Using background music in interviews is a wonderful way to promote the tone of your interviews, create engagement with your audience and enhance your message by evoking certain feelings in your listener.
Interview background music is used to enhance the atmosphere of a narration, conversation, or interview. Many podcasters, broadcasters, and YouTubers use interview background music to make their interviews and conversations sound more engaging.
It may sound a bit strange, but the best interview background music is music that you don’t hear or notice.
There is a real skill involved with selecting the right type of interview music for your production and then, mixing it with the dialogue for the best effect.
Do it right, and the effort will be worth it. Get it wrong, and the message of the interview will be lost.
Let’s explore the right way to pick interview background music, set the correct volume levels, and find out where to go to get copyright safe music for your interviews.
Should an interview have background music?
Selecting background music for an interview is a skill and many people get it wrong, therefore, many people will wonder, should an interview have background music at all?
Personally, having worked with sound production for over 10 years, you should definitely explore using background music for interviews.
Of course, if you find it too difficult to do, and are nervous about the result, don’t use it. It is more important that your interview is broadcast clearly and your message is conveyed properly.
However, if you want to take your podcast, YouTube channel, or other media interviews up to the next level, seriously consider learning about the art of interview background music and how to use it correctly.
Let’s dive into how to choose the right interview background music and how to set your volume levels!
How do you choose the right interview background music?
The following list will act as a roadmap to help you choose the right interview background music.
Some of these questions may seem obvious, but trust the process and really think about your music and write down an answer to each item number.
- Do you need interview background music?
- Whiter you need interview background music or not will depend on the topic and duration of the interview.
- Some common sense is needed here, for example a short 60 second interview about a football game would sound great with sport hype music in the background, however, a serious topic interview about someone who lost a loved one is best without any music. Silenece speaks volumes in this instance.
- What is the primary mood, tone or feeling of the interview?
- Writing down the primary mood, tone or feeling of the interview will greatly help you narrow your music search and ensure your music is emphasising the message of the interview.
- For example, common moods, tones or feelings of stanard interviews are listed below.
- Once you have identified the mood, tone or feeling of your interview, you can use these keywords to seach for appropriate music.
|INTERVIEW TYPE / TOPIC||MOOD, TONE, OR FEELING|
- Is there any high pitched musical instruments in my chosen music?
- When chosing background music for your interviews, it is essential that none of the musical instruments in your chosen music are at the same pitch or freqeuncy range as the interview voices or conversations.
- For example, a flute may have the same pitch and freqeuncy range as a high female voice, therefore, using interview background music with flutes on an interview with this type of voice is not good as the sound of the flutes will compete with the sound of the dialouge and it will sound bad.
- Always ensure that your chosen interview background music does not compete for the same audio or sonic space as your interview vocals.
In a nutshell, your chosen interview background music should have the same mood or tone as your interview message. In addition, the musical instruments and sounds of your chosen interview background music should not interfere with or compete for, the same audio space or frequency range of your interview voices.
What level should interview background music be at?
Once you have chosen the right interview background music, the next step is setting the right volume level.
The key here is to have the interview background music at a level that does not interfere with the dialogue or conversation.
As a general guide, your background music should be between -18dBs and -20dBs lower than your dialogue or speech.
For example, if the interview dialogue is at -12dBs, then turn your background music down to -32dBs. This is an example of how the background music is 20dBs lower than the dialogue.
Once you get the interview background music at a level that is -20dBs less than the main speech, you can tinker a little to get it sounding good to your ears. Turning the volume up or down by 3dBs is a good guide.
The golden rule is to never make your background music too loud when using music with speech. People will forgive a soundtrack that is too low, and perhaps not even notices, but if your background music is too loud this will really annoy your audience.
Here in the UK, the BBC is extremely strict about background music audio levels as it is often one of their biggest audience complaints when it is too loud or impedes speech.
In fact, when you finish mixing your background music with dialogue, the BBC recommends turning the music down a further 4dB.
They have found that this can make a big difference to their audience without taking anything away from the creativity of the music.
To hear an audio example of correctly set background music levels and to learn more about setting background music levels, I go into more depth in my article, “How Loud Should Background Music Be?”
