music for background

How To Use Background Music

What is the purpose of background music?

The purpose of background music is to create, maintain or build an atmosphere in your scene.

It allows a creator to convey a feeling and in a video, makes the audience more immersed in what is happening on-screen.

The five key points to remember for using background music successfully in your videos are:

  1. Match the feeling of the music to the feeling of the scene.
  2. Ensure the volume of the background music is correct. If you have character dialogue, the background music should be heard just below this and not drown out any speech.
  3. If you have dialogue or speech in your video, use background music that is instrumental music without vocals.
  4. If you have to trim your background music to fit a scene, check that there is not any noise or sudden “spikes” in the audio. To improve this add a sound effect like a fade-out to the beginning or end of the audio trim, just a second, to “turn down” any noise.
  5. Pay attention to the music genres to ensure your soundtrack is coherent and professional sounding.
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Where is background music used?

Background music if everywhere. From your local coffee shop to the latest Hollywood blockbuster, it is an essential part of our lives.

It can be an essential ingredient to selling a product, for example, the use of background music in advertising to help a consumer remember a brand or getting shoppers to buy more, for example, feel-good music in a clothes shop or to help tell a storey, for example, the use of background music in videos to convey a feeling and emphasise a message.

Did you know that in retail, according to research complete by The State of Brick & Morter Report, 84% of American shoppers find that when a store has background music playing, it makes the shopping experience more enjoyable? 

81% of shoppers reported a lift in mood with background music and 37% of consumers claimed that the right mood background music can encourage them to purchase. 

And that is just in the world of retail stores, for example, your local clothes and coffee shops.

This research shows how important background music is, therefore, when making a film, it is essential to get your background music right to help tell your story.

What is the difference between background music and theme music for film?

Background music is designed to sit in the background of a scene to create atmosphere and should not be noticeable to a viewer, theme music, on the other hand, is the memorable tune that is the audio tag for your video. 

Theme music is the much-loved movie music that soars and sticks in the viewer’s mind. Classic examples of famous theme music is the “Star Wars” theme music, “Back To The Future” &  “Indiana Jones”. 

As a composer, especially in the early days of my career I wanted to write, “Theme Music” and not “Background Music”. In my mind, background music was just simple melodies while theme music was the fun stuff!

As I have progressed in my career, I have learned that theme music gets all the glory but a film soundtrack is made or broken in the background music. 

A theme tune may only be used for a couple of minutes in a film or video, where as background music is used from beginning to end and is essential to get right.

video game code

When should I use background music in videos and films?

This will vary from video to video, but the best tip from my experience of syncing music to a video is to just listen and ask yourself,

  • What do I feel?
  • Am I bored? (This indicates a lack of atmosphere if you are.)

If you still don’t know if you should use background music in your videos, why not do a simple test? Download some free background music of different genres and slot them into your video to see if it elevates your video and helps.

If you feel something good when dropping in your background music, you know you are on the right track.

Who adds background music to films and video?

In mainstream movies, a sound designer will typically add or sync the background music as part of the film or video soundtrack.

This can vary of course and there are no hard and fast rules. With so much background music available online, anyone from the director, to sound designer to the composer to indie filmmaker can download background music and sync it in their videos and films. 

Are sound effects background music?

Sound effects are ambient sounds that enhance the audio and atmosphere of a film or video.

Although by definition, sound effects are not background music, using just sound effects instead of background music can be just as effective, especially in horror and tense scenes where the silence between sound effects can create an awkward and tense atmosphere

There are some fantastic examples of how composers and sound designers have used sound effects only instead of background music in movies.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “Rope”,  the lack of music adds to the drama. We have some on-screen music, for example, a phonograph at about 40 minutes and the main character playing the piano, but otherwise, there is no added background music as we would identify it.  

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How to use background music successfully in your videos – key steps explained:

Background music is an essential part of your filmmaking and video production and most indie filmmakers will find themselves without a budget to hire a sound designer and therefore must sync the background music themselves.

Here are the top five tips for syncing background music to your videos:

1. Match the mood of the music to the mood of the scene

Background music is all about creating atmosphere, ambience and feeling, therefore ensure that the feelings you get when listening to background music correlate the feelings you want to portray in your video.

For example, you have a scary scene, use scary background music.

It may sound simple and straightforward but so many filmmakers make this mistake, mostly because they have a music track they love and want to use regardless of whether it is appropriate or not.

So take a step back and listen and ask yourself – does your background music and video shot marry perfectly? Is the background music noticeable?

Being so close to your film project, you can see why syncing background music yourself to your own video can be a challenge so don’t forget to sanctity check with a friend and ask someone else’s opinion but if you get the feeling or mood of the background music right, you will be on the right path.

2. Ensure the volume of the background music is correct. 

Background music should not be noticeable by the viewer. If your background music volume level is not balanced and correct, it will be noticed by the viewer and could annoy them or detract from the feelings and mood of the scene that you are trying to communicate.

If you have character dialogue, the background music should be heard just below this and not drown out any speech.

Remember, background music is for the background and should sit comfortably within the volume levels of the overall film soundtrack and not be too loud as to annoy your view or too low as to be ineffective. 

3. If you have dialogue in your scene, use background music that is instrumental music without vocals.

If you have dialogue that you want your viewer to hear in your video, ensure you use instrumental background music without any vocals.

All audio has frequency ranges and different parts of the frequency range are used by different sounds and musical instruments.

If you have vocals in your background music and dialogue in your video, these two voices will be competing for the same audio space and you won’t hear either voice clearly. This can be very difficult for a viewer to understand.

There are examples of filmmakers using, for example, a high female character voice in their dialogue and a low male singing voice in their background music.  Because these two voices are not in the same frequency range, they don’t compete for the same audio space and both voices can be heard clearly, but this takes incredible skill to do right.

In a nutshell, if you have dialogue or speech in your video, ensure your background music is instrumental only with no vocals.

4. Trimming background music to fit a scene

If you have to trim your background music to fit a scene, check that there is not any noise or sudden “spikes” in the audio. These noises and “spikes” are caused by cutting the audio track at a loud point.

Below is an image of an audio file. If this is your background music and you have to trim this audio to fit your video, ensure that you trim the file at a “quiet” point. Do not trim the audio file at the highest or loudest point as this will create noise.

how to trim background music

To improve background music audio trimming add a sound effect like a fade-out to the beginning or end of the audio trim, just a second, to “turn down” any residual noise.

5. Pay Attention to Music Genres

As a songwriter, I often forget that filmmakers may not be aware of the variety of musical genres out there.

It can be useful to keep your genres coherent. For example, if you are producing a film using mostly grime music, you suddenly should not change to country music unless the video footage demands it.

Keeping your background music limited to one genre can help focus your video and ensure the feelings and mood that you are trying to convey to your viewer is kept consistent.

Plus, limiting yourself to one music genre also takes away hours of stress looking for background music!

background music depiction

Where can I find free background music for videos?

Background music can be widely found and downloaded online, both paid for and for free. In fact, there is so much good background music available and so many stock music libraries out there, most filmmakers are experiencing decision overload.

Here are the best places to find free background music for videos. 

background music library

Louise Byrne Music

Good for Free Background Music Because:

✔️ Free music with attribution.

✔️ All free music is of high quality and offered in MP3 and WAV format.

✔️ A full commercial licence is issued with an invoice to prove you can use the music legally.

✔️ Instant download

free music

Bensound

Good for Free Background Music Because:

✔️ Free music with attribution.

✔️ Good selection and variety of tracks.

✔️ Easy to navigate website with instant music downloads.

music library

Incompetech

Good for Free Background Music Because:

✔️ Free music with attribution.

✔️ Great variety of tracks.

✔️ Clear licence terms and FAQs

Louise Byrne Music Producer Profile

Louise Byrne is a UK based Songwriter and Music Producer who writes & produces music for filmmakers, video games & content creators.

Her music has been used globally by major broadcasting houses & brands such as MTV, Discovery Channel, Discovery Science Channel, The History Channel, Fox Sports, VISA, BBC, NBC Sports & many more.

      

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.

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