How To Choose The Right Music For Your Animation
Animators have a huge amount on their plate already, especially when you’re trying to make a name for yourself, get hired or work in a small studio where everyone does lots of jobs. Unfortunately, sound design is one of the jobs that gets pushed into a lower priority as a result.
So what do you need to know before you slap a tune on your animation? We’ll run through some decent tips and questions to ask yourself here then offer up some of our favourite royalty-free music resources.
What mood and atmosphere do you want the music to create?
Apart from impressed at all the bloody excellent visuals you’re showing them, how do you want your audience to feel? Run through your video/ storyboard/ script/ whatever, and write down which emotions are most important for you to convey throughout.
Its fairly obvious the kinds of music that appeal to certain moods but if you’re struggling, remember that most royalty free music sites will categorise their tunes with the kinds of words you’ll be writing down so type them in and have a listen.
What is the message that you want the video to communicate?
What’s your video for? Its function will inform the kinds of musical pairings that will suit it best. Consider the following examples:
This could be a training video, an explainer or internal communications. For detail-focused videos, you want a supporting underscore that carries the emotion but doesn’t distract from the content. An instrumental works best here with a consistent beat and a slower tempo that doesn’t pull the attention away from the narration or text. For broad concepts where details are less important, foreground music which is more emotive (orchestral, classical or scored pieces) work great.
This category is way too diverse for me to really make specific suggestions for! My advice would be to lean towards scored music, stuff that has been specifically composed for soundtrack purposes. If you go with any old song, it will make your animation just look like a music video. For entertainment, you want to closely examine what kind of emotions or moods you are trying to convey with your video.
Keep in mind whether you’re primarily representing the product or the brand or both, this can often influence your selection.
The right choice for marketing music is as well-debated and theorised as ever. Sometimes you want it more pacy to make the focus seem current and inspire some kind of action from the fear of missing out; alternatively, go from low, deeper tones to an uplifting, hopeful vibe when you introduce the solution that your client is offering. Sounds cheesy and obvious but the obvious stuff stays popular for a reason!
Who are your target audience?
If this isn’t already clear to you, you may have bigger fish to fry. If you do know, select music that appeals to them. Younger crowds generally want bouncy, poppier tracks with a lighter tone, for example.
Also keep in mind their geographic location. Portuguese viewers may be more swayed with Fado-style sounds. The southern USA might be more taken with a bluegrass, country & western vibe. Keep these demographic elements in mind when deciding on a mood and tone.
Freaking out because your audience is too broad? No bother, that just means you have to find something with broad appeal of its own! Instrumental is the way to go here, it’s way less polarising than vocals and will fit much more comfortably in a variety of places.
General tips for choosing music for animation:
- A particular vocal hook may be a powerful and memorable tool for companies to build strong brand recognition but it’s usually much safer to go for no lyrics unless they’re very relevant, used sparingly, not the focus of the song or completely unavoidable.
- Frequency and tone – Again on the subject of vocals, try to avoid music with complex melodies played on instruments that use the same notes and tones as the human voice.
Instruments that may interfere usually include: guitar, violin, cello, and elements of piano and keyboard. If you want the quality and mood of these instruments, go for simple melodies or repetitive chord progressions. If you want to communicate strength or authority with your voiceover, try using instruments in the low frequencies such as bass
- Tempo and pacing – The beat can sometimes interfere with your editing and your sound effects, so avoid inconsistent, discordant or overly fast tracks. Consistent rhythm and pacing will not only be easier for you to edit, but you’ll be able to highlight important moments more effectively
- For tender, sad or subtle moments, consider choosing simple music with few elements. A lone piano can be a very expressive instrument and really accentuate the emotion on screen.
- Working on a longer video with more than one character or location? Try using a character’s appearance on screen or the arrival at a new place as a point at which to influence the musical style or the tempo: give them a theme.
This technique is one of the reasons Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings is so compelling. He gives locations and groups their own musical tells which help in defining them and establishing their overall mood.
- Absence of music at an opportune time will infer that the next words you hear are important. It’s a tested and true technique that’s great for explainers or adverts: get the main tagline in there or introduce your new company/product during these moments.
