Choosing Music for Videos – How to Pick the Right Song



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Picking and editing a song to make it fit your video is a complex process, and there is more than one way of doing it. We thought it would be a good idea to take you through the whole thought process behind choosing music for a video, cutting it, and see the impact different songs can have on the same visuals.

For those of you who are still in quarantine, this post could have a lot of value and information to keep you occupied while you’re at home.

The Footage

To illustrate the impact music has on a video, we chose to create a fake car ad using stock footage. Since cars and horses go together well, we decided to use clips from two Artgrid stories for this “commercial” – White Muscle Car by Wilson Streibig and Horseback Riding by Via Films.

We often get asked, what comes first, The music or the video? Do we choose the song and then go out and shoot our video, or do we first shoot it and then pick the music? The answer to this question is – it depends.

Sometimes, like in the Dance commercial, we knew which song we wanted to use because our dancer had to prepare dance moves before the shoot. Other times, we come to the editing with an open mind and start looking for a song and we try out different versions until we get it right. It really depends on the production, on your client or on you. Sometimes, it will really help you to know the song even before you shoot and sometimes you want to just go and shoot some B-roll and then look for the music. and have that creative freedom to try different things and not be locked down on a specific song.


it’s always better to start working with references. A car commercial can be built with tons of different songs; it really depends on what you want to convey to your audience. To learn how to work better with references, watch one of the installments of our 14 Days of Film School series.

Let’s see three references that will help us with this project:

In this specific commercial, they chose a cinematic orchestral composition that conveys power, freedom as well as elegance. The message of this commercial is that everybody can drive a Jeep to go on an adventure. That’s why we see a guy in a suit and a young woman driving the car.

This is another Jeep commercial but with a very different message. Here, they went with a country song with vocals, because the lyrics are about family and togetherness, and the 16mm footage conveys childhood memories. So this commercial targets people with families who like traveling. The third reference is a Mercedes commercial.

This ad is more targeted to a male audience, with a strong male narrator and tribal drum music.

Things to Consider

Before you choose the music for your ad, you need to consider these three factors:

  1. Target audience: When you’re working for a client, it’s important to talk with them to get a better understanding of who they want to target, who their audience is, so you can have a better understanding of what you want to convey before going out to shoot your commercial.
  2. Your brand’s image: You need to think about what your brand is about as a whole. If you’re a sports brand, you may want to use a powerful hip hop or electronic song. A YouTuber, like Casey Niestat, always uses a specific style of electronic music for his videos. Using a consistent musical style will help you build a brand image.
  3. Quality: Ask yourself if a specific song is good enough to be in an Apple, Nike or Mercedes commercial. Will it make your video memorable? You don’t need to compromise on the quality of your ad’s music. At Artlist, you will find tons of hook-filled songs that you will start humming from the first listen.

The footage we’re using for this project is of a muscle car driving through a countryside road and lifestyle footage of a horse riding through the fields. These shots convey power, freedom and America.

Keeping that in mind, our search for music on Artlist usually begins with the mood. For this ad, we start looking for a song that is both powerful and uplifting, and since we’re dealing with an American muscle car and a horse, something in the rock or folk genres could work. Plus, since we don’t have any voice-over here, a song with vocals can work well here.

Looking for Your Song

We begin by filtering uplifting, powerful, Folk and Vocals.

If you want to see whether the lyrics convey the right message, you can hover over the mic icon next to the song’s waveform.

The first song on our list, Mean One by OK Otter is not powerful enough, but the second one, Locked by Jay Denton shows promise and by its waveform, you can go over to the more powerful segments and see if it fits.

If you’re working with a client, you can put the songs you like in a collection and send it to them to get feedback.

For our second set of filters, we go with Carefree, Powerful, vocals and rock instead of Folk.

Let’s look at the song Hell Yeah by Ride Free. The lyrics ‘I’m gonna make her mine’ and ‘She drives me wild’ seem to perfectly fit the concept of a car. This song also conveys a sense of freedom and power, which is precisely what we’re looking for.

Going with powerful rock is the obvious choice here, but the obvious choice isn’t always the right one. To illustrate this, we browsed through a collection we curated of songs for commercials and came across Pistols & Prayers by K. Sparks. While it’s not that powerful of a song, it has a hip hop and rock blend that might work.

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So, you’ve downloaded a full-length song and you have a 30-second edit. One option is to put the song on the timeline and try to cut the commercial according to the song. However, when you are limited to 30 seconds, it’s better to look for the song parts that might fit your ad and cut the song according to the footage.

Let’s start with Hell Yeah by Ride Free.

Trying to find the cut points of a song can be tricky. This post is more about the thought process behind choosing and editing a song. If you’re looking for the technical side things, go over to a recent post we wrote about adding a song to a video.

Our key lyrics are “She drives me wild” and “I’m gonna make her mine,” and although the ending of the song is not the most powerful part, it does fit here. Usually, the last beat of a song connects well with anything.

To give you a sense of how music changes the mood and style of a video, we cut the same ad but with both songs.

Hell Yeah

Pistols & Prayers

Final Thoughts

You be the judge which version is better. Ultimately, there is no right and wrong answer when it comes to background music for your video. Your client might prefer the obvious and safe song choice, but sometimes a less conventional song selection will make for a more memorable video. Until next time, stay creative!

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