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Tips For Choosing Background Music (For Instructional Videos)

by | Oct 10, 2019

Have you given much thought to the background music in your instructional videos?

While it may seem like a granular detail, background music has the power to make or break your instructional video. Too loud and it’s distracting. Too up-tempo and it’s confusing. Wrong genre and it turns people off.

But when you get it right – mmm, it’s magical.

Selecting the right background music is a combined art and science. The art side requires a detection of ingenuity and uniqueness that will resonate with your audience. And the science side requires use of data and demographics to narrow your scope and focus on your audience interests.

Why add background music to instructional videos?

Music shouldn’t be added to instructional videos “just because.” As instructional designers, every small decision we make (such as using background music in a video) should be an enhancement to the learning experience. If it’s not making your learning experience better, then why do it?

Well-selected background music has the power to deepen learning experience by emotionally connecting your audience to the content. Just think for a second about your own experience: you know when an old song comes on the radio and it instantly transports your memory back to a time when you were younger?

That’s the end goal with background music. It’s used as a trigger to bring the memory back.

Background music sets the feel and tone of your instructional video. It adds a little extra flavor and spice to your learning experience. And for topics that are notoriously dull, a groovy background track can improve view retention and engagement.

Is background music distracting for learners?

This topic has been long-debated in the literature. Our consensus? Background music can be supplementary beneficial for learning, as long as the song selection is relevant and relatable to the audience.

The music must truly be in the background, set at a volume that is comfortable for the learner and that doesn’t detract from the core message of the video.

You also must consider the music genres. Not ever learner enjoys the same music. And with 3,000+ genres to choose from, it can be overwhelming to find the best tune for your learners.

With all of these stipulations, selecting the right music track can be a struggle. It certainly is an art and a science. As instructional designers and video creators, we always want to provide our learners with the best possible experience.

One that is straight-forward, clear, and concise. Selecting the right background music for your instructional video is a fine detail that can boost learner retention and create the best possible learning experience.


Here are our tips for selecting the best background music for your instructional video:


1. Use Instrumental Songs Only

This may go without saying, but you want to choose a background song without vocals. This is also known as an instrumental song.

The reason? For the majority of instructional videos, a voiceover will be explaining instructions in detail. This voiceover needs to be the focus of your instructional video. You don’t want your voiceover competing with vocals in the background. This is extremely distracting for learners and is a detractor for the overall experience.

Even if your instructional video doesn’t have a voiceover, we still don’t suggest using a song with vocals. Most often, song vocals are entirely unrelated to the learning material. Rather than adding a benefit, songs with vocals still tend to lean toward distracting. Always choose an instrumental track, with no vocals.


2. Consider Your Audience Preferences

When selecting a genre for your background track, think of your audience demographics in detail. What is the age of your learners? Where are they located geographically? What are their interests?

All of these factors can help you determine the best genre, or style, that would resonate most with your learners. Maybe you have an audience of millennials that would prefer a lofi hip-hop beat. Or perhaps you have a group of retirees that prefer a soft acoustic track.

Pay close attention to your audience demographics to make the best music choice to enhance the learning experience.


3. Avoid Cheesy Pop Songs

Many instructional video creators don’t spend ample time selecting background music. You can tell from the frequent use of cheesy sounding pop music. You know the type – predictable melodies and a standard pop beat that prompts mental images of overly happy business people dancing around the office.

Many of these songs are labeled as “corporate pop.” Listen to an example here. And do all you can to avoid this genre.

This style of music has been played out in instructional videos. You want your video to be unique. You want it to evoke emotion in your audience. That goal is achieved by being thoughtful about your music choices. Selecting creative, unique songs that your audience will remember.

It does take more time and effort than simply selecting the “most popular” choice. Even if your audience doesn’t consciously recognize unique music, it will still provide a deeper learning experience in the long run.


4. Use Well-Produced Tracks

There are plenty of royalty-free songs out there online. In our experience, most of them aren’t worth your time. Most provide cheap sounding songs that will completely ruin the tone of your instructional video.

The one exception to this is YouTube’s free music library. They have thousands of free songs that are typically royalty free. And many don’t even require attribution (although you can always thank the song creator as they put in a lot of work to create these songs!).

If you’re really trying to knock it out of the park, it’s probably worth paying for a well-produced track. A few resources to try are, Epidemic Sound, and Filmstro. While some sites are pay-by-track and other use a subscription model, there are plenty of options depending on your video creation needs.


5. Share a Few Options

Before you commit to a song, it helps to get some feedback from your client first. Although background music seems like a minor detail, music is very personal for people. You’ll be surprised of the strong opinions you’ll receive.

If background music is important to the client, we usually send 2-3 song samples for them to choose from. Since the matching of the visuals is important, it helps to go the extra step and actually edit 15-20 second video clips using the background music. This way, your client can see the whole picture of how the auditory and visual components work together.


About the Author:

Andrew DeBell is a learning experience strategist and content developer on the customer education team at Atlassian. Connect with him on LinkedIn for more.