Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sound on Film: 5 Resources for Royalty Free Music

April 22 2015 by Tom Wilton:  

You know how it is, you need music for your film, but you don’t know anyone who can create it on your budget, or you simply don't have a budget.

Of course, you could just take a risk and use something without getting the rights, but that’s a crazy, and totally unethical. So don't. 
However, if you are broke, the awesome power (and creativity) of the internet is on your side. 

These days, thanks to the wide adoption of Creative Commons and free-thinking artists, there are a lot of great places to find all kinds of great music across a whole array of genres, but knowing which are the best places to look can be a real headache.

So, with this in mind, I've curated a short list of 5 great sites for finding free music that you can use for your films.

Free Music Archive (FMA) -

The Free Music Archive is literally just that - a very large repository of songs and musical scores, free to download and use.
The site covers a wide range of genres and subgenres, with everything from blues to EDM, shoegaze rock to spoken word available for you to sample and download.

Navigating the site is simple enough and you can easily search for tracks based on tempo, mood and BPM, thanks to their considered filtering system. You can even search for tracks that fit the license you need, ensuring that you're not inadvertanly breaking any copyright laws.

Good curation is also a big part of the FMA experience - something that is sorely missing from some of the other sites on this list. Just having suggested playlists available from the landing page is a huge bonus for sure.

Previewing tracks can be a little cumbersome as songs often take a moment or two to load, and once they’re playing, there’s no way of skipping ahead or rewinding. Ideally, a dedicated player with a waveform would make the whole process leaner (especially if you only need a small segment of a track). Still, as with any music library, patience is key, especially in a repository this well stocked.

Tracks are easily downloaded as MP3s, which might bother the more discerning audiophile, but they seem to have been compressed at a pretty good bitrate which I find more than suitable for my own projects.

The FMA works on the Creative Commons licensing model, so if you’re going to download a lot of tracks from the site, it is absolutely worth noting the name and title clearly so you can sure you're giving correct attribution. The filenames can get a little muggy, especially with lesser-known artists, so save yourself the embarrassment of mixing up artist and song names by noting them down as you download.

You can check out the FMA here, and they have a pretty expansive FAQ if you need to dive deeper.

Moby Gratis -

If you were of an age in 1999, chances are you probably had a copy of Moby’s Play on CD, or would have seen Christina Ricci in the video for Natural Blueswhich was on pretty heavy rotation at the turn of the millenium. 

Quite simply, Moby's music was everywhere: on the radio, TV commercials and in the movies. He just seemed to have a sound that permeated media. Thankfully though, he didn't forget those creatives working on smaller budgets. 

Moby Gratis started a number of years ago as an outlet for filmmakers to download his songs and use it in their work.

The site includes a whole raft of tracks from his career, with many well-known songs sitting right alongside unique remixes, demos and unreleased tracks. It's a real treasure trove of his most film-friendly work. 

Of course, this is library of one artist - not several, but many of the available tracks do feature guests vocalists and differing styles. As you sample the catalog, you'll find there’s a surprising range of tempos, moods and styles to be had, and sifting through it all is pretty easy - including the option to search by instrument. The site also has the best player I've found on (based on Soundcloud's play bar), which definitely makes things a lot easier.

Unlike the other sites here, getting a license to use a track is not immediate.  When you find the song you want to use, you have to request a license for it, explaing how it will be used. This process can take up to 24 hours before you're able to download anything, and you apply on a track-by-track basis. 

It's also worth noting that there are two licenses available - a commercial and noncommercial agreement - so you’ll need to be upfront with what you’ll be doing with the film once it's completed. If you're planning on pulling any revenue from it, you'll need a commercial license (the proceeds of which go to the Humane Society)

If, however, you don't think you'll be making any money on it (at least not in the immediete future), a non-commercial license will suffice. This will allow you the right to screen your movie at film festivals and even upload it to web for folks to enjoy. Of course, the moment you begin to make any money from it (including ad revenues), you will need to replace your license for a commercial one. 

Bear in mind that if you do you upload your film to Vimeo or YouTube, it’ll probably trigger their automatic copyright robots, warning you of potential violations. Usually, you can file against these types of notices in a few clicks, clarifying that you do indeed have a license, and hopefully resolving all issues quickly enough. Just be sure to keep a copy of your licenses on hand for just such scenarios.

Bensound -

The work of a French musician who simply goes by the nom de plume Bensound, this is a surprisingly rich catalog of tracks with a decent sample across a handful of genres.

Though there are less tracks on Bensound than other sites, this is to the benefit of the user, as it makes navigating the site a breeze.

From cinematic to jazz, the available songs are of a high standard and quickly kick to life via the basic player. Though a bigger player/waveform combination would be useful here, the interface is never impeded upon, and hopping from track to track is fast, never leading you out of the page.

As with FMA, Bensound uses Creative Commons licensing, meaning you absolutely have to attribute the tracks you use. Also listed in the site's FAQs - no remixing allowed - so bear that in mind, especially if somebody else is doing your sound mix and is tempted to get creative.

Downloads come as an MP3 and a higher quality WAV file (which is a bonus), along with a copy of the license. If you are looking to use a lot of the tracks on offer, Bensound does have some restrictions on just how many tracks can be used commercialy. However, the site does offer a subscription package (details can be found within the help section), and promises there are even more songs available behind that paywall, so the choice is yours.

Open Music Archive (OMA) -

There’s no way other way of saying this, but the Open Music Archive is not the most attractive website out there.

Of course, when it comes to music, the looks really shouldn't matter  - it’s the size of the repository that counts. And in this instance, they’re definitely sitting pretty.

The OMA is a project started by artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White who have made it their mission to source and digitize out-of-copyright tracks, giving them a new (creative) life in the internet age.

