Making YouTube videos is hard. But do you know what’s even harder? Choosing music for videos.
At least that’s how it often feels when it’s 2pm on Saturday and I’m listening to track after track to find the right one for the mood of the vlog I’ll be uploading that afternoon.
I’ve been making weekly YouTube videos for nearly four years, and in that time I’ve learned a thing or two about music selection that I thought I’d share with you to help you out next time you’re trying to find the perfect soundtrack for a video.
A video of mine about the creative process with a backing track that keeps the video moving and connects to the pace of the footage.
Music can make or break a video.
Music is a huge contributor to the atmosphere of a video. Without the right music, a funny story can feel awkward and a beautiful montage can feel boring. Music helps control the pace of a video and can even inspire your edit. There also isn’t a “one track fits all” when it comes to backing tracks. Each tune must be carefully selected to suit the mood and pace of the video.
So how do you make this happen without spending hours each week trawling through every music library on the internet? Here’s my advice.
1. Decide what you need the music for.
Different types of videos will have different soundtrack needs. An adventure vlog, for example, will need a track that sounds great on its own to play over top of a montage, while a makeup tutorial will need something that sounds unobtrusive in the background of a voiceover. So when you’re hunting for music keep in mind what you want to use it for: is it a feature track, or a backing track?
You may really like that dubstep beat with a great chorus, but will it really be the best thing to play in the background while you’re trying to teach someone how to use a piece of software? Here are my guidelines for picking good feature and background tracks:
Good feature tracks:
- Are ones you enjoy listening to on their own.
- Have a great beat you can cut footage in time with.
- Aren’t the same few notes repeated on a loop.
- Have an interesting intro and/or outro you can use in your edit.
- Capture the mood of the video.
Good background tracks:
- Are subtle and unobtrusive.
- Don’t cause a distraction from what you’re saying.
- Don’t have too many musical shifts and generally keep the same pace and volume throughout.
- Have a steady beat, so you can easily cut it in the right place to loop it.
- Keep the pace of the video moving.
As you can see, these two types of music have very different needs so your end use is important to keep in mind.
An adventure vlog example (above). This fast-paced track gives Brett a good beat to edit to and makes the video feel very active and exciting.
A makeup tutorial example (above). This soft yet happy backing track is the perfect accompaniment to Gabriella’s makeup tutorial as it doesn’t get in the way of what she’s saying, but still keeps the video moving.
2. Fit the music to the mood of your video.
The soundtrack to a video has such a huge impact on the pace and mood. It works alongside your footage and edit to tell the viewer what they should be feeling at any given moment. So if your video features an introspective road trip and the realizations you had along the way, a beat that you’d expect to hear coming from a DJ booth at a party probably isn’t the best choice. Instead you need a softer track that puts the viewer in the same mindset you were in on the trip.
Sometimes choosing music that suits the mood you’re going for is a trial and error process. You’ll download a track and put it behind the footage only to find it just feels wrong. Perhaps because it moves a little too quickly (or not fast enough) or perhaps the instruments used just feel too bright and sparkly against the footage. Either way it can be hard to tell if two elements will work together when you’re viewing them separately. Something I like to do is play my footage while listening to the track online. It gives me a sense of what my finished piece might feel like and I can better judge if the track is the right one for the video I’m creating.
In my opinion, mood is the hardest thing to get right when choosing a soundtrack so take your time with it. Stock music sites (like AudioJungle) often tag their music with what mood it suits (e.g. upbeat, soft, dramatic) and that is a huge help when trying to narrow down your choices, or even just to know where to start!
3. Think ahead and gather multiple tracks at once.
Hunting for the right music is exhausting. It can take up a lot of precious editing time. So whenever I go on the hunt for a new track for a video, I keep in mind what videos I have coming up in the future so that I can listen out for tracks that may suit them too.
In your music mining process you’ll likely come across many tracks that you like the sound of, but that don’t suit the particular video you’re working on at the moment. My advice? Download them anyway! Save them for a rainy day so that you always have a beat on hand to reach for that you like. Your future self will thank you.
When you make content regularly, you’ll find that many videos actually have similar music needs. Personally I’m always in need of a good steady beat to use behind design tutorial videos, and interesting upbeat tracks to use in my weekly vlogs. So whenever I hear a song that fits either of those needs I download it instantly. It’s much easier to trawl through your own music library of carefully pre-selected tracks than it is to dive into the depths of a stock music site every time you make a new video.
The music you use is part of your brand
Music shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s one of the elements that forms your personal brand on YouTube so it should be just as purposeful as your editing style, your background and your logo. It’s important to put the effort into getting it right.
I hope these tips will help you next time you’re in a soundtrack-rut!