and something your cousin mixed in his garage. Find somewhere else to cut those corners, that’s all I’m saying.

Keep it in the background. 

One final piece of advice (and I’ll get off my sound soap box). The best music track doesn’t overshadow – it accompanies. That’s why it’s called a backing track. Once you’ve found that perfect track, don’t let it override your common sense. Your music muse won’t agree (and she’ll argue vehemently for her cause), but it absolutely cannot be centrepiece of the whole video. 

The best tracks are the ones you don’t notice. Remember, the role of music in video is purely a support one, it needs to accompany and reinforce rather than muscle in and take over. The line can sometimes be a little fuzzy, but you’ll know when you’ve crossed it. And some lines just shouldn’t be crossed.

About the Writer 

Jamie Field, Head of Production, TopLine Comms

Jamie Field is Head of Production at TopLine Comms, a video and integrated communications consultancy with an international client base and a penchant for all things animation.

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  • Larry Commons said…
    Wednesday, June 22, 2016 9:29 AM
    Spot-on article, Jamie.

    Most videos I see have lousy music, or at least music that's not well chosen. It's sad, really, to see $$ spent on beautiful filming and editing, only to have the music thrown on at the end as an afterthought.

    I try to think about the music before I even get started on a project. And you're right that it should accompany and reinforce, not overpower.
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