Setting the Mood

Producers have a myriad of choices to manipulate the viewer via the ear. Style, ability to alter the score and your budget will dictate which option or options work best for your project.

The table is set with wine and roses. Candles create a soft glow as an attractive couple enters for their dinner. He holds her chair for her, then, before he finds his place at the table, he selects some mood music for their dining experience. A CD slides into the player he punches the play button, and we hear the screaming sounds of a heavy metal guitar solo shredding through the speakers.

Now, I like a good head-bang from time to time, but it just doesn't suit this scene. Music has the power to make or break your project and selecting the proper piece is crucial for any job you tackle. Let's take a few minutes to consider how music sets the mood in a video and how to find just the right cut for your project.

Choose Wisely

There are obvious and not-so-obvious elements to selecting music for your video project. I always like to start at the end of the process — the viewer. Who will see your finished video and what do they expect. Will they watch it on television, DVD or the Internet? Is there a stereotypical music genre associated with the content of your project? If you're not sure of the answer to these questions, look for examples of similar videos at your local video store, library or even online. While watching the samples, pay attention to the style, tempo and mix of the music — you'll find plenty of hints and maybe even a bad example or two. Dramatic stories often have orchestral music or a blend of pop and orchestra. Tender, thoughtful moments will likely be accented with a solo instrument like a piano or guitar. Action scenes have a fast-paced music track that is full and aggressive, complete with pounding drums. Of course, there are other options, but this is a good start.

Let's get back to our viewer for a moment. How do you want them to feel during your video? Music is perfect for creating moods and enhancing emotions. The right selection can make your viewer feel sympathetic, angry or upbeat. In advertising and product videos, proper music selection can help your viewer feel good about the product they have purchased or the number they're about to dial. In a training video, music can move the content along, keeping the viewer's attention focused on the information and not the clock on the wall. Maybe you don't like country music, but a video about farming or bull riding should probably have a country flavor to create a familiar feel for your audience. Regardless of the video topic or genre, keep the viewer in mind.

Music from Where?

Today's video producer has many musical options to choose from. There have never been more choices in style, cost or variety. In fact, the hardest part may be narrowing the field to the right music for your project. In any case, you can buy it, create it or shape it. Buyout music is a huge category for the video producer. A quick Google search for the phrase "buyout music" will yield over 2 million pages! Alternatively, you may want to start by leafing through the advertisements in this magazine. You'll find several vendors supplying buyout or royalty-free music. Buyout music is what the name implies — buy once and it's yours to use as many times as you want, in any number of projects. Buyout music comes in many forms — from MP3 downloads to variety CDs and even entire libraries. Most vendors allow you to sample each song online to help find the perfect mood-setting track for your project. Once you've found the song or songs you need, you can download and use them immediately or order the CD and wait a few days. If you can afford it, buying a variety of songs is a great way to go. This offers flexibility in both current and future projects.

If you're a musically creative type, you may want to build your own custom music with a program like Acid, Garage Band or even Adobe Audition. This type of loop-based music creation software lets you combine short loops of sounds — drums, brass, keyboards, guitars, you name it — on a timeline to create an original song. The advantage here is the level of control you leverage over the musical elements. Need a hole for dialog? You can either leave some loops out in that section or draw a volume envelope to bring things down. Want to create a suspenseful moment? Change the key of the music or create a whole new section from a different set of loops — you are in complete control of the mood and style of the music. If you're new to loop-based music, drop by and download its free version of Acid Xpress. It has everything you need to decide if this is the musical path to take.

If buyout music is too rigid for your taste and loop-based creation is more than you wanted to tackle, consider shaping your music with these tools. Digital Juice has created a unique option with its Juicer software and the Stack Traxx libraries. Stack Traxx volumes contain 40 songs in a certain genre. By loading a song into the Juicer, you can create new versions by removing certain instruments or tracks. Is that guitar solo a mood-killer? Just eliminate it and output a new mix minus the offending instrument. Or better yet, use the multi-track output option and load individual tracks into your audio or video editing software. Using keyframes and volume envelopes, you can shape the song as you like — emphasizing certain parts and moving others to the back of the mix. It takes some experimentation, but this may be just what you need to create the right mood for your video.

Alternatively, SmartSound's SonicFire Pro includes a feature called "Mood Mapping" (Sony Media Software's Cinescore also has a similar feature.) Both programs work with your finished video, allowing you to set markers at scenes where you want the musical mood to change. By selecting specific moods from a list, the software will create a soundtrack that synchronizes musical changes to your markers. Each product works in a different way, but both have similar goals. This may be the perfect option for small producers who need specific moods but don't have the time or budget to hire musicians.

In the Mood

This article has just touched the surface of creating moods with music. You'll have to decide which method is best for your production. Maybe you'll use a different one every time, who knows? Just remember the power of music to create a mood and evoke a response. Picking the right music for the right moment is a compelling way to enhance the quality and impact of your video.

Contributing Editor Hal Robertson is a digital media producer and technology consultant.