How To Choose The Right Production Music

Tips To Make Your Film, Presentation or Website Work Better With Music

By Andrew Ingkavet

Visual creators like filmmakers, advertising producers, art directors, web designers often have a challenge in deciding what kind of music they need to help tell their story.   I’ve put together a few tips on how to get clear on what is you want/need and then narrow the choices regardless of whether you intend to choose and license production music yourself, work with a Music Supervisor to help you choose/license music or work with a Composer to create an original score.

Royalty Free Music Can Instantly Help With Production Values1) Consider the audience – is your production aimed at a particular demographic? Is it more heavily male or female? What age group? Language? Geographic location?

You can get very specific – the more the better. Consider what they like, or what kind of shops they would frequent – for example, a Single Suburban White Mom who buys her clothes at Walmart is a very different personality type than an Urban Professional Mom who shops at Bloomingdales.

2) How do you want the audience to feel?
Obviously what you say in your production, the text, is important. But just as important, if not more, is the subtext. Film is a visual medium, as is a website, or 30 second television spot. The way you convey your message is heard more than the words you use. I often think of the music as sort of the “body language” of communication.
They say that when people talk, it’s the body language that gives most of the meaning. Text is only a fraction. They say that actions speak louder than words. Well, that includes your animation style, or your editing style as well as the speed of your cuts AND your choice of music.

music bypasses logic straight to the emotional core

music bypasses logic straight to the emotional core

In my former role as an agency Creative Director, I would draw a target, like the kind you see at an archery range with the bullseye in the middle. In the center I would write the main emotion that I am trying to target. Then, on the outer rings, I note other emotions that may also be relevant. This would help me communicate with my creative team as to what the “feel” of the project would be. Usually, the client will have plenty of input on what the “message” is to be with all kinds of features, benefits, facts and blah, blah, blah, but what we need as Creatives is to also capture the feeling and the mood we need the end user/customer to feel.  People buy because they like the way a product or service makes them feel.  The features and benefits are justifications to themselves after they already know they want it!

For a recent film project I worked on as Composer, the key emotional target was pride. The other supporting emotions/feelings were heroic, simple, and uncomplicated.

Sonic Branding, Audio Branding TargetThese feelings would all support the telling of the story  about independent cranberry growers in New Jersey.  In other words, “Farmer As Hero” or “I’m proud to be a farmer.”

3) Narrow Your Choices.
Once you can articulate the target emotions and feelings that are to be communicated, you can now be clear in communicating with either a music supervisor, or a music producer/composer as to what you are trying to achieve. You will be so much better prepared to know what you want. You can start to exclude many styles of music that just would not support your production. For example, a Balinese gamelan orchestra would be a very weird choice for the above example even though the key emotional targets of pride, heroic, simple and uncomplicated could be emotionally matched – the exoticness and specificity of the Balinese gamelan would not portray New Jersey cranberry growers. Unless, of course, you intended that incongruity.

Here’s a video clip excerpt of the results from the documentary New Jersey’s Red October, which won an award for best film score at the 2009 Garden State Film Festival.

>> This next step is optional but can be helpful if searching for music without the help of a music supervisor. Need a music supervisor? Call the Head Monk at 1-347-788-1175.

4) Timing and Tempo and Speed.
Anyone who learned an instrument has come across the word tempo which basically means the speed of the music. Once you have determined what emotional qualities the music should suggest, matching tempo is next. Tempo is not a hard and fast scientific process. It’s largely an intuitive feel thing. You watch the production, the animation, the edits and you can start to get a feel for the pacing and rhythm. If you are currently editing the piece, you probably already have an internal sense of timing. You can start to just count a simple beat of 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 and adjust to a certain speed that feels right. If you have have a metronome, you can actually find the beats per minute setting. This comes in handy if talking to your composer or music supervisor. Upon hearing a selected piece of music, you can instantly get a sense if the timing will be too fast, too slow or just right.

Andrew Ingkavet is Head Monk of audio agency 300 Monks wearing the many hats of Executive Producer, Composer and Music Supervisor. Contact him at 1-347-788-1175 in Brooklyn, New York, USA. Or use the contact link.

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