Five Tips for Choosing Music for Commercial Use


If you're working on a commercial, you probably know that you need music to make it sing. Research has found that music makes ads more effective, increasing their emotional impact and making them more memorable.

You can probably extrapolate from your own experience that watching ads without any music makes them feel strangely naked and skeletal. So while you are likely determined to use music, you may wonder what makes a good commercial song? And how is music used in commercials to make them more memorable and effective?

Here are five tips to help you choose the right track that will propel your commercial to the next level.

1. Good Commercial Music Sets the Right Emotional Tone

Are you trying to make your ad funny and breezy? Sentimental and heartstring-tugging? Music often cues audiences about how to feel — especially in the brief timeframe ads offer.

You don't have much time to get an audience's attention and announce your tone, and music is an excellent shortcut for influencing your audience's feelings. The classic example is the holiday ad, which tends to use the same instrumentation and arrangements (magical-feeling bells, xylophones, and choirs are all popular) to immediately conjure up that winter wonderland holiday vibe that's universally recognizable.

When thinking about tone, think about how certain kinds of music, instrumentation, and genres make you feel. Songs in a minor key are universally recognized as sad, while songs in a major key are happy.

You're probably already familiar with the kind of music used in horror movies to evoke a particular type of feeling. But suppose you want to be very specific about the tone you're looking for. In that case, there's granular research that identifies 13 key universal emotions linked to various kinds of music, including "calm, relaxing, and serene," "triumphant and heroic," "anxious and tense," "energizing pump-up," and so on. What's great about this research is that it shows music and emotional associations aren't specific to cultures, as listeners in the U.S. and China responded in similar ways.

As a marketer, it might be helpful to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of emotional tones associated with varying types of music. This can help you tap into those emotions as quickly as possible. And unless you are working with the kind of music that researchers classed as "annoying," it should be a pleasurable exercise.

2. Good Commercial Music Enhances Your Brand's Image

You may be wondering, "How do I choose a song for a commercial?" It should start with being sensitive to the ad's content so that your music feels supportive instead of jarring.

For instance, an ad for a family product wouldn't feel right with heavy thrash metal laid over it — unless it was for comedic effect, of course.

You don't always have to be literal-minded when thinking about your musical choices. Indeed, you shouldn't feel like you need to stick to a formula. When thinking about musical impact, counterpoint is a classic strategy. For example, if you were making a car ad, using techno or hip hop against stately shots of European cities could create an interesting tension between the visuals and soundtrack, as most viewers are probably conditioned to expect something more classical.

Similarly, beer ads have typically used classical music to create a sense of grandeur and excitement (even if it was a bit tongue-in-cheek) to make a beer look like a classier choice than it might have initially seemed.

When you have a clear idea of your brand, you can think about how you want to connect with customers' ideas about it. Consider something like hip hop if you want to bring a venerable brand into the present and make it feel fresh. Likewise, consider something more classical, such as Brahms, if you want to give a patina of class to a new brand or digital product. It's all about how you want to position yourself, and music can play a vital role in that.

Remember, good commercial music works with your ad's visuals, not against them. Even in counterpoint, the idea is to add layers of meaning, not destroy what you have. And music is critical to planting a sense of your brand in consumers' minds, with studies showing that music is closely linked to memory.

3. Good Commercial Music Sets the Pace for Your Ad

Most ads are fast-paced, with pulsing tempos and rhythmic beats, but some ads want to create a more restful, reflective state of mind. Slower-paced or more meditative ads might feel more appropriate for products like insurance and medication. As in the above counterpoint discussion, slower music can also sometimes work when consumers expect faster-paced music. If you're working with a sneaker brand, maybe it's worth playing with something less urban and more classical, like a slow-paced piano.

And sometimes, you won't know what works until you try a few different tracks against your visuals. But when you find the right one, you can enjoy shaping the editing of the imagery against the beats of your song.

Just as you can have fun using different motion effects on imagery, you can also play with different pacing in your musical selections, maybe trying something slow and meditative at the start and something faster at the end, or vice versa.

Audiences have become so accustomed to consuming media that they're capable of absorbing rapid shifts even in a short spot — so long as those shifts in pace (or tone) are well-calculated. There are many exciting studies on how musical tempo affects consumers in different settings, with advantages to both slow and fast music in different contexts.

Play around and find a pace that works for your product, striking a balance between making your ad zippy but also memorable.

4. Good Commercial Music Adds Production Value

Even if your spot is visually straightforward, the best music for commercial videos adds a sense of richness and grandeur. In simple terms, you can make it seem like you spent more money on your campaign than you really did. If you're thinking, "That's fine, but I can't afford the rights to license high-end music," you should consider royalty-free music. It's often of very high quality and produced with the needs of contemporary commercial makers in mind.

So, if you're wondering, "How do I find music for ads?" the answer is to go to a high-end royalty-free site and start exploring so you can find the music that lifts your ad to the next level, helping you create great commercials while staying within your budget.

Royalty-free music is also supremely affordable because it's designed so that you only pay a one-off licensing fee, with no additional later royalties. So even as a small business owner, you can afford to craft spots that bring an extra level of richness and texture to even a simple visual conceit.

5. Good Commercial Music Helps Create a Story

When referring to an ad's "story," you could mean an actual plot, but you could also be referring to the message you're crafting — that product XYZ will help consumers achieve goal ABC. Every element of your ad should be geared to supporting your message and telling your story. Using the same commercial background music across several spots is a great way to tie them into a coherent brand narrative.

What's your spot's story? Your brand's narrative? If it's not completely clear from your visuals, the music you choose can help sell that narrative message. Sometimes, a song's lyrics used in the background of an ad help create the message of the commercial and its narrative flow, which is often the case when big brands use big stars, such as Coldplay and Feist, for their campaigns.

United Airlines uses Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" to tell a story: That it's an iconic American airline, and that flying United opens up expansive vistas and feelings of unbounded optimism — just like the classic Gershwin melody.

These examples may have you wondering: "How much do commercials pay for songs?" In the above examples, the answer would be "A lot.

But if you can't afford Coldplay, Gershwin, or Feist, that's okay! There are plenty of great royalty-free tracks you can license affordably, tracks that can still help you successfully tell your brand's story. The royalty-free site charges $39.95 per music track or allows unlimited subscription plans from $16.67/month.

Royalty Free Music for Your Commercial Needs

When you're wondering how to find music for ads or where you can license music for commercial use, the answer is simple. Go to and find a track that's got the perfect tempo, emotional tone, and production value for your spot. You can easily search by genre, instrumentation, emotion, beats-per-minute (BPM), and track length.

With's handy royalty-free licensing system, you license every track with a one-time fee, after which you're free to use the track as many times as you like. So check out today and help your brand make a real impact on consumers' ears, hearts, and minds.

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