We know the right song can make or break your project. That’s why every track in our library is vetted by award-winning producers. Hear for yourself. We've curated a playlist with our best intro music.
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Music has been used to introduce people for as long as humans have had instruments. Nothing is quite as commanding as having heralds and horn-players blast people’s wigs off to announce the arrival of a king or queen.
From royal families to college graduates to wedding parties, intro music commands people’s attention and builds anticipation for whatever is about to happen next (whether in real life or, let’s say, a YouTube video). It’s also a way to reinforce intent or importance, which can fulfill the audience’s expectation.
The same concept applies to media: Think about podcasts, TV shows, commercial videos, and films.
Intro music is an easy way to subconsciously “set the scene.” That might mean giving the audience a sudden flutter of excitement about something familiar. And if they’re a new viewer/listener, the song might be there for the sole purpose of indicating the tone or genre of the piece.
Either way, you can’t overestimate the value of good intro music. And as a content creator looking for music tracks to use in your projects, we’re here to give you an appreciation for this storytelling trick and show you where you can find great royalty free intro music.
While the purpose of intro music can vary based on what type of project it is, you can still think of it as a musical theme. It’ll be the first thing the audience hears, so a lot of them will latch onto and remember that early musical selection.
That’s why blockbuster movies, successful TV shows, YouTube videos, and even podcasts commit a lot of effort to choosing the right intro music.
Unfortunately, there’s no “Golden Rule” to creating perfect intro music (or outro music, for that matter). But there are a few principles or concepts that are worth keeping in mind, whether you’re writing your own music or looking to find good royalty free tracks for your next project.
An easy starting point is keeping the piece short. You don’t want the song to overstay its welcome, especially if the scene or section doesn’t deliver a lot of storytelling on its own.
(Gratuitous content is never a good thing, even if it’s something you personally love.)
And you want it to be simple. Don’t get all wild and complex with dramatic arrangements, multiple key signatures, or tempo changes. Find music tracks that will support the piece’s storytelling and streamline it.
After all, simple songs are the ones that get buried in our subconscious for decades. Think of any successful cartoon theme or company jingle, and it’ll be something you could hum from memory. That kind of staying power is what makes good intro music a memorable and worthwhile investment.
This is probably something you’ve thought about already. You probably already wanted the intro song to be catchy and unique, and that shows you’re looking for ways to create a cohesive vision between the visuals and the audio elements.
But don’t lose sight of the intro music’s main goal. The one thing that should take precedence over the four other ideas in this section is this: Make sure the song introduces something.
It’s not a revolutionary concept, but using royalty free tracks to queue up a thematic element or stir a specific emotion in a YouTube video or other project is key. Set a stage that your script, visuals, and other elements will make the most of. The overall experience is why we remember some intros more fondly than others.
Listening through a list of great intro songs is something that is almost worth paying money for. (Don’t worry — we’re not going to charge you to see our list!)
Whether the music tracks make you nostalgic about an old favorite or intrigued by something new, they’re pretty much all catchy. We talked about the value of a unique sound, and that’s especially true for blockbuster titles.
But it’s also something that you can look for an incorporate into your own video projects. In some ways, finding royalty free music and doing some extra work to edit your intro around that would give you a kind of “ownership” for the piece, at least in the minds of your audience.
Checking out successful intro songs can also function as good inspiration. You obviously shouldn’t try to duplicate songs from our “Best of the Best” list, but seeing how other creatives paired music with visuals can only inspire you to make your own videos better.
And of course there aren’t many intro songs more powerful or culturally significant than this one:
Even people who hate science fiction know the Star Wars theme. Some of us remember seeing the movie as kids, or pretending to be a Jedi on the playground at school, or some other scene from when we were younger.
George Lucas delivered a fantastic story about an average guy who came from nothing, lost everything, and ended up saving the galaxy.
But it was John Williams’ music — not the text in the opening scroll — that pulled us into “a galaxy far, far away” and inspired a generation of filmmakers.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotional trigger, and an intro song is usually what our brains attach to. When you hear the Game of Thrones theme song, you immediately know what to expect. You might think of a scene, a character, a watch party with friends, or even just a general feeling.
But you will definitely feel something as you hear the music and see the visualization of Westeros, and it’s all by design.
Ramin Djawadi brought an impressive résumé onto the Game of Thrones project, and he wrote intro music that is sweeping, impressive, and adventurous, setting up the promises that the show would then fulfill each episode.
We can see another unique and unforgettable theme in Seinfeld. The show might seem like a partially scripted jumble of inside references and dated jokes, but Seinfeld changed how sitcoms were written and produced. And the one-of-a-kind sound design helped achieve that success.
