Navigating the Landscape of Royalty Free Music

3 Tips To Make Your Life Easier

Any seasoned editor will tell you that finding music for a client is the bane of their existence.  They will also tell you it’s the most time spent with the least amount of pay off.  Hearing things like, “I don’t totally hate it,” or “well it’s not totally terrible” or my personal favorite, “love the cut, hate the music” regarding a cut you show a client that was supposed to be ‘final’ draft, will induce responses that are unbecoming of the totally ‘sane’ people we editors are.  I say ‘sane’ lightheartedly as we all know you have to be a little crazy to enjoy sitting in Premiere sifting through your client’s content, trying to piece together a puzzle that would make Walter Murch proud.  

Through years of experience, I’ve come up with three easy steps to steer you in the right direction for when you put on your newly delegated ‘producer’ hat and have to scrape the Internet for the perfect track or sound effects that will help you sell your edit.

#1: Know Your Client

This may not always be easy, especially with a new client, but knowing their taste in music is super helpful!  This goes far beyond that though and reaches deeper than knowing their genre of choice.  I don’t have to tell you that music and the psychology of sound are way deeper than the music itself.  Knowing things like the client’s age and upbringing, types of film they enjoy, and what their favorite color is, etc. will help you to determine their musical taste.  Now obviously you won’t always get a chance to do extensive research on your client, nor will you always get to hand them a questionnaire that will answer some of these things.  But as anyone who has read this far will know, nowadays we are more than likely the videographers shooting, as well as the editors, and we tend to wear multiple hats throughout production.  I often tell my clients that I’d like to be on set during the shoot days if I’m not the one shooting, just so I can better understand them and their vibe.  Simple things like letting them choose the music on set, or discussing favorite films, colors and clothing/fashion can all be super useful pieces of information that can be gleaned simply by you being there on set interacting with them.

#2: Know your Footage/Content

This one should be obvious as an editor, but I’d be lying to you if I told you every edit I do, I sift through all the footage and watch ALL of it.  We of course scrub through a majority of it, but in today’s fast-paced environment of Post production, where they wanted it yesterday, it’s hard to view it all.  There are a few key things to check for that can really help you understand the intention/direction of the edit and thus start you in the right direction for your music search.  

The first and obviously most telling thing, is frame rate.  I shoot and edit a variety of content from underwater, to fashion, to narrative, and one thing that’s always changing is the frame rate.  For the majority of my fashion clients, I shoot in slow motion for a couple of reasons, one to help smooth out less than ideal camera work when clients don’t want to pay for a Free Fly Systems movi pro gimbal and/or ready rig vest for stabilization, and two because life is just more sexy in slow motion. (If it wasn’t, the infamous Baywatch running scene wouldn’t have been a thing.)  Based off of that info alone, I know a slower song is in order to match the mood and vibe of the slow-motion footage.

Another key piece of information to look for in footage is color. How did the DP light the scene? Did he have a lot of color contrast? Is it heavily gelled, or are the color palettes neutral?  This is hard to assess if you’re looking at log or raw footage but hopefully your DP was nice to you and shot proxies with a look baked in so you can get a sense of what he was going for.  Better yet, maybe he was nice enough to give you the LUT he was using to monitor color on set.  By looking at the color, you can begin to get a feel for the mood of the piece, which again, gets you started in the right direction for your musical hunt.

#3: Know your Audience/Target Market

Now this one can be difficult because with the ‘budget squeezing’ we’ve been seeing in our industry, more and more clients are creating less content and pitching it to all the markets, hoping it will land with a few of them. But if the client has a target market in mind for the content, this can be extremely helpful.  For example, one of the brands I work for is a rental-based fashion brand.  Their customers can rent ‘looks’ for the month and can either return them or can purchase and keep their look permanently.  This knowledge helps me understand their target market a bit better and since it’s fashion client, I know the content is going to be seasonal and trend driven. 

That’s an example for one type of client and content creation, while another example is my underwater shooting.  This tends to be slow motion and depending on where I’m diving, determines the water color, either green or blue, which addresses step one and two, but leaves it open ended on step three the ‘target audience’.  For most of my underwater personal work (i.e. not for TV or commercials) I have a theme of conservation, therefore I can better determine my target audience.  With conservation you want to reach a broad audience. You want the older generations to see and hear your message but really, I think it’s more important for the younger generations to see and hear the message.  They are the future, will be coming into voting power, and will be the ones most affected by climate change.  Therefore, my target audience, although broad, will lean towards a younger market.

These tips are the first three areas I consider before I begin my music search, and honestly, it helps me cut my time in half.  An added benefit is it also allows me to find songs for later projects as I’m browsing for the current project, since I’ve come to learn my repeat client’s aesthetics, style, and target audience.  I’ll have days where I’m browsing through AudioMicro.com and I’ll hear a song that may not be right for my fashion client, but would be perfect for that sustainable fish sourcing project I’m working on, so I’ll download it and save it for later.

Hopefully, these tips help you navigate your way through the bumpy seas of finding royalty free music for your client video projects.  Thanks for reading.

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Ryan Waller is a true nomadic soul, at heart. Finding his grounding in the world of film and motion production, Ryan has been working passionately as a colorist and editor in Los Angeles, California. Ryan’s first love though is and always has been the sea. When he isn’t working on land as a filmmaker and artist, Ryan is leading expeditions on the water teaching people the values of sustainable fishing and proper ecological practices. His merging of art and water has helped him become one of the predominant water based motion picture artists in Los Angeles.

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