In a competitive online space with hours of amazing content available to watch and listen to, it can be hard for your content to stand out.
Many creators are now turning to custom theme music to give their content a special boost and extra level of professionalism. From YouTube videos to Podcasts and everything in-between, any content could benefit from using custom music.
Custom theme music is music that is unique, original, and owned exclusively by one creator. Being unique and original, it will stand out and, with time, can become associated exclusively with your content. Custom theme music can be any form of sound from short intros to long cinematic songs.
Many people believe that custom theme music is extremely expensive and only for larger budget films and content. This is not true anymore.
In this article I want to look at:
- What is custom theme music?
- Why is custom theme music important?
- What is the difference between theme and background music?
- How can I make my own theme song?
- How to add custom theme music to content.
- Where to find custom theme music.
What Is Custom Theme Music?
Custom theme music is music that is memorable and powerful, often heard on intros, outros, and key scenes in a film, video game, YouTube video or content.
Traditionally, the theme music was often just known as the main piece of music associated with a Hollywood film. For example, the main music in the Harry Potter or Star Wars films is the classic movie theme music. When you hear that music, you know it and, more importantly; you know the movie it came from.
Although theme music is fundamental to these blockbuster films, and an important tool for Hollywood, anyone can harness the power of custom theme music. Even a new YouTube channel with zero views.
When used correctly, it can capture your audience and get them excited about your content.
There are lots of small YouTube channels I watch and when I hear their custom theme music, I get all happy inside! The custom music that they use, which is unique to their channel, tells my brain that good content is on the way.
Why Is Custom Theme Music Important?
When it comes to music in content, music is a tool to help tell your story or promote your message.
Custom theme music is really important as it represents your brand and is another way to get your content in the mind of your audience.
You might use a small piece of custom music (known as an ident, audio logo or audio tag), and whenever your audience hears that music, they think of you.
If you have a really great piece of custom theme music, it will stay in the mind of your audience long after they have finished watching or listening to your content. That is powerful.
What Is The Difference Between Theme And Background Music?
In content production, different music has different functions. Background music and theme music have two very different functions when producing content.
Custom theme music is a tune associated with your brand and is typically used on intros and outros. Wherever you place the music, you want your audience to hear and remember it.
Background music stays in the background of your content and is used to aid your message by creating a mood or feeling to enhance your message. You are not interested in your audience hearing this background music; it is there for atmosphere only.
In today’s YouTube video market, creators are becoming more adventurous with custom theme music and using it in more and more creative ways.
Unlike background music that is transitory, custom theme music will stay with your audience.
How Can I Make My Own Theme Song?
There are many creative ways non-musicians can make their own theme song.
Here are some options for you to start making and recording music:
1. Download Free Software, “Audacity”.
Audacity is a free and open-source piece of recording software.
If you already play some musical instruments or want to get creative and record some unique sounds yourself, then this is a great tool to do this.
Audacity is a little intimidating at first if you are not familiar with recording software. However, once you start to find your way around the interface, you will discover that it is very powerful.
Once you get a recording down, there are lots of amazing extra features, such as EQ (equalisation), sound editing and processing tools to help you clean your sound and improve it.
Granted, you will need a microphone and a PC to use this software, but from a recording standpoint, it is one of the best free audio recording software out there.
Audacity is a recording software only. Currently, there is no option to use inbuilt sounds to make your own music within the software; so in order to make your own theme song with Audacity, you will need to record audio in.
2. GarageBand For Mac
If you are a Mac user, GarageBand will be installed by default on your machine.
GarageBand is a free, and excellent software provided as standard on Mac. It is a fully equipped music creation studio.
You do not need any expert musical knowledge to create on GarageBand and there are lots of YouTube tutorials showing you how to get started.
Don’t worry if you are not musical. Start by picking one of the many free and inbuilt drum loops and start adding some melodies that you create over it (that is music composition). Just play and have fun.
Before you know it, you will have a unique theme tune that is all yours!
To really use GarageBand to maximum effect, I recommend you get a MIDI piano keyboard.
MIDI stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” and will plug directly into the USB slot of your Mac. When you launch GarageBand, you will then be able to play all the musical instruments, from pianos to guitars and drums etc with GarageBand, by hitting the keys of the piano.
This will allow you to build songs quickly and get creative with your sound.
If you are on an older Mac, ensure that your chosen MIDI piano keyboard is compatible, as there have been rumours of compatibility issues with new MIDI piano keyboards and older Macs.
3. Cakewalk For PC
To my knowledge, unlike MAC, PCs do not come with music creation software installed as standard, so you will need to download an external free music creation package.
