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Selecting the Right Music Track

What’s the first sense that you associate with video? Most would likely say sight, especially in today’s world of scrolling through social media and being bombarded by a barrage of content. By definition video means the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images, so it makes sense to think of sight first. After all, you “watch” a video, you don’t touch, taste or smell one. (Unfortunately, Smell-ivision hasn’t been invented at the time of this blogpost.)

Listening to Video?

That leaves one sense left: listen. Sound is an often-overlooked aspect of video, but 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 my point is that the music and sound design choices are essential to establish any sense of engagement with an audience.

Choosing the Right Track

When choosing a music track you have to have the end product in mind. You need to choose an appropriate track that, perhaps most importantly, suits the mood that you want to establish. The beginning of your search is normally the most difficult, as there are so many options to choose from even if you know the direction you want to go. I’ll often start off by narrowing down what specific genre the music should be. Then I’ll try to narrow down a feeling, whether it’s uplifting, emotional, corporate, ambient, etc. I’ll continue to listen to samples until I begin to find tracks that I think would work. If I think I’m heading in the right direction, but haven’t found the perfect track yet, I’ll try to listen closely to determine what I like specifically, be it certain instruments, sounds or other production elements. An extremely important factor when deciding on a music track is what tempo you want to go with (if you’ve ever watched the movie Whiplash you’ll know what I mean). Music tracks will have a specific beat-per-minute number, or BPM for short, which can tell you how the pacing will feel. This is so crucial when choosing a track for a video because often times videos are edited to a beat. So if you want a fast-paced video with lots of cuts and motion graphics flying in and out, you’ll have to get a track to match. On the other hand, if you want a slower cutting, more emotional video maybe with some slow motion shots for extra dramatic effect, you’ll want a slower track.

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. A song might sound perfect when you’re previewing it, but you might end up having a terrible time meshing when editing it with the footage. Many times I’ve been editing a project with one track in mind, just to go back to the drawing board after realizing it doesn’t quite sound right.

But Remember, It's All Subjective

As we all know, music is something that’s very easy to have an opinion on. Just like when filling up a playlist on Spotify or Apple Music, people are very particular when selecting music for a video. What sounds great to one person could be a total turn off to another. The key to this is to try to match the sound that you think your audience will like the best. A good rule of thumb that I always use is to find a track that no matter how many times you listen to it, you’ll never get sick of. This keeps you from getting burnt out while editing to the same song over and over and over again, and will keep you inspired. Despite your best efforts, sometimes you’ll have a track that you absolutely love and can’t imagine replacing only for someone who needs to approve the video to ask to have it replaced. This can be frustrating, particularly because a whole video’s edit might revolve around the track. Still, I’ll always at least try replacing the track just to see how it sounds. You never know, sometimes the alternate track that’s suggested ends up working better than the originally intended track. Once everyone who needs to approve a video likes the track in place, that’s when you 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. At the end of the day, when choosing music the most important thing is that the final product is a video that you and your collaborators can be proud of. 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 it sounds right, you should consider it a win. (As long as that new track isn’t Yakety Sax.)


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