Picking Slideshow Music

Posted on June 18, 2008. Filed under: Media, Photography |

If not for the valiant and selfless efforts of Queen and Survivor, where would season-end slideshows be?

Following Video Slideshows with Aperture and Final Cut, I got the following comment:

Tom I coach a 7 yr old girls softball team and am going to try to make a slideshow dvd for them can you suggest some music. This seem to be the hardest part for me. Thanks

Picking the right music is definitely one of the hardest parts, whether your audience is 7 or 17 or 37. If it is a mix of ages, picking music is even harder.

I tend to spend a lot of time worrying over the music, and in the end feeling a bit silly for having worried so much. It’s hard, and can become a game of infinite second-guessing, to pick something catchy enough to propel the slideshow yet not cheesy and obvious, inoffensive literally and in innuendo yet not Lawrence Welk bland.

What I tend to find later is that if you have some good pictures in the foreground, it really doesn’t matter as much. People subconsciously bob their heads or smile at the memory the song brings to their minds, but the high-level reactions of laughter and comments all come from the pictures themselves.

Still … There are a few different ways to go with music.

Commercial Music

Commercial music (ie, what you’ll hear on the radio and buy at the record store) has two advantages, one major disadvantage, and a minor disadvantage:

  1. Advantage: it will give an instant “connection” with the audience. From the opening riff of a popular song, your audience might know the “feel” of the slideshow, and what to expect.
  2. Advantage: it is easy to find out what your audience likes (observe what they listen to / talk about)

  3. Disadvantage: It is, technically, illegal to reuse copyrighted music as a major part of a larger work. There are exceptions there, and many thousands of web pages all over the place debate what precisely they are, but in general, if you are including more than a few seconds, and are not parodying the work itself, then you need to get permission from the copyright holder. I am not a lawyer, but I think that is correct. How important this is to you depends on how much you’ll want to show off your work. If it’s just going out on a DVD to the families of the team, then there’s probably not a lot to worry about; if you’re going to be posting it to your web site and especially if you are going to be building a business around it, then

  4. Disadvantage: there is a good chance that some portion of your audience has already formed an opinion about the specific music, and so will deem it “not my taste”, “annoying”, or “overplayed” before you’ve had a chance to wow them with the whole presentation.

For picking commercial music, my tips are:

  1. Pay attention to what your children listen to. At 7 this can be hard, and maybe not overly productive (our 7-year-olds didn’t have a “group think” music taste and listened to just whatever we gave them to listen to … ) This is easier with older children.
  2. Listen to music yourself and try to judge what they’d like. Almost certainly, they’ll like music you find mildly “too old” for them, so skew that way.

Finally, if you are going to use music bought online, be aware of the effects of DRM. While iMovie will allow you to put a protected audio file in as background music, Final Cut will not. You will need to “de-DRM” it first (for instance, by burning it to a CD and ripping it back in as MP3 or unprotected AAC).

Creative Commons

With Creative Commons music, I’d tend to trend non-lyrical. I’d start at Jamendo for a good selection of CC music. Obviously, no one is ever going to have heard of any of this music, so you’ll not get the immediate connection you’d get with your audience using commercial music. Still, it’s legal, it’s fresh, and it can blend in with the background or stand out based on your own preference.

Tips:

  1. “Creative Commons” does not mean free use. There are several rights which may or may not be granted by a particular license. Please pay attention to what you can do with an album freely! Jamendo puts a “Your rights on this album” block off to the right. If you see a “=” sign in a circle, it means you are not allowed to alter or build upon the album. If you do a search, click on “Advanced Search” when viewing results, tick the “Find content I can modify, adapt or build upon” checkbox, and click “Ok”. The Creative Commons license very specifically terms what we are talking about (synching pictures to a CC’d soundtrack) as an Adaptation, and this is reflected in the “build upon” right. Also pay attention to the “Share Alike” requirement: this means that your slideshow will need to adopt the specific CC license granted by the music author.
  2. Often a right is not generally given, but contacting the author directly will allow you to use it. Where this differs from the same situation in the commercial music case is that you are much more likely to get a 24-hour response from an email to a CC artist than you would from Queen or Survivor (or whatever their particular rights-holding organizations are).

Oh, and, generally, it is free. Finding “good” music is much harder when someone else isn’t telling you if its good or not, but with nothing more at risk than the time to listen to a song or two or ten, why not take a little time? You may well find a few artists to add to your collection! Even the not-free music (ex, Jonathan Coulton) usually is as easy to preview or stream as you’d find on iTunes or Amazon.

Do pay attention to the licenses. Make sure you give credit prominently on your materials (an MTV-style attribution block at the start/end will do, as will a specific “About the music” screen on the DVD).

Finally, “share alike” or not, I’d highly recommend that you put a Creative Commons license on your slideshow. It makes explicit how others are allowed to use your work (and generally speaking you’ll want a carte blanche type license) and keeps people from asking you later on. Creative Commons is a really good idea, which greatly simplifies using media for personal or semi-public projects like this, and should be supported wherever possible.

Make Your Own

The ultimate free music, of course, is what you create yourself. Fire up Garage Band or Soundtrack Pro, throw a few loops in there, and let it rip. Do make sure you “audition” your creation with a few other folks first, though. Nothing is worse than an 8-beat riff looped 25 times!

Final Notes

In the end, though, remember that the music should be second fiddle here. This shouldn’t be a music history lesson, nor should it aim to widen anyone’s musical horizons.

The star of the show is the video, the pictures, and the memories the team has formed over the course of the year. That is what will make your video a success. The music should be a framework to provide structure and tone, but should ultimately fade into the background.

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One Response to “Picking Slideshow Music”

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Hi there,
Using music to other purposes than private can be problematic without licensing. Tom’s ideas were all correct and helpfull, though I would like to offer you another possibility for easy and low cost music licensing: I’ve recently ran into http://www.youlicense.com. It’s an online music licensing marketplace, where you can license music directly from the artist through the site, plus the registration is free…
You should check it out.
Good luck!
Erica


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