5 questions to ask when choosing video background music

Microphone recording a white ball surrounded by music notes with a computer monitor in the background

The right music is emotion in a bottle: an energetic playlist can transform your daily run into a movie training montage and a swell of violins during a dramatic scene can bring a tear to your eye. This makes music a great tool for video content creators. Want to turn a vlog into a cinematic experience, or make a how-to video feel upbeat and engaging? The right soundtrack can help you with all of that. 

But learning how and when to deploy background music requires some skill. You don’t want to hit your audience over the head with emotional cues, but you also don’t want to make them listen to a lot of talking without the sense of rhythm and pacing that music provides. And you definitely don’t want to blow your whole budget on the music library for your project. 

Finding and using good video background music takes some planning up front. Here’s how you should think about it.

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What to ask yourself

Some things to consider when you’re trying to choose music for a video include:

What role will music play?

Is music going to be in the background of a conversation or demonstration, or is it going to be featured front and center? Does it need to keep the audience’s attention focused on what’s being said, or enhance an emotional story and its narrative beats? You’ll end up looking to different genres and using different amounts of music depending on the answers to these questions. 

What kind of music will best speak to your audience?

Are you targeting Gen Z kids who will vibe with something that sounds like it was pulled from TikTok, or are you trying to welcome customers who might not have tuned into the Top 40 recently? Thinking through who’s listening and how you want them to feel is important at this stage. 

Which genre is the best fit for your footage?

Try to match the aesthetics of your video with the feel of the music. Big, sweeping views of a landscape might call for orchestral music or acoustic guitar, while a demo of a high-tech new gadget might be best suited for electronic or hip-hop beats. 

What will you use for the intro and outro?

Even if you aren’t going to include music in the rest of the video, it can be helpful to have musical cues that let listeners know when your video is starting and ending. They can also help mark off different sections from one another, almost like chapters in a book. Check out our guide to YouTube intros.

How much do you want to spend?

Most video creators aim for one of three types of music licenses, which will take up varying amounts of your budget:

  • Public domain music: These are the easiest tracks to deal with because, simply put, no one owns them anymore! You don’t have to sign anything, and you don’t have to pay anyone. Just use them whenever and however you want. 
  • Creative Commons music: Creative Commons licenses are usually more flexible than the standard copyright, and they’re written specifically to encourage collaboration between artists. Still, they do have some terms and conditions — and sometimes involve a fee, too, so be sure to read the fine print. 
  • Royalty-free music: There’s a lot of confusion on this point, so let’s be clear: royalty-free music is not the same as free, period. Royalty-free music is still held under a copyright, so you’ll have to get a license to use it in your video. You may also have to pay an upfront, one-time fee. However, once you’ve done that, you can use the song as many times as you want without having to pay more. (For the term of the contract, of course.) 

Tons of sites offer all of the above, so to save you a too-broad Google search, we compiled some of our favorite sites for finding the best background music.   

6 places to find good video background music 

  • PremiumBeat: PremiumBeat is a subscription service that takes a lot of the guesswork around licensing out of the equation. With a standard subscription ($12.99/month), you can license up to 5 songs per month for use on your projects — though you can also purchase tracks a la carte if you prefer. Everything on PremiumBeat was composed and/or recorded specifically for them, so it has music you can’t get anywhere else. 
  • Epidemic Sound: Epidemic Sound offers a similar model, with a Personal subscription starting at $9/month and offering unlimited downloads while you’re a member — though you can also sign up for a 30-day trial and get free downloads all month. You can use these tracks in podcasts, YouTube videos, or your social media channels — wherever you’re posting, the rights should be cleared. Both Epidemic Sound and PremiumBeat are great sources for royalty-free background music!
  • FreePD: The “PD” here stands for public domain, which means that this music doesn’t require a license or attribution to use. It’s also completely free, though you can also pay a fee between $10 and $25 if you want special features like the ability to download hundreds of MP3s at once.
  • FreeStockMusic: This is another website that offers free music and sound effects for all of your project needs. These tracks do generally ask for an attribution somewhere, so don’t forget to include that in your show notes. 
  • Envato Elements: Envato’s $16.50/month subscription gives you access to royalty-free music tracks as well as templates for things like WordPress and video, plus fonts, stock photos and more. Their music library allows you to sort by genre, mood, and instrument so you can find what you’re looking for amid their 120,000-plus tracks.
  • YouTube itself: Search YouTube for “free music” or “royalty-free music” and you’ll get thousands of hopeful young creators offering their work to the world. Just be sure that they (and you!) understand how licensing and payment works for these tracks before you commit to using them in your project. 

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