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#19: Sound Effects and Music in Your Podcast

By | February 12, 2007

Printed media is and always will be an excellent way to communicate, but people just like to hear a voice, whether it’s on the radio or through a podcast, that voice helps people connect. What that tells us is that audio is very powerful. That’s why radio was so popular in the 80’s, and why podcasts are so popular today. What we’re gonna talk about this week, is taking advantage of that power to its full potential.

You might have one of those golden voices that just makes people melt when they hear you, so maybe you won’t need what I’m gonna tell you, the rest of you though, can benefit tons by incorporating music and sound effects into your podcast. I know that generally I stick to a pretty straightforward format and just talk about the details without a lot of fluff, but today I’m gonna have to break away from that mold for just a bit to help illustrate what I’m talking about.

We all know that music is powerful. Music is moving, it effects our emotions and mood. It can even give us an adrenaline rush or put us to sleep. You wanna carefully select the style of music that you use on your podcast, but make sure that you’re using something. Also make sure that the music isn’t overpowering, unless that’s a specific effect that you’re looking for. For example, in a car dealer’s commercial, loud music might be the norm, but if you’ve got a nice orchestral piece playing while you talk about some upcoming community events, you want the music in the background, loud enough to hear, but low enough to be unobtrusive.

You might think that there really isn’t a lot to talk about with music and podcasts, you just pick the music you want and play it for your intro or whatever, but what I’m wanting to help with is not just an intro theme. You might have transitions where you do news, or upcoming events, or even commercials for your podcast. If you’re trying to make money with your podcast, don’t just sell time for the commercial, tell your client you produce the commercial as well, if you wanna get into that kinda thing.

Honestly I wouldn’t think there’s much to talk about with music either, but I’m surprised how many podcasts I hear that have no music, or the music is so loud you can barely hear what the host is saying. So give your music some thought, and we’re gonna move on to sound effects for a minute, but later in today’s episode we’ll come back to music and I wanna address some legal issues with commercial music.

Ok, now we’re talking about sound effects. This, of course, will not fit into every podcast and you might not use them every time, but try to get a decent selection of typical radio station type effects which would be zingers, zaps, whooshes, and other transitional type effects. They’re very handy and if you structure your podcast into different segments, they can really help break things up.

For example, things are really starting to take shape here and you’ll notice a lot of enhancements over the next several episodes. We’re gonna be putting together more of a structure for each show and have regular features like podcasting news and equipment reviews, so I’ll be utilizing some transitional effects and music. This just gives the listener something interesting to listen to. People are spoiled. They expect to be wow’d. That doesn’t mean that you’ve gotta plaster your show with sound effects, but it does mean consider it. Of course, format is also a factor. Shows that are entertaining will need to be entertaining. Shows that are all business, can be pretty straight forward.

One place you will use sound effects a lot is with commercials. For example, listen to this audio bit that doesn’t have any sound effects…

…now listen to the same segment, with sound effects…

…big difference right? Again, I don’t wanna see a string of distastefully used sound effects in podcasts, but keep it in mind as something to add a little something special. And if you think about, take for example an NPR broadcast, why do they report on something and include sound bytes of things like ambient noise, or somebody chopping down a tree, or whatever? It’s because that creates more of a link between the listener and the topic. So if you’ve got a podcast on landscaping, use some tool sounds like a leaf blower, if you’ve got a podcast on sewing, maybe you have a regular segment and for an intro you can have some scissor sounds or a sewing machine or something. The point here is, be creative, use discretion, and have fun with it.

OK, now we’re back to talking about music in your podcast, by the way, did you notice how that transition kinda breaks things up and gives us a fresh start? OK?

So with music, you’ve got some things to watch out for. First of all, don’t assume that you can just pull a CD from your collection, or pop a song out of your iTunes library, and start podcasting with it. Lot’s of people do it, and they even get away with it, but that doesn’t make it right, does it?

Seriously, copyright laws protect the owners of a sound recording and here’s why. If I go out and record a song, maybe I didn’t even write it, but I bought the rights to use it. So I record it. There are now at least three people involved, and actually many more. First theirs the author of the song, then there’s me, then there’s the producer. So you go out and buy my CD and now I get paid, the producer gets paid, and the songwriter gets paid. Everything’s fine right? Yes, so far.

