There’s a tried video industry cliché that says, “If a picture can tell a thousand words, imagine what video can do.” Video alone can, indeed, be a powerful medium, but it’s the supplement of audio, music, graphics and special effects that can really give your video a powerful voice.

Much like Dorothy’s initial reaction to landing in the land of Oz, when it comes to music libraries, we’re not tied to the proverbial constraints of Kansas anymore. The multitude of media available to a video editor is virtually limitless – and growing exponentially nearly every day.

Whether it’s a stock footage library for your marketing business, sound effects for your animations or graphics for your wedding video business, the content available today can meet just about any demand that producers face. How much do you need to spend on music? Where is the best place to find good stock footage libraries? Who makes the music and how do they feel about video editors using it? The answers to these questions are out there, all you need to know is where to look.

Mass Media – The Early Days

The idea of online file sharing has come a long way since the Internet attained global implementation. What was first considered an underground, secret society of sharing has become big business for online market places that offer everything from website codes to photos to medical records.

Napster was one of the first sites to offer peer-to-peer file sharing, allowing multimedia files to change hands between users. At the time, this revolution in the music industry was frowned upon and led to legal battles that eventually set the stage for content creators to enter the arena and make a name for themselves by offering music and files for mass consumption.

However, video producers needed to find a way to incorporate original creative content into their works without being tied down with paying huge royalty or licensing fees. Music libraries and video libraries were pipe dreams, until the programmers from Apple set the groundwork for what would become one of the largest file sharing market places the world has ever seen.

Beyond iTunes

In our tech-savvy world, a wide majority of our population tends to rely on Apple’s iTunes as a place to find the music that moves us through our days. The online music store hosts millions of songs from nearly every genre, and in early 2010, saw its 10-billionth download. You do the math: on average, at just less than a dollar per track, that’s some pretty serious dough.

Video producers have come to rely on iTunes as a holding bin for content that helps boost their productions. Do a search for ‘royalty free music’ and you’ll find more than 400 tracks available for purchase. With new content being added on a regular basis, iTunes stands to reign as a supreme multimedia holding bin for years to come.

That doesn’t mean other sites aren’t carving into Apple’s market share. Pond5 is a true video editor’s playland. With millions of files available in its stock media, Pond5’s online marketplace offers editors an expansive variety of video libraries, photos, music libraries, sound effects, pre-made animations and graphics for post-production and a slew of other savory selections.

Tom Bennett, Pond5’s co-founder and CEO, talked to Videomaker about the benefits of using Pond5 – both as a consumer of content and creator of content.

“We are an open marketplace, so any creator of professional quality content can upload and sell it on the site,” Bennett said. “We are very artist-friendly, in that they set their own price and earn a split each time it licenses.”

Pond5’s business model of letting content creators name their own asking price allows the end user to benefit from reasonable fees to purchase clips, and puts more money in the pockets of the creators. With more than 975,000 video clips available, Pond5 stands tall as an industry leader for video libraries.

Making Music Matter

Stock footage libraries like Pond5 have established themselves as valuable resources for video editors, but it’s the ‘little guys’ that are the driving force behind websites like Pond5.

Beth Thornley is an edgy, eclectic musician from California who never thought of herself as anything other than a girl who wanted to create great music. As luck would have it, her music caught the ear of producers from networks like HBO, MTV and CBS. Thornley’s music was recently featured on an episode of MTV’s Jersey Shore. She understands how music can impact the emotional interpretation of a scene, and appreciates the opportunities to work with a video editor trying to incorporate her tunes into their tracks.

“It’s exciting to see how a song can take on a different meaning when set against certain storylines,” Thornley said. “It’s a huge deal for me because there’s so much music out there so I’m always very grateful and happy. It’s always an exciting, hold-your-breath moment, I never know what to expect.”

Thornley recalls that when video producers approach her about using her music, she always tries to afford them the opportunity.

“If the concept sounds good and they have a music budget, we’ll talk nuts and bolts. But if they’re kids or students who want to use my music for a personal photo slideshow, I’ll usually let them use it.”

Thornley shares the sentiment of a lot of artists, who simply want the exposure of being featured in videos, but ensuring that the project is a good fit for their style of music.

“It all comes down to editing,” Thornley said. “They could call me and my producer and we could edit something seamless for them. I just wish that they wouldn’t chop it up too much.”

Lesson being that if you have the budget to work directly with the artists, they can usually produce amazing original scores that will help your video projects stand out from the crowd.

License and Registration, Please

At some point in your life, you’ve probably pressed down on the pedal a bit too hard and heard the line we all dread: “license and registration, please.” While you may not get read your Miranda rights for violating the terms and conditions of a copyright clause in your online video, you can run the risk of dealing with legal action should you not take the proper steps to protect yourself.

