Music is a critical component to creating successful videos. It gives your video texture, ambiance and sets the emotional tone of your message. Just like with feature films, a good soundtrack can make a movie.


Why make such a big deal about using music in video?


The right song will convey emotion, telegraph the audience how they should feel or add humor to your story. This is true because music engages the brain on both conscious and subconscious levels. Your audience senses the energy and tempo of your story through the tone and feel of the songs you choose. And music is an effective way to guide your audience when you are transitioning your story or when you are building to your point.


Viewers surf along your music’s emotional and intellectual wave, so how you use your music is just as important as what music you choose.


Great, you say. Last time I used music in my YouTube video they shut it down. Or, they chopped out the audio so it sounded more like a silent movie. That’s because YouTube’s Audio ID technology automatically scans and detects copyrighted songs inside videos and, depending on who owns the rights, disables the audio or serves additional advertising on the video that is paid back to the rights holder.


Your error was you used copyrighted music without first getting the rights.


Using Music to Tell Your Story: Finding legal music

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Here is the bottom line: You can’t simply grab a CD, or download something from iTunes and put it in your video. You are breaking the law. Buying a song at the record store (be it physical or online) DOES NOT give you the right to use it in a video.


In order to use a song in a film or video you need TWO types of licenses: a master use license (controlled by the record label) and a synchronization license (controlled by the publisher). The first conveys rights to the song from the creator. The second is for rights to the specific version of the song. Sometimes the label and the publisher are one and the same, often they are not.


So where does that leave you? For most of you, it isn’t worth the time and hassle to jump through the record companies’ rights hoops, especially for a video of the company Christmas Party or Aunt Sue’s wedding.


Therefore, and this seems pretty obvious, your best option is leveraging either royalty-free music or songs where you can secure the rights. It’s illegal to use copyrighted music without first paying for legal permission (and no, being friends of the drummer or knowing the lead singer’s girlfriend is not legal permission. It has to be in writing.)

There are plenty of sources on the web where you can download free or inexpensive music you can license. has a great list of sources for free and low-cost sites with thousands of music cuts you can use in your video. I personally have been using and for much of the music in my videos. The licenses are straightforward and I can pay for cuts with confidence my videos won’t get shut down by the video police.


A few free or low-cost options include:





I will admit, listening to the music cuts online can be a bit tedious. Too many songs sound oddly like the same tune played at different speeds with crappy techno backbeats mixed in. It can be frustrating to sift through many of the selections. But take the time to do it because the alternative to using legal music, theft, can be a career ending move.


As you sift through the thousands of options, how do you choose what song to use in your video? Won’t just any song work in a video? OK, obviously that is a lame rhetorical question where the clear answer is, “No”.


A better question would be, what criteria should you use to choose your song?


First, what is the relationship between the subject and the tempo and style of the music? It has to match. If your story is serious, and the cadence of the voice is slow, you can’t have a jarring heavy metal song or silly tune in the background. It confuses the audience.


The opposite is true, too. If the scene is full of fast edits and quick activity, slow melodic music will change the entire atmosphere of your video. The audience gets emotional cues from your music choices. Your music tells them how to feel throughout your story.


That means you need to determine the tone and emotional destination BEFORE you choose your music. It will make your song choice easy. Once you have an idea of how you want your audience to feel, choose music that coincides with that feeling. In listening to the song, how does it make YOU feel? That will guide your selection.


Most often you are putting music behind a voice, be it narration or someone on camera. You need to be certain your song doesn’t fight for the viewer’s attention. Not just because of tempo and style, but also because of the volume of your song in the video. If it is too loud the result is a mess because the audience can’t sift through the aural clutter. If it is too quiet it sounds like a mistake. The volume of your music has to be soft enough to complement the story, but not so quiet it sounds like someone left a radio playing 100 feet away.


An additional technique for leveraging music in your story is to emphasize something by swelling the volume. If there is a natural pause in the narration, because someone is about to make a point or you are transitioning to a new idea, bring the volume of your music up a little to fill the gap. By making the music a little louder for a moment and bringing it back down you can foreshadow a change in your story or cue the audience that something important is about to happen.


Finally, one other technique for using music in a video is called back-timing. Back-timing is coordinating so two events happen coincidentally. You are lining up the end of your song with the end of your video. It is a very tidy way to tell the audience you are done with your story. For backtiming to work you need to choose a song that has a clean ending. In other words it resolves with a last note, not just fading out to silence. If you are interested in learning how to back-time music in your next video be sure to check out my video above, Using Music in your Video Story.


If you are looking for more information on how to legally use music in your video there are two great articles you should review. One is from ReelSEO, offering Seven Tips for Using Copyrighted Music in Professional Videos & Slideshows. The other is from Daredreamer Magazine, with information on how to legally use music in your films and video.


Music in your video is a powerful tool. Use it to set the tone of your story. And frame your message.