There are many on the market that do an awesome job, but one of the best is “Cakewalk”
Currently, Cakewalk is free and just like GarageBand for Mac, it is a fully equipped music studio in one software package.
Again, to get the best from your software, it is a good idea to invest in a MIDI piano keyboard.
Just plug this MIDI piano keyboard into your PC and just start jamming using the piano and instruments’ sounds stored within the software.
4. Use Music Loops
Music loops are short sections of music. They could be anything, from drum beats to guitar melodies.
If you have zero musical knowledge and want to create your theme music quickly, it is possible to find music loops and layer them up to build your own track.
These music loops need to be downloaded or used from a safe and well-established music library to ensure you are not in any violation of copyright.
Ensure you get your music loops (also known as samples) from a company that allows you to layer the music to create new music.
The supplier of the music loops will always own the copyright on the original looped sounds. You will never be able to download a music loop, leave it unchanged and claim it as your own.
But there are companies that produce music loops or samples, with the aim of music creators using these loops as a foundation to build on and create new music.
For example, with the professional music production software I use, Logic Pro, a full library of music loops is provided, including orchestral melodies, drum beats and guitar riffs.
Personally, I don’t create songs with music loops very often as I am a musician and I want to create new melodies, but for those in a rush who need a new theme tune created in 10 minutes, it is a quick approach.
If you don’t have a pro music production software with pre-cleared music loops installed, you can purchase music loops externally.
It is then possible to use a piece of software such as Audacity to import these music loops, set a universal tempo, and start experimenting with how the sounds work together.
At the end of the process, although you are using generic music loops that anyone can download, because you arranged them in a way unique to you, you will have your own piece of unique sounding theme music.
Just make sure your music licence allows you to use the music loops in this way.
How To Add Custom Theme Music To Content
It can be really exciting getting custom theme music that you love and it is understandable that you will want to put it everywhere and anywhere on your content.
Or perhaps you are a little nervous about overusing your custom music, which is perfectly understandable.
Adding Custom Theme Music To Online Content
Typically, adding custom music to online content such as YouTube videos is straightforward, with most creators using the following locations to place their music:
- Intro music
- Outro music
Personally, I find it is best to copy what your favourite creators are doing. If you like what they do, then there is a good chance others will like what you do.
Next time you are listening to or watching your favourite content, podcast or live stream, carefully listen to where any theme music is placed and how it is used.
Adding Custom Theme Music To An Indie Film
Once you step outside the world of general online content such as YouTube videos, podcasts and game streams and into the world of longer-form content such as indie films, a lot more skill is required when using theme music.
Custom theme music is essential in telling your story and it is important to sync the music correctly to film and avoid overuse.
Many new filmmakers play theme music everywhere; intro, outro, action shots, no action shots, etc. This is a really common approach, but unfortunately, this overuse will completely reduce the impact of the music. Even worse, it may annoy your audience.
Syncing theme music can be very tricky and it is an art form that can take years to master. However, there is a shortcut you can take to get your music score up and running quickly as a beginner.
One of the best approaches to syncing theme music as a beginner is to use “theme variations” and only allow the main theme music to play when your main character is in shot.
I appreciate that this might be a lot to take in and understand. Let’s look at an example of how to use theme music to the best effect: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”
Watch the trailer below and note that the famous “Indiana Jones” theme music melody is only heard when our main character, Indiana, is in the shot and in a moment of great triumph, action, and success.
The main theme music is not played continuously. Variations are used when other characters (not our hero Indiana) are in shot.
The rest of this action scene has different variations of the main music theme.
Low evil horns for the bad guys, horn stabs for the action shots etc; all variations of the main theme music, but not the classic “Indiana Jones” melody.
The classic “Indiana Jones” melody is reserved for shots of Indiana in moments of glory or action.
The entire film is produced like this, with Indiana Jones, the bad guy, the little boy, and the love interest, all having different melodies that play when they are in shot. The music is constantly reinforcing their character and storyline.
By reserving the main custom theme music melody for when your main character is in the shot, and using variations of the theme elsewhere, you will avoid overuse.
Where To Find Custom Theme Music?
The best place to find custom theme music is directly from an independent music composer.
There are many independent music composers online offering this service, but if you want to see music costs upfront, and through a system where the creation process is carefully managed, I recommend Fiverr.
On Fiverr, there is an amazing source of musical talent wanting to write custom theme music for you. Starting from as little as $15, you can start using original and custom theme music in your content.
When using an independent music composer, ensure that the music you get ticks the following boxes:
- Can be used for commercial use. In other words, make sure you can use the music in your monetised content.
- Is exclusive to you, as you don’t want your custom theme music to be used by others.
- Has high-quality audio, so the music sounds great.