<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=364338823902536&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Holiday Sale! For a limited time, save 40% on all yearly plans. View Details

Save 40% on all yearly plans.


How to Successfully Use Music in Film and Video Projects

Drew Gula

May 26, 2022

Every filmmaker knows the main pieces of film production. These things really don't change, even if you consider other types of videos like YouTube content, commercial projects, client videos, etc.

All films need cameras to capture footage, mics to capture sound, talent to act, a script to lay out the story, and a post-production period to pull it all together. (This includes a lot of other elements, but we're talking specifically about the editing process.)


But films also need music, and that's because music accomplishes several functions that nothing else can. Music adds depth to a film in terms of world building, layering on information without overwhelming the viewer. Music can steer the viewer's emotions, making them laugh or cry at the perfect moment. Music can serve as an offscreen cue for a theme, character, place, or action.

And this is only the beginning. Audio is integral to how people experience video content, and nothing makes that more obvious than the way music can elevate any project.

And regardless of your creative process, you're going to need music for your film and video products at some point. So look at the different ways you can use music in film or videos, and then go over some easy ways you can get songs for your projects (without having to create music yourself or hire a composer).

2 types of film music

Film music creates a new layer for the audience to experience. It could be a way to heighten a specific emotion, or add more depth to the world of your film, or it could even be something somber in the background. Perfect music from film composers can do all three of those things at once, which is why film music is so valuable for you to know.

When you think about how film music works, we can pretty easily divide it into two distinct types. Sure, there are sub-categories or specific cases that don't quite fit into either group. But if you're writing music for a film or trying to think about how to plan for music in your next video project, I can simplify this question for you.

Film music is ultimately part of a film's overall sound design process. That means you'll want to think about music throughout your entire creative process, from adding emotional impact to certain scenes in pre-production to the actual process of mixing audio during post-production.

1. Diegetic music in film

In terms of sound design, diegetic is anything that the characters on-screen can hear. When we talk about music in film, one example would be a character walking the streets of a cyberpunk metropolis. Our hero may hear music from a nearby hovercar, or the audio from a radio or TV coming out through an open shop door. In the same scene, they might also hear distant sirens, car horns, or the constant murmur of voices and rustling clothes from other people in the city.

All of this is diegetic sound, including the music choices I just mentioned. If you'd like an easy way to categorize diegetic music or sound, just think of it as any audio that could be recorded on-set with a microphone.


Music in film on set


The film's pulsing synthwave score is something we, as the audience, can hear, but the character has no idea that's a thing within the context of the film's world. Which leads us to the second type of film music.

2. Non-diegetic music in film

The vast majority of film productions include a film soundtrack. That could take the form of an orchestral score, like what you'd imagine from John Williams. (Star Wars isn't traditional classical music, but that's the easiest way to categorize most film scores.) Or the music could have a modern sound with synths and drops, like what we've come to expect from film music composed by Hans Zimmer.

This obviously excludes examples like "Awesome Mix Vol. 1" from the Guardians of the Galaxy. And it leads to questions in musicals like Tick, Tick...Boom! when characters sing and dance, and sometimes even reference those actions later on. 

(Musicals are still rare in Hollywood, so unless you are in the process of writing/producing one, you shouldn't ever need to worry about this particular film music debate.)

In short, when you think of film music, it's almost definitely non-diegetic sound.


Edit music in film


Where to find music for film and video projects

Now that we've gone over the two main categories of film music, it's time to shift gears and answer the question I'm sure you're thinking: "Where can I find music to use for my projects?"

Unless you're a multi-faceted talent, chances are that you don't plan to create music for your projects. In other words, you're going to be looking for music from other composers. That might be hiring film composers to create a custom score for your film, or — more likely — licensing music that you can use in your project.

Now before you ask, I get it: Hiring a local musician or licensing songs won't give you a unique, genre-defining film score like the soundtrack of Star Wars or The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. But you probably don't have the budget or production time of a big-budget film like that, so you're going to need to find music that's more in line with other film projects on the same scale.

The reality is that many filmmakers rely on royalty free music to find music for their projects (including short films). In fact, most indie films begin with non-copyrighted music, even if it is only to have a temp track during production. Many films you'd see at a film festival began life with a royalty free temp track, and after attracting producers and an increased budget, they'll use those funds to pay for a final score that's unique to the film.

In other words, music is essential for any film. Filmmakers will start planning out the music direction for most films as early as pre-production, because even without the final music to use, having a specific tone in mind can be important for building emotion across scenes in films.

So whether you are storyboarding scenes for your next project or you just need music so you can wrap up post-production, it's never too late to start exploring your options for licensing music for films.

Playlists of music for any film soundtrack

Okay, now you understand the two types of music in film and where you can find/license affordable music from award-winning artists. Whether you are in pre-production and thinking about what sort of music you need for your film or if you're already deep in post-production, here's a list of some of the most popular music genres you can license from Soundstripe's library right now:

Further reading

Interested in reading more top resources and getting our best filmmaking tips and tricks? Here are a couple of our most popular articles from across the Soundstripe blog: