Background Music - Obtaining, Selecting, and Distributing
I always say audio is at least half of the viewing experience of a movie, but less than 5% of
the newsletters cover the subject. It took a jog from a subscriber who asked for an issue about
how to select background music, and where to get it.
As good a topic as it is, it's not an easy one... I've been wrestling for days with what to cover
and how to say it, ending up with 3 topics: obtaining music so it's accessible to Movie Maker, selecting
the right music and mixing it into the project, and distributing the rendered movie.
'Obtaining' music should be pretty easy today... so much is online... easy
to search for and download, for free or a small fee. If it's not immediately importable to your
collection, you can copy it as it plays into a Movie Maker narration file. Or, if you don't
have the narration option on your system, you can burn it to an audio CD and rip it back into
your computer as an importable WMA file.
'Selecting' music during the editing phase is about what music you have
in your library, and how it fits into your movie. For home movies it's best to use music you
like. How to mix it into the visual and other surrounding audio is the artistic part of the
'Distributing' your rendered movies is a potentially sticky part. Giving
copies to friends and family, or others, for free or fee gets you into meeting laws, having
rights, obtaining permissions, and paying royalties. It can be complex, confusing, and almost
impossible path to do right.
Let's look at these 3 dimensions of background music....
... before getting into it, here are a few notes...
I've been playing with moving title image overlays a good bit this week... rolling
some samples out to the Editing > Text > Custom Overlays page.
Next week's newsletter #92 will be about making such overlays... if you haven't seen any of them,
here are links to the 4 samples online.
- goes virtually anywhere you want it to
Office with Birds
- a few birds fly around the virtual office
- mix any combo of text and graphics and have it scroll
- 8 parts of the opening frame move into place before the video starts...
The Persian Gal and I exchanged emails... she's been too busy with school to develop the website
page about using custom xml code, so I'll be updating it from this point. Our mutual quest is to
provide inspiration and info to help the newbie get into this area.
.... back to the main topic...
'Obtaining' music is so easy today that it's almost too trivial to warrant newsletter
space... whatever you want is available online... search the internet, find it, and download...
for free or a fee.
you hear it playing on your computer, you can copy it into a high quality WMA narration file with
Movie Maker 2... this doesn't work for all systems as it depends on the options of the sound card.
On my new HP Pavilion laptop, the option is in the drop down list as 'Stereo Mixer'. As music plays
in the Windows Media Player or iTunes, I use the standard narration feature of Movie Maker to capture
If you can't capture it using the narration feature, you can record it to an audio CD and rip
it back into your computer as a WMA file using the Windows Media Player.
Sources of Music
I get lots of tips about where to get copyright or royalty free music. Most of the time I don't
even go to the site, instead adding the info to my database for the day I want to explore it. When
I started this newsletter, I went to my database to see what was there... starting with
I didn't remember making a note about Amazon offering free music, but a quick check and I was
downloading this tune.
The Amazon button said download for free, and it let me do it.... I had logged into Amazon with
my user account, but didn't need to take this item to the checkout counter or provide credit card
info... it just downloaded.
The search for free music did double duty for this one. The download was free, and the name of
the music track is "Free"...
I went to iTunes as a cross-check of the name, but didn't find it... just one
Joesfus album from 1970.
While at the iTunes Music store I noted a section of the main menu labeled "Free Downloads"...
which offered a 'Single of the Week'.... I got it just as a test....
Getting the free one was interesting. Getting a free tune is actually buying it at zero cost...
I could buy and download it.
surprise came when I went to listen to it.
I got a message saying this computer wasn't authorized to play it. It seems I had signed up for
iTunes on my older Toshiba and not used it yet on my new HP. I gave it the authorization and I'm
now up to 2 of 5 allowed computers. I guess that means I can buy tunes on an unlimited number of
computers but only play them on those that are authorized. I hadn't known that.
Sources of music that is both free to download and free to use are few... in
years of following up and checking sites reported to be free, few are free to beyond the downloading
and listening for personal pleasure. For most, there are royalties to pay or other restrictions
that preclude using them in movies that you distribute, whether you distribute them freely or for
commercial purposes. After seeing the headlines of it being free, the restrictions are in the fine
Here's a short list of websites that have free to get and use material.
