NEW 10 Tips for Adding Music to Film, Video, and You Tube : Updated!


10 Tips for Adding Music to Film, Video, and You Tube

With the advent of You Tube, almost anyone with a computer and a webcam can become a director. Here is something to think about:

70% of a viewer's movie enjoyment lies in the quality of the sound

Not 5%, or 25%, or an even 50-50%. In other words, most viewers prefer watching a cruddy movie with an AMAZING soundtrack than watching an inspiring and well-written story that has a junky soundtrack and the noise of jets from the nearby airport wrecking ever-so-inspiring dialogue. 

Another over-done mistake by You Tube and amateur directors is including the latest Top 40 hit as their soundtrack. Unless you have worked out copyright and license arrangements with the artist, while your video may have Oscar-worthy performances and a compelling script, it is no more than really good fan-art. Popular soundtracks have their own popularity and their own cultural connotations, which means use of these tracks already taints your work with the image of the artist. Besides, without the rights, you can never send your work to festivals or any higher level venues. 

So what is an aspiring director to do?

10 Tips for Adding Music to Film, Video, and You Tube

1) Make a deal with a local band.
There are plenty of college, indie and high school bands that would love to have an opportunity to contribute to your film. The easiest way to do this is to work out a written agreement where you use a few tracks from the band's latest album in return for you including the band in the credits, special seats on opening night, etc. This is great for projects that will most likely not get much in the way of revenue but can be great marketing opportunities for an amateur band.

Online you can find different venues that sell royalty-free music. You pay a nominal fee for some "freaky mystery music" and can use it without any qualms about paying the artist royalties. The BIG drawback is that you, as the director, have little input on changing the piece AND, there are probably hundreds of other videos out there with the same soundtrack. Think about Jaws without its characteristic soundtrack and you will hear what a drawback a canned soundtrack can be. This is great for short student projects, though. Also, even if Mozart's music is royalty-free, recordings of his music have their own set up copyrights unless you record yourself playing his music. The score is public domain, not recordings of a public domain song. Keep that in mind, as well.

3) Work with a local composer.
Earlier in my career I created soundtracks for little to no compensation to gain the experience filmscoring can afford a young composer. Talk to the university's music department and see if there are students willing to work with you for a nominal fee (maybe even pizza). Most students will not have the time to compose and sync up a full soundtrack for no compensation, but you usually can find someone that will create some tracks for you to drop in later in post production. 

4) Be respectful of the band/artist's time.
Be respectful of the composer's time. There is nothing more frustrating than spending weeks creating a compelling soundtrack only to have the director insist on having "something that sounds like Mozart". Then hire Mozart! This brings us to the next tip...

5) Have samples of what you want (a temp track).
Bring a CD, mp3s,  or have Youtube links of what you are looking for. If you want an uplifting reggae beat for a morose funeral scene, having a sample of what you are looking for will help the band/artist go in the right direction. Even Spielberg and John Williams have "temp tracks" running so Williams knows if Spielberg wants something more Mahler or Debussy.

6) Try to compose your own soundtrack.
This option can work if you at some point in your life have had a music background, especially piano. (Excuse me as I hide from my composition professors). Yes, composition is difficult, however, if you can improv on an instrument or have played in a band, there is a good chance that you have at least a small idea as to how to create music from scratch. Decide whether you will go acoustic with a good mic, compose on your Mac, or borrow the church's recording equipment, and then start working on picking (or plucking) out the first notes of your song. This might even work as a temp track for a professional later on in your career.

7) Use prerecorded loops and samples.
Okay, I admit that I HATE this suggestion. Why? Because every single prerecorded loop out there has been used by hundreds of other people. I remember in college, there was a CD of sound effects that every student ended up using for the final project. Imagine if every baby in the entire world cried the exact same cry. ACK! Garageband is a good example of a program that has amazing prerecorded music, but has probably been used to oblivion. Yet, at least once or twice a year I will hear a TV commercial using these overused recognized loops.

8) Spice up loops.
There are many ways to spice up loops. This can come from cutting and splicing them, reversing them, adding a different beat or adding in lush strings, changing the pitch, slowing them down or speed them up, etc. Experiment. One of my favorite tricks is taking a MIDI drum loop (different than an audio loop) and changing out the instruments (ex. to a wonky Synth), then adding in some delay. You can take a boring rock beat and transform it into an incredible sci-fi electronic dance beat.

9) Have the right equipment.
The right sound and recording equipment is imperative to having great sound. Even if you are only putting a video out on You Tube, good sound (low noise, no clipping, audible and clear), will make the experience much more enjoyable to your viewers.

10) Put as much thought into the music of your movie as you do into the cinematography. 
Directors tend to be visual. They think in terms of color, lighting, mood etc. Think about music in those terms, too. Music can be dark, light, blue, brooding, sad, happy, etc. Is your movie cold and calculating, the music can be, too. Is it a light-hearted coming of age story? Then the music can reflect this. Think about how the music will shape your story. Will the music be part of the story? Maybe the main character has a tendency to play sad songs on her guitar at night or the villain has a secret obsession with the cello. You never know how music can become intertwined in your story.

There are many paths to adding compelling music to your video projects. Be sure to spend a good amount of time thinking about the music. It can make the difference between an ordinary tale, or an extraordinary movie experience.


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