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The Cost of Music – A Filmmaker’s Guide to Cutting Costs on Soundtracks & Scores

The Cost of Music – A Filmmaker’s Guide to Cutting Costs on Soundtracks & Scores

Professional and semi pro filmmakers are aware of the huge impact a great music score can make on their production. But the temptation is to cut costs on music so that more of the budget can be invested in the costly visual & post production side of film making.

So how do you trim your music budget without compromising the quality of the score?

Here we offer some tips and tricks on the best way to reduce costs while making sure that your score has the maximum impact on your audience.


Hiring a Composer

There are a number of different ways to add music to a film production. The director could hire a composer & liaise with him or her on every aspect of the score. Together they could spot the various scenes that require added emotional impact & discuss the hiring of an orchestra & specialist musicians to add reality and depth to the music. But all this freedom and flexibility comes at a cost. For a feature length documentary a professional composer’s fee could be up to $30,000 (Danny Elfman costs a little more!) and hiring an orchestra can be a drain on money and time, with sessions adding two or three weeks to recordings and in some cases doubling the allocated budget. However, for some directors a ‘gun-for-hire’ composer may be a necessary expense. This way they can ensure that they will receive personal input on their score, and be able to liaise with the composer if things don’t sound exactly how they’d imagined.

So hiring a composer is flexible & can add a unique quality to the production. But there are also many other options to consider.

Using Published Music

In terms of cost, placing published commercial music in your film is undoubtedly the most expensive solution. Permission needs to be granted by the songwriter (through the publisher) as well as the performer (through the record label). Hiring a rights lawyer to clear permission is only part of the expense. Both publisher and record label will have entirely separate agendas that will conspire to maximise income from their release. And the more a director sets his sights on a particular song, the more expensive they will make it to grant permission.

If a film includes published music without clearing it first, there may be penalties later. The more successful a film becomes, the more costly the penalties are once the clearance problem has been identified, with fees being based on the amount of screenings at film festivals, theatres and on video sharing sites.

There is also the issue of content. Many publishers will refuse clearance due to the religious, sexual or violent nature of the film’s content. Without knowing this, negotiations may have already begun and with a music lawyer on an hourly rate it’s easy to see how clearance issues can soon send the budget spiralling out of control.

Unless there’s no option, it’s sensible for directors to steer clear of published commercial releases in their score.

Using Stock Music

Stock music (AKA library music or production cues) may not be the most flexible way to score a film, but it’s certainly one of the most cost effective. Contemporary stock music is often tailor made for such projects, whereby a central musical theme will have been edited into suitable durations and incidental underscores so that the filmmaker can choose an off-the-shelf solution that is effective and compelling.

Many of today’s stock music producers are themselves film & TV composers which means they have the necessary experience and resources to turn out lush, intricate cues that predict many of the key emotional states expressed in the narrative arc of a typical high end feature film.

Adventure, melodrama, comedy, documentary. Most styles are catered for and often the only drawback is the amount of choice facing a director when he begins his search.

To get the best music filmmakers will need to visit the best and most reputable sites and libraries.

And the better the catalogue, the more expensive the music becomes. However that’s generally a sign of good quality. And whatever the cost, it will be a fraction of the fee for a composer.

And stock music also comes with one huge advantage. If purchased from a reputable site or catalogue, the cost incurred will also include an extensive license. This could include worldwide usage and limitless reproduction in perpetuity. So the director is able to curb costs on music supervisors, lawyers, composers, orchestras and musicians as well as instantly gaining access to all the paperwork required for music rights, copyright and distribution. All this will be included in the license. Saving them time, money and lots of future headaches when the film is distributed worldwide.

On the downside, the score won’t be exclusive. Other filmmakers can access the same music. But if it locks in perfectly with the narrative of a film, then however many other people use it, it will never sound exactly the same. Because of the unique combination of the music, visuals & narrative storyline of each particular project.

If you do decide to use stock music / production music, you could do a lot worse than starting right here at Shockwave-Sound.

The Final Cost

So, is stock music the most effective option for the pro and semi-pro filmmaker?

From the three options above the answer would be yes. However to score a feature length film or documentary with original stock music may require up to two hours of cues, which could end up being expensive. Thankfully, many catalogues release collections with many tracks of similar themes or a complete narrative arc. This greatly reduces the cost of buying each track individually.

As for quality vs. price, it’s worth considering that very few scores are made up of tracks that have been downloaded for $0.99!

