How to Create a Low Budget Movie Soundtrack4 min read
I bet if you think of your favorite movie, you can hum the theme song or some of the music from that film. Music is an important part of a great movie- so important that Hollywood pays top composers huge amounts of money to create the perfect, catchy score.
If you’re needing music for your new movie, you can hire a composer to custom write music for each and every scene but that may strain your already tight budget. Don’t worry, you can find great, original music on the web and much of it is free or available for a very low price.
I’m talking about Royalty-free music. If you Google ‘royalty free alternative music’ for instance, you will find pages of websites that offer alternative rock music for free or for a small licensing fee. That’s the good news. The bad news is – you’re going to have to do a lot of digging to find the music that fits the mood of your movie.
The best way to start off is to create a rough list of the songs you will need. Perhaps you want a quick uptempo rock song for the opening credits or maybe you have a few steamy scenes where a slow blues number will work nicely. Once you have the basic ‘music outline’, you can start your search for royalty free music that will fit your movie. The same goes for short films or even personal YouTube videos. Make a plan.
I suggest looking for royalty free music sites that have their music categorized and are easy to navigate. You don’t want to waste hours of your time clicking on song titles, wondering what you’re going to hear next. Oh great it’s some cheesy accordion song!
The best royalty free music sites will have easy to navigate categories such as Progressive Rock, Symphony, Blues or Country Music. This makes it much easier to find the music you are looking for.
One feature that I find extremely valuable is the vocal and non-vocal versions of a particular song. This helps develop a ‘theme’ that can be recurring throughout your movie. (Think ‘Titanic’). A lot of soundtracks use the non-vocal version of the song to create a recurring mood for a few scenes and then hit the audience with the vocal version during the closing credits. Don’t be afraid to use the same song in a number of scenes. Think about the theme song for ‘the Godfather’ and how many times the same melody was used over and over to great effect.
An important thing to remember is to protect your work by using a standard or creative commons license. Even though the music may be royalty free, you will still need to credit the owner by using a creative commons license or purchase a license that gives you the right to use the music for a commercial application. Most royalty free sites offer a creative commons license for free and a standard license for $25 to $100.
Be sure the music has a clean, professional sound. It won’t be too hard to tell whether it was recorded in a professional studio or straight from a Casio keyboard. Test the music out on a quality sound system where you can hear the dynamics of the music. It may sound acceptable coming out of your $10 computer speaker but you better test it on a good sound system just to be sure.
After finding the songs you like, you will need to customize the soundtrack to fit your scenes. There are plenty of sound editing software programs out there like Avid Pro Tools or Logic Pro X that enable you to properly fade in, fade out, alter the timing and manipulate the music. Some video editing programs such as Adobe Premiere now include the same sound editing features, just not at the same level of quality.
If the music you need is not available from a royalty free site, you may consider a ‘discount’ composer. It’s a gamble, but the rewards can be great. Many royalty free music sites offer custom soundtrack composing at very reasonable rates. In most cases, the composer is the same guy who wrote the songs on the site so you can feel confident that the quality of the music will be similar.
I know of one composer who has some pretty impressive credits including first run movies and Producer credits on A-list artists’ albums. Today he’s a ‘starving artist’ looking for the next project. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
In summation – create a ‘music outline’ for your movie or video project and try royalty free music sites to find quality music for free or next to nothing.