If you’d like to learn more about the art of actually creating a “signature sound” for a TV show, you’re in luck. The podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz explored the creation of the Seinfeld theme and let the composer share how elements of his music helped bring life and style to the show.
One of the best examples of a storytelling intro is Downton Abbey’s theme composed by John Lunn. While the show’s theme became a recurring motif throughout the series, its use in the opening credits introduces us to the setting without the need for dialogue.
The camera moves through the house, giving us a clear understanding of the life and times of the world we’re about to step into. Meanwhile, the intro music hints at secrets and drama and a kind of wistfulness — perfect for a historical period drama.
Other genres use a theme to establish their tone right off the bat. Western films are instantly recognizable because of this technique. The clever use of intro music can help set a desolate, adventurous, or dangerous atmosphere.
Or, in the case of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a little bit of all three.
There’s a reason this theme is considered one of the greatest of all time. Using it to start the movie did everything a great introduction should, and it’s a perfect culmination of all the concepts and tips we’ve covered so far.
Intro themes in TV shows and films — not to mention podcasts , YouTube videos, and other media — have an undeniable impact on the viewing experience. The intro and score for Star Wars (or any other example in our list) is as much a part of the series’ identity as its legendary characters.
But here’s the thing: The music tracks that we, the audience, come to know and love hasn’t simply been plucked out of the mainstream music scene and thrown into an editing timeline at the last minute.
There’s an entire music licensing protocol that production teams have to follow when they find copyrighted music that they want to license for a creative project. And this process involves a lot of time, negotiating, and money — especially for a lifetime license.
Whether you’re using five seconds or two minutes of copyrighted song, there are many layers to the process. You need to first get in touch with all of the copyright holders (because there’s almost always more than one) and then successfully secure multiple licenses.
For your standard show or film that will be aired on TV or streamed on a service like Netflix, these licenses will include a master license, a synchronization license, and — the big one — a public performance license.
If you have the first two but don’t secure the last one from a performance rights organization (PRO), then you will probably face major legal trouble once the project is publicly aired. And that’s because copyright owners reserve the right to decide when and where their music can be played.
When you forgo this step in the process and/or don’t submit a cue sheet, then you don’t have the green light to use the copyrighted music in any public way. The songwriters and copyright owners won’t receive the royalties they’re due, and your production team will be penalized for copyright infringement.
Not to state the obvious, but this isn’t the type of outcome any of us wants — especially when it can be avoided by simply following the music licensing rules.
Because intro music sets the tone for an entire project, filmmakers take the song search and licensing process seriously. The music needs to have the right tone and feel without costing the production team more than their budget allows.
Even though production teams do their best to prepare for every possible outcome when licensing music, things don’t always work out as planned. (That’s a big reason why the original intro music in many television shows and films have been replaced in recent years.)
When you watch a show for the first time (or twentieth time), you reasonably assume that the intro music you hear at the start of each episode will never change. The music licensing negotiations have already been made so the show’s music is set in stone, right? Right.
...well, most of the time.
It’s unlikely that a showrunner will randomly swap out all of the music in a series without warning, so this type of extreme change is usually prompted by a music licensing issue.
One of the most common scenarios is this: A showrunner opted for a short-term song license instead of a lifetime license years before streaming services existed. They thought that after a few years of airing on TV, the show would be out of circulation and a long-term music license wouldn’t be necessary.
But now that streaming services do exist, many showrunners in this situation have had to either license the original music tracks again (this time perpetually) or take the more affordable route and license different songs instead.
Since a long-term license for one popular song could cost a showrunner $30,000 or $40,000, many showrunners have opted to replace most — if not all — of the original music.
“But what happens when a classic and well-known intro theme from a beloved TV show is suddenly replaced?” you ask. Pandemonium, that’s what.
The long-time fans who know a show’s original intro music by heart take notice when the music is changed, and many of them voice their frustrations in online forums. This has happened a few times in recent years, with some examples that are definitely worth mentioning.
The six-season series Dawson’s Creek is known for many things — the dramatic plot, the intro theme (i.e., Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait”), and as the show that launched Katie Holmes and Michelle Williams’ acting careers.
But when streaming platforms adopted the series, fans were quick to notice that Cole’s intro song had been replaced by Jann Arden’s “Run Like Mad.” And they vocalized their frustrations about this change.
Because of the public outcry, Sony eventually decided to sign a new licensing deal with Cole so that the original theme song would be featured on streaming services.
The showrunners for the comedy-drama series Scrubs also ran into some licensing trouble during the big transition to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu.
When several of the original songs across the show’s nine seasons were replaced, the public once again took notice. Not only that, but the show’s lead actor Zach Braff directly addressed the music licensing issue on Twitter when asked about the change.
While some of the original music tracks are still featured in the series, many new ones continue to replace the original ones because of the licensing debacle.