Other Options

Public domain music is music with lapsed copyright. Some very interesting music has entered the public domain, particularly from the 1920’s and 30’s and it’s a good resource for eclectic and unusual recordings that may spark the imagination. Blues, swing, ragtime and a lot of contemporary music that is out of copyright. It’s worth spending time listening to what’s out there.

However, it’s sometimes unclear as to whether the performance rights are in the public domain as well as the rights to the composition. If one or other remains under copyright, it will present unforeseen problems if a director is set on using a specific recording of the music.

What they do in Hollywood

Director John Carpenter composed the score for many of his own films

Sometimes directors choose to score the film themselves. Legendary Hollywood director John Carpenter has provided the score for sixteen of his major motion pictures including Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. David Lynch is also a director who often performs and is deeply involved in the musical scores of his own feature films such as Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

Such is the importance of dramatic scores that directors will go to great lengths to get the music they want. Quentin Tarrentino wanted so much to have Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Stuck in the Middle’ for the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs that he fired the music supervisor when they couldn’t license the track. He then employed a music supervisor who got him the rights to the song and the famous scene was brought to life.

Some films employ a device called diegetic sound, where the score is made up of the naturally occurring sounds in the scene. A radio playing, a jukebox, a live band. All adding to a much more naturalistic approach rather than the more self-conscience written score.

Some scores go even further than that. The Coen Brothers’ film, No Country For Old Men had very little recognisable music at all. The score consisting of occasional tones & frequencies that were so in tune with the scene as to be unrecognisable as actual music. Often more like feedback or processed versions of the natural ambiences already present in the scene.

Martin Scorsese uses end to end published commercial music for his movie scores. Often a heady mix of Doo Wop, Phil Spectre, Motown and his favourite band, The Rolling Stones. Although recent films have unearthed buried gems like ‘Wheel of Fortune’ by Kay Star & ‘Cry’ by Johnny Ray from Shutter Island. ‘Bang Bang’ by Jo Cuba and ‘Dust My Broom’ by Elmore James from Wolf on Wall Street. As a music curator, Scorsese is creatively fearless and his hugely popular films of course have a massive budget set aside for licence fees.

All of these directors have a unique way of scoring. And it’s useful to study each director’s approach as well as the different techniques they employ to score each of their movies.

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island score features many obscure gems

A few more ideas

There are other options available for scoring a film or compiling a soundtrack. Filmmakers often turn to family, friends or colleagues when it comes to music production.

Unsigned bands are also a consideration. Although experience and reliability are often not their strong points.

Perhaps the most exciting score may be a combination of many of the above suggestions. One or two bespoke cues from a hired composer, alongside a number of licensed themes from Stock Music catalogues. And then some eclectic choices from public domain or unsigned bands to add some unusual and unique qualities to the production.

Whatever you decide, hopefully some of these ideas will help create an exciting and innovative score for your next creative film project.

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website,
Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 2

Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 2

This is a continuation of the article: Choosing the right classical music (Part 1) which you can read here.

In part one of this series we looked at a list of 10 Bombastic classical pieces. Those huge, thunderous anthems that would sound great as an accompaniment to epic visuals & graphics or deep sonorous voice overs.

But the beauty of classical music is that it is rich in dynamism. One moment loud & boisterous, the next wistful & melancholic. In part two we’re looking into the sensitive side of classical music with a list of 10 breath takingly beautiful pieces of classical music.

Part two: Beautiful Classical Pieces

So here’s a list of 10 stunners from the classical canon. Usages could include film and documentary scenes such as panning shots of natural beauty, moments of reflection, falling in love…Romantic visuals that would benefit from a touch of sheer understated class.

10. The Four Seasons (spring) – Vivaldi

Fresh & flowery, The Four Seasons is Vivaldi’s series of Baroque violin concertos inspired by the 18th Century Italian countryside. Vivaldi’s music has a high note count with plenty of gushing detail & colour and of all the Season’s, ‘Spring’ is over brimming with flamboyant Baroque fruitiness.

9. Flower Duet – Lakme

Highjacked (pardon the expression) by British Airways for a series of TV ads, ‘Flower Duet’ is a magnificent operatic aria performed by two female sopranos. The operatic voices bob and weave through a magical garden of soaring cellos & assorted strings like two beautiful swans. Tasteful, graceful, stylish and elegant.

8. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor – Beethoven

Recognizable from a plethora of usages in contemporary film and TV, Piano Sonata No. 14 (AKA The Moonlight Sonata) takes you on a lilting journey with its ever shifting succession of solo piano chords. One moment somber and sincere the next enchanting and elegant, and as one of Beethoven’s most beautiful pieces, is more than worthy of a place in our list.

7. Peer Gynt (morning) – Edvard Grieg

Imbued with a sense of fresh optimism this dynamic aria builds from a fluttering flute into a euphoric orchestra as daybreak bursts through the morning mist. A Norwegian composer, Grieg even lived long enough to hear some of his compositions immortalized on record.

6. Messiah Halleluiah Chorus – Händel

In our lists of both bombastic and beautiful classical music, this one easily straddles both camps with its huge choirs, crashing cymbals & divine orchestration. Another Baroque composer, Handel is considered one of the classical elite having composed over 40 operas in the early 1800’s.

5. The Lark Ascending – Vaughn Williams

British composer Vaughn Williams’ most celebrated piece was inspired by a poem about a skylark. And as flutes and violins spiral skyward, the imagery of a bird in flight is synonymous with this elegant masterpiece. Melancholic, sad & breath takingly graceful.

4. Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Minor Prelude – Bach

Known to induce feelings of tearful ecstasy and abundant joy in most listeners, one must often contemplate…What is it about this continuous stream of solo cello notes that moves the human soul so profoundly?

3. Nimrod – Elgar

Among Elgar’s best known compositions are the orchestral works, Enigma Variations. Taken from that is the popular piece is Nimrod. With its angelic wind and swelling orchestral strings it surely ranks among one of classical music’s most compelling pieces.

2. Adagio for Strings – Barber

Radiating with angelic warmth, ‘Adagio’ tugs at the heartstrings with apparent ease as its wash of strings climb higher and higher towards divine absolution. Simply one of the most graceful & appealing classical pieces ever composed, it has been used to great effect in films as diverse and polar opposite as Platoon and The Elephant Man.

1. Ave Maria – Schubert

Yes, here we are at the top of the pile where I’m keen to point out that these pieces are in no particular order. Although Schubert’s Ave Maria is possibly the number one favourite when it comes to popularity. And continued cover versions of varying quality. It’s a stunningly sad yet uplifting operatic aria in its traditional arrangement. Although nowadays we’re treated to less sympathetic versions by the likes of Beyoncé & Celine Dion!

OK, so there we have it. A list of 10 beautiful classical compositions in no particular order. And, of course, it’s all down to subjective taste. With so much wonderful classical music, I’m sure you could make up an infinite number of lists in the same category without including any of the above. In fact, here are five more that might just as easily have featured in the list.

  • The Swan (Le Cygne)
  • Sleeping Beauty op. 66
  • La Traviata Act 1 Prelude – Verdi
  • Jupiter (The Planets) – Holst
  • Gymnopedie No. 1 – Erik Satie

Well, here’s hoping that these lists will lead you on to finding some less well known pieces by these wondrous composers. And that this article will help with your decisions when choosing some beautiful classical music for your film, documentary or presentation. Good luck!

Classical Music at shockwave-sound stock music library:

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website,
Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 1

Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 1

by Simon Power

If you are a filmmaker or production house looking for a recognizable hook or sound bed for a visual presentation, then classical music can be a tremendous asset. The Classics can be used to add weight and depth to your project, instantly giving it a classy air of sincerity. Or they can be included with a sprinkling of irony to add humor, gaiety and wit.

What’s more, a huge percentage of the public recognize many of the popular pieces instantly, as they have been used countless times on films, sporting events, TV shows and commercials. So that gives you an instant shortcut to a wide pallet of emotions and shared consciousness with your audience.

So that’s great, isn’t it?

Well, yes, but there remains a huge problem with classical music: Much of it is just plain inaccessible. Sure, you can recognize a piece of classical music, you can probably hum the first few lines. But when it comes to searching for the actual piece, you’re met with a frustrating & bewildering puzzle to unravel.

The first problem will be the title. Unlike popular music, the title will not always be representative of the emotion or imagery you get when listening to it. You may be looking for a piece that puts you in mind of a ‘Beautiful Sunrise’. But the piece turns out to be called ‘Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Minor BWV 1007 Prelude’.

Same with the composer. Not content with two names, most of them have three or four. And a few of those will be almost willfully unpronounceable. Of course, I’m being flippant, but you get the picture? Unless you’re classically trained you will find it awfully hard to get what you want when searching for classical music for your project.

