At Musicbed, we believe music is a powerful storyteller. It has the ability to draw someone into a film’s narrative, stir emotion, and, most importantly for nonprofits, build up to a call to action. But, it’s not enough to find a great song for your film. You need to find a great song that helps tell your story.
We work with hundreds of filmmakers, businesses, and organizations every day to make that happen. Ultimately, music can be a make-or-break moment for your film project. It can let your audience know they’re in good hands or it can be jarring and break up the narrative.
To help you with this important decision as your nonprofit tackles its next film project, we compiled the following seven tips.
1. Search for Your Song Early
So many filmmakers come to us too late in their process for our advice to be as effective. If your song is going to work perfectly along with the narrative, it needs to be edited along with the narrative—not tacked on top of a timeline. The best music swells, dips, and unfolds seamlessly along with the narrative flow and the sooner you can choose songs to edit with, the better your edit will be. We think it’s best to start exploring music options before editing even starts and maybe even during the production process.
2. Close Your Eyes
We have a saying around Musicbed: you know it when you hear it. That is to say, the perfect song will reach out to you if you’re paying attention, which is incredibly difficult in the middle of a busy office or while you’re staring at a timeline. So, open up a playlist or album (that you have the ability to license), and close your eyes. Focus on the music. See the edit in your mind and hear the music along with it. Your co-workers may think you’re crazy, but this attention to detail pays off for the final film.
3. Reference Your Story, Not Others’
There are a lot of nonprofit films out there, successful and unsuccessful. But, as soon as you look at what other films are doing, you’re sacrificing your own film’s identity. Truly successful films have music that’s true to the story. And, if your audience catches on that you’re just mimicking the sound from another film they’ve seen—game over. When you’re searching for music, forget about trends. Forget about influencers. Pay attention to your story and style.
4. Listen to What Your Film is Saying to You
As we said in the previous tip, your story should be telling you what sound it needs. Listen to the mood.
Ask yourself questions like,
- Where does the emotion rise and fall?
- What’s the pacing?
- What colors do you see when you think about your narrative? A grey image might inform a more melancholic approach, while bright, sunny colors could lean towards pop or rock.
These questions are all helpful tools you can use to start tracking down your song. The right music licensing service will make it even easier by providing helpful tools that allow you to take this information and apply it in your search.
5. Identify Multiple Options
It’s really easy to say “aha” and move on once you’ve found your song, but don’t stop there. Try searching for related artists or even songs within the same album to give yourself even more options. You may find you can use multiple songs on your project or that one of the other options works better for your project. Plus, it’s easy to find more music when you’re in listening mode—it’s much harder to find it once you’ve started editing.
6. Lean on Professionals
You’re a filmmaker. You’re not a music expert—and that’s fine! You can lean on industry professionals to help you out. Most music-licensing options have customer support to help you find music for your film project, like our Music Specialists, for example. So, instead of spending valuable editing time trying to dig into a huge catalog, try telling them a few basic traits you’re looking for and they’ll get the process started. The ultimate decision is up to you, but Music Specialists like ours can help get the ball rolling.
7. Get Chills or Nothing
Here’s a good litmus test: if you’re not emotionally affected by the music in your film, then your audience won’t be either. At this point in the process, you’re the most emotionally invested person in the project, which means you’re also a great test subject for effectiveness. You’ve dug into your subject’s stories, you’re passionate about the cause, and you care about whether or not the film works. So, as best you can, don’t let outside sources tell you which song to use. Give yourself the time to find that chill-inducing, tear-jerking, stand-up-and-cheer song you’ve been looking for. You’ll know it when you hear it.
Through Musicbed Membership, we’ve made it easier than ever to find the perfect song for your next film. Get unlimited access to our Membership roster, featuring hundreds of emerging indie artists and leading composers—all for one monthly or yearly price.
The Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling
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