Free Film Music - Legally

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Perhaps because I have always been interested in creative pursuits, the idea of copyright has always been important to me, and I have also noticed you reap what you sow in this area.

So, in finding music and sound effects, I've looked for public domain or creative commons music online. Creative commons means you can use it for free but you must acknowledge the original authorship.

Kevin McLeod does this at and his soundtracks are wonderful for film as far as evoking emotion or providing some much needed ambiance. If you acknowledge him the way he specifies in your credits - it's free!

I can listen to his music and get a sense of what kind of film it should go in - fantasy, sci-fi, etc. And if you don't want to acknowledge him you just pay a small fee ($20) which is cheaper than some of the music I've seen elsewhere.

Great for micro-budgets!

I go to first for sound effects but there are other places, just makes it easy.

Serious Drawbacks

The trouble is with the free stuff, is you go to a film festival and you start to recognize the free stuff... I've heard it in film festivals involving other schools in the area as well as at a slightly bigger sci-fi festival for short films.

And that's just weird. You start to disconnect a bit when you hear the same soundtracks everywhere. But it may be just me. One way around this is - play it backwards! I did this with a suspense track!

There's another side... I heard "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper on the radio plenty of times in the 1980s and even though it's in Spielberg's The Goonies, it's fine! It's happiness!


So... I did get an offer by a very busy musician to write the soundtrack for the last film for free but he was so busy.

I'm still thinking about it for another film in the future since he has a recording studio and an amazing music technology set-up.

Volunteers are gold but if I'm on a schedule, I just can't expect a certain amount of output by a deadline when I'm not paying them. I feel that is unreasonable.

If you do know musicians - maybe they would like to help? Especially if they are trying to build a name for themselves or are just out of music school.

Networking is invaluable. I encountered this musician by having a conversation with his wife at a film festival. (Incidentally I found a great hair dresser when talking to the spouse at a playground with my child!)

Fearlessly D.I.Y.

I thought in the end it would easier to do it myself but in the beginning, my efforts were was simple and pathetic sounding.

Have any music background? I got to about grade 2 or 3 in piano if we're measuring. I used to love learning scales especially... I could see how scales could help me create something for the left hand to do while writing the melody for the right hand. Makes the simple and pathetic sound good, even passable. Even downright good!

Side note - my friend got to grade 8 in just two years! I also met a lady who at around the age of 40 decided to learn the piano and become a piano teacher. So don't think you've missed the chance to jump in and learn a thing or two.

Musicians on Demand?

I tried out "" after I saw them advertised on "" - a website to help musicians find outlets to sell their music. They turned a simple turn into something really amazing and complex sounding in any style you specifc but it wasn't cheap.

Real musicians! What skill! You send them your simple stuff and they do the rest. You get to approve each stage to tweak it if necessary. I did a few tracks with them, running quickly into hundreds of dollars.

Keven McLeod's website also says he'll write original music for you at 1 minute per $100 so... hmmm.

Music Software...

A cheaper alternative of late has been to download the free version of some notation software like Forte. I punch in the notes and I can alter the sounds with different instruments. I particularly love the oboe.

I could get more complex than this - and probably go with hiring a composer eventually with an even greater background in music - but right now, it's pretty amazing and free. I wonder what the full version of Forte is like since my experience so far has been good.

I will say it's helped to have an older brother who also knows how to make things on the computer fit together well so it's easier to capture the recordings in the best way. I've been using Audiograbber (more freeware) using the 'in-line sampling' off the 'file' drop down menu.

I've sent some sound through "Audacity" (freeware) - just for certain effects. And I also bought "Reaper" if I want to experiment with laying down multple tracks.

(No, they're not paying me to mention any of them).

Samples, please

I've created a few tracks you can download and listen to for free - click here. Let me know what you think!

Following on from this... Next film I think I need to start picking ONE main tune and perhaps use several different tracks and timings to use it more frequently through a film to give the entire thing greater unity. Musicias experienced in arranging I believe would know more about this.

Paying for it...

Still there are cheaper ways to pay for music. For example, Dan-O gives you access to heaps for one low price. I found them the other day and I've looked through enough music sites to recognize good value.

This is an affiliate link. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. But you can listen before you buy.

Some stuff just isn't right for a particular film or may or may not appeal to my particular taste and you'll probably find the same. So look around and check the rules.

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