Baywatch first aired in 1989 and went on to have a successful 11-season run. Because of its success, the company Fremantle set its sights on streaming platforms in 2018 but quickly had to make a decision about whether to keep or replace the original music in the series.
Like many others in the same position, the showrunners realized that the only way they could affordably release Baywatch on streaming platforms would be to replace more than 350 songs— including intro music, background music, and outro music. So, the company chose to use new music that was easier to license long-term.
Family Matters is a series that underwent quite a bit of change over the years, especially when it came to the show’s intro theme. Unlike the other examples in this list, however, the changes weren’t made just because of music licensing issues.
Early on in the first season, the showrunners changed the intro from Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay’s “As Day Goes By.” Then, for the seventh season, they removed the intro theme altogether.
Even still, “As Days Go By” is a theme song that fans of the show still know and love to this day.
Picking the right song can take a long time. You’ve probably experienced this before, and spent time browsing dozens or even hundreds of songs.
Maybe you’ve got a sound or a vision in your head, and settling for something else feels wrong. Or maybe you just can’t find something that fits the tone and sounds like a high-quality product. And you probably don’t have a big enough budget to pay for the rights to the song that was your inspiration.
Either way, these are just three of the most common problems that many creators deal with when they’re searching for the right music. Learning how to look for music — and actually finding good songs — can seem like an acquired skill, so we’ve got some tips to get you started.
Fulfill your vision. You know what kind of tone you want your intro music to build, or how that thematic sound will help shape the message you are sharing with your audience. Hang onto that idea like it is your lifeline, because it sort of is.
Don’t settle. Finding the right music is worthwhile. You should be proud of the content you create, even if it requires some extra time and effort. So remind yourself that there are quality songs available, even when it feels like digging for a needle in a very “meh” haystack.
Commit to searching. If you’re going the traditional route of browsing for songs online, you’ll have to make a commitment to stick with it. Finding great intro music is just as hard as (maybe even harder than) finding great vlog or background music and sound effects.
Of course, that tried-and-true method of scanning for songs and then licensing them is more than just “traditional” — it’s outdated. Almost even archaic in today’s always-online culture.
You don’t have to lock yourself on a path through the Dark Forest of Mediocre Music and then climb up the Cliffs of Copyright Law. You already know that royalty free music is another way to find songs, but going this route will also help you get what you need faster and easier.
While this guide is about royalty free intro music, we won’t assume that you’re an expert on how a song qualifies as “royalty free.” But that tag does have an effect on you as a filmmaker, so it’s helpful to at least understand the basics.
In a nutshell, something qualifies as royalty free music when you pay for it through a licensing company rather than a record label.
Copyrights exist to make sure people who create or publish content get paid for their efforts. And they also prevent copyrighted music (or other material) from being misused or stolen.
The traditional licensing process is drawn-out and expensive because so many people can claim partial ownership of a song (the writer, recording artist, studio artists, record label, etc.).
First, you’d have to reach out and negotiate a fee, as well as the restrictions on how you’ll use the song and what your project will be used for. Then after that original fee, you’ll pay monthly royalty payments.
Royalty free music is basically a way to sidestep that entire process. These sorts of companies negotiate with artists, gather a big library of copyrighted music, and then sell those licenses — usually at a much more reasonable price — to their members.
At Soundstripe, we do things a little differently. First, we use a subscription service, which means you sign up for a monthly or yearly plan (rather than paying per song) and get unlimited access — i.e., unlimited downloads — to our entire library.
We also hire the musicians that produce our songs. That means that we own the copyright licenses for music we add to our library, and we’re able to make sure our artists get reliable income and our customers get new songs every week.
Now what does that mean for you? Basically, it guarantees that when you download a song from our music library, you’ll never have to worry about copyright claims. With our lifetime license, you have permission to use the song forever, regardless of whether your commercial videos or projects go viral and make you a millionaire or not.
And even if your subscription runs out and you decide not to renew, you will still be protected by the licenses you started while you were a Soundstripe member. This means that all of the sound effects and royalty free music that you license now won’t be flagged for copyright infringement later.
If that sounds too easy, then that means we’re doing our jobs. Our goal was to create a platform and music library that helps musicians and filmmakers, and offering a subscription to amazing royalty free music and sound effects helps everyone involved.
For you, that means you’ll get access to a wide variety of intro songs that will help you set the tone of your project and grab your audience’s attention. Whether you’re producing YouTube videos, indie films, commercial videos, or other media — you can license the right music in minutes instead of weeks or months.
At the end of the day, that’s really your mission as a filmmaker — using every tool (including copyrighted music) to tell better stories in your videos.
If you’re looking for more music licensing-related content, these articles on the Soundstripe blog cover a wide range of topics and are a great place to start: