Think of your favorite movie or TV show — say, Star Wars. Think of its big vistas, fun set pieces, and majestic score. Now think of it with sad tinkling piano, lone ukulele, or a bagpipe suite. Chances are it would not have the same emotional impact, to say the least.
Here are 9 of the most common ways to mess up your cinematic background music.
1. It Conveys the Wrong Emotion or Tone
Studies have proven that music truly is a universal language. It will affect audiences in the same ways, across vast language and cultural barriers. A sad piece of music will be recognized as such by listeners all around the world. That means that if you're trying to convey a happy emotion in relation to your presentation, you need to find music that makes use of the universal characteristics of happy music (which, according to research, involve such things as a fast tempo, consonant harmony, and the use of major pentatonic scales, as well as instruments like piano and bright percussion instruments).
In general, music in a major key (like Beethoven's Ode To Joy) sounds happy and music in a minor key (like Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah) sounds more melancholy. If you're not a musicologist, don't worry — you probably know happy music when you hear it (like Pharrell Williams's hit song, which was called... Happy). And there are handy sites like Stock Music that allow you to search music by emotional tones like happy, or, if you prefer, romantic.
According to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, music can broadly conjure up at least 13 overarching feelings:
- Feeling pumped up
There is a broad emotional palette for you to play with, musically. Rest assured, if you look in the right places, you'll be able to find the cinematic background music for videos that suits the emotion and tone you're hoping to achieve.
There is an interesting history of using music as a counterpoint to the emotion being expressed, whether visually or dramatically. Think of action movies that play pop hits over scenes of bloody carnage, or romantic pop songs as ironic backgrounds against sad breakup scenes, which ironically emphasize the scene's pathos. But this is a skill that needs refining. So if it feels like your musical choice is in cool tension with your imagery and ideas, don't fret. Rather than working against your vision, go for a more straightforward and emotionally clear choice.
When in doubt, ask some friends if your choice of cinematic music is working. Good music can add texture and depth to the emotion you want to convey; a poor musical choice can confuse or undermine the emotion you're aiming for.
2. It Has the Wrong Pace
Chances are you want your presentation to move quickly and come across as smoothly and efficiently to your audience as possible. At the same time, it needs to be paced well enough that your information sticks and your audience is able to follow and retain all the information they need. Adding music that is too slow could be an obvious problem, but so is music that's too fast. If your presentation is unavoidably a bit dry, you could add pace with the right musical choice, but you probably don't want to add rapid-fire EDM or techno to your sales pitch.
3. It's Too Overbearing for Your Content
There's a reason why it's called background music. It has to support your content, not fight against it. That can mean playing music at the right volume, of course, but also finding music that has the right tempo and instrumentation. It's not always completely obvious until you actually play it together with your presentation, but you need music that is supportive and gently underscores your message.
Studies have shown that music can help us focus, but only certain kinds — like classical, for example. Ambient EDM or meditation-type music (e.g., simple sustained chords) without any lyrics will probably be the best for engaging your audience and allowing their brains to focus on what you're saying. Ideally, your background music can help guide your audience into a receptive, calm state. Some scientists recommend classical music with 60-70 beats per minute (BPM) as the ideal tempo for sustained focus and concentration, and that it "induces a state of relaxation where the mind is calm but alert." Try it for your next presentation and see if your audience is indeed more focused!
4. It Has the Wrong Sense of Place or Time
Music inevitably carries us back to certain locations and time periods. So while everyone agrees classical is good for presentations, baroque (like harpsichord music) is probably a bit too anachronistic (inconsistent to the time period) to be effective for a presentation. Likewise, if your presentation is about futuristic tech, accordion jazz is probably the wrong genre to accompany the video. Anachronistic music can really throw off your audience's perception, so make sure it feels congruent with the kind of presentation you're giving.
5. It's Too Short (or the Timing is Off)
It seems obvious, and it is, but a piece of music that ends abruptly in the middle of your presentation is going to leave your audience in the lurch. Likewise, a track that feels like it's just warming up when your presentation ends is likely to make your audience feel unfulfilled or disappointed. Music at its best will be symbiotic with your presentation, underscore its emotion and important beats, and come to a natural conclusion in sync with yours. Bad music will end too abruptly, go on too long, or otherwise feel out of place with your content.
6. It's Too Monotonous
Some repetition is good as a motif or theme (as in Star Wars and many great movies). Use of repetition in the form of motifs can be a way of:
- Reminding your audience where the important beats are
- Reconnecting to your important points after you may have gone off on a tangent
- Underscoring the differences and similarities between your points
Too much simple repetition, though, will feel, well, repetitive. In this case, you could risk losing your audience due to redundancy and inattention.
While your music has to be supportive and in the background, it also has to be varied enough to add zest and emotion to your presentation — not just lull your audience, like elevator muzak.
If you find just the right track but it's too short, you can experiment with looping it. But try some variation so you don't risk boring your audience, either. Remember, you need emotional cinematic background music, not just the musical equivalent of oatmeal.
7. It Fights the Sound of Your Voice
You need music that complements the sound of your voice and doesn't fight it. If your voice is higher-pitched, consider something with more percussion or bass. If your voice is lower, consider piano or violin music. With music that works with your voice rather than against it, you can produce a presentation your audience will be able to focus on.
8. It's Not Properly Cleared for Copyright
You found the perfect track by your favorite 90s band and you put it all over your presentation, only to realize that it's impossible to get clearance for it by the time of your presentation (and even if you did, you could never afford the license fees). Or, it looked like it was properly cleared, but when it came down to it, the fine print was confusing, or due diligence hadn't been done. This always means heartbreak or anxiety when the day of the presentation comes and you can't use the music you had your heart set on.
9. It's Just Bad Music
You went the favor route and used some music your brother-in-law came up with on his laptop, or you used something that came free with your computer. The only problem is that it's ruining the message of your presentation with poorly-produced or amateurish-sounding music, right when you needed professional, polished cinematic music. You don't need to go overboard, but this isn't the time to cut corners, either. Good cinematic background music mp3s can make all the difference and give your presentation the edge it needs to stand out.
Get Your Music Today!
Stock Music is a great resource for all your cinematic background music needs. It has hundreds of tracks organized in all the ways you need to support your presentation. You can search by emotional tone, genre, beats per minute, and instrumentation. All of the tracks on Stock Music are well-curated, so you won't get swamped while you're browsing. You'll actually enjoy the process of listening to find the right cinematic background video music for your project, and enjoy it even more when you find the right track that's perfect for underscoring your message. Stock Music works to license music and sound effects to top media producers around the world. We believe in the work of video editors, advertisers, film and TV producers, radio producers, podcasters, app developers, plush toy makers, and just about anyone else who needs to incorporate audio into their productions — including some of the world's leading media companies. We're sure to help you find the cinematic background music you need to make your project sing.
What are you waiting for? Get your music today!