One of the easiest ways to make a broadcast sound more professional and refined, is to add background music. This can create a feeling with the broadcast and carries listeners along with you, so that even if there is a little dead air, they don’t get lost. Background music also sets the mood for the broadcast, it can create and exciting atmosphere for explain running with the bulls in Spain, a relaxing broadcast for children’s bedtime stories, or any other situation you can think of. This seems like a simple subject but sometimes it is tricky to really get music and have it fit. We will cover how to obtain music, select it, and use it in a broadcast.
The first thing you might be thinking about is legality. This is a big problem for all broadcasters because licensing songs can get complicated and expensive fast. If you want to use some popular music, you must pay for the rights, usually from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or SoundExchange. However, if you do not plan to make money from your broadcasts and it is just for friends and family, you should be able to use any song you find. Although, I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice.
In general, you will want to use songs that are not recognizable and just set the mood. This is good because there are many free resources that allow you to use their songs on your broadcast. A few resources that are both free to use and download are:
- The Internet Archive
- Band Music from the Civil War Era
- Archival Preservation of Player Piano Music Rolls
Local bands are also a great way to find music because they are interested in getting known. Go to one of their shows and talk with them or just email them and explain your project. Many will be excited to have their music reach a new audience.
Once you have determined where you want to get your music from, you need to decide which tracks are right for your broadcast. The music needs to fit the mood of the broadcast and not have too much treble or bass to where it distracts listeners. A few good tips to help you narrow down your music selection are:
- Pick music you like
- Choose music that sounds good at lower volumes
- Instrumental music is best during speech, but any style is good for cutaways and photos
Once you have picked music that fits your broadcast, and you like, you can start getting down to work. Chances are, the song might not be absolutely perfect, and that’s ok! However, if you want everything to be professional for your broadcast, you can use software like Audacity to edit your music. You can smooth down peaks that are distracting, reduce bass, and make any other tweaks that you want.
Using Background Music
Once you have the perfect songs, and it is time for the broadcast, you have some multi-tasking to do. But first, you need to decide where the music fits into your broadcast and where it doesn’t. These are a few guidelines to follow of when music DOES fit:
- Intro and outro of your broadcast (perhaps during credits)
- If you are telling a story
- In-between segments
- “How-to” sections of a broadcast
And a few times when music DOES NOT fit:
- During interviews
- Times when background noise is important, such as in a restaurant you’re reviewing
- When you are making a big point or really need the audiences’ focus
And then there is the GREY area of background music when it is up to personal preference. However, it should never impair the audiences ability to hear speech and it should compliment the broadcast. If the audience doesn’t quite remember the music after your broadcast, but enjoyed it, then you did a good job.
Do you have any other tips for us? What music sources do you use, and how do you deal with the legality? Let us know in the comments!
By Elliott Morrow