Just as you have to prep before capturing good audio during production, you should plan to choose music for your video in advance. It’s not uncommon to start thinking about this while you’re writing your script, or even earlier. That’s because the soundtrack to your film sets the mood — and it can even be an important part of the plot. Adding the right track can provide subtle, effective background music, or stand as an iconic addition to a scene. But where to begin?
My first piece of music-picking advice is similar to most aspects of shooting video: plan, plan, plan! It’s important to have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your music. Will it be background music, or a more prevalent foreground track? Will it be diegetic or non-diegetic? ...and what is diegetic and non-diegetic??
Diegetic sound occurs within the actual narrative, like that Spring Break Road Trip ‘05 mixtape playing in someone’s car, or whatever wretched sounds are pre-programmed on your phone to wake you up every morning. Non-diegetic sound occurs outside of that, like most scoring done for films, or when a romantic song plays while people run through waves crashing on the beach (or whatever people in love do).
Here’s a great example of using diegetic music, from one of Vimeo’s favorites “Thunder Road,” where the main character performs Bruce Springsteen’s hit as tribute to his late mother:
So ask yourself: what mood do you want your audience to feel? Is this a happy story that you want to fill their hearts with overwhelming joy? Or will the storyline break those hearts instead? A playful, upbeat track will help accentuate the former, while a song in a minor key will help get the waterworks flowing.
In “The Marvel Symphonic Universe,” you’ll see how when music is in the background, it won’t be as memorable or evoke emotion as much. In fact, taking that music out might not even change the experience for the viewer. Whether or not the track is in the background or the foreground all depends on the intensity of the mood and energy you want the audience to feel.
There are a variety of resources you can use to find music for your video, but the most important rule is this: make sure you can legally use the music. You can do that by either finding free music, or purchasing music specifically for your video. Vimeo has a ton of partners you can use, all listed in the Vimeo Help Center. Some filmmakers will find music that they like online and just reach out to that artist for permission to use it.
And don’t forget that you can always hire an actual person to create a score for your video or use a friend’s track (with their consent, of course). Or if you are strapped for cash, but still want something ultra-original, you can pull a John Carpenter and write the score for your own films.
The music created for “L.A. Dreamers,” a documentary about five aspiring hip-hop dancers from Japan, matches the visuals perfectly. With a voiceover in the first portion of the film, the soundtrack underneath it helps build the excitement of their journey. That energy increases until the 2:57 mark, when we’re all just wowed by the sheer talent of these dancers. Watch it below for scoring inspiration:
If you’re still at a loss for what kind of music to use, the best thing you can do is research: watch as many videos as you can and pay attention to the music in each one. You’ll start recognizing what you do (and don’t) want for your own film, and everything will start to fall into place. Whether you make us cry, raise our blood pressure with fear, or let us pleasantly not even notice the soft classical music in the background, we’re stoked to see what you come up with!