Music has always had the power to tell us compelling stories, especially when included in films.
While visuals and dialogue play crucial roles in film storytelling, music and sound effects are equally essential. The right music and sound effects can intensify emotions, establish atmosphere, and create a deeper connection between the audience and the narrative happening on screen — whether that narrative is a classic love story, a commercial for car insurance, or a funny sketch on TikTok.
@adrienne_marie_1 Woke to water rushing into our cabin…our lives flashed before our eyes #cruise #titanic #flooding #carnival #wet #survived ♬ My Heart Will Go On (Titanic) - Maliheh Saeedi & Faraz Taali
The Titanic theme music adds a touch of humor to the TikTok of a flooded cruise cabinet.
If you are an aspiring filmmaker, you’ll want to put effort into procuring the right music and sound effects for your projects. However, you’ll also need to keep in mind that incorporating music into films requires licensing. You always want your use of music and sound to be both legal and ethical.
In this article, we will explore the role of sound and music for filmmakers and provide a guide on how to license music for films.
How Music and Sound Make Movie Storytelling
Music has been an integral part of the cinematic experience since the early days of silent films. Back then, live musicians accompanied the visuals, playing music that matched the tone and mood of the scenes.
Today, music is still a powerful tool for filmmakers, and it has a few different uses.
Music Sets the Scene
First, filmmakers use music in movies, commercials, and short films to set the mood and establish the atmosphere. The right choice of music can instantly transport viewers to a specific time or place, or evoke a particular emotion.
Music Guides the Audience
Second, music can also serve as a narrative device, helping to convey information or foreshadow events. It can set the stage for what is to come, preparing your audience for suspense, romance, or action.
Whether it's a sweeping orchestral score, a catchy pop song, or a haunting melody, music has the ability to engage your audience on an emotional level and amplify the impact of the visual narrative you are sharing with them.
Sound Effects Add Realism and Depth
Sound effects are equally as important as music for filmmakers. Sound effects bring your film's world to life, adding depth, texture, and realism to the audio-visual experience.
Sound effects can also provide auditory cues that complement what the audience sees on-screen. Just like music, sound effects can evoke emotions and build tension. The subtle dripping sounds in a horror movie or the screeching tires in an action sequence contribute to the overall intensity and impact of the scene.
How to License Sound and Music for Films
Sound and music, for filmmakers, are essential elements of the craft. But as you search for the best sounds for your project, you must be aware of creative copyrights. The unauthorized use of copyrighted music can lead to legal complications and hefty financial repercussions.
Many professional filmmakers take the following steps to license music for their projects:
- Identify the desired music: Filmmakers determine the type of music that will best complement their film's narrative and enhance its emotional impact. Filmmakers with larger budgets often work with a composer to create original music or explore licensing existing songs, while aspiring filmmakers can often purchase pre-existing tracks.
- Determine the rights needed: Filmmakers need to understand the different types of rights associated with music, including the master recording rights (controlled by the recording label) and the synchronization rights (controlled by the music publisher). They can then determine which rights they require for their film.
- Research licensing options: There are various licensing options available, depending on a filmmaker’s budget and specific needs. They might purchase licenses for pre-existing tracks online, or contact music publishers or composers directly to negotiate custom licenses.
- Clear music rights: Once a filmmaker has identified their desired music, they must reach out to the relevant rights holders to negotiate and obtain the rights to use the music in the way that they want.
If this process seems complicated, it’s because it is. If you’re wondering “How much does it cost to license music for a movie?” keep in mind that licensing the use of copyrighted music often involves legal negotiations with multiple parties — such as recording labels, composers, and contributing artists — which can get quite expensive.
Typically, filmmakers will need to request a custom quote for suitable licensing. Nevertheless, utilizing royalty-free libraries remains a considerably more cost-effective option
Once you’ve got the music you need and have created your film, you can upload your video to a video platform like YouTube or Vimeo. As long as you’ve met the copyright requirements, you’re free to circulate your videos and, ideally, seek larger monetization opportunities with streaming services.
Slip.stream offers a wide range of music of 65,000 tracks and 60,000 sound effects for filmmakers — all you have to do is create a free account and search for tracks that match your requirements.
Create a free account today and explore music for your next big film project.