So how can I find what I’m looking for?

Well, hopefully, these articles will help by offering a beacon of light to producers who are keen to explore the rich and diverse world of the classics. Each part will name & describe 10 popular classics with a particular theme. Many of the examples mentioned are out of copyright public domain pieces that are available for download at shockwave-sound.

So let’s kick off with some real biggies to get the ball rolling…

Part one: Bombastic Classic Anthems

Here’s a list of 10 rousing classical anthems. Uses could include war-like themes, colossal shows or cataclysmic events. They’re showy, impressive and somewhat grandiose pieces that take full advantage of the huge might of an entire orchestra.

10. Finlandia Op.26 No. 7 – Sibelius

Dark, impressive brassy chords full of impending doom from this Finnish composer who produced loads of good Wagnerian sounding stuff in the early 20th Century.

9. A Night on Bare Mountain – Mussorgsky

A track for the masterwork Pictures at an Exhibition, this frenzied, nightmarish romp sounds like someone left the gates of Hell open wide and the screaming banshees of Hades have just flown through.

8. Symphony No. 9 in D Minor Op. 125 Molto Vivace – Beethoven

A change of gear, but no less impressive, this is a joyous, extravagant string symphony filled with all the pomp & ceremony of a huge event or happening.

7. Gayaneh Suite No. 3: The Sabre Dance – Aram Khachaturian

Kyachaturian was a Russian composer which figures when you hear this Arminian workout complete with driving rhythm and loud, incessant woodwind and brass.
Archetypal Russian folk music played at break neck speed.

6. Toccata & Fugue in D Minor – Bach

its Judgment Day and Bach’s Fugue makes it sound like the entire majesty & weight of religion is crashing down around your ears. This is full on fire and brimstone and what’s more it has a MASSIVE organ!

5. Mars (The Planets) – Holst

Cheltenham born Holst was most famous for his orchestral suite, The Planets. A blinding collection of tunes that run the full gamut of human emotion. Mars makes it to this list for being arguably the most bombastic track with its Morse Code-like pulsing bass and apocalyptic lead lines. Its influence on modern film music is incalculable.

4. 1810 Overture – Tchaikovsky

Boy, these Russian composers like it big and the 1810 Overture is no exception. With its huge orchestration, bells and clashing cymbals, its sheer big-ness knows no bounds. And what’s more, any piece that includes the sounds of canon’s firing makes it into this list, so here it is at number 4.

Apocalypse Now used Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”


3. Ride of the Valkyries – Wagner

Wagner is so cool, he even has his own expression named after him. ‘Wagnerian’ means big, powerful, domineering, full of drama and emotional intensity. And that about sums up ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, now famous of course for its inclusion in the chopper sequence in ‘Apocalypse Now’, this is a masterpiece of bombastic classical music from Mr. Hitler’s favourite composer.

2. Romeo & Juliet Op.64 Act 1: Dance of the Knights – Prokofiev

Recently highjacked for the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’, Dance of the Knights is a behemoth of classical music with orchestration that crashes in like the approaching footfalls of some giant monster. It lollops around with surprising grace before ending with some huge chords that are enough to induce feverish applause from any mortal human being on the planet.

1. Carmina Burana Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: No. 1 O Fortuna – Orff

Carmina Burana is a collection of 24 poems set to music by Carl Orff in 1936. The poems are from dramatic texts from the 11th, 12th and 13th Century that reflect the birth of an international European movement. Though you wouldn’t know that to listen to them as they were all written in Latin and a couple of other dead languages.

But no one really listens to the words of ‘O Fortuna’ (the intro to Carmina Burana.) You just get swept away by the power and majesty of the awesome music. The huge choirs, the incessant rhythms, the dark thunderous orchestration. Yep, in a list that’s all about high and mighty classical tunes, ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana is number one, because, in all truth, there’s no other place for it.

OK, so as always with charts there are lots and lots of choices that didn’t make it into the final list. And this is by no means meant to be a definitive countdown of bombastic classical tunes. In fact, there’re in no specific order and, after reading it, you can probably think of a hundred omissions and one’s that got away, or trampled in the stampede.

So at least let me give you these. Five more tunes that were considered for the list, but didn’t quite make the final 10.

