Music sets the mood and emotional tone of a film. It elicits visceral reactions from the audience, bringing scenes to life. This impact is especially pronounced in short films where every second counts.
Finding the right music is crucial when making a short film on a budget. You may not afford a professional Hollywood composer, but you can still score a powerful soundtrack. The key is knowing where to look, creative approaches to try, and music best practices.
This comprehensive guide will give you the strategies and insights needed to find affordable music that makes your short film shine.
Choosing Music Based on Your Short Film Genre and Theme
Every short film falls into a genre or theme that calls for certain musical cues. Make your life easier by first picking music that enhances your core story.
- Drama: These intense, serious stories require moving scores to amplify emotional arcs. Try somber piano, ambient guitar, or sweeping orchestral music.
- Horror: Scary scenes thrive on dark, tense scores. Dissonant strings, creepy synths, and heavy percussion build suspense.
- Comedy: Keep things fun and quirky. Ukulele, whistling, honking horns, and other playful sounds complement the humor.
- Romance: Support passionate moments with emotional, earnest tracks. Think melancholic pianos, ethereal vocals, or gentle acoustic guitar.
- Sci-fi: This genre covers a wide ground, but futuristic digital sounds and atmospheric pads create hi-tech vibes.
- Documentary: Go for upbeat, inspiring music with driving beats. Or opt for a mellow mix of guitars and strings.
Research clips from existing short films in the genre you want. Study their soundtracks to identify what instruments and styles set the right tone. This will inform smarter music choices when selecting your own score.
Finding Royalty-Free Music and Sound Effects
As an indie filmmaker, you want to avoid legal headaches. Commissioning original music is costly. The best option is often royalty-free stock music sites. These let you license tracks at affordable rates without copyright issues.
We’ve compiled some of the top sites to find music for your short film project:
- PremiumBeat – One of the most popular royalty-free music libraries out there. Features over 50,000 exclusive studio-quality tracks across a huge range of genres, from cinematic scores to rock music. Licenses start at around $49.
- AudioJungle – Part of Envato Market, this massive catalog boasts over 1 million audio tracks and sound effects. Licenses begin at $1 for MP3 format.
- Storyblocks – Offers an extensive library of music, sound effects, video footage, and more. Licenses start at around $39 for web projects.
- Free Music Archive – Source for thousands of Creative Commons licensed tracks. All are free to download and use. Just check the licensing details.
- Incompetech – Royalty-free music by composer Kevin MacLeod available under Creative Commons 3.0. Styles range from classical to electronic.
- YouTube Audio Library – Collection of free music and sound effects available to monetized YouTubers. Just check usage rights.
When evaluating stock music avoid overused, generic tracks. Seek unique compositions that rhyme with your story’s tone and textures.
Preview clips thoroughly before licensing. Make sure the mix quality is sufficient. Many sites let you sort tracks by instrumentation, mood, genre, etc. So dial into what you need.
For sound effects, pick evocative assets that transport viewers into key scenes like rain falling in a breakup, or breaking glass in a bar fight. Take time to layer in ambient textures too like cafe chatter in the background.
Commissioning Original Music from a Composer
Hiring a composer to score a custom soundtrack tailored to your story is an investment. But it may pay dividends by making your film truly unforgettable. Where do you start?
- Search sites like SoundBetter, AirGigs, Fiverr, and Soundstripe for composers open to film-scoring projects in your budget range. Review their demos and past work.
- Provide high-level input on the style, instruments, and vibes you want. Share script details to inform their composition process.
- Negotiate pricing for the project scope. On SoundBetter, composers set their own rates. Sample projects may cost ~$500+ for 5-minute shorts.
- Sign agreements covering the number of revisions, commercial usage rights, payment schedules, etc.
- Schedule check-ins to share initial drafts and feedback. Request edits to refine the music.
- Upon final delivery, pay the composer and confirm you have the rights to use the music in your film going forward.
By investing in a custom score, you get music made just for your story. This evokes emotions more effectively than stock music. Just be sure to vet composers carefully first.