The Internet Archive
- the videos here have audio included... use it
Band Music from
the Civil War Era
Archival Preservation of Player
Piano Music Rolls - I have all 2,500+ files
Local artists and bands are a great source. 6 albums in my library were given
to me by two local artists, with the understanding that I can use the music wherever I want. Of
course, I'll give them credit and include links to their websites.
Randon Myles is one of the Kalamazoo local audio artists who recently provided 4 albums of his
material for my use.
Music captured by your camcorder is easy to get, but conditions placed on using
it can be tricky... can I freely use my footage from Disney World and the Epcot Center? how about
the dance floor of a wedding reception or a local Irish Fest? street corner performers in a big
When I wrote 'Do Amazing Things' and was submitting a frame grab from a clip of a bus going down
Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I was asked by Microsoft Press if I had written permission from the
driver and passengers. I changed the picture to a lighthouse. When I was writing 'Zero to Hero'
and saying in the text that I'd use a particular music track in a project... even with no CD in
the book and no actual use of the music... the editors decided not to include reference to it, as
if simply saying that a particular piece of music would be great as background would be sufficient
to need permission. I'm refraining from saying in this newsletter what the music was... the endless
possibilities for not adhering to some requirement drives you toward total silence and immobility....
or taking an unknown risk.
On the flip side of the coin, there are lawyers who argue that you are free to take and use camcorder
video/audio in public places. I'd like to believe them... and follow their guidance in lots of cases.
I could dwell on such issues a long time... but let's move on.
and Using Music...
'Selecting' music for a project depends on what music you have in your library,
how it fits into your movie, and how free you are to distribute it.
Don't use any music unless you like it... that's a big starting filter. Then it's a matter of
selecting a piece and mixing it in with the visual and other surrounding audio, with the biggest
part being the audio of the source video.
The actual mixing is where you use your artistic talents or hunches. Experimenting is so easy
to do in the computer editing environment. You don't have to plan it, but you do have to recognize
when something is working or not.
When I start a project, I'll be listening to some of the music in my library. Some times the
perfect piece somehow automatically links in my mind to the project at hand. If it doesn't, then
I'll do some homework and look for it, or choose one that's less than perfect.
I don't believe in collaborative artwork... so don't seek other opinions about what works or
doesn't. Go with your gut feel or intuition... or artistry.
You may be limited in your selection to the music you are free to distribute... from there it's
picking something that aligns with the tempo of the video segment...
something I put together for this newsletter to help... one of the discs that Randon Myles provided
is titled 'Music for Film - III', and the titles of the pieces suggest uses for them.
I strung together the first 20 seconds of each track and put them into this 9 minute video...
Film Music Sampler
Click on the link to listen to and watch the sampler, and on Randon's door to go to his website.
I used some captured iTunes visualizations for the video, made with the Encoder as other pieces
were playing. if you think there's a link between any of Randon's audio clips and the visualization,
it's your mind making the link... something you can rely on when showing your work.
You and your audience will make mental connections between what they see and hear. Some will
congratulate you on your artistry in putting the audio and video together. If it's for something
you didn't do deliberately... go along for the ride and congratulate them on being perceptive. On
the other hand, if they don't notice or comment on the things you put so much effort into, consider
When working the music on the timeline.... zoom into the timeline so you can see the wave patterns
in both tracks...
Make mental notes about the sounds that are causing the peaks, and where they are. You can easily
edit the project to align the audio events with something visual or with a transition. Adding a
transition at a particular audio point can be something that enhances both.
Giving copies of your rendered movies is a potential sticky point, even if it's to friends and
family for free.... are you meeting laws, do you have rights, did you obtain permissions, and did
you pay royalties? It can be complex, confusing, and almost impossible to do anything without some
The more commercial your use is, the more limited you are... or at least the more you'll be expected
to pay royalties for such use.
go back to that music track I downloaded from Amazon... it was a free download, but do I have the
permission to distribute it as part of a movie?
What does the fine print say about my rights to do use it? I couldn't even find the fine print,
nevemind adhere to it.
I started with Amazon and couldn't find any info about permissions or where to seek it...
The info tab of the properties gave a website for the artist... it was obsolete, so I found this
one by searching.
