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Track that beat - Finding Music for Filmmaking

A couple weeks ago, I led a team in William and Mary’s annual 24 Speed film competition. It’s something we do every year, writing, shooting, and editing a short movie within 24 hours. This year, one of my main goals was to rock the festival (literally). And to do that, we needed some jams. Not just any jams, but good accessible jams, that we could legally used without risking copyright infringement. 

Thankfully I stumbled on the Free Music Archive, a source of songs with Creative Commons license. If you haven’t heard of creative commons, and you too are into low budget film making, let me let you in on a little secret…it’s awesome. Creative Commons material is available for independent filmmakers and assorted creative types to remix and use as they see fit (depending on the license). 

A list of Creative Commons' Licenses 

A list of Creative Commons' Licenses 


Creative Commons licenses come in several flavors, but if you’re looking for music to add that extra spice to your independent film (and don’t want to shell out a bunch of money to license songs), your best friends will either be Public Domain or Creative Commons Attribution licensed music. Public Domain media can be used without restrictions, Creative Commons Attribution licensed material means you need to give a shout out to (aka Attribute) the title of the song and the artist at some point in your movie (usually in the credits).

Generally, if you're using the music for films you want to submit to festivals, you can only use items that are just under Attribution license (or Public Domain works), and not the others (because a festival submission may be considered commercial, and have restrictions on how the film can be shared). 

The song attribution part of the credits for Medley: Fish, out of Water

The song attribution part of the credits for Medley: Fish, out of Water



To show an example of what kinds of songs you might find on a site like, let’s delve into the (fishy fishy) guts of Laughing with the Storm’s film - Medley: Fish, Out of Water

Pull Your Socks Up - by Jim Rooster

We wanted a gonzo song to lead into our gonzo movie, and the opening piece of this delivered. However, we also wanted a song that matured over the course of the movie, which this one does once the song actually gets going.


Cyphon - by Jason Staczek

For our first mini-film, we needed a tense song to represent the Rookie’s growing anxiety, as well as provide the right mood for our mini action scene. 


Trace Route - by Boxcat Games

Providing the extra energy we wanted during the sting operation. 


One Minute 35 - by Salakapakka Sound System

The Rookie’s anxiety finally gets the best of him

I Am a Man Who Will Fight for Your Honor - by Chris Zabriskie

Our required song for the competition, also helping set the mood for our tone poem ‘Misfit Tribe’


Purse Peekin’ - by The Coachwhips

And to bring us home, the Coachwhips' delightful blend of hard rock energy and hilariously unintelligible lyrics.


A couple of other sites that also provide Creative Commons or Public Domain licensed music that you can use in your films are (don’t forget to check the License information before you use a song in a video!) :

Youtube Audio Library


If you want to know more about finding music for filmmaking, and something is either confusing or not covered here, feel free to drop us a line at: 

And if you know of another site that you use to find fair-use music for independent filmmaking, please share it in the comments! We can always use new jams. 



What makes a good Youtube video?

As someone who watches a lot of youtube movies (probably more than I should) and as someone who makes a few youtube movies (definitely fewer than I should), I’m curious about what actually makes for a captivating (or even just watchable) video online, especially short narratives. 

Through deep introspective analysis while watching several youtube videos, I’ve managed to decipher 6 components that get people (ie, me) interested in watching a video. A video doesn’t need all of these components to be successful, but in my experience a successful video will strongly tap into two or more. 


Comedic: The video makes you laugh, or smile. It’s comedic. I think we all know what comedy is. One of the easiest to do, as long as you don’t have a terrible sense of humor.


Horrific: College co-eds being chased by a hockey masked chainsaw murderer! Or maybe a creepily slender man standing just outside your window. Good horrific videos shock us, frighten us, freak us out. Perhaps they work through psychological horror that gets under your metaphorical skin or physical horror that literally gets under your skin (and then bursts out through your chest in a shower of gore). A video that scares us has a strong horror component. 


Clever: Think Sherlock Holmes. The story folds back into itself. Things that happen in the beginning come back around in unforeseen ways by the end. A clever solution to a complex problem. This is one of the hardest components to get right, because cleverness takes a lot of mental work and planning. Technical mastery also forms part of this component, through exceptional editing, well thought out color design, etc. Clever movies grab your attention because of how well put together they are. 


Puzzling: Who is Keyzer Soze? Puzzler movies set up a mystery and the search for an answer drives us to keep watching. Sometimes the answer is explicitly revealed, sometimes not, but a good puzzler will provide enough clues for people to come to a reasonable conclusion. It’s a mystery with a satisfying (and possibly debatable) answer. 


Spectacular: Anyone who’s ever gone to a summer blockbuster has seen spectacle. Something you don’t see everyday. Explosions. Car chases. Crazy Kung fu fighting. Hot people.  Maybe even just good editing set to a thumping beat. Something with spectacle is cool, it’s awesome, kickass, and it wows the audience. 


WTF?!: Inexplicable moments that seem to defy all reason and explanation. The bizarre, the surreal, the stuff that makes you ask “what the f***?” Something so strange that you’re not sure what you just saw (or why you even kept watching). While the Puzzler is a mystery in search of an answer, the WTF?! element is something that defies any answer. 


One of my big takeaways from trying to figure out these components is knowing what kind of movie we’re trying to make, and playing to its strengths. So, if we’re making a horror movie, really focus on the elements that make it scary. If we’re making a spectacular movie, make sure to get the stunts look just as amazing as they should.  By figuring out what elements are most likely to keep people watching, we can (hopefully) make our movies the best they can be.


But I’d also like to give others the chance to weigh in. What gets keeps you watching videos to the very end?