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February 27, 2018

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Scoring your way to perfect podcast production - part 2

February 6, 2018

Why original music is always best

Following on from last week's blog, today we will be looking at the value original music can add to your podcast and the message you are trying to convey to your listeners. So, let's keep things simple and run through the three key reasons you should opt for original music to complete your soundtrack.  


1. Music to suit the mood

What makes a good score? Is it music you know and love? Is it bold in your face tunes that catch your attention? No.


A well built score is the product of carefully tweaking your music to perfectly suit the mood, while ensuring everything is just subtle enough that you are not in any way drawing attention away from the narrative. This delicate balance is usually pretty hard to achieve, but when done right makes all the difference. 


Writing music purpose built for each individual episode means you can completely capture a moment and influence your listeners' interpretation of your story. An original score will perfectly enhance your spoken word, simply because it will be composed after the narrative has been recorded, so can be written with the tone and mood of what is being said in mind. 


Just inserting Pharrell Williams' Happy during a particularly up-beat moment in the narrative, or fading in The Rolling Stones' Paint it Black to highlight the bleakness of a story point, would completely distract from your content, which, in case you're wondering, is an absolute no go. Listen to any well produced soundtrack - it doesn't even necessarily have to be a podcast - you'll find if there is ever spoken word and music simultaneously, the music will be designed to underpin the content, rather than the other way round. Ultimately, podcasts are a very content driven form of media, so everything you do after writing and recording the narrative, should be done to enhance your story, never to take away from it. 

 By using original music, you can also build something that is totally re-usable for similar moments. To make this a little clearer let's look at an example - take Pirates of the Caribbean: the first time Jack Sparrow does something particularly daring, we hear the motif we gradually begin to recognise as 'Captain Jack's entering a dramatic fight scene' music. Overtime this music creeps into our subconscious and can then be used as subtle exposition throughout the rest of the never-ending franchise. 


2. Avoiding the copyright rabbit hole

Using other people's music can be a bit of a minefield. Paying for tracks can be a false economy, as you very rarely play an entire 'song' during an episode, so may end up paying a lot for a few bars of music, which won't have been composed with your content in mind.  If you're looking to include music for free, you will have one of two options, both with their associated hurdles to overcome. Firstly you can try and source music with expired copyrights, but this isn't quite as simple as it sounds. The copyright is split into two sections; the piece of music itself and the sound recording, each has a different copyright legislation, which seen below: 

  1. For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works

    70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author of the work dies.

    If the author is unknown, copyright will last for 70 years from end of the calendar year in which the work was created, although if it is made available to the public during that time, (by publication, authorised performance, broadcast, exhibition, etc.), then the duration will be 70 years from the end of the year that the work was first made available.

  2. Sound Recordings

    50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was created, or,

    if the work is released within that time: 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first released.

So you have to make sure that whichever legislation is relevant in your case is adhered to, which can see you googling the deaths of obscure artists if you end up heading down this particular rabbit hole. Even when it all works out nice and simply, you are usually left with very old music, which limits you in terms of how you want your end product to sound. 

Secondly you can opt for royalty free music, which will hopefully offer more variety, but also has a very wide variation in terms of quality. Like the other options, this can be less than ideal and can end up very time consuming, not to mention the fact that you will still have to spend the time and money in post production, perfectly weaving the music you have bought or tracked down with your spoken word. 


This whittles your options down to two, assuming you don't have a big team of producers, editors and admin at your disposal. Either you can opt for a very underproduced feel (no music and very little editing), or you can invest in a tailored high quality score. Now we may be biased, but we know which one we'd choose....


3. Making your show truly unique

As we said earlier, purpose written, reoccurring music can be used as exposition for what's to come, but it can also be a great tool for streamlining your podcast and emphasising your overall message. It's uniqueness (the fact it has no other associations) will help maintain your audiences' emotional connection with your content and further develop your brand. Making sure every element of your soundtrack is unique and captivating will help you develop a list of loyal subscribers (check out our recent blog for more information on podcast audiences). 


If you want to produce a highly polished, truly original and totally engaging podcast, then original music is a must!


Happy podcasting! From the Green Barge Audio team.


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