The sound of music (in your video)

You just watched your new video for the first time. The lighting was perfect, the shots just right, the editing superb. Now, if only it had been silent. But it wasn’t. There was music on it. Or, what someone thought was music.

You pictured Julie Andrews twirling around in an Alpine paradise, singing her heart out. What you got instead was an Ozzy Osbourne impersonator (the day after he went on the mother of all benders). You wanted raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and got acid rain and a jackal with mange. On top of it, everything sounded like it was recorded in someone’s garage. Not in a good, “Nirvana-back-in-the-early-days” way, but more like “this-garage-is-owned-by-the-drummer’s-uncle-and-doubles-as-a-chop-shop”.

Classical music, jazz, punk rock… the choices of music for your video can be endless

This is not what you envisioned people hearing as they watch your new video highlighting your custom window treatments.

One of the most challenging aspects of video production is selecting the right music for your project. This is somewhat like a treasure hunt, only no one has a map and no one agrees on the definition of the word “treasure”. ¬†At some point in the process, whether it’s during the pre-production phase or the post-production phase, you can expect to have discussions with the production company about the type of music you need for your video. If those discussions aren’t held, then you need to speak up and ask about it before the post-production editing phase goes too far.

Here’s why. Music not only determines the overall mood being conveyed in the piece through sound but also through images. Editors rely heavily on the tempo of your music to pace the transition from image to image, as well as the types of transitions used. There are creative ways to do counterpoint between slow and fast if there’s a workable contrast in the pacing of the images and the music (for example, image transitions on every second beat rather than every beat). However, if things are off even by a hair, the effect is noticeable and jarring to the viewer.

How is the music chosen? Much depends on your budget. In a perfect world, you’d have enough money to spend to have custom music developed, which requires strong coordination between you, your video production company, and the music company. This is the best way to ensure you get exactly what you’re looking for, but it can also be very time-consuming. In a slightly less perfect world, you either have a good example to play for your production company to illustrate the type of music you’re looking for (pay attention to tempo, the type of instruments used, and the overall genre of music). If you like most of a song, but don’t want certain elements reflected in the music for your video (less guitar or no guitar, no vocals, no frilly synthesizer flourishes) convey that. It gives them a starting point.

Where will they get the music? There are a number of services that offer original music that’s royalty-free. Please note that royalty-free doesn’t mean totally free. You’ll have to pay for the music, and you can expect that to be part of the production company’s invoice unless prior arrangements were made to fold that into an overall blanket fee for post-production. The good part is, if it’s royalty-free you only pay one time for usage. You don’t pay every time the song gets played.

Ensuring you have full and clear rights to use any music in your video is a must, and while the production company should do its due diligence in this regard, you should make sure every “t” is crossed and every “i” dotted. It can be infinitely disappointing, not to mention quite embarrassing on a professional level, if you suddenly find you can’t use your video because of a copyright violation. It’s bad enough to get a cease-and-desist letter forcing you to remove it from your own site, but if it’s taken down by a hosting site like YouTube it can look extremely bad.

Your production company may give you a selection of music to listen to before even starting to edit your video. This may seem like an added delay, but as we noted above, it can save a lot of time and extra expense in post-production, since you’re less likely to need re-editing on your video if the music is agreed upon the first time. There are two pieces of advice when you’re given a list of potential music to review. First, trust your gut. If you instantly hate a song, you should move on. You know your product, service, and/or story best. If a little voice in your head says: “This is all wrong!” then pay attention. But, if you want to be absolutely certain you’re not passing up a hidden gem, then cue the song in a bit. It’s possible the production company heard something appealing in the song overall, and that it’s just the first 10 seconds or so that are off.

Bear in mind that many music providers have different versions available for each song. Check with the production company to understand how the site or sites you’re using are set up. You may absolutely hate the main track because of some annoying guitar riffs, but if you listen to the separate underscore track you may fall in love with the piece. And, depending on the company, there may be alternate versions of each song that are significantly different.

This brings us to the second tip for choosing music for your piece: take your time. While it may seem counterproductive after we’ve just told you to trust your gut, you need to be certain you’re not making a snap decision based on extenuating circumstances. Perhaps the song didn’t grate on you because it was bad, but because you skipped lunch and were famished when you listened to it. Give it a day, or more, and go back and listen again. That applies both to songs you hate and songs you love. It can be costly to change music at the last minute even if it only takes a short time to switch out the tracks in the edit suite, because you’ll have to pay for usage rights on another song.

At Hencar we work closely with our clients. Sometimes we give them music to listen to ahead of time, sometimes we sit with them and review potential music selections together, and sometimes we know a piece needs a certain type of music and will take a chance and make the choice ourselves before giving it to the client for a first review. We want every project to go out on a high note rather than falling flat.