Custom Soundtrack vs. Library Music: Giving Your Film an Edge

Published November 30, 2017 by Eric O'Connell

The Pros and Cons of Selecting Tracks from a Catalog of Library Music

A good movie can have a great soundtrack, but a great movie will always have a great soundtrack. Some films, however, especially indie films, don’t always have a budget for music. So what do they do? Some will recruit a local band who’s trying to get some exposure to record some tracks for the score. Others will rummage through royalty-free tracks on the cheap from an online catalog of library music.

Here are the pros and cons, in my opinion, when it comes to choosing library music for your next film.

PRO: Selection – many to choose from.  The truth is there’s a ton of great music from several sources you can use for your soundtrack from music library websites. Some of these sites carry high quality music that will blow your audience away. They may have exactly what you’re looking for to spread that last bit of cinematic icing on your film.

CON: Saturation – too much of anything is unhealthy.  Especially if there’s a piece that is notably above and beyond its counterparts, a song may be repetitively selected by the lay-filmmaker. Ever wonder how many other films have the exact same theme song as your movie? Consider the awkward moment when you stand tall at your next film festival to show off your film and your colleague chose the exact same music for his SciFi movie as yours. No, it doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

PRO: High Quality Product.  I’ve personally heard some extremely impressive tracks that perfectly fit the mood of the footage spot on. Some sites even have strict regulations on what music can be featured on their site so producers don’t have to listen to tracks from novices or hobbyists. Also, many online libraries usually have several categorical options to choose from such as movie genre, music genre, desired emotion, and so on when selecting appropriate library music for your film.

CON: Time consuming – finding a diamond in the rough.  Sifting and combing through dozens even hundreds of tracks could take a significant amount of time- time you could spend ironing out details in post production necessities such as editing and effects. As the old adage says, “Time is money.”

PRO: Cost efficient.  Choosing songs to score your film through a catalog of library music is relatively inexpensive. Many sites give you the option to download perfectly acceptable, decent tracks for around 50 bucks (and some significantly less than that) depending on the size of your production. And the best part is there are no hidden fees or back end royalties you owe. You’re free to use the music for your intended film however you choose. You never have to pay royalties on most of these types of tracks.

CON: Risk of choppy incongruence.  Just because you found the perfect sounding music to tickle the ears of your audience doesn’t mean the tempo or crescendos will align perfectly with the action in your film. A composer can make adjustments with audio editing software to anything he or she writes: speed up or slow down the tempo to lock an audience in; or increase/decrease the attack (notes performed decisive and quick or smooth and slow) at specified points to capitalize moments. On the bright side, film editors familiar with audio editing software should be able to fix some of these issues with library music depending on how the music was recorded.

GOOD NEWS!…

In an ever-changing industry some composers are changing course and offer to score short films or POCs with the intention to help get you a budget for a feature length film. Composers are starting to offer original, custom compositions for short films and POCs for about the same cost as library music. If they don’t offer their services for free they typically don’t charge much more than you’d be paying for library music. They can get away with this because their sole objective is to help you get a budget for a feature length movie. 

This is what I suggest especially for those of you who want a custom soundtrack without spending an arm and a leg. It’s a win-win scenario because your composer saves you the time of figuring out the music stuff- one of the most important yet neglected facets of a film- while giving you the services of a fully customizable composition.

Please “Share” this article and “Tag” anyone who might find custom soundtrack composition more valuable than generic library music. Thank you.

As always, Love and Blessings!