How to check that your interview background levels sound good?
After following the previous step and turning your interview background music down to between -18dB and -20dB lower than your interview dialogue, you will probably begin to wonder if your changes sound good.
At this stage, it is good to “tinker” with the audio levels, to create a nice balance between the background music and the interview speech.
While at this tinkering stage, do not turn your background music up too much. Personally, I stick to moving the volume controls in 3dB volume steps.
If you find yourself turning the background music up by more than 6dBs, just take a minute to critically listen to ensure that the background music is not impeding the clarity of the interview speech.
There is only one golden rule that music not be broken – the background music should never be so loud as to impede the clarity of the interview speech.
If you have a comfortable background music level and are still unsure, turn the background music down a further -4dBs.
The background music can never really be too low!
Once you have audio levels that you are happy with, the next step is to listen to your final background music to dialogue mix on multiple devices.
Listen on your phone, laptop, headphones, car, TV, and any other device you have.
If your interview speech is clear and everything sounds good on all these devices, you can be sure that you have done a good job!
How many seconds of a song can I use as interview background music without copyright?
There is a misconception that you can use less than 30 seconds of a song as interview background music without breaching music copyright laws. This is not true.
You cannot use any length of a copyrighted song without first gaining permission.
Sometimes, there may be an argument that you can use copyright music legally without permission under the terms of fair use, but you must ensure that your project is eligible under the fair use terms.
Using the fair use laws to justify music use is a very grey area, and not one I would recommend from my experience. It is just too open to interpretation.
It is much safer and easier to pick a royalty-free music library online where you can be 100% sure that you can use music legally in your content.
Where can you download free music to use with interviews?
Below is a link to my free music library where you can download and use music for free in your interviews.
I recommend browsing the free music library by music emotion and try to find a piece of music with emotions that match the tone of your interview.
Personally, I tend to focus on writing theme music and less incidental background music, but here are some recommendations of music tracks that would be suitable as interview background music.
Where can you download paid-for interview background music?
As well as some free music options, such as my own free music library, you can buy background music for interviews from online music sites.
Depending on the music library you chose, you can “pay per track” or alternatively, you could sign up as a subscription and pay monthly fees if you are a big music user.
The most common and best music license type to use is royalty-free music.
Royalty free music is music on which no future royalties must be paid by the music user. Typically, you buy a one-time license fee, and should never have to worry again about paying any more fees.
This is a very attractive and simple music license type for content creators, as it is a “one-stop-shop” for music.
It is worth noting, however, that royalty-free music license terms are not standard, so there may be slight differences between the royalty-free music libraries. Therefore, be sure to read the music license before you use any music to ensure it meets your needs.
One of my personal favorites is Shutterstock as they have a large collection of music at good prices. In addition, they have a good collection of specific “interview stock music”.
What I really like about the Shutterstock Interview Stock Music, is that there are 15sec, 30sec, and 60sec shorter edits of the music.
For shorter interviews needing just sound bites, this pre-cut music can be a great option for seamless audio editing. Short audio edits are super useful!
In summary, using interview background music can really take your podcasts, videos, and content to the next level.
However, it is really important to select the right interview background music for the job and set the audio levels correctly.
If your background music is too loud and impedes the dialogue of the interview, your audience will not be very forgiving, even if it is the most amazing music track on the planet!
Ensure the mood of your background music matches the tone and mood of the interview, then turn the background music so it is between -18dBs and -20dBs lower than the interview dialogue. This will ensure that your background music will be present, but will not be so loud as to impede the interview dialogue.
When choosing background music for interviews, I recommend using royalty-free music as it is of excellent quality and copyright safe to use.
Alternatively, if you need a bigger selection, I recommend Shutterstock as they have a good collection of interview stock background music.
Finally, just remember that your interview background music should enhance the message of the interview. If you are in any doubt about using interview background music ensure you check how the final mix of the music sounds on multiple devices before releasing it to the public.
If you are still unsure, don’t use interview background music as the clarity of the interview is more important. As a musician I will always recommend music, but as a creator, you have to do what is right for your content.