Pro Editing and Mixing Tips for Your Soundtrack
With music files in hand, you’re ready to integrate them into your film edit. This process can make or break the soundtrack. Follow these best practices:
- Set the Mood Right Away – Your opening scene is crucial. Set an engaging tone quickly with an intro music cue. Even sparse piano notes or simmering synths help hook viewers.
- Use Transitions – Don’t cut music abruptly from scene to scene. Add quick crossfades for seamless transitions between tracks. This keeps the mood consistent.
- Trim Songs Strategically – Featured music shouldn’t just play arbitrarily in the background. Trim and edit tracks to align with scene lengths and story arcs.
- Enhance Climaxes – Build intensity for big moments by selecting music that crescendos towards the apex right on cue.
- Mix It Up – Alternate between evocative underscore and strategic moments of silence. This adds dynamics.
- Leave Room for Dialogue – Songs with vocals, bass, or dense arrangements can overpower dialogue. When characters speak, bring the music volume down or opt for ambient mixes.
- Set Consistent Volume – Pick volume levels that immerse viewers without overpowering scenes. Set cue points where music should dip down or swell. Avoid jarring jumps.
- Pan for POV – Use the left/right stereo field to reflect onscreen action. As characters move, pan the music accordingly.
- Add Realistic Effects – Use EQ, reverb, and light compression to make synthesized or stock music sound more natural in the scene’s acoustic space.
- Blend and Balance – Ensure all soundtrack elements sit together nicely in the mix. Tweak levels so no single component sticks out.
- Know When to Bring In a Pro – If the soundtrack overwhelms you, don’t fear working with an audio engineer to polish and master the mix.
Finding the right music may seem daunting initially. But following the strategies above, you can score a short film soundtrack that enhances engagement and immerses viewers. Lean on stock music libraries for affordable options or spring for custom compositions if the budget allows.
With some creativity and mixing finesse, your music choices can have audiences laughing, crying, cringing, or sitting on the edge of their seats. Spend time evaluating how composers have scored similar short films in the past. Then use their cues as inspiration to compose your own audio masterpiece.
The final mix will likely require some trial and error. Remain open to making tweaks until each music transition and placement feels seamless. With the perfect soundtrack, you’ll amplify the cinematic qualities and emotional spirit at the heart of your short film.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get music for a short film?
- License royalty-free stock music from sites like PremiumBeat, AudioJungle, Storyblocks, etc.
- Hire a composer to create original music tailored to your film
- Use free resources like Free Music Archive or YouTube Audio Library
- Reach out to local musicians and collaborate on scoring your film
What music can I use for short films?
- Royalty-free stock music that grants you a license for commercial use
- Original music commissioned from a composer who gives you the rights
- Free music under Creative Commons licenses that allow commercial use
- Public domain classical/traditional compositions
How to get free music for short film?
- Use the YouTube Audio Library which grants free access to YouTubers
- Find music marked as ‘free to use’ on sites like Free Music Archive
- Search for ‘copyright free music’ on YouTube but check usage rights
- Use public-domain music or classical compositions
Can I use royalty-free music for my short film?
Yes, most royalty-free music comes with a license for commercial projects like short films. Just double check the specific license terms on sites like PremiumBeat when downloading tracks.
Can I use any song in a short film?
No, you can’t use just any song. Unless a song is in the public domain, you need to obtain synchronization rights directly from the artist/label or use pre-cleared music.
How much does it cost to get the rights to a song for a short film?
Licensing popular commercial songs can be very expensive, often ranging from $3,000 to $10,000+ depending on the artist. More affordable options are royalty-free music or commissioning original compositions.
How many beats should be in a short film?
There are no hard rules, but short films tend to have 10-30 significant beats/plot points. Limit yourself to only essential story beats. Shorter films with around 10 major beats tend to feel more focused.
Can you play short clips of copyrighted music?
Only very brief snippets of a few seconds may qualify as fair use. Always get a license to be legally compliant. Don’t rely on unlicensed music.
Is there a platform for short films?
Popular short film platforms include YouTube Shorts, TikTok, Vimeo, Dust, Short of the Week, and many film festivals/competitions focused on shorts.