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How to avoid being sued by Coldplay. Using music in online video content. Professor Robert Winston just recently presented a brilliant series on BBC Radio 4. It explored the science of music and referred to some recent research. This had used the most up-to-date scanning techniques to produce an extraordinary discovery: the part of the human brain that analyses and responds to music developed far earlier than the part of the brain that interprets language. In evolutionary terms, humans used music before speech.
Add to this another fact and you’ll start to see just how powerful music can be when combined with moving images. Simon Sinek gave a fascinating TED talk in which he discussed the success of Apple and other businesses that put their purpose and passion ahead of their products. He uses what he calls a “Golden Circle” to explain: the physical attributes of a company’s products circle around the outside (the “What-does-a-company-do”), but the “Why” is at the very centre. This correlates neatly with the structure of the brain itself. Rational decisions are processed in the newer parts of the brain that lie around the outside. Emotional decisions are processed in the older, more central parts and it is to this part that we pay the most attention.
Likewise with music. In Western culture we draw upon a lifetime of sonic encounters whenever we hear music. Whether or not you were made to appreciate classical music at school, you will have heard countless orchestral scores from watching years of films and TV dramas. You will have heard hundreds of thousands of pop songs. As with language, you will have learnt a vocabulary of musical phrases, moods, arrangements and progressions that provoke a specific response. This response is a pre-condition that is re-enforced every time the context is repeated. That way, love songs sound similar to each other, as do scores for horror films.
The greatest film composers say that if an audience becomes aware of their music, they have failed in their job. Film music works hand-in-hand with a scene to heighten the emotional context, but at a subconscious level. It heightens comedy, pathos, melancholy, drama, horror and awe. We can all think of specific examples.
The same applies to online video content. Music is universal and speaks to all people, whatever their mother tongue. There are thousands of music tracks available to be used from “Royalty-Free” music libraries. They cost about £30 and this licence applies in perpetuity. They are grouped by genre and by mood so it’s relatively easy to find something that works blindingly well. But beware. If you use any music outside these libraries, you will inevitably transgress someone’s copyright. I have seen a video on a hotel’s website that used a Coldplay song. Someone thought it would add the right mood, not realising that they could be sued for a lot of money. Running this risk is pointless as in fact, a really well-known song will hijack a viewer’s emotional response according to whether that song has happy associations. It’s far safer to stick with an orchestral score as this is what usually accompanies moving images and that’s what everyone is most familiar with.
And it doesn’t run the risk of a jail sentence.

< The greatest film music is not noticeable to an audience unless it is missing.(film by Mirage Enterprises/Universal)


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