Music Is Video’s “Most Important” Non-Verbal Tool

Starting with communication basics (“You can only be aware of one thing at a time, but you can switch rapidly”), Dr. Tom Nash, club Vice President and Director of Learning Opportunities, discussed “The Importance of Music in Your Video” at the March 15 General Meeting, outlining many ways to use music effectively.

NOTE: Jim Rohrs video-recorded this presentation, and Video One’s Bill Hemberger has volunteered to edit recordings of General Meeting programs for uploading to the club YouTube channel, making these valuable presentations permanently available.

Tom cited research where subjects wearing headphones were fed a different story into each ear. “They were found to hear and remember only one story,” he said. “However, when something special, such the subject’s name, was included in the other sound track, it broke through to make the subject aware of both feeds.”

How to use this information about the human mind? Make sure music enhances and reinforces your video and does not pull viewer attention away from the main point. Tom listed several additional ways your video can lose viewer attention – by not meeting the viewer’s needs, moving too slowly, lacking emotion, and including distracting elements — such as placing titles on the screen with printed words different from words being heard on the sound track. (Remember the “one thing at a time” rule.)

P1020879-smTo regain attention, Tom advised, “make a change, do something different.” That’s why most news shows feature two newscasters, switching from one to the other, he explained. Additional methods of regaining attention are showing how the topic is relevant and introducing strong emotion. “Logic and emotion are not enemies,” Tom stressed. “In video, they reinforce each other.” To stimulate emotion, he advised, tell a story, bring in characters the viewer will identify with, add pictures and music that will evoke strong feelings.

“Music is the most important non-verbal tool we have as videographers,” he said, adding, “You can’t not communicate non-verbally.” Distinguishing between “foreground” and “background” music, Tom explained that both evoke emotion, but foreground music calls attention to itself, often introducing a change, while background music is sound “you’re not aware of.”

“Background music is often used to help establish time and place or to create a mood,” he said. “It’s the art that conceals art.”

Tom also observed that in feature films much background music is unpleasant, suggesting elements like fear or danger. “Movies often make you feel bad for 80 minutes, then very good for 10 minutes, so you can leave the theater happy and relieved.” he said. “That’s why they need a lot of unhappy music.”

In selecting music – a time-consuming process – Tom advised: “You may be too close to your project. Ask others if they think the music you’re considering evokes the desired feelings.” Another factor to keep in mind is the age of the anticipated audience and what associations the music may have for them. Citing music resources, Tom listed the YouTube Audio Library, which provides free music and sound effects online with no copyright issues, and Audacity, a free, open source program for music editing on both PC and Mac computers.

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