When editing a feature film, short, documentary, or YouTube clip, there are some universal laws about using music. Today, sites like Shutterstock offer thousands of stock songs based on mood, tempo, and key, but you always run the risk of turning your movie into a music video. Below, we've outlined how to harness stock music for video editing, while still preserving the original goal of your creative work.
Don't Think Like a Composer
As a video editor, it's crucial that you don't make too many decisions based on the music's rhythms and pacing, or else you may end up with a melodramatic scene. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, including the opening credits of a movie, a nature documentary that wants to inspire awe in viewers, or a music video. In almost every other case, though, cutting your video on the beat will cause viewers to expect a new shot for every bar of music. If you're using stock music for video editing, this approach can be extremely distracting, and it might take power away from your visuals.
Pay Attention to Musical Cues
Stock music can greatly enhance a movie, but you still need to be careful about cutting between scenes. As an editor, your job is to guide viewers through the artistic work, without creating awkward or confusing moments along the way. When placing stock music in a scene, you should consider if the song's mixing matches the visuals onscreen. For example, a poignant moment between two main characters may call for a swelling string section. If the strings stay quiet during the powerful scene, your audience will feel the mismatch. Music should enhance the visuals, not detract from them.
Don't Overdo It
In a video, is there such a thing as too much stock music? Without a doubt. Your audience knows the difference between a tasteful song that complements a scene, and a wall-to-wall music bombardment. When editing, it's your job to find that balance. Often, a weak production will compensate for poor acting and writing by using great music as some sort of cover-up. Stock music can transform a good production into a great one, but it can't fix a bad script. When crafting a movie, the primary focus should be the storyline, acting, and cinematography. If you get those elements right, music will be the cherry on top when you get to the editing room.
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