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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Great free apps for multimedia journalists

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 8, 2009

The great thing about multimedia journalism is that it provides so much choice for treating stories. Do I write a straight article? Upload an mp3 interview? Produce a video package? An audio slideshow? An interactive map? Even a timeline?

I’ve been experimenting with most of the above for both work and in my own time, and discovered there are more and more free web based applications which let you do many of these without too much technical know-how.

Here then is a list of great free resources for multimedia journo’s hoping to get things done on the cheap. It’s by no means comprehensive…if you know of a better one, then stick it in the comments box!

Great apps for multimedia journalists

AUDIO

Soundcloud cockayne-screen-grab

Soundcloud is what’s been inexplicably missing for a long time: an audio version of Youtube. Quick uploads allow you to embed a very attractive audio player into any webpage. Best of all, the player is customisable, and means, for example, my radio station Viking FM can embed it in branded colours. The people at Soundcloud are very helpful too.

Cost: free (or paid subscription)

Downsides: the free subscription only allows 5 uploads a month.

Audioboo

Lots of noise about this 4iP funded startup, which allows you to upload audio from your iPhone direct to the Audioboo server and thus any website you chose. Has the benefits for a multimedia journalist in that you can upload audio from location, as Guardian journalists did during the G20 protests.

Cost: free (registration required)

Downsides: no iPhone, no boo.

Mixcloud

Still in beta, this is yet to be available to everyone, but looks like a more speech orientated alternative to Soundcloud.

Cost: free

Downsides: not yet in operation

Jamendo

Jamendo was a very happy find for me: a copyright free music site – where the music is actually quality! Record producers should be hunting Jamendo’s ripe jungle for new talent: it’s all unsigned artists (mostly electronic, and mostly French) who put up their music for free use under the Creative Commons Licence.

Cost: free (registration required)

Downside: it’ll take some time to find the perfect soundtrack to your piece.

VIDEO/PICTURES

Vimeo

This is the film makers Youtube. It allows HD uploading, has a smart player and quick streaming. A big benefit is an excellent web 2.0 set up and talented community. Your video might get more passing views on Youtube, but it’ll get less “fuk dis shit innit rofl lol” comments. In fact, almost all the comments I have had have been useful, constructive criticism of the technicalities of the piece.

Cost: basic registration is free. You have to pay for Vimeo Plus HD uploads.

Downsides: smaller audience, but as a video host to embed, it’s fine.

Al Jazeera

Already leading the charge from traditional media, Al-Jazeera has broken new ground by putting stock footage available for download under the creative commons licence. It’s so called ‘repository’ currently holds plentiful (and harrowing) footage of December’s conflict in Gaza. A useful practice tool, if anything, in the art of knowing what distressing images to include and what to leave out.

Cost: free, with CC restrictions, although it does allow it’s content to be used for commercial purposes (see comments, below)

Downsides: until Al-Jazeera expand the repository it just contains Gaza content.

Multicolr

Here’s a little gem: a flickr library, searchable by colour. You choose up to 10 colours from a palette and it automatically brings up all photos containing those colours. multicolr-screengrab

It’s fantastic for finding generic images to match the design of your website (you’ll see a few on this site). All images are released under creative commons.

Cost: free to use

Downsides: you can’t search for the subject of images; frustrating when you want a black and white image of that something.



SLIDESHOWS

Soundslide

Soundslide seems to be the market leader in creating professional audio slide shows at a low cost. It allows greater control and manipulation of images, captioning and music/narration control. On the other hand though, it doesn’t finish in an easy flash window for you to embed. Oh and it’s not free.

Cost: $69.95 (~£50.00)

Downsides: The finished slideshow is turned into several files which you then need to upload to your own webspace. A bit cumbersome.

TIMELINES

Xtimeline

This is one I’ve been getting to know a little recently, in an overly ambitious attempt to create an interactive timeline of every Hull FC v Hull KR match since 1899. Sadly the sheer number matches put paid to that. And that’s a difficulty with X-timeline. You can input events individually if there aren’t many. Or you can use an excel spreadsheet, and upload it as a .csv file. Despite this it is still the most user friendly way to create and embed timelines I’ve found yet.

Cost: free

Downsides: the timeline design is un modifiable. No matter the design of your site, you’re stuck with an odd camouflage green colour.

xtimeline-screengrab

MAPS

Gunnmap

I’m yet to use this, but from the outset it appears to be a pretty easy to use platform, with a slick final product. You can create global maps on any subject and highlight stats by colour.

Cost: Free

Downside: limited to world maps.

SOURCING/DATA

Twitter

There’s nothing to say about Twitter which hasn’t already been said in 140 characters or less. Except to say it’s a great free tool for both finding contacts and stories and publicising your own work, and building a community of followers.

Facebook

Ditto.

Guardian Data store

Responding to the rise in homemade mashups and APIs, the Guardian recently opened a site publishing statistical data on various subjects. The rather nice idea being they put the leg work in and give you the stats for free. Great to plug into applications of all kinds. Such as…

Yahoo! Pipes

A very clever way of collecting information from all sorts of sources and publishing it in allsorts of ways. The cleverest thing has to be the user interface, which has you dragging a coloured pipe from one thing to another like a digital playdo set. With a bit of practice, this could be a great way to present detailed information, or even several newsfeeds through one aggregated embed.

Links to all these sites, and others not featured here, have now appeared in the Multimedia Tools links section to the right hand side of this site. If you have any better suggestions, suggest them!