A Guide to Finding the Right Music for Your Movie Projects
You’re in the editing stage for your film, and your gut is telling you that there’s still something missing. The cuts, colours and editing are perfect, but it’s still in need of that one single touch…music.
So, let’s source some music.
Hours later you find yourself scrolling through the entire internet, browsing through the entire collection of music not finding any works that speak to you. Frustrated and tired, all you want is one piece of good music for your work.
How can you source the perfect music for your projects without spending an excessive amount of time? Allow me to show you these 5 extremely easy to follow steps:
1. The Music’s Purpose in Your Project
Consider this, do you want the music to take up a background presence, or foreground presence? These are the commonly used 2 types of music purpose for any film projects. Music for ‘background presence’ are typically aurally minimal and textural whereby it doesn’t draw too much attention towards itself, therefore it’s widely used alongside narrative-heavy scenes, emotive performances, interviews, meditations and so on. On the contrary, music for ‘foreground presence’ are typically aurally extroverted and catchy, whereby its purpose is to draw attention towards itself to highlight a strong statement, therefore it’s widely used alongside trailers, brand promos, drone/wide angle footages, adrenaline and so on.
2. The Purpose of Your Project
Why did you start this film project?
The more detailed and precise the message of your films are, the easier it is to narrow down what your films need in music. Music for films are usually written specifically for films, meaning they’d function the best when placed in the right film, as you can see a thorough understanding in the purposes for both music and film must go hand in hand. Especially if you’re working on a more intense, thought-provoking type of film project, we recommend sourcing for music that hits the heart of the message behind your films, rather than finding music that suits the immediate on screen actions/narratives. Music is widely used as a medium to translate emotions, and characterising environments and thoughts, thus doing so will provide a more cinematic touch to your film projects.
This is not to say that the latter way it’s ineffective, as rules are always broken in filmmaking and any artistries. For example, neutral toned music is usually highly effective when it comes to genres such as reality TV, heavy-narrative documentaries, and investigative.
3. Audience’s Musical Preferences
Is your film aimed at children, adults, corporate businesses, upper class society, specific continents…? A general understanding of your audience’s demographics and what music they like/listen to can go a long way.
Source for music that fits your target audiences which can be filtered based on musical genres. The table below is a quick list of the different music genres that appeals to different types of audiences. Keeping in mind that this is not a rule in any forms, but simply statistically proven to be effective for most film projects. Use the table below as a guide but feel free to stay open to try using brand new music that you may not have used/thought of before!
In the perspective of a music composer, we tend to work around film and music references, using them as a guideline to gather ideas and maintain cohesive musical style throughout the film/music album. We believe this method would work well for any filmmakers who’s sourcing for music. Once you’ve gathered all of the information you need from Step 1 to 3, download the music that you’ve sourced and organise them clearly in a folder or playlist.
4. Pacing is Key
What you should be aiming for is to find a piece of music that matches with the rhythm, spotting and tone of your project. Is it dark and menacing? Or a celebration for high achievements? Perhaps it’s a clashing blend of both?
Before you get too excited and start placing all sorts of music to your project on Adobe Premiere (been there done that!), have a glimpse on the 2-step-advice below. This will save you a massive amount of time and the last thing you need is having a pair of fatigue, information overload ears!
Jot down the timeframe where you’d need music, and key hitpoints to when the music fades out or changes in mood - whether it’s one minute worth of sentimental piano piece, or a 3 minutes long percussive piece for a battle sequence. By knowing how long you need the music to be you’re able to narrow down exactly what you’d need from a track.
Some tracks stay tonally consistent from the start to end, while the others may develop from dark to hopeful, positive to negative and vice versa. By knowing how long you need the music for and key hitpoints, you should then aim to source for a piece of music that aligns with the timeframe and hitpoints you need. This should then provide you with better transitions and ensure a cohesive flow from scene to scene.
Fun Tip: If you’re a person who is more musically inclined, you can try to imagine and feel the rhythm/BPM of your cuts. This doesn’t have to be exact. If you manage to identify a rough BPM to your cuts, you can narrow the music down to pieces that fits within the BPM range. For example, if the BPM for your cuts are approximately 100BPM, try to source for music pieces within the range of 90 - 110 BPM. This is a commonly used trick by film composers when it comes to film scoring. There’s a huge chance that if the music aligns to the rhythm of your film’s cuts, it’d already be fitting to the overall tone.
5. Trying Out Audio and Video
Finally, we’ve come to the most exciting part - fitting the music to the video. This stage is a trial-and-error experimentation, pretty self-explanatory. A key note in this stage is to keep an eye on the way the music fades in and fades out. Typically, you’d want to avoid abrupt placements as that would giveaway too much attention, instead always aim to have a smooth transition in, or transition out. A general rule of thumb for film scoring is that if the audience didn’t notice the music has entered or left, that means the music is effective!
And that’s the 5 simple steps to source for the perfect music for your projects without spending an excessive amount of time. I hope you find some answers to your questions through this guide!
I’d leave the editing to you now, the professional filmmaker/decision-maker!
Words by Jia Lee