Music: The Third Rail of Video

Music adds energy and emotion. It can be used to emphasize or distract. The beats per minute (BPM) set the pace, while the genre or type of selection will set the time, location, or tone of a scene.

Like your heart rate, slow BPM is calm, soothing, gentle. Fast is high energy, powerful. When partnering music with visuals during editing, it becomes a dance, connecting all layers in the audio-visual composition. Pacing your edit to the musical beat helps establish that subtle, sub-conscious dance.

The support music offers any production is powerful, but it’s a double-edged tool. If applied to support the story, the visuals or the narration, it can take a project to the next level. If used to replace lacking dynamic visuals or weak storyline, it becomes distracting and will quickly destroy the quality of an entire project.

Music selection, like many aspects of production, is part knowledge, part experience, and part art form. Having that intuitive creative insight, understanding the motivation and emotion a project should convey, goes beyond anything that can be taught.

There’s also skill, and a bit of luck, in finding that perfect sound or composition. Knowing where to search and how to search through hundreds of thousands of options, across many different licensed content services, can be time consuming and frustrating. But once you find that perfect track, it’s almost magical.

Beyond the creative, there’s technical and legal aspects to consider.

audio mixing

The Technical

Once you’ve found that perfect track of music, another consideration is file format, bit rate, and general recording quality. Most licensed music offers professional level quality, but when working within a tight budget, you’ll notice the quality of music and formats decrease with the less expensive options. Depending upon the intended viewing audience, it could become the weakest link in a great production.

Applying music to a project intended for web viewing, a large audience in a banquet hall, or theatrical distribution, all require consideration of the acoustics.

Most music tracks are safe, within a standard frequency range with better than average recording quality. For example, when playing a web video, the viewer could be using their phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, or streaming it directly to their home theater. That’s quite a range of speakers to consider. In such cases, it’s best to avoid music tracks with heavy bass or frequent high frequency sound. However, in theatrical releases with amazing sound systems installed in acoustically designed theaters, such range of frequencies can add that extra punch.

analyzing audio files

The Legal

A production may be a personal project for fun, or something simply shared with friends, though any unlicensed use of music is copyright infringement and subject to liability. There are a few grey areas in copyright law, such as fair use and satirical. Such approaches are “thread the needle” legal balancing acts best interpreted by experts in the field.

The best advice, when in doubt, leave it out.

Record labels and artists now utilize automated copyright infringement services, which scan uploaded media on the internet for potential copyright infringement violations. Adding anything but original or clearly licensed content to a production can be a very costly mistake. There is no place to hide when uploading and sharing your final product.