Music is one of the most powerful catalysts for creating an emotional connection with your audience. If your viewer has a connection to your company or message, then they will be naturally drawn in to discover the details and deepen their relationship with your project or brand.

That said, here are ten practical tips for choosing the perfect music for video content:

1. Consider the role of music

Decide what role music will play in your video. Should the music support or drive the messaging? If you notice the music too much, it could be pulling away rather than adding to the overall impact. Determine if you are conveying broad information or if you are trying to impart technical details that your viewer will need to focus on without distraction; this will dictate what kind of music you should use.

If you’re trying to convey detailed technical info, you should choose a supportive underscore that doesn’t pull the attention of the viewer. If you’re trying to convey broad concepts, then look for foreground music that evokes more emotion.

Examples of good foreground music:

2. Use intro and outro music as “bookends”

Consider giving music or sound design a featured role in the opening and or closing sections of your video, acting as a set of “video bookends”. This helps set your tone, hold your message together, and leaves your viewers with a feeling of completion. One way to do this is to pair music or sound design with an image for three to five seconds. Using “bookend” music, or simply turning up the volume of the music at certain points, can also be used to divide your video into chapters or segments.

3. Base your choice on reference music

Having reference music on hand can help you find what you’re looking for. For example, if you think that the intro to the new Jason Mraz song is the perfect vibe for your video, consider going to www.bedtracks.com, and using the Sonic Search tool. You can drag and drop an mp3, or copy and paste a Youtube/Vimeo/Sound Cloud url into the search bar on Bedtracks. After your reference track is analyzed, you’ll be directed to the search results page where your reference track will be sitting at the top of the list of similar tracks the Sonic Search tool has found.

Also, If you’re hiring a composer, it’s helpful to provide reference tracks with your creative brief to give them a clear sense of the mood, genre, and tone of what you’re looking for.

4. Know your budget

Depending on whether you’re hiring a composer to create original featured score, or paying for a license to use a track from a music library, a music budget can vary widely. You can pay between $10-$100 for library music for small business and personal use video (i.e. not broadcast or large company advertising), and approximately $300-$1000 for a quality composer to create an original score for a short video.

5. Consider hiring a composer

Consider hiring a composer when there are many mood changes in your video. Through custom score, composers can convey mixed moods and concepts that develop through the duration of a video. For a featured explainer video that talks about your brand and acts as an introduction to your company, allocating money in your budget to pay a composer to create original, more featured score will pay off. If you have a series of videos to create, musical cohesion throughout the videos is another worthwhile thing to consider, and a composer can help you create this strong musical branding.

6. Explore a music library

These days, many small and larger scale media producers choose to use a music library with detailed search functions to find music for their videos. Well-developed search functions allow you to filter your searches based on sonic density/sparseness, different genres, instrumentation, organic versus electronic score, and many other useful criteria. Music for a video with wall-to-wall voiceover where the mood is fairly consistent can easily come from a library because the music will play a less featured role. If you need more featured music, this is accessible via some online music licensing libraries. Libraries have different licensing agreements and price points available, depending on what the music is being used for.

Here is a list of some good libraries to consider:

7. Choose music that will speak to your audience

Consider demographics when choosing music for your video. Is your target market people that listen to music based on a cultural tribe they’re a part of (hiphop, indie rock, or electronic dance music, for example)? Will the choice of a certain genre speak straight to the heart of the viewer you are trying to reach? If you’re trying to reach a broad market, or many age ranges, look for music that is broadly appealing; you don’t want to alienate your audience with anything too genre-specific.

8. Utilize sonic frequency and tone

Studies in the realms of physics and neuroscience show that there are predictable physical and psychological responses humans have to music. Tone and frequency impact us in certain ways and should be considered when choosing music for your video. Are you finding, for example, that you have to turn down your music in order to hear the voiceover, so much so that it becomes indistinguishable? When your video contains a lot of voiceover, it’s wise to avoid choosing tracks with complex melodies played on instruments that use the same frequency spectrum (notes and tones) as the human voice – instruments including guitar, violin, cello, viola, and parts of the piano and keyboard instruments. If you want the quality and mood of these instruments, then use tracks that have simple melodies or repetitive chord progressions. This way, you will have more room to turn up the volume so the emotion in the music can be clearly conveyed. If you want to convey power and strength alongside a voiceover, try using instruments in the low frequencies (bass, for example).

Below is a chart that can act as a simple guide to considering the emotional impact of instrumentation and frequency. Keep in mind that the quality of the chords being played (minor vs major, etc.), must also match the desired mood.

Chart outlining frequency, emotion conveyed, and which instruments to choose

9. Pacing

Choosing a track with consistent rhythm will allow you to work with stops and starts to highlight important points. Sometimes a great way to accent an image or a message is to actually pull out the music for that moment and then re-introduce the music right after. Be careful not to overuse this technique though, as it will lose its efficacy.

10. Public domain music and utilizing sonic cultural equity

Are you looking for a track that is culturally recognizable, but you don’t have the budget to license the Star Wars theme? Consider the host of recognizable compositions that fall into the public domain. Public domain compositions are created by a composer who has been deceased long enough that the intellectual property becomes public domain. Using this public domain music does not require an expensive license fee or royalty. In most countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention (an international agreement governing copyright of literary and artistic works), copyright term is based on the life of the author, and extends to 50 or 70 years beyond their death. After this period, the work enters the public domain.

Here is a good source site to search the world of public domain compositions: IMSLP Petrucci Music Library

And here’s a good source for public domain compositions with high quality production available at a reasonable price: Partners In Rhyme

Have fun selecting the perfect track and let me know if you have any questions about sound design!

Updated in 2017: Music As The Star

Since this post was originally published, a new trend has emerged in video marketing that we felt was worth an update! Oliver does a great job of outlining the steps you need to take to ensure your music is the perfect fit for your marketing video, but what about when your video features nothing but music?

Tubular Insights put together a great post on how to create ‘silent’ marketing videos – or videos that take a page from silent films of yesteryear and feature only music – so I won’t rehash too much of what they have to say. But take a look at the examples they have shared for some inspiration!

One of the added bonuses of music-only marketing videos is that they make great content for social networks that auto-play videos without sound to begin with. Viewers may not always be in a position to have audio with their video (i.e. watching content while on public transit) so assuming that your prospects may hear nothing at all on Facebook is always a good bet. Videos that feature only music and no narrative or sound effects must be compelling enough visually to draw people in without the promise of dialogue, and this effect can be achieved with or without the sound. 

Creating a video that features nothing but music is no easy task, but as you can see from the above example, and the additional ones in Tubular Insight’s post, the results can be moving, spectacular, and memorable.

Oliver Johnson

As the CEO of Bedtracks Inc, Oliver has specialized in sound production and musical supervision for film, TV, and radio for 15 years. Oliver’s broadcast credits include work for major networks in Canada and the US – including CBC, Global, CTV, MTV and Much Music, ESPN, The Discovery Channel, and IMAX. He’s written and produced over 60 TV commercials (Dove, Microsoft, Labatt, Visa, AT&T to name a few) in Canada and around the World.