Aug 14, 2010, 22:55

Both of these animated shorts are funny, inspired and interesting. But I think only one of them features outstanding soundtrack choice:

Example 1

Example 2

Animators pour a great deal of energy into storyboarding, sketching, modeling & texturing. So much, evidently, that other creative senses can sometimes atrophy. I can certainly relate. As a music producer, no creative task generated more artistic blindness than choosing the company logo.

Here are tips borrowed from leading feature film editors that animation teams can employ to help find the ideal music track for their next piece:

1st Step: Borrow Your Dream Soundtrack

No, it’s not unethical.

There are many website forums where media producers ask where they can find a royalty-free music track that sounds like, for example, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”. Very quickly, well-meaning peers will respond by saying, “You can’t use that song. It’s illegal.”

They’re right of course, but all great songwriters will admit that their work is derivative. When I stare off into space and try to conjure a melody, I often have to admit that sometimes what I hear is just a memory of a favorite song. Maybe that’s why the opening guitar lick of “Eye of the Tiger.” sounds a lot like Steve Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”. Hmmmm.

Go ahead and temp with the track that works best with your animation. For research purposes, it’s ok and even optimal to choose something famous that you’ll never be able to license. The point is to inspire yourself and your team to create the best visuals possible. Even if your visuals are cut to that track’s tempo, a similar library music track can be chosen later and modified to fit that tempo using wav file editors such as Audacity.

2nd Step: Exchange It For A Better Fit

Switching out soundtracks will require an aural cleansing of the palette that will take time, but remember that your audience doesn’t know anything about your temp track. They’re seeing your animation with fresh ears. Here’s what to do:

a. Make a Haystack With the Most Needles

Recently, I conducted a music search for a media producer seeking music similar to the soundtrack to the movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid. That particular music is orchestral in nature and sounds very bouncy.

However, searching for tracks using the keyword “bouncy” didn’t yield the best results. Instead, I had to listen to the track again and discern a distinct type of violin plucking called “pizzicato.” Using the keyword “pizzicato” gave me plenty of tracks that all fit perfectly.

Simply put, I had to think like a musician, not a video-editor.

Like most artists, musicians tend to think of their music in terms of the elements in which it’s composed. Existing music to which it is similar or the mood it evokes is often too abstract to ponder. Meta data is often the biggest barrier between video editors and that perfect library track. List every possible word to describe your temp track and try each of those search terms. You’ll be surprised which one yields the best results.

b. Let Experts Do the Searching

There’s no reason to be scared of royalty-free music. Just beware of BAD royalty-free music. How do you know the difference? You don’t. So just ask your favorite stock music library for assistance. Most production music libraries will be happy to help if you just give them a brief description of your project.

Music library staff members have insights into their own catalog that outsiders do not. It’s a bit like ordering at a fine restaurant and asking your server for recommendations.


Today I searched YouTube using the keywords “short animation cool soundtrack.” The resulting videos all featured stunning visuals, but I was surprised at how long it took to find one with a soundtrack I would consider cool. Not that every soundtrack necessarily has to be a quality piece of music, but some inspired compatibility between audio and visual would have made those shorts a great deal better.

Herein lies an exciting opportunity for animators to grow in their craft by recognizing the importance of a soundtrack that is not necessarily a great piece of music, but rather the right piece of music for their work.

Using the steps outlined above, the post-production process for your next animation project should result in a truly inspired soundtrack choice. Good luck!

*Special thanks for Vonetta Devonish for proofreading.


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of, a production music marketplace where media producers and business owners can license high-quality, affordable music from a online community of musicians.

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