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Ever wondered why certain movie scenes hit you harder than others? Or why a specific soundtrack joins your regular Spotify rotation?
Chances are that the music resonated with you. Inspiring speeches, selfless acts of heroism, and even quietly intimate moments can hit us like a gut punch. But it’s all by design.
Music affects us in powerful ways, and it’s always been a part of our cultural heritage. From reed pipes to grand pianos to synthesizers, humans have been drawn to music for as long as we’ve existed.
Here's a look at how music evolved around the world, starting back in 1400 B.C.
It’s how our ancestors told stories, shared knowledge, and expressed themselves. And music is just as important in the 21st century. We’re pretty far removed from the time of oral histories, but music has become a main ingredient to how we consume...well, everything.
Song choice is a big part of sound design for video. And since video has grown to become our primary method of entertainment and social interaction, that means background music might be more important now than ever before.
Different styles of music create different emotions, regardless of the instruments used. A solo violin can push us into a happy mood, a creative mood, or a “lock myself in the bathroom so no one sees me crying” mood.
But it is the uplifting or inspiring music that holds a special place in the history of visual media. And finding ways to incorporate that style into your projects can help you elevate them to new heights.
Finding music to include in your vlog, commercial, or short film does more than add another storytelling element – it can create emotional impact for your audience in a unique way.
And while any song can affect us under certain circumstances, inspiring music is a category dedicated specifically to changing our lifting the listener’s spirits.
When it comes to this music genre, there are a few keys to pulling the right strings. (Pun only half-intended.)
If you’ve ever watched a motivational video or movie scene, you probably noticed that the music starts slowly, softly, or both. It’s meant to seep into the listener’s mind, something you don’t notice right away but start to feel as what you are watching unfolds.
Then, of course, there’s the climb. Adding instruments or picking up the tempo are two ways to go about it, although musicians have an entire arsenal of ways to layer pieces into a song.
So long as the music pulls us from a dark, moody place and into the light, the emotional climb is doing its job.
To be specific, that job is to get us to the climactic moment. Pop and EDM fans call it “the drop,” but in reality it all comes back to the classical crescendo. It’s the emotional high point, the payoff for a journey that the listener has gone on.
There are clear ties between the storytelling in music and video. While you may never find a song that perfectly syncs up to the exact vision of your project, knowing how to match the tones and the emotional journeys will help you make the most of inspiring music in your videos.
We may equate “inspirational music” with worship or religious music. In some ways, that is at least a little true. But any kind of music can affect our emotions, whether that is making us tear up or puff out our chest with a little extra swagger.
To help you see this in action, here are a few great examples of things that made the most out of inspiring music. Let’s start off with some unforgettable moments from the big screen.
From the muted horns and nervous actions in the locker room, this scene from Miracle starts out with a lot of tension. Without any context, you might even think that this takes place after an especially brutal defeat.
But over the course of Herb Brooks’ speech, the music picks up. You can see a change in the players’ faces, and our hearts start to swell as the music transitions to something like a battle march. By the time the scene ends, we’re ready to take on anything and anyone.
Even if you’ve never played hockey (and even if you aren’t American), this scene manages to spark a level of pride and excitement that nothing but a sports movie can pull off.
Robin Williams captivated audiences for most of the 90s, and Dead Poets Society is one of his standout performances. This particular moment manages to have all the weight of a dramatic speech, but it is the absence of speaking that really delivers emotional impact.
The music — and the characters’ expressions — say everything we need to know about how much that moment meant to the students and to their teacher.
It’s cinematic storytelling at its finest, combining a handful of ingredients in just the right way to end the film.
While you can find thousands of excellent songs on YouTube, this piece accentuates the common components of inspiring music that we covered earlier.
The simple beginning and the gradual climb to a crescendo provide a way for the song to take us on a journey, even without using powerful visuals like you’ll find in similar YouTube videos.
It’s easy to imagine how this score could fit into a variety of projects, and what kind of impact it could add to your videos.
(Resist the urge to download it — we’ll cover how to find great music later in this post.)
Here's another example of a motivational song "in action."
This is basically the epitome of how an inspiring song can turn a great video into a life-changing one. The combination of visuals and voiceover drive home a message of perseverance and grit, which is the purpose of this channel.
But the music choice adds just enough to push it all over the edge.
