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Choosing the Right Music for Your Video

As editors, we have many tools at our disposal when it comes to creating the mood for a video. The style in which it was shot, the effects and graphic treatment that we use, and the voiceover recording are all ways in which we can manipulate the feel of a piece. One of the biggest factors, however, is the music. Music can be an amazing tool, conveying a range of emotions and setting the overall tone of a video project.

What You Hear is Important

You may not even notice it while watching a video, but the soundtrack was meticulously chosen. Think about the music you listen to and how it makes you feel. A song can evoke powerful emotions like joy, fear, suspense, nostalgia, and intensity just to name a few. In many cases what you hear is just as important as what you see.

Just imagine watching a horror movie that has no suspenseful music to build up tension. Or a sitcom without its iconic theme song. Or a chase scene without hearing some Yakety Sax. Okay, maybe the last one doesn’t apply as much, but our point is that the music and sound design choices are essential to establish any sense of engagement with an audience. 

Finding the Right Music Track

Finding the right track for a video can sometimes be extremely time consuming. It has to fit the video perfectly to achieve the desired effect. We will sometimes spend hours searching for tracks that match the tone of whatever video we're working on. Let's say we're working on a corporate product video. The song we pick for this piece would be light and airy, nothing too intense, as opposed to if we were working on a high-energy sports video, which might instead have a soundtrack consisting of electric guitars and a driving beat. It all depends on what we want the viewer to feel.

Tempo Tempo Tempo

Additionally, an extremely important factor when deciding on a music track is identifying what tempo will work best for a given video (if you’ve ever watched the movie Whiplash you’ll know what we mean). Music tracks will have a specific beat-per-minute number, or BPM for short, which will indicate how fast or slow the tempo is.

This is crucial when choosing a track for a video because oftentimes, videos are edited to the beat. So if you want a fast-paced video with lots of cuts and motion graphics flying in and out, you’ll probably opt for a track with a higher BPM to achieve your desired intensity. On the other hand, if you want a gentler, more emotional video, maybe with some slow motion shots for extra dramatic effect, you’ll instead select a track with a lower BPM.

Using a Scratch Track

Music is such an important part of a video that it’s good practice to use a demo of a music track, sometimes called a scratch track, before fully purchasing a license. This is a free download of the music track where you’ll hear a somewhat intrusive voice periodically saying an audible watermark over and over. Many who work in the industry are all too familiar with these watermarks, but they serve an important purpose.

Getting the Track in Place

A song might sound perfect upon first listen, but you may change your mind after hearing it in the edit. And sometimes, you may stumble across a track that works perfectly, only to have someone else request a replacement. This can be frustrating, particularly because a whole video’s edit might revolve around matching certain beats in the track, thus requiring more work on your end than just simply switching out the song.

Still, you never know. You may even end up liking the alternative song better than your first choice after giving it a try. Once everyone who needs to approve a video settles on a given track, that’s when you move forward to purchase the licensed version and do a quick swap to finalize that piece of the project. You (and whomever is paying for the track) will be all the more relieved when there’s only one expense rather than multiple costs for music tracks that didn’t make the cut.

From the Viewers Perspective

As the viewer, you know when a song fits a video and when it doesn't, regardless of your experience with video editing. It's something instinctual. Sure, it might be easier to throw any song underneath a video, but if we were to do that, we would lose one of the most beautiful aspects of the piece; we would lose that emotional connection with the viewer.

Sometimes you’ll still miss the first track that you chose, but at the end of the day music is very subjective, and as long as you’re able to bridge that connection between auditory and visual elements, you should consider it a win (as long as that new track isn’t Yakety Sax).

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