7 Secrets to Selecting the Right Music for Your Video

October 21st, 2015 Vern Oakley

One of the most challenging parts of producing a corporate video is finding the right music. That’s because music resonates with us in a very different way than pictures do. Transcending words and visuals, it’s also linked to taste and memories of past experiences, which makes it very powerful.

Here are the essentials to consider:

1. Understand Your Audience
Some time ago I was working on a trailer for a feature IMAX documentary about a famous basketball star (yes, he’s from Chicago and we share the same first name). When we started putting a cut together I asked the client, a part owner of the team, what style of music he’d want to use in the film trailer. After giving it some thought, he proclaimed, “I have just the thing!” and proceeded to play a loud marching band tune. I started to laugh, but soon realized he was serious. My first mistake in asking a non-professional’s opinion was assuming he knew the world of trailer music. I also didn’t take into account his particular background, which of course included a lot of time spent in sports arenas. We needed to focus on the audience for the film trailer and understand their makeup.

Share your audience insights with your video production team so they can focus on finding the kind of music that will engage the viewer.

2. It’s OK to Get Emotional
Many people describe music by how it makes them feel as they listen. “I like upbeat, happy music,” or “That music sounds scary.” An experienced music professional, creative director, producer, or editor can find the right music to elicit those feelings. Ultimately it’s the audience that decides if these emotions are actually felt. There is a fine line between using music to dictate what we’re supposed to feel and using music to support what we feel.

3. Background vs. Foreground
To make the right decision on music, you need to understand if it should support a predominately voice-dominated project with interviews and voiceover, or if its purpose is to support a mostly visual project, (i.e., with only animated graphics). In the first case, we’d look for music not to compete with but to complement voice, which we typically refer to as a ‘music bed’. In the second case, we look for music to carry and propel the video, or what we refer to as “foreground music”.

A “music bed” typically avoids using instruments in the voice range, like saxophone. Foreground music tends to be more dynamic and builds at the end. Unless the music is composed specifically for the video, it’s difficult to find a song that contains both qualities, (i.e., music that comes into the foreground for moments when there’s no voice).

4. Choose the Right Instrumentation
Scientific studies show there are predictable physical and psychological responses humans have to music. Tone and frequency impact us in certain ways that we should consider when choosing music.

Midranges and high frequencies generally convey simplicity or happiness: the higher notes on a piano, a ukulele, or violin, for example. Midranges to low frequencies communicate power or strength: bass, timpani, low brass horns, etc.

5. Pace Yourself
Music pace is another key factor that affects the feel and energy of a video. Faster paced music tends to generate energy and urgency. While slower paced music gives a contemplative and relaxed feel.

Depending on the mood we are trying to achieve, we’ll consider pace in how to support a video’s feel. In some cases, completely stopping the music can emphasize a specific moment in a video.

6. Mix Well To Enjoy
Much like being in a bar with the music blasting can ruin the mood of the night, finding the right balance of music to narration is just as key. Music that’s too loud will compete with the voice no matter how perfectly it’s scored. Music that is too soft will lose effectiveness.

That’s why one of the final steps is mixing the music to voice, (and sound effects), to achieve the right balance.

7. The Bottom Line
Once, while producing a short video for a Fortune 100 company, we were struggling to find just the right music. The total budget was $33,000 for everything including creative, production, editing, and music licensing to boot. The client was insistent about staying on budget, so we made a musical selection that we thought both worked well and fit their budget. The clients liked it but didn’t “love it” so they asked us to use a particular song by a famous artist. When we put that music into the video, the clients loved it. There was only one hitch: the music license alone cost $35,000… literally doubling the entire video budget and then some.

Somehow, they “found” the money and we delivered the video to very happy clients. Sometimes the right music is worth it.

Shhh… Here’s The Real Secret
Everything is better when you work together. Finding the right music for your corporate video is no exception. The secret is collaboration. Pair yourself with an experienced partner with the right resources to give you the right choices, and the result will be pure harmony.

Here are two Tribe films that showcase how important music is in telling our story:
Stanley Black & Decker – Symphony
University of Vermont – What It’s Like Here