- Borrow your favourite track, use it as an inspirational crutch until you find something similar that you can legally use. Hey, you might even find that what you thought of as your dream soundtrack actually doesn’t fit and it’ll save you a lot of time and effort when settling on music later.
- Score style music is usually a safe bet; that is, the more cinematic style of music used in films, television and video games, usually with no lyrics or beat. This kind of music has been produced with the primary purpose of enhancing the mood with no interference of the dialogue or sfx. Will match the narrative for tension and set the atmosphere etc. Use sparingly, sometime have no music at all. Can create something very powerful and poignant, heighten your highs and underscore your lows.
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, why not cut all dialogue and SFX and tell your story with visuals and music only? Sounds risky, i know, but this technique is quite trendy for very short animations and is becoming more common in marketing videos.
It works when you’re going to be having videos autoplay visually but without sound, such as on a company page on Facebook, or on Instagram. Thinking about your animation being viewed on mute forces you to create the best visuals you can and any music that does get through is a great bonus!
- For small productions where you might not have the budget or skill to create your own music, you must make sure to obtain permission from artist to use their music for your intended purpose. Luckily, there are loads of royalty free music providers out there.
- You can use whatever music you like for your showreels if you’re sending them privately. Just don’t upload it to YouTube etc. who may mute or remove it on copyright grounds.
Things to avoid when choosing music for your video:
- Too wordy – you don’t want to be fighting the music or vocals for attention.
- Prominent single instrument – I’m thinking saxophone, i’m thinking guitar solos. Again, way too much effort to fight them for the focus.
- Too invested in its own meaning – I have Bohemian Rhapsody in my head as I write this. It’s too narrow, too specific to the artist, already fits in an established situation and is too story-based to work as a soundtrack.
- Too famous – Don’t use anything that went viral unless you’re making a joke out of it or it works for your marketing video. Even so, this is risky business.
- Don’t let it be overshadowed by the music – It can’t be too chaotic, discordant, heavy or crazy otherwise it’ll be impossible to link up with it with a visual editing style, making your job even more difficult than it needs to be.
- No sound bites – You shouldn’t have any speaking that’s not your dialogue. No narrative sections, no extracts from a speech by Obama, no “d-d-d-d-d-d-drop the bass”… You get it.
Where can I find royalty free music?
Moby Gratis – http://www.mobygratis.com/
Yup, it’s that Moby. He started this free music service to benefit non-profit films, student projects, and independent shorts. Determined animators can find a respectable roster boasting a wide variety of moods and styles.
This stuff is great for showreels or anything non-commercial. If you are wanting to use one of these tracks for commercial means, Moby does ask that any money generated must be donated to the humane society.
Dan-O Songs – http://www.danosongs.com/
A guy named Dan-O who introduces himself simply as a singer-songwriter but his free tunes range massively in style. From bouncy “Techno Pop Dance” to “Uplifting, thoughtful” soundscapes and even some exotic “Sitar Tabula” thrown in to keep things spicy.
Incompetech – http://incompetech.com/music/
This site hosts a huge amount of royalty free tunes, nicely searchable and catalogued. It’s managed by a bloke called Kevin MacLeod who is a talented producer in his own right. Check him out.
Variety of subscription services:
Nicely presented, easy to use site with a broad selection. Very helpful use of images paired with the music to inspire you when making a choice.
Shutterstock – https://www.shutterstock.com/music/
Yep, they do more than just pictures! Shutterstock isn’t the first place you think of when I say ‘music’, but there’s a decent amount here and you’ll benefit from the well-established Shutterstock website and subscription model.
Purple planet music – http://www.purple-planet.com/home/4593438321
Some decent freebies to be found here as well, but most of the better tunes are behind a subscription-based paywall.
Bed Tracks – http://www.bedtracks.com/
A beefy library of tracks and well equipped with powerful tools to find them with, Bed Tracks is one of the prettier, more customer-friendly options. Great animated explainer video by the way!
If you have any more specific music-related questions or you’re just itching to share your favourite atmospheric tunes, drop us a message on facebook.com/fudgeanimation or @fudgeanimation