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Low Budget Film and Video Tips: Choosing the Right Music Without Breaking the Bank

Low Budget Film and Video Tips:  Choosing the Right Music Without Breaking the Bank

Professional tips on choosing the right music for your film or video project. CONTENT: Unless you happen to have a multi-million dollar budget and the right connections, you will not have the privilege of having Danny Elfman, Rachel Portman, or John Williams compose the music to your next film or video project. However, with some smart planning and a bit of networking, you can have a professional quality soundtrack for your film or video.


First you need to decide what type of music you want for your project. Do you want a combination of edgy bands and electronica to propel your sci-fi action flick forward? Do you want a lush orchestral score to envelop your listeners in a compelling drama? Are you absolutely convinced that your film will not work with anything less than a Bartok string quartet? Experiment with different music styles behind each scene. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes the action feels stagnant without a riveting soundtrack. If your film takes place in an exotic locale, research music indigenous to that culture. You may find that a touch of Balinese gamelan, Mariachi, or even nature sounds, adds just enough authenticity to your work to propel it to the next level.


Adding the right music is integral to your film's success. To use any music, you must procure the rights from the artist. If this is your first film, hooking up with a local band or composer who wants some added exposure may be your best bet. For student projects, you can sometimes arrange for an in-kind agreement, where the composer receives film and album credit and some proceeds from album sales, in exchange for composing for your film. A local band might be happy just for the exposure and maybe a gig playing for your film's opening night.

If you do opt to purchase music, be sure you are very clear about the rights of the piece or look for "royalty free" music often on sale online. This music may be after initial purchase without worrying about paying the artist royalties. However, this music has probably been used in countless other films and projects. Additionally, there are literally hundreds of classical scores and songs that are in the public domain. What this means is that you may be able to take an older popular song or classical piece and record your own musicians playing the piece. This does not mean that you can dub in the London Symphony's rendition of your favorite Mendelssohn work.

Have a little bit of musical ability? You may want to experiment with creating your own tunes with consumer friendly programs like Garageband, Audacity or Fruity Loops. Your local university may have a beginner's electronic music or sound engineering class available to take, or you might ask to intern at a local studio or with a local band. Although almost anyone can string a series of drum loops together, it takes years of practice to train one's ears to hear technical problems, develop good musical themes, and know how to apply them convincingly with a film. Working with musicians to create your soundtrack will help you get the best music for your film.

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