So you've shot all your footage, mixed that sweet, clean dialog, finished your final cut, and finally buttoned up the color grade you've been obsessing over for probably way too long yet something still feels ... incomplete. The story is solid, the visuals look great but it's missing some emotion. Cue the music.
Finding music for your video is no easy task. Whether it's too fast, too slow, too loud, too short, has too many oohs and ahhs, too much clapping, or not enough clapping, the list goes on, and that's if you can even find music that's available to license for your project (more on licensing later). It's important to think about how the music you choose will enhance the feel and emotion of your video.
If your piece is a somber look at the plight of the down-and-out in your home city, you obviously don't want anything too upbeat and cheerful but be careful that you don't pick anything too sad, either. If it's a promo spot for a local animal shelter, you really want to tug on some heartstrings, but make sure it feels hopeful as well.
See where I'm going with this? Finding music that matches and enhances the emotion of your video is hard, but it's one of the most important decisions you'll make.
It's tempting to use your favorite song by your favorite artist but that's probably not the best idea for a number of reasons. For one, licensing a pop song won't be quick, easy or cheap (we're still going to talk about licensing). It also won't do much to keep the focus on your content. If it's your favorite song, chances are it's a lot of other people's favorite song as well.
Remember, the name of the game is enhancing your story, not taking attention away from it. If people start tapping their foot and singing along with your backing track, they're probably not paying much attention to the real star of the show – your story.
Beyond that, unless you're purely a Beethoven, or Bach fan, there's probably someone singing in your favorite song. That may not be bad if there is no dialog in your video but if there is, trying to mix a song with lyrics underneath of a person speaking is, well, it's nearly impossible to do well.
Stick with songs that are purely instrumental and don't have a lot of dynamic range. If the music goes from too soft to too loud too often it can be hard to keep the backing track UNDER your dialog.
Ok, so we've talked about how important it is to find the right music, and how difficult it is to find it, so where can you find it. There are a number of places to find stock music, but there are fewer places to find good stock music.
My personal favorite is The Music Bed. Not only do they have some of the best stock music out there, but their search tools make it easy to search based on genre, tempo, mood, length, and a number of other handy categories. With a free account, you can even download full length preview tracks that you can drop into your edit to make sure you've nailed the feeling you're looking for. Another great option is Premium Beat. Their library is a bit more 'stock-y' sounding but the tracks are less expensive than The Music Bed.
Using a high quality stock library like The Music Bed or Premium Beat makes it much less likely that you'll hear a track you spent a long time searching out used on a cheesy late night infomercial. (I've actually had that happen to me, it wasn't fun.)
You've found the perfect song, you say? On some obscure CD that you found at your aunts house? Wasn't Aunt Helen the one who got you that selfie stick that you turned into a boom mic to capture your clean dialog track with?
It's the perfect piano piece that matches your video even better than you hoped it would. There's no harm in using it, right? I mean, you've never heard of this artist, it's a safe bet no one else has either – at least no one else who will watch your video.
Stop right there. Hand the CD back to Aunt Helen and head over to The Music Bead or Premium Beat or almost any other legitimate stock music library and LICENSE THE TRACK YOU PLAN TO USE.
If you're absolutely set on using Aunt Helen's favorite piano artist, then look up the publisher information on the disc, contact them and let them know you'd like to license a track for your project and wait. They'll get back to you. Maybe. Or maybe they won't.
If they do, congratulations! Now you can work out all the details yourself about how much you'll pay them, how long you can use the track, on what medium it can be used, etc. It won't be much fun, but that's how it gets done the right way. Oh, and them not getting back to you is not permission to go ahead and use the track.
I know it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is. If you want to have a debate about how broken copyright law is, fine, that's a legitimate debate to have, but as it stands right now there are copyright laws in place and there IS a correct and LEGAL way to license music for your project. (This is all for licensing tracks in the US. Other countries may have different laws, always do some research and make sure you're in the clear)
The easiest and cheapest way to license music for your project is to use a stock music library. Find the music you like, set up the license agreement that matches your intended use, drop in your payment info and you're done. You can sleep like a baby tonight knowing that you've done your part to make sure the artist who created the music that you love so much for your project get's their fair share.
Do the right thing, it's better that way.
If you have the time and budget, nothing works as well as having something scored specifically for your video. There is no licensing to worry about that way, and you're guaranteed to have a track that won't pop up anywhere else, but it can take much more time and cost a lot more money. Even if the time and budget are there for custom music, it isn't always necessary. Just look at some of the featured placements from The Music Bed home page. I'd imagine the time and budget existed for many of these projects, but as the saying goes, why reinvent the wheel?
Not all videos need backing music, but for the ones that do, nothing else will fill the gap. Remember, the music you choose should enhance your piece, not be the star of the show. The best backing music is the backing music you're barely even aware is there.