The website gave a brief chronology... the original band broke up in 1970, but members have continued
to be drawn together through the years.
I didn't find my downloaded track on the website... or any references to where I could find the
Some argue that, if you don't find any restrictions, you're free to use the item... I don't subscribe
to that. If I don't find statements saying I'm free to use it, I'll assume I'm not.... and use something
from my library that I know I'm free to use.
Conclusions and Closing
At a wedding party a couple years ago....
We're sitting at a big round table in the reception room with 5 other couples... some close friends
and others close friends of theirs. I was videoing the wedding and had copied the footage of the
dress rehearsal onto my Creative Zen player, and passed it around the table.
After that, I showed them another video on the Zen, something I had done years earlier about
one of the couple's summer home... on an island... I used the theme song from "xxxxxxxxx Island"
for background music.
After that video made the rounds of this cozy group, a guest across from me came over to chat...
guess what he does for a living? He's a prosecuting attorney for the recording industry.... prosecuting
those who illegally use music. He noted that the background music on my island video sounded really
good, like maybe it was a digital copy and not an old scratchy one from an analog recording.
We 'chatted' for over half an hour where to draw the line when it comes to recording, copying,
and using video and music material.... an interesting discussion, yes... a fun one, no....
He was right about the music on my Zen... but when it comes to where to draw the line, he obviously
represents one extreme. There are other lawyers who say the other extreme, and I'm somewhere in
the middle having to decide what, if anything to do.
I look forward to comments and discussion about this and other newsletters on the forums at:
Windows Movie Makers.net
Have a great week...
Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 - www.papajohn.org
Photo Story 2 - www.photostory.papajohn.org
Products and Services
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regularly. Some are free and others reasonably priced.
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Call the phone mail machine to get your technical question answered on the air... call (206)-203-3516
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Movie Maker 2 - Do Amazing Things (with its online companion on
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Movie Maker 2 - Zero to Hero - with support on the publisher's forum -
Friends of Ed
MaximumPC's winter 2005 quarterly special... had a 7 page tutorial 'Make a Killer Home Movie
with Maker 2'. The special edition of the video made for it is now
on my website as
a file download.
The November 2005 edition of Maximum PC had a well done reworked 6 page reprint of the same article,
starting on page 42 after the Happy 20th Birthday article for Windows.
Learning VirtualDub - published by
Publishing, is the first book about VirtualDub software. I wrote the first chapter about downloading
and setting up the software: VirtualDub, VDubMod and AVISynth.
Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 - www.papajohn.org
- the site's 3 goals are: an online companion to the Do Amazing Things book, a detailed tutorial
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Add-On Transitions and Effects
Transition Maker 2 (TM2) is a utility
for the ultimate in making your own personal and custom transitions for Movie Maker 2. It's a joint
product from Patrick Leabo, the programmer, and myself. Version 2 was released a week ago and I'm
still working on updating the online tutorial.
beta tested some of the Pixelan packages
and think very highly of their people and products.
ProDAD's Adorage package for Movie Maker 2 provides an additional source of
professionally developed transitions and effects.
your personal information is more of a challenge as hard drives get bigger and the internet more
My personal database has been an ongoing project over many years, and is now available to others.
A tutorial about using it is on the Managing > Personal Database page of my site, and more info
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It's free for the asking to regular newsletter subscribers... send an email request and I'll
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To others it's $10. To order, use the button on the top of the Managing > Personal Database page.
An online gallery that fully aligns with the main priority of the website is the
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Check it at Neptune and the Distributing
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About John 'PapaJohn' Buechler from Microsoft.com
John "PapaJohn" Buechler, of Kalamazoo, Mich., goes by PapaJohn
online. An avid user of Movie Maker since its first release, and
a regular supporter of the community of Movie Maker users, John
received a 2003 MVP award from Microsoft for that support. In March
2003, he started a comprehensive website about Movie Maker 2 at
He maintains the website, writes books and articles, teaches, and
provides support services - all for the community of Movie Maker
2 users. An engineer by formal education, John is a computer database
and multimedia expert by business and personal experience. He co-authored
the first book about Movie Maker 2 and is actively working on a
second one. You can find his advice in the
Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup and in the
Windows Movie Makers Forums.
newsletter is republished with permission of John "PapaJohn" Buechler.
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