  • Brandenburg Concerto – Bach
  • Radetzky March – Strauss
  • The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – Handel
  • Entry of the Gladiators Op.68 – Fucik
  • Symphony No. 40 in G Minor – Mozart
Who knows, maybe this list will lead you on to finding some less well known pieces by these awesome composers. Either way, I hope it will help with your decisions when choosing some rousing classical music for your film, documentary or presentation.Royalty Free Classical Music can be searched and licensed at

This article continues in: Choosing the right Classical music (Part 2)

Choosing the right music for a Documentary

Choosing the right music for a Documentary

by Simon Power

Now that there is a huge variety of mood music available, choosing the soundtrack to your documentary video project can present some exciting opportunities. This article gives some tips & guidance on how to use music to add vibrancy and impact to your production and still bring it in on budget.


How do the experts do it?

Many of the high end filmmakers understand just how important good music is when it comes to adding expression & symbolism to their documentaries. Liberal commentator Michael Moore has produced 4 of the highest grossing documentaries of all time and his style has become a benchmark of modern filmmaking. Music choices often include popular songs alongside effectively chosen extracts from movie scores.

Often the music will be used to bring new energy to the programme, shifting gear from a whimsical piano aria to pounding Thrash Metal. Or a 1930’s Music Hall ditty to a Danny Elfman-style fairytale theme. Each of these styles & genres has something new to add enhancing the narrative in a number of different ways.

The BBC is World renowned for its documentaries covering a vast range of subjects from science, politics and nature to sport, travel and the arts. Their series such as ‘Imagine’, ‘Horizon’ and ‘Blue Planet’ often employ bespoke composers who produce sync music in a variety of moods that perfectly integrates with the visual presentation. Huge orchestration may be used for wide dynamic establishing shots and intimate arrangements for thoughtful pensive moments. The BBC can guarantee large returns from foreign placement and can afford to budget accordingly to secure some of the top composers who may be under contract to produce whole series of documentaries. Or who in some cases will demand large fees for original composition.

On the big screen, other successful documentaries including ‘Jesus Camp’, ‘Grizzly Man’, ‘Enron: the smartest guys in the room’ and Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Supersize Me’, all utilise a menagerie of music genres to create a rich tapestry of sound that drives the narrative and helps lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

However, these music beds are covered by copyright or are very expensive to produce. So where does this leave the amateur or semi-pro filmmaker who makes documentary style programming with little or no budget for the music? Well, there are a number of alternative solutions available to published works and bespoke composers that will get great results, but not end up costing the Earth.

Let the music tell the story

First of all, let’s be clear about the role of music in documentary filmmaking.

Essentially its primary role is storytelling. Driving the narrative along through a variety of moods. Scene setting. Building bridges between interviews, stock footage or animated sequences. In fact, for the majority of the programme, the music is playing a secondary role to the voice over. Only taking centre stage for brief moments before the voice returns to the forefront.

Therefore it’s important that your music creates the required mood within around 4 to 8 bars (perhaps 8 to 10 seconds) as the scene is set and the narrative prepares for the change of pace. This is not necessarily the first 4 bars of the composition. You may choose to use a section from another part of the tune when the instrumentation has built in pitch or reached a crescendo. Therefore it’s always good to listen through a track you think may be suitable to make sure you are utilising it to its full potential.

Make sure it has room to breathe

Of course, because it will often be playing under the voice it is good to choose music that suits this role. Certain instruments include frequencies that clash with the human voice whereas others enhance it. A lead instrument often jars with speech whereas rhythmic passages with no lead instrumentation will flow along with it. Make sure when the music is added there is still plenty of space in the sonic spectrum for the voice frequencies and any other sound design you may be incorporating.

Set the scene

Scene setting is a hugely important task for music. An arid desert looks 10 times as hot and dry if it is accompanied by a sinuous slide guitar or a remote wailing Harmonica. Night time City Streets may benefit from the hustling shuffle of an Urban bass loop. Whereas sporting action will look rougher & tougher with the addition of distorted guitars & driving, thrashing drumbeats.

Then of course, these ideas are just acceptable triggers and shortcuts and sometimes, the complete opposite may be more appropriate for what you need to convey…

Play around with the rules

In fact, creating a paradox with the music can be an extremely effective device.

An argument between a car owner and traffic warden is accompanied by cartoon-like orchestration, immediately removing any threat. A teenager tidying his unkempt room could be recorded in fast motion and accompanied with Ragtime music. A politician who has lost his way whilst attempting to justify an unfair policy becomes ludicrous if he’s fumbling & stumbling over a backing track of a forlorn tuba or trombone.

