Choosing the right music for your video can seem like a daunting task. For starters, your music will dictate the overall mood of video; depending on the project, it can also play a crucial role in bringing audiences into the throes of your plot. (Case in point? The Jaws soundtrack).

Regardless of what type of video you’re making, there are a few universal principles to consider as you’re choosing your tunes. We cover them all below.

Always be planning

Similar to most aspects of making a video, think about the role music will play in your production before you go to production. In fact, it’s not uncommon to start thinking about music as you’re writing your script, or even earlier.

While you’re compiling your shot list, think strategically about how your soundtrack will influence production and post-production. How many scenes call for music? Will there ever be dialogue over your music? Will picking a certain song make the editing of a scene more difficult? And so on.

Diagetic vs non-diagetic

Both diagetic and non-diagetic are great for ambiance but serve highly different purposes. Non-diegetic music occurs outside of the film’s reality (think film scores). Diegetic sound, on the other hand, occurs within the narrative: a record player spinning at a dinner party, or the radio playing in someone’s car.

Know your rights

There are a variety of resources you can use to source music for your video, but always, always, always make sure you can legally use that music. In other words, try not to pull a Stanley Kubrick à la 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The good news is you can avoid the lawsuits just by sourcing legitimate music. Both free and purchased music is readily available to use in your videos, and we have a bunch of music partners you can use. Other resourceful filmmakers simply find music that they like online and reach out to that artist for permission.

You can also hire an actual musician to compose an original score for your video. Or if you’re tight on time and budget, but still want something ultra-original, evoke John Carpenter and write a minimalist score yourself.

What should your audience feel?

Are you telling a happy story or a heartbreaker? The tone of your music can help dictate the emotional weight of your scene. Going for a surrealist vibe? Try pairing a sad song over a happy scene, and vice versa.

Still not sure?

If you’re still not certain about what kind of music you want to use, the best thing you can do is research. Watch lots of videos and pay attention to their use of music. Eventually, you’ll hone in on what you want for your own project. The rest will fall into place.

Header image from “How Improvisation Saved My Life” by Tessa Chong.


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