How to Choose the Right Music BPM for Your Video

What is music BPM

Highlights

Using BPM is one of the best ways to find the perfect song for your video
Artlist’s BPM search filter makes this process even quicker
The best BPM for your video isn’t always the pace you might expect
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It always amazes me that viewers instinctively know when an edit works or doesn’t, even if they lack the terminology or expertise to express why. Whether or not you’ve considered “BPM” (beats per minute) in your own editing, there’s a good chance you intuitively know the impact it has on the tone and feel of a video project. If an exciting video needs “faster” music or a romantic scene needs a “slower” theme, you probably don’t mean that the songs need to end sooner or last longer. You’re referring to the pace of the music, and that’s where BPM comes in.

What is Music BPM?

When it’s not something vaguely medical to do with blood pressure, BPM is a count of the number of beats a song has per minute. As in this hilarious example from The Office (the meme for which, amazingly, I had to make for myself), if you click your fingers along to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, you’ll end up clicking much more than if you clicked to the beginning of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. This is because “Stayin’ Alive” has a faster pace and a higher BPM.

how to calculate bpm

While a song’s BPM will be a specific number, generally between 20 and 200, songs with similar BPMs can be grouped into categories referred to as tempos. On Artlist, you can now search for songs with a particular BPM if your project needs one. For example, if you need music to pulse in time with a ticking clock, search for a song with exactly 60 BPM. While tempos do have classical Italian terms (lento is slow, andante is medium, allegro is fast etc.), on Artlist, these categories are simply slow, medium-slowmediummedium-fast and fast.

Choosing the right BPM for you

Once you open up Artlist.io, you can head to the BPM dropdown option just above your current song selection.

bpm music filter on Artlist

From this point, you can select your BPM range in a couple of different ways. First, you can select the tempo you want your song to have, automatically filtering your selection with a single click. Your tempo options (with their BPM ranges) are: 

  • Slow (20-70 BPM)
  • Medium-slow (70-90 BPM)
  • Medium (90-110 BPM)
  • Medium-fast (110-130 BPM)
  • Fast (130-200 BPM)

We’ll take a listen to these tempos in Artlist songs very soon.

If you need a song with a very specific BPM, you can use the slider to find it or search within a numerical range. Or, if you want to experiment with different tempos, you can use these tools to search for a broad range of songs with varied BPMs. These tools are flexible and let you do what’s best for your project.

bpm music filter on artlist

To hear the difference between these tempos, take a listen to the Artlist songs below:

Slow (from 20 – 70 BPM)

before we're leaving here by faith richards and aaron kellim is slow bpm music

Medium-slow (70 – 90 BPM)

what if i told you by cayson renshaw is slow-medium bpm music

Medium (90 – 110 BPM)

crosswalk bounce is medium bpm music

Medium-fast (110 – 130 BPM)

el monte

Fast (130 – 200 BPM)

just the way you like it is a fast bpm song

Why BPM is important for your background music

Now you know what BPM is and its impact on song choice, so let’s take a look at how best to use it in an edit. Below are 2 examples of videos with very different subject matters and completely different approaches to BPM. 

Example 1: Fast tempo

In this first example below, I found a brilliant story on Artgrid (“Boxing Match by LACOFILMS) that I thought needed a lively, exciting edit. Once I downloaded the clips I wanted, I went to Artlist and selected the Medium-fast tempo option. Straight away, I found several songs I thought would work well but used the filter options on the left side of the page to shop around a little. After filtering by theme (Sports & Fitness) and genre (Hip Hop), I came across “Element,” a song that would work perfectly for a story about boxing.

As I edited to this song, I used its pace to give my cuts a rhythm, but I also made sure to break that rhythm regularly to avoid a predictable edit. It’s not all about cuts, so I kept up the energy by making punctuated action within the footage fall in line with the beat (e.g., a punch landing on a beat).

Example 2: Slow tempo

In this second example, the beautiful underwater footage from Wind Collective on Artgrid needed a peaceful, calming edit. So I started by searching for a Slow tempo, then filtered further by theme (Nature) to find “Chemtrails” by Sémø.

Example 3: “Wrong” tempo

To really show the impact that pace and song choice make on a video, take a glimpse at what these examples would look like if we keep everything else the same but swap their BPMs around.

While there are a few moments that work in both cases, these videos mostly feel hard to watch: the subject matter and the music leave you wanting 2 different things from the edit. Sometimes, however, the obvious choice isn’t always the best one, so let’s discuss some other tips for choosing the right BPM for your own video. 

Tips for choosing the right BPM for your video

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for trying to choose the best background music for your videos.

Use BPM in combination with other filters on Artlist

In my edits from earlier, I found the right song by coupling my BPM choices with other filters in Artlist. But it’s not quite as simple as choosing a fast-paced song for exciting scenes and a slower song for… underwater scenes. Fast-paced music can be stressful, happy or scary, while slow-paced music can be relaxing, romantic or scary. 

On its own, searching by BPM will get you a song with the right pace for your video, but try filtering by theme or genre to find songs a little further outside the box that might be ideal for your scene. This will also speed up the process of finding that perfect song by narrowing your options and limiting the number of less suitable tracks you’ll listen to (as good as they may be) before you find the one you’re looking for. 

Sometimes an unconventional BPM is the best choice

While visuals with faster action usually need a quicker tempo and vice-versa, exploring whether an unconventional BPM choice could work for your own project is good. Sometimes it’s the right choice to subvert expectations: a strong contrast between the music and the action of the visuals can really work, especially when the other qualities of the song complement the scene.

A good example of a low BPM working with a very intense edit would be the following scene from Interstellar. It has a man ejecting his own spaceship into a black hole (it doesn’t get much more intense than that), but the BPM sits at just 59.

Though the tempo is slow, the music has other qualities that make it particularly intense: the volume and the use of a full orchestra. Meanwhile, the slow tempo helps make ejection-into-a-black-hole begin to feel inevitable (you will hopefully face easier tasks in your own editing), and helps us feel Coop’s calmness as he accepts his fate.

To take an example on the opposite end of the spectrum (and a personal favorite of mine), watch the incredible music video for LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby,” directed by Rian Johnson. This song has a whopping 169 beats per minute. While it does start off with several very quick cuts and lots of fast-paced action (in this case, mathematical calculation counts as fast-paced action), the majority of the video has long takes and isn’t exactly action-packed. But watch it, and tell me it doesn’t work perfectly.

Just as the scene from Interstellar relies on other musical qualities to enhance its intensity (rather than just BPM), “oh baby” has long, sustained vocals and synths which contrast nicely with the rapid underlying beat. The result is a song that works just as well with quick cuts as it does with long ones, allowing for faster action when needed and more thoughtful storytelling when not.

Wrapping up

Now that BPM is well and truly part of your editor’s vocabulary and that you’ve seen the impact it can make on a video, put it to good use in your own projects and start making tempo work for you. 

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Tim McGlinchey is a lecturer in Northern Ireland's leading film school, where he specializes in teaching cinematography, editing and scriptwriting. His professional background is in commercial videography and narrative filmmaking, which he still engages in heavily by writing and directing short films and contributing stock footage to Artgrid.io.

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