In this guide, we’ll look at how you can choose the perfect production music for your indie film, TV pilot, or advertisement. We’ll also cover the importance of music in the film industry, from leitmotifs to the use of ironic background music.
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What is production music?
Production music is recorded music that you can purchase for use in your own video creations. Since composing and recording your own music is such a time-consuming, costly process, many filmmakers and video editors use production music instead.
Likewise, licensing commercial music – from modern pop to performances of classic compositions – can be an expensive process. There’s also no guarantee that a certain song can be used, since licensing often requires the permission of the artist.
Many people refer to production music as library music or stock music. Because the companies that record and sell production music typically own 100% of the rights, it’s far easier to license production music than to license commercial recordings.
Production music can range from themes (many TV show themes were found in the libraries of production music publishers) to sound effects. Some of the world’s most well-known TV shows, including Monty Python and The Benny Hill Show, use library music to reduce costs and speed up the production process.
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Why use production music?
Production music offers a variety of benefits for video editors and producers. Since it’s owned entirely by one company, production music is quick and easy to license, and in many cases far cheaper than licensing a well-known pop or rock track.
Another advantage of production music is the sheer quantity of pre-recorded tracks available for filmmakers. From ambient music to heavy metal, thousands of library music tracks are available for licensing in virtually every style of music.
Finally, production music is designed from the ground up for use in films and video media. This means it’s typically available to purchase at a high bit rate, as well as in various formats for ease of editing and situational use in video production.
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Choosing the right production music
Are you shooting a movie? Production music has two main uses in video editing and production: as placeholder music (music that’s used in a pre-release version of films or advertisements) and as an inexpensive choice for soundtracks and effects.
Production music is generally quite cheap to license, particularly if it’s for personal use. Because of this, many video editors use production tracks to create a particular emotion or atmosphere in a scene before selecting a track for the finished video.
Music plays a huge role in creating a film’s feel. In addition to the mise-en-scéne – a film’s visual elements – music can set a certain mood, create a certain feeling in the audience’s mind, or be used as a leitmotif associated with a certain character.
Have you ever watched a silent film? Early films starring silent cinema legends like Charlie Chaplin used music to set the mood of the piece. Even today, music plays a huge role in creating tension, intensity, and other emotions in feature films.
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Passive and active music in video
In video production, music can play either a passive role or an active role. Passive music fills in the empty space left by silence to complete a scene. Think of the light, relaxing music you’d normally hear accompanying a conversation in a café.
Most of the time, production music is passive. Since it’s not composed specifically for any production, it’s designed to provide a pleasant aural backdrop to a scene, event, or advertisement.
Active music, on the other hand, is directly related to the content of the video. It’s an integral aspect of the scene, setting the mood or expanding on the content of the film itself. Think of the music of a film like Star Wars or Indiana Jones as active music.
Sometimes, music can be used ironically. For example, the famous baptism scene in The Godfather juxtaposes the calmness of classical music and the shock of violence, murder, and power.
Selecting the right music for a scene requires a deep understanding of the content of the film and its purpose. Learn more about the role music plays in film by enrolling in our Film School course, which includes a detailed section on film audio.
Learn more about producing your own videos
Audio is one of the most important aspects of video production, playing a vital role in setting the scene for feature films, TV shows, and advertisements. But it’s not the only aspect of film production that you should know about.
From shooting video using a DSLR camera to editing your video in editing software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier, learn more about the techniques you’ll need to shoot and edit video in our course, Learn Video Production & Video Marketing.
Would you like to shoot your own movies and become a filmmaker? Learn how you can create your own short films and viral videos on a budget with our blog post on DSLR filmmaking.