Podcasts are an important entertainment medium and for a successful podcast, every component counts. Podcast music is an important piece of the complete podcast, and the more you know about podcast music, the better you can implement it into your podcast.
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This post has been updated in October 2021.
How Can Music Affect a Podcast?
As the entertainment medium of podcasts continues to grow, so do the techniques and enhancements within a podcast. One of these is music. More and more podcasts contain music in a variety of ways, and this can truly enhance the entire listening experience.
Soundstripe tells us of the importance of music in a podcast.
The right intro music can hook new listeners as soon as they press play. Instead of waiting for the story to build some momentum, they’ll be instantly engaged by the music
Music can take a series or episode to a new level adding depth and nuance to the scene. Music can add a new level of connection between the listener and the podcast. It can be a constant, just like the host’s voice. Music tends to stay with listeners. Think about radio or TV commercials set to music. Don’t you find yourself singing those tunes in your mind, or humming them on the way to work? The same goes for podcasts. If you can incorporate music, like a theme song or intro, into the podcast, you’ll be forming a new bond with your listeners.
Music can also set the mood in a podcast. Whether your podcast is funny, serious, frightening, suspenseful, sweet – music can reinforce its mood and tone. Just like it works in a TV show or movie, it can do the same in a podcast. The key is using the right music. because just as a great score can improve your show, the wrong sound can hurt your podcast. So your job is to find the perfect match.
Incorporating Podcast Music into Your Show
You first came up with a brilliant idea for a podcast. Then you wrote a script or called in a guest and recorded it. It’s great. It’s captivating and you can’t wait for others to hear it. But wait, is it lacking something? Something like a polish, a finishing glaze? Maybe you need to add a bit of a soundtrack to your podcast. Yes, that’s it. But how do you do that, you wonder. Actually, there are a few ways to incorporate music into your show, and you can pick and choose any number of ways.
One of the first places to look to put music into your show is in the intro. This is the moment the podcast begins, and a musical intro acts as a theme song. Intros are usually about 15 to 30 seconds long, and just like the first paragraph of a book or news article, they are here to hook the listener. You want your podcast to envelop and absorb your listener. Your audience should tune everything out and only be aware of your show. The intro music can set the stage for just this. It can act as the cue to forget everything else and just pay attention to this.
A great musical score at the intro also acts as a connection. Soundstripe again shares some valuable information regarding this:
Using the same music for every show can also tap into the Familiarity Principle, a psychological phenomenon by which people develop a preference for something simply by being exposed to that same thing multiple times. Just having consistent podcast music will make your show more enjoyable to listeners.
Hearing the same music will bring that familiarity to your listeners. They’ll be connected to you and your show, and their listening pleasure will be enhanced. This music can become part of the routine, the experience, the whole custom of listening.
Another great place for music in your podcast is as a segment divider. Spreaker shares the importance of the musical segment divider. Musical clips can help punctuate key moments as you travel through the beginning, middle, and end. They are clues that there is a transition, like a paragraph or a page break in a book, or a fade-out /fade-in in a movie.
Music can also build suspense and anticipation as a segment divider. You know those cliff hangers at the end of the chapters in books that keep you reading late into the night? Music in a podcast can have the same effect and keep you listening.
Segment dividers also can serve as a transition if you are switching gears in your podcasts. Often podcasts will have more than one “story,” topic, or interview in an episode, and the musical transition can help reinforce the change of subject.
We love great background music. But the key is to let your content shine and not let the music override it. Think of your music as punctuation in your podcast. It can frame the content and provide guidance to the listener about how they should feel at that particular moment, says Soundstripe. But be careful. Keep this music clean and simple. These moments can offer reflection accompanied by a single instrument. No big band sounds here to distract your listener.
Like your intro music opens your show, your outro will close it all up. Some podcasters like to use the same music they use for the intro, but they play it at a quieter level so as not to overwhelm the feelings at the end of the show. Some like to have different music; it can clearly cue the end of the show. This is another chance, however, for you to be consistent and call upon that familiarity principle from earlier. If your shows always end on the same note, your listeners will feel complete when your show is over. The outro music can help close up the show while providing your listeners satisfaction.
Matching Your Music to Your Show and the Audience
As mentioned, it is vital to the success of your podcast to use music that fits the mood, the tone, and the podcast as a whole. You often have to call upon your audience or the purpose of your show to define it. With all the different genres and types of podcasts and all of the listeners, you need to know your audience just as well as your podcast.
Let’s look towards that Soundstripe article once more. There’s a great technique here for finding the right music ore your show: think of three adjectives to define your show and then match some music to those words. So break down your show. Is it scary? Seductive? Funny? Friendly? Suspenseful? All of these adjectives have plenty of music to match, so it’s not such a difficult task.
You also need to think about your audience and what they expect. This should be in line with the above adjectives. The podcast, Serial, is a great example of a show with successful, identifiable, and enhancing music. The music is a perfect match for the podcast and the audience connects the music to the show. That bond is formed.
Where Can You Get Podcast Music to Use?
Granted some podcasts, like Serial, have music that is original, composed just for the podcast. Sure, you can do this. If you are musical, it’s a great way to use your own music while customizing your podcast. Maybe you have a talented friend looking to help you out. You can also hire someone to create music for you. Serial’s music is an original score and it’s fabulous. This makes a unique, custom soundtrack, but if you have to hire someone, it can be pricey.
If you or your friends aren’t musically inclined and you don’t have a budget for original music, you’re not out of luck. You can find plenty of free or affordable music that you can use for your podcast.
Many podcasters opt for royalty free music. In this format, you purchase the rights to play the music. Once you’ve purchased the rights, you can play the music as much and however you’d like to. So this is a one time fee and not for each time you use it or it is aired. Many sites, like Soundstripe and Artlist, offer this type of music and it’s a smart route to go. Public domain music is also a safe way to go.
Creative commons music is another category where you can use the music, but it has certain stipulations, like only for noncommercial use. However, this use can get tricky and many podcasters want to stay away from this platform.
Be careful not to fall into some myth traps about copyright laws. The best advice is just don’t use music unless you have some rights to it or you know it’s public domain. You may hear things like “If I only play less than 10 seconds, it’s fine” or “If I provide credits and attribution, it’s fine.” Nope, neither of those is fine. Stay away or you could see yourself in a lawsuit. Stick with what is safe, honest, and ethical. You want a great podcast, not a heavy fine.
The Bottom Line on Podcast Music
Music can enhance your podcast. That really is the bottom line. But there is much, much more. For effective use of music in your podcast, know your audience and know your podcast. The music must also match your tone and your mood. Another component is to think about where you want your music. Should it be an intro, an outro, in between segments, or as background? You can also use some combination of where your music will go. Remember consistency is good, too. Listeners enjoy knowing the music and what to expect. Make sure you’re using the music legally, too. Now you have it, and your podcast is ready to have the finishing touches of music.
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