You can also think of this as an example of how background music can serve a bigger purpose. The narration is the focal point, but the song choice adds a lot of depth to the scripted message.
Okay, so this one is a slightly softer take on “inspirational.” This short travel film manages to capture the beauty and culture of Japan with a very minimalist music selection.
Even with a slower, quieter tone, you can still see the main components of inspiring music. There’s a steady buildup throughout the video, even if there isn’t a matching shift in the visual tone.
As a result, the song’s crescendo isn’t quite as powerful a climax as the other examples. But there are still distinct ups and downs throughout the video that can create different emotions for the viewer. Even the slightest variations can create a moving atmosphere for viewers.
This example is even more different than the others, at least in terms of the music.
The acoustic song doesn’t quite have a traditional climax — it’s more of a consistent rising and falling of emotion. But the video paints us a picture of a mysterious and otherworldly destination, and the music supports that while also making us want to explore it for ourselves.
In a way, that’s the ultimate trick of inspirational and motivational music. Not every video has a “Get out there and change the world!” message, and that’s why it’s important to choose songs that support the experiences that you want to give to your audience.
Of course, choosing the right song isn’t the only puzzle you’ll have to solve. Yes, you’ll have to create videos that have the potential to inspire people. But at some point, you’ll also have to figure out where to start searching for music to use in those videos.
We’ve all spent time on YouTube listening to emotional music. Whether that is a song used in a movie trailer or a travel vlog, everyone has — at some point — looked up a song just to relive that experience and the emotions we felt in the moment.
But you can’t just rip music from YouTube and put it in your own inspirational videos…at least, not unless you want to get a copyright claim from the song’s artist.
Not even googling “free music” can guarantee that the songs you download are ones you’ll be able to use in your video projects.
(Many of the results you’ll get in a casual search will be sites that provide illegal music downloads. Obviously we can’t recommend those, especially when it comes to finding songs you might use in revenue-generating videos.)
In order to find good music, you’ve got to know where to search for those songs first. And that means you’ll want to have a basic understanding of music licensing to protect yourself from a $100,000 copyright infringement penalty.
It might be tempting to run the risk and hope that the music artist or record label doesn’t see your video. But YouTube’s algorithm might be more aggressive than a record label’s legal team, and a copyright flag can start a snowball of issues for you.
You can find free music from legit sites. Places like Jamendo, Free Music Archive, and CCTrax let you download songs, but most of them can only be used in non-commercial projects. And while YouTube’s Audio Library has free songs, they still have restrictions based on the artist’s requests.
Once you find a few of these sites, you’ll then have to start sorting through a ton of not-great options. These sites aren’t heavily curated in order to get a wider library for users, which can be a good thing and a bad thing.
One issue with these sites is that it’s hard to track down songs you’ll actually want to use. Because let’s be honest: Things that are legitimately free are almost never high quality. The same is absolutely true on free music download sites.
All that to say, it’s pretty complicated to find amazing music that also comes at an affordable price. And that’s where royalty free music comes in to save the day.
From an outside perspective, music licensing and copyright law can seem like two very awful nightmares. If you get into legal trouble, things could get just as bad as the horror stories you hear about online. (The dreaded YouTube copyright claim is no joke.)
Fortunately, there are only a few things you really need to know in order to safely find music for videos. We’ll spend some time giving you an overview of the basics, but you can also get a more in-depth look here.
Royalty free music is your alternative to dealing with licensing fees and monthly royalty payments — things you probably can’t afford without a big production budget. After all, most filmmakers would rather put their hard-earned cash toward gear and, you know, life expenses.
So let’s talk about how this alternative can save you time, effort, and money.
Royalty free music is music that you license from a company that already has an agreement with the artist and publisher. In other words, you’ll pay a (much more reasonable) one-time fee and get access to use the song in your projects.
Companies like Soundstripe make things even simpler and cheaper. By signing up for a monthly or yearly subscription with us, you’ll get unlimited access to a library with thousands of songs.
A Soundstripe membership ensures that any music you download will be covered under your license, even if you decide to cancel your subscription later. It’s a way to protect your videos — and the inspiring music you used in them — without any additional worries or payments.
It’s the kind of expense that just makes sense no matter how small your budget is. Complete access to a library of great songs will make it much easier to find high quality music to help you tell the stories (and deliver the emotions) that you envision for your projects.