You get what you pay for, and you sound like everyone else.
But if you’re going to, just get Kevin McLeod’s music. It’s free and there’s tons of it.
Chances are, my site is not the first music site you’ve visited.
You may have seen other sites that license music out really inexpensively. Perhaps, if you’re a game dev, you may have been browsing the unity asset store. These websites/stores sell music tracks from about 1-5 minutes long. They allow you to search for tracks in the genres you want, in the tempos you want, and can offer some other filtering choices.
It can be easy to find the good pieces too - Filters will often allow you to put the most purchased or highest rated pieces at the top of your search. Those pieces tend to be fairly high quality.
When working on a budget, these pre-composed pieces of music may be a good fit for you. They won’t strain the project’s budget too much, and they’ll get the job done, at least for the most part.
So, why shell out a ton of money for custom-composed music?
Believe it or not, I’ve got a couple reasons.
Firstly, with custom music, you’re talking about music that is unique to your project. It won’t have been heard anywhere else before.
One hazard of using pre-composed music is that your audience could have heard it somewhere else before, and that can really take them out of the experience you’ve made for them. And often, the filters that allow you to see the best work (Most bought, highest starred) are filters that are giving you the work most likely to have been heard by your audience before. Some of these tracks will have an exclusive option - But they are more rare, and more expensive. By paying for custom-composed music, you are ensuring an exclusive musical experience. (Depending upon the terms you and your composer agree to.)
A second problem with pre-composed music is that you are limited in what you can do with the tracks, and how you can legally use them.
Imagine this. Let’s say you’re making a podcast. You’ve found the perfect pre-composed tracks for your project and place them perfectly over the characters, places, and ideas that need consistent music. You make your podcast, and the first season becomes fairly popular. Your patreon is successful, you’re getting good reviews and some press attention, and going into season 2, you have an actual budget.
So, now, you think, you’re going to hire a composer!
That composer cannot use any of the thematic material from your first season.
A piece of pre-composed music you bought that you played whenever a villain was in a scene? You can pay to license the exact track again. The composer you hired can place it. But whatever composer you have for season two cannot play with the theme, elongate it, re-harmonize it, contextualize it in other themes for other characters or places unless you pay to license that piece again. And that’s true of any track of pre-composed music you purchase.
You’ve bought a track. You can play the track in the project you licensed it for. But, the musical ideas in the track are not yours. You didn’t pay for those. Depending on what license you purchase, you may be able to transform the tracks as you see fit (Though that’s not a guarantee), but you’ll need to own that license for every episode you use that music in.
So now season two starts, and your composer is coming up with all new material. It’s really good, but none of the characters or places have the same music. The tonal shift perplexes your audience.
Depending on the terms of your contract with a composer who is doing custom music for your game, you will most often have the rights to those themes. If you make a sequel and John Williams calls you up and wants to do the score? Well, he can use all of that music you already have associated with your story/franchise. He can Williams it up and add in his own style, mix and match with new themes for the new season, and reflect character growth in the ways he uses the motifs. And that’s something he can do because you paid for custom music.
Real Time Adjustment
Would you believe it if I told you that about half of my scoring work is spent on just a fraction of the length of the work?
Sometimes all I’ll do in a day is work on several spots, just five seconds long each - Finding the perfect place to loop, smoothing out a transition, making a stab time perfectly. With precomposed music, it’s like putting on a chainmail suit on a skeleton. You may get the overall shape right. But it will never conform or gel completely with what’s inside. Custom music turns the music into muscle and sinew to your project’s skeleton. It melds until it becomes part of the project, and isn’t separate at all.
And this isn’t just in those transitions either. Maybe a perfect theme that works over one actor’s voice conflicts with another actor’s voice because the synth is stepping on where the second actor’s voice lies. With custom composing, it’s easy for a composer to switch out the synth for another instrument. The composer can keep the intent and mood, and also make the small changes to make it gel with all the small details in your work. Pre-composed music, no matter how high quality, cannot do that.
You get to give feedback and make changes!
Like the overall feel of some music, but want it over a different scene? A composer you hired can do that. Like the melody, but want it in electric guitar instead of flute? A composer can do that. Want the chords made minor in one section, but major in another? A composer can do that.
Any idea, any feedback at all, you can give it to a composer you’ve hired. With pre-composed music, you’re most often stuck using the best fit. What music can give you 80% of what you want? 90%? Well, a composer can give you 100%, and often can give you things you never even knew you wanted. Maybe that electric guitar you wanted is used later, in a neat way, to reflect a change in another character. Maybe the chords you wanted to change are changed to a slightly less minor mode that works better than what you envisioned at first.
A composer that you’ve hired can make changes that you want, depending on your agreed revisions. And a composer can actually take ideas you express and translate them with more understanding than a search term in a pre-composed music bank can.
So, you ask, should I use pre-composed music in my projects or not?
There are pros and cons to pre-composed music, for sure. But, I’d say no, you shouldn’t use pre-composed music. But if you do, use Kevin MacLeod. He writes the best stuff, it’s all free, and it’s licensed under Creative Commons Attribution, which will make things super easy for you.
But as for paying for pre-composed music? If you have a small budget for music, I’d suggest just finding a new or student composer who’s willing to work cheaply. You’ll get better results, and both you and the composer could get valuable experience. I don’t know of stock-music you pay for that’s going to be better than anything Kevin MacLeod does.
But, if the only problem is that you think you’ve got a small budget, why don’t you reach out anyway? The worst that can happen is a composer might say the project isn’t a great fit, or they’re busy. There’s no harm. And there are some things you can do to negotiate a lower price.