Oct 9, 2019
No one judges podcasts on content alone.
Listeners develop opinions about your show based on your sound quality just as much as your material — sometimes more so.
That means you need to record episodes using decent equipment, but it also means you need to judiciously select all of your music, especially your intro music.
Of all the moments to use music in your show, the intro is perhaps the most important.
You only have one chance to make a first impression, so your podcast music plays a huge role in whether people settle in for a long listen or bounce after 15 seconds.
In this post, we’ll cover why podcast intro music is so important, how to choose the best music for your show, and the best places to find songs and sound effects.
Evoking the right mood is key to hooking listeners, keeping them tuned in, and getting them to subscribe. The typical podcast opening lasts between 15 and 30 seconds, so you need to make a quick first impression.
Music is hands down the best way to draw people in and align their emotions with the content of your podcast.
Why does this work so well? It’s all about storytelling.
Humans are naturally attracted to music. When we hear music, our ears convert it into electrical signals for our brains to digest. Research in the last couple of decades has revealed the brain — specifically the prefrontal cortex — closely associates music with emotion and memory.
In essence, humans are hardwired to associate stories with music.
Your podcast intro music tells your audience what kind of story you’re about to tell and how they should feel about it.
That’s why choosing the right song is critical. If the mood doesn’t match the message, things can go sideways quickly.
Imagine the nightly news opening credits rolling to a healthy dose of metalcore. It might pique someone’s interest, but it would definitely get them in the mood to hear the news.
Here’s the tricky part: how do you know which songs will make people feel a certain way?
I’ll admit, this takes some practice. After all, there’s an entire profession whose only job is to choose music for television and films. Using music to create the right mood is a skill people spend years refining.
Don’t despair just yet, because there’s an easy way to solve this problem.
First, choose three words that match the mood of your podcast. Second, look for songs that match those same descriptions. Voila, you’ve got a model for finding the perfect intro music.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Serial is a podcast that takes a unique spin on investigative journalism. The show tells one story episodically over the course of one season.
Since the show deals with criminal matters, the mood is serious and suspenseful while remaining accessible.
Here’s the intro:
The sharp, high-pitched repetition of the piano fills us with suspense. The entrance and swell of accompanying the strings let us know this is a matter of importance.
But crucially, the pace and refinement of the song keeps the mood from sliding into a horror movie feel. It remains accessible. This isn’t Jaws; it’s journalism.
Now contrast Serial’s opening with a few of these other examples:
Filmspotting (2:37) opens with a blues guitar befitting a saloon in 1950s Nashville. It’s simple and intimate. It’s the kind of music that plays in the background while you talk movies with your friends.
In contrast, Crank It Up! (0:14) opens with a faster, light-rock guitar and drums, which works for a podcast that asks the question, “Are you ready to amplify your life?”
In each scenario, the music matches the content. These intros aren’t critically acclaimed hits. They’re carefully selected segues that cue the right emotional response.
Alright, now you know how to find the right podcast intro music to set the right mood for your show.
There’s just one pretty important question left: Where can you actually get quality royalty free music?
The answer is you have several options — some of which are more complicated than others. Here’s the list.
If you want to use songs from your favorite superstars, you’ll need to contact the copyright holders and negotiate a license for the music.
If you drop a song into your show without a license, you’re committing copyright infringement. As you can imagine, that’s a bad thing, and the consequences can be dire.
Negotiating a license for a well-known song can be a complex undertaking. For one, you need all of the copyright holders to agree to the terms of your license. “All” could mean a record label, a publisher, multiple songwriters and multiple artists.
Yeah, it’s complicated. It’s also expensive, because all these copyright holders need to get paid.
If you think this option is starting to sound a lot less attractive, you’re not alone. Most independent creators steer clear of this path because of the time commitment, complexity, and cost.
If you know some musicians, you could always ask them to do you a favor and record a track for you or to digitize some of their original old work that never saw the light with services such as the one from EverPresent. This approach is cheap, and it could absolutely work.
But there are some caveats.
The quality of the music depends on the talent of your friends (or acquaintances, family members, or whatever). If their work doesn’t match your expectations, then you’ll have to navigate the awkward territory of asking your friends to revise work they aren’t being paid for.
Your friend, maybe: “I can shred on the recorder. I’ll record you an intro.”
Creative collaborations are dicey to begin with, and they only get more complicated when you have a personal connection with the people involved.
And we haven’t even touched on sound quality.
Does your friend have the necessary gear to record a studio-quality song? Maybe, maybe not. If their equipment and studio setup is low grade, then the results will be too.
You may have noticed the previous options all have glaring problems.
Those challenges have not escaped certain people, and those people have started music licensing companies that provide royalty free music for podcasters just like you.
We work directly with musicians — some of whom we employ in-house — to negotiate the copyright to every song in our library.
That means you don’t have to jump through a thousand hoops to license a song. All you do is sign up, download a track, and use it in your show.
It’s already hard enough to nail down the right mood for your podcast intro without having to worry about arcane copyright laws and outrageous licensing fees. Finding a quality, affordable music library should be the easy part.
At least, that’s our opinion. Browse our song catalog and see if you agree.