Royalty Free Music Like Chariots of Fire
Greek composer Vangelis’ seminal “Titles” from the 1981 classic film “Chariots of Fire”, bears the uncommon distinction of being both an acclaimed and visionary piece of music, but also an (unintentional) parody of itself; having spawned an endless stream of slow-motion, pseudo-inspirational videos.
While the production and recording of the work is an interesting story and its enduring legacy is undeniable (the film won 4 Oscars, including “Best Original Music Score” and topped the Billboard 200 for 4 weeks straight), we’re focusing on great music selection. Specifically, how sonic cues can be used to reinforce identity, narrative, and emotion.
Unfortunately, using timeless pieces such as “Chariots of Fire” or “Carmina Burana” potentially requires a seizable licensing budget or a complete indifference towards intellectual property law. But don’t despair; this deep dive into music selection comes paired with our FREE Music Cellar library to get you up to speed. You’ll be adding quality musical accompaniments to your videos faster than you can say Vangelis Odysseas Papatahanasiou!
Genres, sonic cues and what they influence
Let’s take a look at some examples of how careful selection of music genre, alongside certain characteristic sounds, melodies and patterns, can influence the mood and emotion conveyed by your film. Or YouTube video. Or anything where you’re combining audio and visuals!
The case of “Chariots of Fire” is a curious one, as period films rarely - even to this day - feature modern-sounding, electronic instruments. Vangelis’ award-winning score not only broke the mould of traditional scoring by combining acoustic and electronic instrumentation, but also managed to transcend the film itself; becoming a cultural staple that most people can probably hum without knowing what it originally came from.
Musical genres have their own distinctive groups of musical conventions; particularly, ideas of orchestration, melody, harmony and deployment, which is why they make such effective furnishing for films looking for an appropriate sound. As such, music used in a film from a particular genre is done so in order to signal a sense of “belonging” to that particular genre or having certain elements in common with other, similar films.
This is where music selection becomes pivotal. Filmic conventions, developed over decades since the arrival of sound in movies, play a huge role in the ways visual content is perceived - whether it be classical strings and piano to underscore a romantic scene, or ambient electronic textures to convey the vastness of outer space in a sci-fi movie.
Another factor to consider is the diegetic quality of sound. Derived from the Greek word for “recounted story”, sounds and music described as diegetic are those whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film. This can constitute a powerful tool when used effectively - think of how (any) kind of world music can mentally transport you to a number of locations and enhance your visual experience, or how essential dance music can be to livening up a scene in a nightclub.
Going back to Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire”, with the sheer influence and success the widespread use of the track has granted it, many of its individual elements (the iconic electronic claps, the distinctive and euphoric piano) have become sonic cues in their own right. Running the gamut from inspirational messages to humorous parody, the familiarity of the theme itself (and, to a lesser extent, the genre), is the mechanism with which your selection and placement of music enhances your film.
The fundamental idea behind any kind of sonic branding stems from the fact that types of sounds (or combinations of them), when used strategically and consistently, are capable of creating to embed identity in an audience’s mind and trigger an immediate recall.
It’s the very same principle that makes us feel immediately unnerved when hearing sharp, shrieking violin sounds in the style of the “Psycho shower scene”, or why rhythmic snare drumming effortlessly conjure up images of military warfare.
Identifying these and replicating/replacing them to good effect is at the very heart of good music placement. While you might not be able to use the exact same piece of music or sound, tapping into your audience’s memory by using a simple mnemonic device that is similar can be just as effective. The array of available alternatives is vast, so experimenting within these guidelines is sure to yield satisfying results.
When determining what music to use in your videos, it’s helpful to take into consideration a few factors such as: mood & pacing, functionality & purpose, and the audience.
Mood & pacing refers to the already existing flow of a scene or movie. The emotional content as well as the editing tempo are important factors here as they will, to some degree, dictate what music is suitable. One of the reasons “Chariots of fire” was so successful originally but also achieved iconic and parodic status is, of course, that the melodic content compliments the action on screen but also the fact that the slow tempo mirrors the epic slow motion sequences itself.
Similarly, functionality & purpose should remind you that music is used to supplement the on-screen, not replace it or overpower it. While this may be a subjective judgement for many, it’s always worthwhile taking a step back to evaluate exactly what a particular scene or video is crying out for rather than trying to shoehorn music to fill a gap.
Lastly, and especially when applying the above knowledge, it becomes crucial that you know and assess your audience. In an increasingly content-saturated and fast-paced world, there is every chance that the expertly replicated delayed clap sound (in the style of “Chariots of fire”) may be completely unknown to a millennial viewer (the movie is, after all 40 years old), thus rendering your attempt to reference a slow motion moment of achievement and greatness, completely useless. While it’s often worth the payoff to experiment with novel approaches and visions for a film score, bear in mind that your audience may not share your inherent cultural references, background or knowledge.
There is an abundance of free and paid royalty-free music content for you to access and use on the internet. Nowadays, the industry of producing high-quality, ready-to-use and hassle-free music and sounds for video content is a booming business.
While the choices are many and can vary according to budget, quality and depth of selection, there is a major consideration to abide by when looking for your next soundtrack. Always ensure that the content you are using is expressly available to use, in whatever way you see fit. While the term royalty-free, is often mistakenly perceived as “free”, it is often the case that you need to pay in order to acquire a license to use it.
While this is an expansive and important topic, the main things to remember are:
- Royalty free music isn't always free to use
- Copyright free and royalty free music aren't the same thing
- Completely copyright free music is rare
- Royalty free music isn't stock music
- Not all licenses for royalty free music are the same
But worry not, as our ever-growing collection of completely cleared music is FREE and read to be put to good use. Like, genuinely free in both cost and royalties. You can browse our hand-picked selections in the Music Cellar.
Learn more about royalties, copyright and the public domain on our in-depth guide here.