Pretty much all of the tracks on offer lean toward old recordings (think 1920s), and therefore have that unmistakable analog crackle and hiss. This is absolutely music from a pre-autotune era. If that's the kind of music you need, you can't go wrong here. But if it's the latest hot sounds you're after, this is not the place to hang out. And you'll probably find yourself hanging out for a while, because the navigating the place is far from user-friendly.

The search option is a little misleading (most searches return zero information), and even downloading tracks is not as obvious as it should be. In fact, the best way to browse the library is via the tags (which are mercifully laid out on the home page), but again, it's hit and miss. Instead, accept that you'll be clicking around for a while and just let that be a joy as an old-time tune warms to life.

It is also worth noting that, when it comes to copyright, the rules vary wildly country-by-country. So whilst these songs are old, it's not guaranteed that the copyright has passed in your corner of the world. If you find a track you like, do your due diligence and see whether it's rights free where you are. (Wikipedia has a good country-by-country overview here.)

Opsound -

Much like the Free Music Archive, Opsound is all about inviting musicians to upload and distribute their music free under Creative Commons licensing. 

As site, it's one of the easiest to figure out, as it makes great use of whitespace in it’s stripped back style. However, searching for music is not as easy as FMA or, and even previewing a few tracks fast denigrates into a click-heavy process.

Still, there is a lot to love, especially if you make use of the sidebar menus for navigation. Click through on genres or artists, and you get an exhaustive spill-down menu of names and styles to sample. When you find something you like, there even are links through to the artist’s website and contact details also, allowing you to reach out in person (if you so choose), allowing you to tell them how great they are.

The repository is certainly well stocked, and as an alternative resource to the FMA, it’s well-built, but the lack of a search function for the site really does put it on the wrong side of awkward. Hopefuly that'll improve over time, and they're even teasing a radio tab (offline at the time or writing), so it's clear that there's still work being done in the lab.

Round Up

Finding great music for your film is certainly a process of patience and waiting for inspiration. However, as long as you're happy to sift through the various sites (and their idiosyncracies), the rewards can be found.

One last caveat; as in any other situation where you’re using the creative output of others, be absolutely certain that you have the correct license for your use case. It could be that you get a non-commercial license upfront, but sell the film at a later date. In this instance, you would need to either get a new license that allows you to use the music commercially, or strip it out entirely and find something new. Either way, keep copies of your the licenses granted (I store mine in Google Drive for easy reference), and be sure to check them over in advance of any scheduled public screening or sale.

Have something to add? Drop it in the comments below.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Now Screening: Alexia

April 16 2015 by @TomWilton

One night, Franco (Sergio Berón) finds himself clicking on the Facebook profile of his ex girlfriend, Alexia (Pilar Boyle). It's her birthday, but she's not around to 'like' the messages her friends have left because Alexia is dead. And of course, Franco blames himself.

On the advice of his new girlfriend (played by Paula Carruega), Franco decides to remove Alexia from his circle of friends. But with one click, he has no idea what he’s just unleashed. It seems Alexia is not quite ready to be forgotten.

Taking a few notes from J-horror benchmarks such as Ringu or Ju-on (aka The Grudge), Alexia is classic creep-scare horror from Argentinian filmmaker, Andrés Borghi. Though there are some similarities to the recent Unfriended, it plays more like a old ghost story than a parable for our digitally connected times.

Writer and director Borghi clearly understands the genre and form, keeping the story to a tight 9 minutes, whilst still managing to hit genre-necessary beats. We get a tragic death, the protagonist’s guilt, a rescuer on the way and even a classic jump scare. When you throw in the scary-monster elements and supernatural forces, you have a film that knows exactly what it needs to do and just when to do them.

You can catch Alexia on Cinema Zero now, or after the fact on YouTube. Just be sure to keep the lights on.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

Friday, March 6, 2015

Dispatch from Cinequest Film Festival - Wrap Up

March 6 2015 by Jeffrey P. Nesker @JeffreyPNesker

With both Tom and Fiona now gone I hunkered down and got into Cinequest proper, meeting lots of amazing people and catching as many films as I possibly could. After a while of course, like a lot of people in attendance, I found I had fallen into a rhythm. I came to think of it as the ‘Cinequest Shuffle’.

Mornings began with a trip to the VIP Lounge, for some much-needed caffeine (or more likely, a hair of the dog). After that, we’d head onto screenings, and then around 5pm, head to the VIP soirees for a two-hour meet at the open bar. Follow this with whatever films you can squeeze in till 9pm, when you head onto the Maverick Meetups, which are simply epic. Do this for enough days in a row and you soon realize just why the festival is so popular. 

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Dispatch from Cinequest Film Festival - Day 4

March 2 2015 by Tom Wilton @TomWilton

Today’s my day for checking out of Cinequest 2015, and honestly, while I look forward to returning to snowy New York, I’ll miss the good times I’ve had here in California. Obviously, as I mentioned in my post on Write Shoot Cut, I didn’t know really what to expect, or how the festival would even play out. And yet, here I am, waiting on my flight, beaming from ear-to-ear because I’ve realized just how much can be taken from a well-run event, when everybody is open and enthused. It’s a totally different experience to any other festival I’ve visited before.
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Dispatch from Cinequest Film Festival - Day 3

March 1 2015 by Jeffrey P. Nesker @JeffreyPNesker

Day one of the festival proper for us began at 2:30AM, in the shuttle bus from our hotel back to O'Hare International Airport, where we were surprised to see our flight from Chicago to Phoenix was overstuffed with equally overtired, and irate, people. Headphones on. Time to disappear into the new Panda Bear record.
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