Royalty-free music gets a bad rap. It's actually worse than bad rap. And I get it. We've all been on the receiving end of some horrifically mellow, light jazz, lilting its way into the darkest nook of your soul as you look online for the noise-cancelling headphones they give to the people who park airplanes.You want good music. Your learners deserve it. Unfortunately, your e-learning budget may not allow for Adele to custom compose a unique, heart-shaking anthem for your compliance training. So you're going to need to look for royalty-free music, but hear me out: There's good royalty-free music out there. Lots of it.
We should know. There are dozens of uses in our business alone: driving theme music for an entire course, exciting accompaniment for animations, memorable soundtracks for commercials, or ambient music to accompany a variety of other interactions. You might just be tackling your own creative project and want some beautiful music to go with it. So let's talk about how to find songs that don't suck.
WOULD YOU WANT TO LISTEN TO IT?
I try to always keep this on the top of my priority list when I'm picking music. Too often, people resign themselves to lame music without even trying. Sometimes we just assume there isn't any good music out there at all, or we think the easiest solution is some random, off-brand swelling strings. But do a little more digging. Give the song a good listen. Odds are, if you like something, so will your audience. And why give your learners something you wouldn't want?
One awesome site is Tunefruit. They've got a wide array of tracks, it's easy to search and sort, and they've even got a pretty intricate tagging system to help you find exactly the kind of music you're looking for. But, most importantly, they've just got some good music.
Here are a few recent favorites that feel solid, fresh, and modern:
DON'T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT
If there's one thing I want you to take away here, it's this: keep your options open. If you think all you need is some wan alto sax, then that's all you're going to get. But why do that to your learners? Play around with different genres, different instruments, different moods. You might have one mental image of exactly what music you want, but take the time to consider other options and you may end up with a fun, striking pairing you wouldn't have gone with otherwise.
I think my favorite royalty-free music site of all time is PremiumBeat. They've got a great, user-friendly interface that makes it incredibly simple to find and browse music. You can download shorter versions of songs or even a set of short, looping tracks that allow you to customize your soundtrack. They also have a great feature that lets you download a watermarked track so you can sample the music ahead of time. If, say, you've edited a video and just need the track to accompany it, this can be a huge help. Download some samples, plug in each one, and see what really clicks right there in the environment.
Here are a few great tracks with an unexpected kind of sound:
And, okay, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one more track. This is my favorite track on PremiumBeat; if I'm being totally honest it might be my favorite piece of royalty-free music I've ever heard. Sometimes, I just listen to it in my personal time. I've pitched it for three or four different projects and everyone thinks I'm crazy. One day, though, I'll get this track into something. Mark my words. Listen to this and try not to be in a great mood. It can't be done!
IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, NO MORE SMOOTH JAZZ
I wrote this entire piece for a personal reason: my deep-seated loathing of smooth jazz.* There are so many different genres to pick from, and if you go with the stereotypical "easy listening" option, you're selling your audience short. This is one of those decisions that feels small but can end up having a huge impact on how people experience it. If the first thing I hear is cheesy music, it doesn't really matter how great your content is, it's pretty tough for me to get engaged. So invest in those little touches that go a long way towards adding fidelity to your product.
I know that, of course, you may not always have the liberty to put in a rock track or a ukulele-handclap ballad. Sometimes, you need to stick with something relatively chill and corporate-friendly. But I promise: It can still be great.
Let's check one more site: AudioJungle. This site is part of a suite of stock media sites, and it's got a lot of quality stuff. The price is right, too; you can get great tracks for about 20 bucks. I decided to plumb AudioJungle for tracks that could reasonably replace smooth jazz.
These tunes are mellow and inspiring, and they won't make anyone's eardrums sad:
Whatever you do, just don't stop exploring. Try new genres, new moods, new instruments. Challenge your assumptions about what your learners expect, and you just might surprise them with a more engaging experience. Trust me, they'll thank you for it.
*If you love smooth jazz, please accept this as my apology.