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How to choose the right music to make your viral a success

How to choose the right music to make your viral a success

By Tom Belton, SharpNine Music,

So your viral needs music? But how does choosing music for viral marketing differ from choosing music for other forms of marketing? And what are the potential impacts and implications of utilising music online?

To answer these questions, let's concentrate on three factors that define the effectiveness of music in advertising; entertainment, structure and audience. By definition, viral marketing and entertainment are inextricably linked, it's more often than not that the enjoyment someone gets from watching or interacting with a viral is the reason for them wanting to spread the 'virus' and pass it on to their friend or colleague.

Under some circumstances music can play an important role while having no obvious link to the brand or product. However, in the majority of cases, the skill of choosing the right music mainly depends on the rest of the content.

For example, in a recent viral campaign for a well-known drinks company, there were a number of videos being distributed online. These videos depicted a barman mixing cocktails in a bar whilst explaining to the viewer how he was making them. The music was light and as you might have expected should you have visited that particular bar. It was mixed into the rest of the sound to appear as though it was playing in the background. A simple idea, but the music here added to the enjoyment of the viral providing an immersive experience for the audience, giving them a sense of actually being in the bar, drinking cocktails.

Music can also provide a structural framework, linking images, bridging the gap between shots and accenting visual or interactive events, but selecting music that fits the ebb and flow of a film or viral, is not something that's easily achieved.

Although in its infancy, commissioning original music for virals can be hugely beneficial in this situation. It might be something that digital and online creative agencies may not have ever dealt with, but is something advertising agencies do on a regular basis for television adverts. The benefits include the ability to define your own parameters for the music, in terms of mood and style, and create a bespoke piece that fits the natural rhythm of the rest of the content perfectly. It also provides a great way to enhance the experience of interactive virals.

Most modern composers will often be able to provide sound design without needing to use a post-production facility. This also coincides with the next point, targeting. Obviously, the music that you choose needs to act as an identifier within your target demographic. When a viral works, it spreads exponentially among people within the target market, using the music effectively can only act to forge a stronger identification between the audience and the viral.

Original music can assist in this process, enabling you to decide and stipulate exactly which genres the music is influenced by. It is not difficult to pin point a piece of music that can encapsulate different cultures, beliefs, ideologies, ages, likes and dislikes that people can associate with very easily. The particular piece of music that you will end up using will ideally, partially, if not wholly tick these boxes, and these boxes will ultimately overlap.

There is also the indescribable x-factor that music can exhibit,  inexplicably enhancing the mood and intention of your viral. If you are not sure where to start when choosing the right music, there are a number of music consultancy agencies that will be happy to put forward possible tracks and then oversee licensing them if need be.

Another important consideration, when choosing music for your viral, are the technical and legal aspects. Too many films and virals contain shocking sound quality. Often this is not because of low bandwidth connections being unsuitable for higher quality compression rates, but because of a general lack of understanding of compression technology and an attitude of “oh well, it's only going on the web, the quality doesn't matter”.

It is always important to retain the highest possible quality of audio right up until the last moment before the audio is incorporated into code. At that point, audio definitely should not be compressed to a rate below 192 kbps, whatever codec is used. People know when the sound quality is bad, and it will make things sound cheap and rushed. If the viral represents a quality product, so should the sound, and if you think your target audience is likely to be using high bandwidth connections, compression rates should be of even higher quality where possible.

Licenses may be required to use music in your viral. You will probably need one of the licenses on offer from the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL). These organisations are happy to help with enquiries and the appropriate links are below:

MCPS / PRS Alliance:


Tom Belton is co-founder of SharpNine Music, specialists in producing bespoke music and audio for advertising and video games.

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