The musical theme to Jaws has become synonymous with dread, the slow build to a terrifying moment. Its few bars bring the shark to life instantly. As soon as you recognize it, it’s already too late.
Background music is a shortcut to emotions. It expresses feelings before we’re even consciously aware of them.
In a talk given to neuroscientists, composer Joel Douek put it this way:
“Unlike eyes, ears can detect phenomena in any direction without having to be focused on it…Vibration sense, sound sense, is ancient, visceral, and inextricably linked to old and deep emotional centers in the brain, a fact that allows composers to access and dialogue with their audience at a deep level.”
In video ads, music is key to making an emotional impact on your audience.
Emotions drive customer decision-making more than any other factor. In fact, a consumer’s emotional response to an ad influences purchase behavior 300% more than the ad’s content.
If you want your ads to be persuasive, you have to pick the right soundtrack. Let’s take a deeper look at how background music works, and how you can use this information to find the perfect track for your next video.
Tempo, Energy, Mood: The musical trifecta of emotion
You can classify most songs by three key characteristics:
- Tempo: the speed of a song, as measured in beats per minute (bpm), or described in written music by Italian markings such as Andante (walking speed) or Presto (very fast)
- Energy: the intensity of a song as it moves directionally from beginning to end, as described in terms of patterns in rhythm and dynamics, but simplified to categories of low, medium, and high
- Mood: the intent behind a song, having to do with its timbre; the difficult-to-describe human element that makes you feel a particular way without being able to explain why
These characteristics define the emotional impact of a piece of background music. The Jaws theme is slow, low energy, and suspenseful. If it were the opposite, the attack might come too soon.
The Shakr “Cool Event” video template features a more easygoing tune:
Epidemic Sound, the site where the track, “Chart Toppers 1,” was sourced, tags the music as high energy and dreamy, matching the vacation landscapes in the stock photography. It also notes the tempo as 128 bpm, which is just beyond the threshold for Allegro, or “fast.” The combination works to create a breezy, yet motivating advertisement for a fun event.
As you can see, combinations of tempo, energy, and mood can invite drastically different emotional reactions. Let’s break down how to optimize each.
Tempo: starting with a heartbeat
Tempo literally means “time,” but it can also be thought of as song speed or pace. Tempo aligns with and even dictates the action onscreen, bringing your video to life. Tempo is the most basic element of a song and can spark an initial interest in your video.
Tempo is measured in beats per minute, and it works by creating a visceral feeling, like a heartbeat. Tempo can be marked by the rhythm section, and often if you listen closely to background music, you can hear percussion instruments keeping time.
In this ad for MVMT watches, the video montage is underpinned by a sample from “Lay It on Me,” an EDM track by Swedish DJ Kasbo.
The original track clocks in at 100 bpm, but the ad version is sped up as much as 2x, and is looped at the precise moment of the “drop,” or the climax of the song. The sped-up beats correspond with the story being told by the voiceover, about not letting time slip away, and fitting in as much fun and adventure as possible in the time you’ve got. For this video, a frantic pace was needed to exaggerate the urgency.
To find the right pace for your marketing videos, start familiarizing yourself with bpm ballpark numbers and associated descriptions. This will help you sort through music libraries, quickly eliminating tracks that are too slow or too fast.
Per Wikipedia, here are some basic tempo designations:
- Lento – slowly (45–60 bpm)
- Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 bpm)
- Moderato – at a moderate speed (108–120 bpm)
- Allegro – fast, quick, and bright (120–156 bpm)
- Presto – very, very fast (168–200 bpm)
You can even use a chosen track to guide you as you edit your video (instead of after the fact), guaranteeing the background music will be in sync with the visuals.
Energy: building complexity
Energy moves your video forward. Energy adds variance and complexity to the tempo, making the action a bit more interesting, and directing viewers to emotional focal points. It serves video engagement, driving viewers to watch to the end.
Energy is typically described by three simple categories: low, medium, and high. These broad categories are a great place to start building your ad. Even if you only have an outline of your video, you probably can determine what kind of energy you need to create. Most royalty-free music sites, such as PremiumBeat, Tunefruit, and Epidemic Sound, sort music by energy.
The Shakr library also sorts video ad templates by energy:
Energy is shaped by several factors, including:
- dynamics – relative loudness of parts of a song
- texture – adding layers of instruments and melodies
- transitions – changes in tempo or key
Energy can remain steady, build to a climax (like most pop songs, and the previously mentioned EDM “drop”), follow a wave-like pattern with a series of peaks and valleys, or stop and start.
Energy doesn’t have to be high, and it certainly doesn’t have to be consistent, to have an emotional effect.
To change viewer perspectives on meat consumption, vegetarian food company Beyond Meat explains their burger production process with a low-energy video:
The video starts with stark nature sounds and voiceover only, then a background track emerges, slowly, with acoustics, and finally some electronic sounds. The track loops throughout the course of the three-minute video, with occasional variations around key terms such as “pea protein mix,” and “you just don’t need the animal anymore.” Ultimately, Beyond Meat is creating a rational, science-backed argument, and the steady energy helps them build that argument.
Mood: coloring your memory
The final category, mood, is also the most inexact. Yet, you’ll recognize it in any good song, motif or background track. Mood ties a song together, adding emotional color to a bunch of sounds. It contains the human intent behind a song that moves a viewer to act on your ad’s message.
Mood also makes a song memorable. With the right mood, you can evoke nostalgia, or create memory associations in the minds of viewers.
Custom Ink’s tagline is “For all of life’s events,” and one video’s ad captures the phases of growing up that seem to go by in the blink of an eye.
The ad doesn’t fail to feature a t-shirt in every scene, yet the shirts take backseat to the emotional poignancy. The moderate tempo and accelerating energy help tell the story of a girl who goes from dance recitals, to college dance classes, to starting a dance school — but the memorable part is how joyful and fleeting those scenes are. The mood is wistful and highly relatable.
When it comes to background music for ads, a bold mood is better than a subtle one. Often, you don’t have time to take viewers on a prolonged journey in the mind. Mood should be instantly accessible, yet good background music does this without intruding on the content of the video. You don’t remember background music, but you do remember how a good ad makes you feel, and that’s the point.
Making your videos more impactful
Background music is called that for a reason, so don’t let it take over your video ads. At its best, background music works at a subconscious level and is barely noticeable. Use music’s tempo, energy, and mood to serve your campaign goals, such as brand recall or signing up for your email list. As long as music works with the content on screen, it’s a super powerful tool for influencing viewers.