When to Pick Music

You don’t have to be a John Williams when it comes to scoring your videos.

A couple of weeks ago I attended StillMotion’s excellent KNOW tour workshop. The main theme of the workshop was knowing why you make the decisions you make when it comes to producing your films. Everything down from the lens choice, to whether or not you go hand-held or stabilizer, to the music. With respect to the music, there was somewhat of a little debate that arose between SM and some Twitter followers.

Based on this idea of knowing the “why” before you decide the “what,” SM does not pick music for their productions until the edit is 75% or more complete. That means what they do is similar to how music scores for feature films are made.

However, there seemed to be a dissenting opinion. Because music has such a powerful impact and importance on how a video is received, many videographers will pick a song first.

So which way is right? That’s easy. My way. 😉

Ha! Just kidding.

Of course there is no right or wrong way to do it. I have no doubt there are plenty of videographers who pick their music first for whom the results are amazing. Likewise, there are filmmakers out there who “score” the films after the edit, and their films still suck. And vice versa.

Since there really is no right or wrong, I’ll share with you the way I do it.

My Flow of Inspiration

I’m definitely more in the SM camp on this one. I won’t start going through the music selection process until I’ve whittled my edit down to all the essential soundbites. Since most of my work is documentary style commercial videos, I’m usually dealing with lots of interviews. I therefore will start the music selection process after I’ve narrowed down my interviews to the soundbites I want, but BEFORE I pick the b-roll. So the interviews inspire the music selection, and the combination of the music and interviews drives the b-roll l pick.

And when it comes to picking music, I spend a lot of time. When I edited weddings, I would easily spend 3-4 hours out of a 30-40 hour edit picking all the songs for a 30 minute +/- edit. Now that most of my videos are in the 3-4 minute range (hallelujah! 🙂 ) I spend on average about an hour to 90 minutes.

Cutting to the Beat

Whether or not you pick music at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the editing process, you can still make cuts that fit the music. I will always space out my clips to flow with the crescendos of the song.

And if necessary, I’ll edit a song (making it shorter or longer as necessary) so that the crescendos fit where I want them. I always make sure the song’s ending crescendo comes right after the last soundbite. I’ll cut the song right where I want the sound bite to hit, then keep that part of the song lined up with the edit. Invariably this ends up with me having to cut the song in such a way where the cut point in the song is at a section where the two end points don’t match, i.e. 1:44 into the song gets connected to 2:05, so if you were to listen to is straight through, it could sound like an audio jump cut. I deal with this in one or both of two ways:

  1. I look for a point in the song where the two mismatched ends are as close as possible in terms of melody,typically aiming for a section where it’s just the melody and no lyrics, and…
  2. I always do it at a point in the video where someone is talking so that the voice over hides any audio jump cut. If possible I’ll match the audio cut with a video cut. So if there is any audible recognition, the changing visuals actually make it match subconsciously to the viewer.

Below is a diagram of what I’m talking about:

These are Just Guidelines

It’s important to remember that these are just guidelines. For every project I’m open to however the muse might move me. There have been numerous times when I’ve heard a certain song and knew right from the get-go it would be ideal for a particular project, even before interviewing anyone.  However, in cases like that, I know ahead of time a lot about the client, their needs, and their brand. So even in those situations, I’ve done enough homework to KNOW what my client’s story is all about.

How do you handle your music selection?

2 thoughts on “When to Pick Music

  1. I always get inspired from music. So for me, the music picks the content…which is why my ultimate dream is to direct music videos. But if I have to pick music for content I have adopted the same strategy as you where I will match music to the interview, yet match b-roll to the music.

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