How to add music to your home videos

Learn how to incorporate music into your home videos to give them a more polished, professional look.

Almost all of us can pick up a video camera and shoot a home movie. They're fun to make, and the end result makes us laugh, reminds us of good times, and is more engaging than a collection of photos. With the abundance of affordable, easy-to-use camcorders and video editing software, we can all create these makeshift reality shows of our friends and family. But when we make mental comparisons between our own amateur video and the slick, highly-produced reality programs we see on television, we're sometimes disappointed. In concept, they both seem to be the same thing: everyday people, doing what they normally do, captured on video. But what video professionals know is that the audio aspect of a movie is just as important as the video. By adding music to your home movies, you can give them a polished finish that makes them more professional-looking and more fun to watch.

If you have a computer that's less than three years old, odds are good that it came with basic video editing software. Computers running Windows will have a program called Windows Movie Maker, while Macs will have a program called iMovie. Both are intuitive and easy to learn, and both allow you to add music to any video. To get started, you'll want to open up a new project in one of these programs and import the video you've already shot. Add your clips to the video track in the order you want them to play, cutting and trimming where you like. You may also want to add opening and closing credits to your movie.

After you've edited your movie the way you want it, it's time to supplement the video's sound by adding music. Think about the mood of your video. Is it happy and upbeat? Sad? Serious? You'll want to choose music that will fit the mood of your movie. For example, if your video is of a local pie-eating contest, a faster-paced, feel-good rock song will probably work better than a slow waltz. Similarly, if you've shot footage of a wedding, you might try incorporating a love song rather than a hardcore rap track.

If you're using music that you have on a CD, simply insert the CD into your computer's CD drive, go to File --> Import in your editing program, and choose the track you want to use. It will then appear in your movie's timeline. You can do the same for music that's already in a digital format, like a wav or an aiff: import it into your program and you're ready to edit with it. You'll want to avoid music that's in MP3 format, though. MP3s are popular because their small size makes them easy to share, but they are so highly compressed that they'll sound hollow and noisy if you try to use them in a video program. Some editing programs, in fact, won't even allow you to import MP3 files. If the song you want to use is an MP3 file, you'll either want to burn it to a music CD and import it off the CD, or convert it to a wav or an aiff using an inexpensive media program like QuickTime Pro (which is made by Apple and available through their website).

You might choose to add pre-recorded music by your favorite band, and if you're showing your home video only to family and friends, that's perfectly fine and legal. But if you plan on showing your video to a paying audience, or if there is a possibility that you could make money on your video, you start to run into complicated copyright issues. But, you can avoid any legal infringement by creating your own music. Even if you're not a great musician, applications like Apple's Garage Band and Sony's Acid Music Studio (for Windows) allow you to mix loops and beats to create original, copyright-free music that you can add to your home videos. If you're using one of these programs or one like it, create your music, export it as a wav or aiff file, and import it into your video editing program.

Once you have your music in an audio track, you'll need to think about volume. If the music is meant to serve as background audio to what's going on in the video, and if you want to hear what people on the video are saying, be sure to bring the music volume down so that it's not competing with the main audio. If, on the other hand, you want to hear the music as primary audio, you might consider lowering the volume on the sound that corresponds to your video. One thing you'll want to keep in mind, however, is that seeing people's lips moving without hearing their voice can be disorienting. If you're showing people talking, it's usually a good idea to make sure your viewer can hear what they're saying.

Video that's edited to music makes for an active presentation: it helps keep viewers' interest, and cutting to the beat of a song prevents any one shot from lingering on too long. If you have video that's mostly landscape, still shots of objects or nature, or just general "beauty shots," you might consider editing to the music rather than adding music after you edit. To do this, import your music before you begin to edit your video. As you work, listen to the beat of the song, as it will determine where your video clips will begin and end. If a song has a simple 4/4 beat, you might begin a new clip every bar or two. Or, if a song has a fast tempo, you might consider making quicker cuts; this is excellent for shots of sports and really gives the finished video a lot of energy. Drag your clips to the video track and trim them carefully to fit the beat of the music.

One common error that you'll want to avoid when adding music to your home movie is letting the music play long after the video has ended. When you're finished editing, watch your movie to make sure that the music and the video end at the same time. If the music goes on longer than the video, you'll want to cut it after the video stops.

This leads to another common error that amateur videographers make: abruptly ending the music in their movies. This can often be jarring to your viewers, and it simply sounds like a mistake. However, it's very simple to avoid. When you want the music to stop, add an audio fade out to your music track or manually fade down the volume. Making your music end smoothly will give your movie a more polished, professional feel.

Maybe you won't be producing the next hit reality tv show, but adding music to your home videos will give them a sleeker edge that your friends and family will notice and appreciate. If you choose your music well and incorporate it properly, you'll feel proud to show and share the movies you create.

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