I was just speaking to a colleague who asked how I select music tracks for the short films we make at work.

To be clear I work at a TV station making news stories, the short 5-7 minute factual pieces that are referred to as Current Affairs (or Caff). These stories are characterised by a journalist’s voice over interspersed with brief interviews (i.e. parts of longer interviews). All of this is coloured with Overlay (often called B-roll). In the background there can be heard NatSOT (Natural Sound Off Tape), occasionally there will be an UpSOT (Up Sound Off Tape – increase volume) to feature a motivated sound recorded in the field.

Sometimes the talent, or the footage collected, will not carry the intent sufficiently. The interviewee may be a poor speaker or the overlay might not reproduce a dramatic event. The story may even be… boring. Yes this can happen, especially when the story is related to finance or politics. At these times something extra may be required to lift the emotional connection with the audience. The easiest way to achieve that is via music.

Where I work I am lucky to have access to a range of licensed production music that my employer pays for each year. This is high quality copyrighted music, which can be selected to fit easily into any emotional hole that we may create. I have terabytes worth of ques (music tracks) to choose from. But this presents a problem… one of choice.

Anyway my suggestion to my co-worker was this, “break it down to Verbs”.

Try to infer a motivation for your music by describing a way to get there, not just an outcome. So if you have some footage of aircraft getting ready to fly, don’t search keywords using “triumph” or “confidence” try “Soaring” or “countdown”. In this way you narrow down your needs based on an activity instead of a feeling. The problem with feelings is that they can be too broad and compound the choice issue.

From there I suggested listening to the results of the first pass and search for mood. Do you want to convey weight or worthiness? Is it sombre or bright? Perhaps it should be positive and cheery. These effects are often tied to the style of the music choice, from acoustic to techno, classic to rock n roll. Period choice can substantially influence tempo and feeling.

Finally I think that you need to consider tempo. That is the speed, or a change in speed/timing (or emotion). Look for sustained passages that serve as a fairly neutral constant, they can fill long passages of dry content without distracting from the key message. Of course look out for interesting changes too, think UpSOTs.

Before I wrap this up, there is one actual rule that is worth considering. Do you even need the music, (perhaps you can cheat in NatSOT from somewhere else) if you do then, Know When to Loose It!