Music libraries have become very good at protecting original content. Much like blank checks from your bank have watermarks; music, video and special effects have tracking codes embedded within the files. TuneSat is a company that has created audio fingerprinting technology that monitors online use of an audio file. TuneSat’s programming can detect when a piece of music was played, where it was played and how many seconds it was played.

If your video editor is producing a piece that will be shown in public, or broadcast to an audience, securing the rights to a particular audio or visual element is crucial to keeping yourself out of trouble. The demand for original, effective music is growing, but with that demand comes an inherited cost. You can pay the rights fees for a particular file – which can run upwards of several thousand dollars – or you can try to develop your own original content.

There are several types of licenses that are applied to original content. For example, a buyout license – often referred to as royalty free – allows a producer to pay a one-time fee and use that content as many times as he or she likes. An industry term for this is a lifetime synchronization license, which simply means you can use the content and not have to worry about renewing licenses or paying additional compensation to the artists.

Needle drop licenses benefit the content producers, as it means you pay every time you use the content. Think of this as a lease for this content – you can use the music however you like, but it’s going to cost you.

Music By The Disc-Full

The great thing about online music stores like FirstCom Music, iTunes, and Pond5, are the sites’ ability to offer almost every genre of music at a price that’s affordable for video editors of all levels. And depending on your video editing program, almost every format of music file will play ‘nice’ with your project. While .mp3 and .wav files tend to be the trending format, most music video editing can be done on the fly without too much manipulation of the files.

FirstCom requires customers to purchase a licensing agreement, after which they can purchase individual tracks or entire albums from artists who create content specifically for video editors. FirstCom’s site is easy to navigate and allows producers to search for specific genres; the site recommends a variety of uses for the music like style, mood, tempos and eras.

Traditionally, music libraries have been sold in bulk on CDs, but as online technology has expanded, users can simply pay for the tracks they want and download them right into the video editing program. Whisper Audio is another online resource for royalty free music. This site offers instant downloads of selected tracks from artists, or you can commission them to create original content for your project. Either way, Whisper Audio’s music libraries are expansive and can deliver the right sound at the right moment in your video project.

Custom Creations

While FirstCom Music, Pond5, and Whisper Audio all offer unique content for video editors, the truth is, at times you’ll need something that needs a unique touch. While hiring a musician like Beth Thornley may not be in your budget, working with tracks and loops from Musicians Media might just do the trick. With more than 20 genres of music, you can use their loops and tracks to create your original scores. By paying an annual membership fee ($70), users get access to more than 2,500 loops and sound effects that can be combined to create the perfect sound you need to seal the deal on your sweet sounding track.

Programs like Soundtrack Pro and GarageBand are also great ways for video editors to build their own music, without having to pay a premium price to access content.

Magical Musical Tour

Whether it’s music you create, pay for from a music library, or receive on loan from an up-and-coming musician, how you use music in your video projects is important to keep in mind. If you’re creating content that will live on your wedding video business website, you can expect only those people who are looking for a wedding videographer might see your creation. If your independent feature will be entered into film festivals and, with any luck, gets picked up and shown in theaters across the world – millions of eyes might see your work. Music is such an important element in video so ensuring you’ve taken the steps to protect yourself is also important.

Stephen Arnold, founder and president of Stephen Arnold Music, creates sonic brands for television networks and ad agencies across the globe. His music is heard by millions of TV viewers every day, and he tells Videomaker that knowing the proper context for the music you choose will help make the investment easier.

“Will it live on a webpage, the radio, television or a handheld device?” Arnold pondered. “That understanding contributes to the right piece of music, one that creates an instant top-of-the-mind awareness and has a long shelf life. It might seem obvious, but sometimes overlooked, is the importance of choosing music that helps the visuals.”

Music Matters

As you move forward with your video editing program, much like Dorothy felt when she first glanced out over the colorful landscape of Oz, keep your eyes wide and ears open to new experiences.

According to Arnold, music is the one driving force behind making your video a success. “Nobody hums the announcer, nobody whistles the animation or sings the graphics. The melody often lingers long after the show is over and, in many cases, the product is gone. Music makes a powerful, direct connection to human emotion.”

Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker‘s Music Libraries Buyer’s Guide

Dave Sniadak is an award-winning video producer based in Minneapolis. His clients include several Fortune 500 companies, professional sports franchises and small businesses.


  1. Another licensing site I use a lot is They’re part of the same group that runs They have a really awesome collection and the cost per cut is super low. They’re definitely worth checking out.


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