These humorous juxtapositions rely on a shared knowledge of musical triggers between the filmmaker and his audience and can add exciting contradictions to a variety of scenes.

Choose from a variety of styles

What styles & genres to use relies heavily on subject matter. Travel shows may cherry pick their soundtracks from the indigenous music of the country in question. Established art may use classical music and modern art may have a more experimental approach.

Science & technology programmes often rely on futuristic synthesised soundtracks.

Then, of course there are examples of when directors have chosen to bend these guidelines in search of new and evocative ways of filmmaking. In the documentary ‘Web 3.0’ whose subject matter is firmly set in the science & technology genre, we hear an accompaniment of Eastern European folk music complete with accordions and violins. Somehow it fits perfectly with imagery of state of the art internet environments & row after row of giant air-cooled servers. Just by the very nature of being its polar opposite.

The documentary ‘Bush Family Fortunes’ also utilises a variety of styles and genres. From the opening scene’s ‘Dallas’ theme music, to Hip Hop, laid back jazz, Soul, Gospel & Blues. Not styles that you would associate with former president George Bush, but each enhancing the narrative. Each playing a particular role & bringing the truth of the storytelling to the forefront.

Don’t let Restrictions limit your imagination

Using published music and recognised songs is not a feasible option for amateur & semi-pro film making, as this can prove to be hideously expensive and extremely time consuming to administer. It’s a subject that has been addressed before in these other articles ‘Cue the Music’ and ‘Choosing Music for a Short Film’. Although collection agencies, publishers and artists are beginning to sort out the issues involved, it is still best to steer clear of published music.

So what can we use in place of recognisable songs? How can we tap in to the collective consciousness of our audience without playing them Lady Gaga, Led Zeppelin or Coldplay?

Find Alternatives to published works

Thankfully these days there are plenty of alternatives to using copyrighted music.

Many buyout music sites offer royalty free alternatives and sound-alikes that offer a similar evocative feel to famous well known songs and instrumentation. But sometimes the choice can be over whelming. To help decide on what to use, in the privacy of your studio, you could try using a temporary track by a well known artist. Check whether it works well with the visuals and then remove it. Next, use some advanced search terms on a buyout music site to find something royalty free that has a similar feel & groove.

As an example, let’s say your temp track is a feelgood uptempo Motown song which has been used to illustrate action footage of a volleyball event at a beach resort. In this case, using an advance search engine you could enter searches such as ‘feelgood / happy / joyful / positive / R’n’B / Pop’ and prominent instruments like ‘vocals/songs with lyrics/drums/guitars’.

At Shockwave-Sound.Com, these focused search terms may lead you to a long list of tracks including the likes of Dan Gautreau’s ‘Shake it’. This track would be a perfect feelgood, uptempo alternative to your Motown original. So with these intelligent advanced search options it’s now becoming ever easier to find viable alternative music that will perfectly convey the essence of your original temp tracks.

Finishing your project

Current trends show that the marriage of music and visuals has never been more exciting. The excellent ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ documentary by recluse graffiti artist, Banksy utilises a hugely diverse number of tracks from underground dubstep & new wave punk to Latin jazz & French café music. All providing their own unique qualities without interfering with the storytelling process. Other documentaries with interesting innovative soundtracks include ‘Capturing the Friedmans’, ‘Man on Wire’ and ‘Spellbound’.

All these examples show that choosing the right music and soundbeds for your documentary project can be extremely satisfying and an enjoyable part of the film making process.

I hope in some way that this article inspires your choices, fires your imagination and offers one or two tips and a little guidance towards making the job a little easier in the future. Fingers crossed that your musical choices will help put you on the way to producing a smash hit, award winning documentary in years to come!

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website,

Mess FilmMakers film, shot with a cellphone

It’s pretty cool what you can do these days, armed only with a cellphone, a lot of time and talent, and of course, access to a good quality stock music library and voiceover talents. 🙂

Luis Mieses from Zaragoza, Spain – aka Mess FilmMakers – has produced two really cool trailers / short films. We think he shows a lot of talent as a film maker.

Pray For Dawn is made as a teaser/trailer for a mystery crime / thriller:

The Fixer is more of a short film, this is the one that was shot entirely on a cellphone camera:

In both films, provided the royalty-free music as well as all voice / voiceover acting.

It’s fun to see our music and our voice over recordings used with such talent and gusto. Well done, Luis, and good luck with your carreer as a film maker!