Selecting the Music: How To Bring It All Together

Fans of the annual Warren Miller feature film know just how much a killer music soundtrack can add to the viewing experience – it drives the best-of-the-best opening action montage, sets the scene for exotic locations and accentuates epic moments. Music creates an emotional response that simply a shot of overhead pow or a skier charging a steep line can’t do alone. Picking the right music in your own adventure film will help you set the tone of your edit, dictate the pace of your cuts, tell a story, and ultimately take your film from average to amazing. Below are a few tips on what to look – or rather listen – for while selecting music tracks and where to find songs for all budgets.

What makes a good song?
Songs with interesting intros, mood or tempo changes, good builds, or climactic endings are all beneficial for your edit. A track that goes places will give you a lot more mileage than a track that’s too repetitive. 

Change Up Your Music 
A song that drags on too long will lose your audience’s attention. Keep your edit moving with music changes. Those changes should be motivated by some sort of story point or transition.

Determine Your Music Budget & Intended Usages First
Knowing how much you’re willing to spend on your overall music budget before you start your search is the best idea. It will give you an indication of which music libraries or labels are realistic to pursue. It’s also good to know what your intended purpose for the finished film will be – whether that’s submitting to festivals or posting on a YouTube channel – so you can ask for the proper rights upfront. Different usages (ie. film festivals only, Internet streaming, all media) and terms (1 year, 5 years, perpetuity) come with different price tags. 

Free Music Does Exist
Even with a music budget of $0, there are still options for finding real songs. Check out a Creative Commons library, like Free Music Archive, where you can search for tracks using genre filters and uncover some interesting lesser-known artists. Tracks marked Creative Commons Attribution license are free to use in your video as long as you provide a credit for the song and artist. Licenses that include a “No Derivatives” clause cannot be used in video and ones marked “Non Commercial” may not work for you if you’re looking to profit in any way from your film.

Online Music Collections Aren’t Terrible
Not all music libraries are created equal, but it’s never been a better time to search through music collections online. There are plenty of options and price ranges out there to find music for your edit. Find Royalty Free (pay one price and use forever) music and sound effects at Audio Jungle or Premium Beat. Or, check out agencies like Marmoset and MusicBed, who represent a collection of real indie artists and make searching for and licensing their songs simple (at a price of around $200 per song). Art List offers a yearly subscription plan rate. 

How to Listen to 1,000s of Tracks
When you’re sifting through library or curated collections of tracks, experiement using filters and keywords. Sort by most popular or newest to bring the best options to the top. Check the beginning, middle and end of a song. There may be something useful buried within even if you hate the intro. 

Major Label Licensing Is Possible…At A Price
Do you have your heart set on using “White Room” by Cream? Licensing it for your film is entirely possible, but you’ll have to be willing to shell out thousands of dollars. Songs on major labels typically come with a minimum $500 per side price tag and that’s usually for limited rights – film festivals only for a 1-year term. There are two sides to a recording: the master, which is the recording itself; and the sync, which is for the writers/publishers of the song. The Master is controlled by the record label the artist is signed to (ie. Sony, BMG, etc). ASCAP and BMI are great resources for tracking down publisher information. 

Make New Friends With Musicians 
You’re a budding filmmaker and they’re a budding musician. You both can benefit from collaborating on a project. If you find a great piece of music and you can track down the artist, it never hurts to ask if they’re interested in striking some kind of bro deal.  

Want to learn more? Sign up for classes with the AIM U Adventure Film School.

Read other Warren Miller articles about filming tips and production tricks here