Now you start a podcast and you start using my song as your theme music. Then you become real famous and millions of people listen to your podcast. Here’s where it gets a little sticky. On one hand, you could say I should like the exposure because millions of people are hearing my song on your podcast. On the other hand, I could say you owe me money because millions of people are hearing my song on your podcast and they don’t need to go buy it themselves! Or that my song made you famous. Then besides me there’s the producer and the songwriter that are both gonna wanna have a talk with you, only they’ll use their lawyers to do so.

If you absolutely HAVE to play commercial music, you can get a license and then you’ll be legal. This all gets very detailed and if anybody knows of a simpler method, please let me know. Some of the organizations that handle licensing are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. I believe though that they only handle certain musicians and you’ll probably also have to get some licensing from the record labels that produce the music.

You’re probably wondering how you could ever get caught playing commercial music in your podcast..the answer is simple. There’s an organization called the RIAA that actually goes about looking for websites that play commercial music and if they find you, they might ask you for proof of your license. If you don’t have it, you could be sued. Now usually they’ll try to help you get licensed, but they’re definitely not the kind of people that you want to be rude to or ignore, kinda like the IRS.

Now believe it or not, I said all of that just to scare you enough so that you’ll take the much easier route of just using Royalty Free music. Full buy out music is a little more expensive per piece, but that’s because you’re buying a license that says you can pretty much do whatever you want to with it, provided you’re not coping it and reselling it. For example, if you use a royalty free track, you have to talk over the track so that somebody couldn’t just save the song and have it all to themselves, so you have to mix it in with your content. Royalty Free means just that, you don’t have to pay any royalties to use it. That’s why you can buy a CD at the mall with 14 tracks for $12, but you might pay $12 for just one royalty free track.

I’ll go ahead and give you a couple of links to some royalty free music sites and usually they’ve got some good deals even on bundles that’ll give you a selection of music for different moods, and this is especially a good thing to have if you’re gonna do commercials or different segments in your podcast. RoyaltyFreeMusic.com of course is a big one, they’ve got tons of categories, and PartnersInRhyme.com is another one, again lots of categories. Usually with this type of thing you’ll get a set for a particular song which gives you a full length version, then maybe a 60 second version a 30 second and a 15 second version and that’s really handy for different transitions and segment lengths. For a full selection though, you might pay $80 for a set of 8 or 9 songs with these different variations. Again, you’re buying a license though, so this way you’re legal.

Of course you’ve also got the option of having someone do a custom music theme for your show, but that’s gonna be a little expensive. The benefit of that is that nobody else will be able to use it. Another option is using some sites on the Internet that specifically list music that’s legal to play on your podcast. If there’s a band that wants some extra exposure or a label that’s trying to get some good public relations, they’ll post music on these sites and it’s free to use in your podcast. You’ve gotta check them out though because sometimes it’s only for non-profit podcasts, they usually have a way to buy the music for a commercial podcast and it’s usually pretty reasonable. Some of these sites include AudioFeeds.org Kahvi Collective Magnatune and PodSafe Audio just to name a few I think there are others out there and this is probably gonna be even more popular in the future because if you want the exposure, you’re gonna get it.

That’s it for this weeks episode, I really hate talking about this legal stuff cause that totally takes away from the fun part of podcasting, but I consider it my duty to inform the uninformed and who knows, maybe I’ll keep somebody from going to jail or something.

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Topics: How to Podcast, Podcast Promotion, Production Music | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “#19: Sound Effects and Music in Your Podcast”

  1. mt Says:
    August 8th, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the info!

  2. Kazza Says:
    September 30th, 2009 at 3:42 am

    hi there, my school has a podcast and i put some of my techno tracks i created on it, our school podcast is called highlife in wilmslow and can be found on the radiowaves website. i nevwer copyrighted my music although i said i had on the podcast and now i’m concerned that someone will still be able to take my music and use it, is it copyrighted as soon as i put it on the podcast because i can prove i put it on there and the date? i would love to know if this is so, and if not how i can protect it. (can you protect music for free?) thank you for your time. kazza.


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