How to Choose the BEST Music for Your Films

August 28, 2019

The One Thing You Need to Nail to Make Great Lifestyle Videos

The art of editing films is an invisible art. When you do it right, no one notices. But, when you do it wrong, everyone will notice. Think about that for a second.

I consider this to be the case when choosing the right music for your film as well. It can truly make or break a great video. If you’re doing it right, your viewers will feel all the emotions that you want them to feel without even realizing it. They may not know why or how you have made them reach for a tissue or laugh out loud. But the secret’s out: it has a lot to do with music.

However, when you do it wrong - it can feel cheesy, forced, and amateur.

By the way, if you're a wedding or lifestyle filmmaker, be sure to check out my top 51 picks for cinematic music for wedding films.

Let’s take a quick look at a few ways you can ensure that you’re picking the right music for your videos every time.

1 | Realize It Takes Time and Effort

So often I notice that beginner filmmakers treat music as an afterthought.

It’s not given the time or weight that the shot choices or main video edits are given.

This is completely backwards. In fact many times when I hear a song that speaks to me, it becomes the first step in my process. I create the video around that song. This doesn’t have to be the case, but sometimes it is.

The cuts, the movement, and the emotion of the film revolve around the tempo, energy, and flow of the music.

My main point here is to realize the importance of taking the time and energy to choose the best music for your video. Don’t skimp on this crucial step.

At times you’ll have a song already in mind and it will take no extra time, but many times you won’t have a song picked out yet and this step can take hours or days until you find the perfect fit. I just want you to know the reality of how normal that can be. Don’t rush through it. Keep digging until you find what works.

I’m going to share with you some of my favorite sites to find music as well as a few of my favorite songs, so you’ll have a head start on some great options that may save you a little time as you get started.

2 | Define the Mood of Your Film

Obviously, the mood of your music needs to match the tone of your story, but let’s dive a little deeper with this concept. We’ll take a closer look at a few most common genres of lifestyle filmmaking and dissect them one by one. I’ll note some key defining characteristics for each, as well as any additional thoughts.

Family Films: Can vary depending on your family’s personality and the specific events of the film. In general, you want the song to start quietly and build in intensity along with your storyline. Here’s a great example. You’ll need to look for songs that have some variation throughout: think slow and steady intro, build into a peak, and resolution. (Cinematic, Folk, Indie, Singer-Songwriter, Hopeful, Happy, Cheerful, Moving)

Newborn Films: Simple piano or guitar melodies work well. These songs are generally less complex than those for family films. They are generally soft, beautiful, and melodic. (Cello, Piano, Tender, Melodic, Soft, Beautiful, Acoustic, Classical)

Wedding Films: The most ‘cinematic’ of lifestyle films. You want a combination of something beautiful and moving along with a great variation of tempo and volume. You want a song that really builds and crescendos into an emotional moment (or several throughout) that you can match with key moments in your footage. (Cinematic, Beautiful, Emotional, Love, Romantic, Soul, Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Indie)

Travel Films: You can get really creative here - are you traveling out of the country? Can you match the vibe of where you are? Bluegrass for out west, world music for international travel, something more trendy/urban for city travel. (Hip Hop, World, Experimental, Upbeat, Cinematic, Uplifting, Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Indie)

Youtube/Vlogging Films: Try to match the theme of your content. You are most likely to use ambient music since you’ll likely be speaking over the music. (Ambient, Electronic, Hip Hop, Folk)

Corporate/Small Business Marketing Films: This can feel like the hardest genre to match, but it really doesn’t need to be. It’s so easy to pick something super repetitive and frankly, annoying, to listen to. Dig deeper. What is the film about? What qualities are you sharing about the company? Think about what genre of music is going to best portray those qualities. (Ambient, Cinematic, Folk, Hop Hop, Indie, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, Vintage)

3 | Make a Go-To List

When I’m driving in the car, I listen to music. When I’m getting ready in the morning, I listen to music. When I sit down at my computer to edit photos, I listen to music. And ALL this time, my ears are listening out for songs that could work in my films.

When I come across one that I love, I simply add it to a playlist. You can organize your playlists however makes sense for you. I have a separate one for newborn films, for vacations, and one for general filmmaking.

My favorite platform to listen to music is Spotify, but you can use whatever makes sense for your needs. Remember to keep in mind whether or not you’ll need your music to be copyright free. For home videos, it’s really not an issue and you can choose any songs you like. In this case, Spotify is perfect. Once I find the song I love, I go to iTunes and download it for $1. Not bad at all.

However, if you are selling your videos or interested in monetizing them online in any way, you need to make sure they are copyright free. See some of my favorite places to find these songs below for affordable prices.

spotify filmmaking playlist for handcraftfilms

4 | Top Music Sites for Filmmakers

It used to be that affordable copyright free music was the WORST. Even 10 years ago when I first started, this was the case. The music was just not very good. You could tell right away that it wasn’t written by a real artist. It was repetitive, boring, and oftentimes annoying.

Since then, with the continued popularity and accessibility of online marketing and vlogging, there are a number of sites that have realized this gap in good music content. There are now a handful of great sites that offer copyright free music for filmmakers. The music is from real musicians and can fit many genres of filmmaking. And you can find them for a very affordable cost.

Here are my four favorite sites. Check them out and browse the music options and interface for each. They are all excellent choices, you really can’t go wrong.

1 | Soundstripe

(Use my promo code: ‘handcraftfilms’ at checkout for a 10% discount)

2 | Musicbed

  • I’ve used this site since day 1. Great selection of music from real artists.
  • $9/month for personal accounts, $90/month for businesses and other prices in between, depending on your needs.
  • Can be used on youtube videos or for marketing purposes
  • Create your own playlists or used curated ones

3 | Artlist.io

  • $16.60/month includes unlimited downloads for a full year
  • Use in any project including commercials
  • Lifetime use for the songs you download
  • Pre-checked for youtube monetization
  • New music every day

5 | Try it Out

Before you commit to spending any money on a song (if you have an unlimited subscription, then no biggie, go ahead and download away), you want to test the song with your footage to make sure it feels right first.

With Spotify, you can simply play the song through the app while watching your video in Adobe Premiere. Don’t worry about exact timing at this point, you just need a rough idea of how the song will sound with your video edit.

If you have a downloaded version of the song (or several songs), go ahead and pull them into premiere. Set them below your footage and scrub through your edit. If you haven’t made any edits yet, you can listen to your potential songs as you review your footage. This is something I often do as I am organizing and getting started with my project.

It sets the mood for my edits and also gives me a head start on the time it will take to select the right music.

Like I mentioned before, don’t skimp on this part! If you haven’t found a song that feels right just yet, keep looking. Take your time. This step is arguably one of the most important and you should treat it that way.

Practice makes perfect. The more you go through this process and the more time you spend building your playlists, the easier and quicker the process will become. You’ll develop your own style and preference for music and your audience will notice.

I would love to hear what you all are using to find great music for your films. Share a few of your favorite songs or artists with us below! And by the way, I’m sharing my own favorite playlists soon, so stay tuned!

Happy shooting,

-Beth


Thanks for checking out a few of my favorite resources. Not only have I tested all of these sites, I stand behind each and every one of them. As an affiliate, I do receive compensation for mentioning my favorites, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you. I hope you end up enjoying some of these helpful tools as much as I do!

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how to choose best music for films

Hi, I'm Beth.

I started Handcraft Films to give other filmmakers and photographers the gift of documenting their own stories for years to come. I hope you'll learn something new and share your creativity here.
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