Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Five great places to find free (or cheap) music for your films

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 2, 2010

Increasingly music is finding its way into online multimedia journalism, and with good reason. A well chosen soundtrack can pull your viewers deep into your story, keep them hooked and make an emotional point.

Music is, and let’s be honest about this, a way of manipulating how your audience feel. There are those purists who are against that, who argue the story should be strong enough not to need to tell your viewer how to feel.

Whichever camp you lie in, one thing is for sure: if you use music in any piece of online video journalism or digital story it must be legal. There is no excuse for getting your client or your newsroom shouldered with an expensive bill just because that bit of Arcade Fire fitted perfectly with the film. The good news is there are plenty of resources out there for free, or cheap, music. Most, but not all, operate under the Creative Commons Licence, which lets you use music on certain conditions.

01. Audio Network

This UK based ‘music production library’ is used often by the big players, and you have to pay to use any of the music. The prices vary however, from just £0.79 ($1.50) for personal use, to £95.00 ($200) for charities and £195 ($400) for TV commercials.

With the price tag though comes great quality. AudioNetwork has some really good music, well organised, and the sort of thing you could imagine being used in cinema. They have on their books a selection of in house composers and a lot of their orchestral scores are recorded with a full orchestra at Abbey Road, and not on someone’s Casio keyboard.

I have purchased music from them before and it’s a simple credit card payment to download the .mp3.

02. Jamendo

When I cannot pay for whatever reason, my first stop is always Jamendo, and I have sourced free music from here for several films in the last two years.

The secret to Jamendo is its community – it is a home for thousands of amateur musicians, artists and DJs who all put their music up for the world to hear. All the music is released on one kind of Creative Commons Licence. That means you’ll either need to include the artist in your credits, promise not to create any derivative works from it, ensure your production is not for profit, or a mix of all three.

Jamendo also has a very nice search option, which lets you get instant previews of music in a pop-up window before deciding whether to get it. If you choose to download music, you can download the entire album as a .zip file which even includes album artwork.

The big downside of Jamendo is the sheer amount of time it will take you to find anything good. It’s out there, but it’s not easy to find. If you’re producing a lot, I recommend fencing off some time every fortnight or so to rummage through and save any quality tracks for later use.

03. Musopen

If it’s classical you’re after, Musopen is a great resource. This website works along the very clever observation, that after a certain amount of time, the copyright on a score or performance of music expires, and the song enters the public domain.

Their goal is to build repository of public domain music for people to use. The great thing about public domain music is that you can use it and redistribute it as part of a production for profit, without a need to pay license. However, Musopen is based on US copyright laws, so if you’re in the UK or elsewhere, check the rules before you use. Also bear in mind, just because the composer of a song maybe long gone, and their score public domain, a more recent performance of that song may still have copyright rules applied.

04. Mixcloud

More a place to listen to mainstream music, or create and upload podcasts, Mixcloud’s library does contain some creative commons music.

It’s also a good community hub of music creators, DJs and podcast producers. It’s not hugely clear what is Creative Commons licensed and what isn’t so if you do find a song you want to use, it would be sensible to contact the creator for permission first.

05. SoundCloud

Like Jamendo, Soundcloud is becoming a growing community of music makers from around the world (including my brother!)

The majority of music on here is electronic and instrumental, which can suit some productions perfectly, and destroy others. Definitely worth a listen though, and Soundcloud also comes with very fancy ways to embed audio players into websites.

A premium membership to Soundcloud costs €9 a month for creators and upto €59 a month for businesses.

So they’re the five best ones I have used in the last year or so – but are there any not on my radar? Tell me in the comments box and I’ll check it out!

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Fresh eyes: what can journalists learn from musicians?

Posted in Fresh eyes series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 1, 2010

What happens when you ask a film maker or a musician about the future of journalism? What skills can the next generation journalist learn from a branding expert? As part of Fresh Eyes experts in non-journalism fields cast their eye over the digital revolution and offer their wisdom.

Christopher Ave, musician

Christopher runs the excellent Music for Media blog where he profiles great examples of music being used in multimedia pieces and shares advice on how to do it. A life long musician himself, Christopher is also a journalist with the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

Music and Journalism

Many if not most of us journalists who create content for the web came from a print background. Naturally, we are most concerned with quotes and images — things we can see.

Things we can hear? Not so much.

So when I talk about using music in a journalistic multimedia project, I often get blank stares — or outright opposition:

Music? That’s…. manipulative! How dare we FORCE viewers to feel something!

It’s not surprising that so many journalists fear using music in multimedia storytelling – a reluctance expressed here by legendary writing coach Roy Peter Clark and again here by Poynter’s Regina McCombs. Many journalists who come from newspaper backgrounds are by nature suspicious of new storytelling tools — especially those used by radio or — gasp! — television.

But the very attraction of multimedia is that it can engage all the senses.Think about the great documentarians like Ken Burns, who used original music so effectively to help tell the story of the Civil War. Does anyone feel they were manipulated by the lovely, plaintive “Ashokan Farewell”?

In an increasingly fractured media world where we find ourselves competing for eardrums as well as eyeballs, I would argue that we ban such a powerful tool at our own peril.

Still, can’t overwrought music manipulate listeners’ emotions? Can’t jarring music detract from the story narrative? Of course – just as badly chosen words or images can distract viewers.

It’s just as manipulative to lard a narrative with mournful adjectives, or to quote sources from only one point of view, as it is to use music badly.

So the real issue, in my view, is this: We should use such tools properly.

Five tips on using music for journalists

But how can a journalist without significant musical skills do that? Here are some suggestions:

01.First, this is not about the music. It’s about the story you’re trying to tell. The music MUST fit within the tone established for the story (unlike, say, a music video, where the images serve the music).

02. Don’t imply that the music you’re adding is part of the scene you’re documenting (unless of course, it is). That’s like using Photoshop to add something to a news photo. This can be a fine line, and might seem to conflict with No. 1. If you’re in doubt as to whether you’re misleading the audience by choosing a piece of music, always leave it out. Go with something else. Risking your credibility isn’t worth it.

03. Don’t steal someone else’s music. This seems obvious, but in the cut-and-paste age, the temptation is there. Don’t yield to it. Do some research – know the law when it comes to fair use, trademarks and the like.

04. So where do you find just the right music for your project? There are scads of people selling pre-recorded music online (search “royalty-free music” for an idea.) If you’re looking for something in particular, find someone who can create it for you. MySpace, despite what you’ve read, is STILL full of bands and composers who are looking to distribute or license their music; perhaps you can find the creator of some music you like who will allow you to use it for free, in exchange for the exposure. Just make sure you get the agreement in writing. Or…..

05. Can’t find precisely the right music? Try creating your own. With tools like Garage Band and Acid, plus the plethora of free and low-cost loops out there, this might be easier than you think, especially if you have some time and the inclination to play around.

Here’s some music composition advice from Jon Patrick Fobes, a picture editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a talented musician who often creates original music for the newspaper’s website:

Have a beginning, middle and end. Vary the instrument voices. Don’t be afraid to change gears. And don’t be afraid to go minimal. Let the music serve the visuals, not overpower them. Don’t be afraid of silence! Put in some drama.

And here’s some excellent advice from MediaStorm’s Eric Maierson, one of the most thoughtful users of music in the multimedia world.

Finally, there are many, many examples of the skillful, effective and ethical use of music in nonfiction multimedia projects. Watch, listen and study.

So yes, be careful when using music in any nonfiction project. But I believe we journalists should embrace music – that is, music used with skill and restraint. As we fight tooth and nail for viewers and readers,  I believe it’s a tool we can’t afford to do without.

Christopher Ave, who directs political and government coverage for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/STLtoday.com, is a lifelong musician and career journalist. He blogs at christopherave.wordpress.com and creates music for a variety of uses at www.christopherave.com.

Tomorrow: what can journalists learn from a coding expert?

Something a bit different from Beijing

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on August 9, 2008

There’s no stopping it. The world’s going Beijing crazy for the next two weeks.

There’s allsorts…sport, opening ceremonies, tibet, demonstrations, human rights…..

But here’s something a bit different, and a bit brilliant from documentary filmaker Rachel Dupuy via the also briliant Current TV:

Hip hop Grannies

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