Posts tagged music
How To Make A Travel Video: Music

The How To Make A Travel Video series looks at the different aspects of capturing travel memories on film. You’ll see great examples to inspire and learn about the gear and techniques that help make great travel videos better. You can find the rest of the series here. I've written about the effect music can have on travel and your ability to remember things. The same rings true for music in travel videos. I can't tell you how many times I've watched beautiful images fly by but don't give them another thought because they're accompanied by "Achy Breaky Heart" type songs. You end up only remembering the crappy music and not the romantic kiss beneath the Eiffel Tower. So lets take a look at how the soundtrack can shape your travel videos.


Music, Editing and Shot Length

First things first. A lot of the leg work behind the perfect music track really depends on your editing. Cutting to the beat or by dynamic moves can totally ramp up the tension and emotion of the images that are being displayed. This can be as quick or as slow as the music but it also doesn't have to be consistent. If you start off cutting shots to the beat don't feel like you're stuck with that for the whole video. Long pauses force viewers to take a breath and ponder what is happening in front of them. In the example below, "I Was Not The Fyrst" you'll find some great examples of using lulls in the rhythm and volume to accentuate landscapes.

Chehade Boulos chose a semi-ambient track to go with his mostly wide shots. At 1:23 the dynamics pick up just as the drone shot crests a ridge and shows the watery expanse below. Instead of using a cut, the beat pushes the narrative forward. The image at 3:23 of the man looking out with light guitars playing in the background is breathtaking. Now, imagine that same shot with someone singing a country song over it. Loses something, right?

A great example of editing to music can be seen in the video "A Week In Norway." The beat pushes shots into the next ones and keeps your eyes moving as the scene unfolds. Cuts take place on beat and even employ quick cuts (example at 0:27) that give only glimpses of whats to come. Editing tightly to music helps amp up the visual movement and keep viewers engaged.

Ambient Noise & Sound Effects

I'm bad at using natural sound in videos. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and when I'm out shooting I'm not worrying about audio as much as I should. Ambient noise can really bring a viewer into the visual story. In the video below, "Serbia - Land Coloured With Life," we're treated to some beautiful images but they're accompanied with some very out of place sound effects

The screeches of the chain and the wooshing effect makes me immediately want to stop watching. It effectively pulls me out of the world that is being shown. It's unnatural, overpowering and only serves to cheapen the images being shown. Now contrast that with the subtle ambient nature sounds in "Patagonia" below.

Instead of taking you out of the environment, the subtle noise plants your feet into the grass and rock of Argentina and Chile. The ambient sounds almost feel like they're a part of the music, not simply playing underneath it. So make sure to capture some of the surrounding audio, just in case.

Music As Narrative Focus

Walter Martin's song "Amsterdam" was basically made to accompany whimsical videos from the Dutch capital. It sets the scene, mood and everything else. Seriously, just go make that video. Another way to use music to set the narrative focus is to use a song that has lyrics that speak to your journey. The video below is about a couple traveling in Asia and they chose a song from Kidnap Kid that focuses on moments.

The lyrics move along with the journey like a pseudo music video for the song. Some music videos are basically travel videos, I'm looking at you Death Cab For Cutie. The beat in "Moments In Asia" helps move the journey along, taking you along for the ride. The use of a GoPro also helps by getting you up close and personal with the couple.

Another way to use music as narrative is to pick music that helps identify with a place. Think reggae beats in a video about a Caribbean trip. The ease of identity helps draw the viewer into the narrative. In this video by Jose Matos, the first notes of the song set the scene for what is coming ahead. You can practically feel the air of Paris blowing across your face as you hold a cappuccino in your hands.

Movement In Music

If you're watching a snowboarding video that is accompanied by really slow folk music, odds are you're left scratching your head. Where's the energy? Action shots call for certain types of music that match their intensity and slow moving walks require something completely different. In "The Quiet City: Winter In Paris" we see a city that seems like it's slow, languid and serene. To help get us in the mood, Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" plays softly in the background. This also happens to be one of my favorite compositions and pairs beautifully with the slow moving pans and shots of cars gliding down cold, crowded streets.


A good soundtrack can make or break a good travel video. It can also make it much easier to edit and put together in post production. You can find great music to license at places like The Music Bed and Premium Beat. There's also free options like Free Music Archive. Check with local musicians about using their music to give your videos an indie flair and help them promote their projects. With plenty of places to find great music, don't steal something that's copyrighted. It costs a lot of money to make good music and musicians should get paid for their music and not have it ripped off. So please, get permission or a license before you put music in your video. It's better for everyone and could keep you from having your video taken down.

The Importance of Music in Travel

When I travel I make a playlist of songs to help spur the sound of my creativity as I walk around a new city. It's a way to catalogue things and situations in my life.

If you were to ask me what music I was listening to in Paris in March 2009, I could easily answer "Suicide Blonde" by Jack's Mannequin, "So Long" by Guster and "Caroline" by David Gray, among others.

I'd also have to tell you that I had recently been disappointed in the direction of a relationship that never quite got off the ground (and a year later would get off the ground but then end pretty badly after about 16 months or so later) which led to me listening to "Hiatus" by Sugarcult almost every night when I walked home.

There's no better way to fall in love with a new city than by walking as much of it as you can. I like to walk with music on, especially at night, and make my own soundtrack for the events unfolding around me. I identify moments with the music that lurk just underneath the surface. For some reason that's just how my mind works and allows me to remember life experiences.

A Soundtrack To Walk To

Here's some of my top tracks while traveling, mostly due to what was happening in the moments between the beats.

  1. Sitting by the River Thames on a typical foggy morning, listening to Amos Lee's "I'm Not Myself," waiting for the sun to pop out like it always did.
  2. Driving down I-45 in Houston with a load of clothes and items for my new apartment in September of 2010 listening to "Everybody Learns From Disaster" by Dashboard Confessional.
  3. Walking down Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles looking for inspiration while my friend Jeanette was at work, listening to "Going Through Hell" by The Streets.
  4. Sitting in a bus in London after having an anxiety attack in an Indian food restaurant by Victoria Station in 2014, listening to "Can't Be Broken" by Twin Forks.
  5. Walking home late on a Wednesday after playing some music at The Highlander Pub in Paris in 2009, the Eiffel Tower unlit and hulking over the Seine with Augustana's "Sweet And Low" in my ears.

There's too many songs to count, each inextricably connected to some random moment that would be vague and forgotten if not for a lyrical cue somehow. So the next time you travel to a new place, make a musical roadmap to help focus your creativity and to catalogue the random adventures you'll surely have.

Glen Hansard on Art, Creativity and Voice

Glen Hansard has been one of my favorite artists for a very long time. From his time as founder of The Frames to The Swell Season, his lyrics connect with me in a way that most others just don't. Most people in America know him as the "guy" in the movie Once, which was an amazing film that featured some really great songs. His first solo album, Rhythm and Repose was one of my favorite albums of 2012 and his latest solo effort, Didn't He Ramble is quickly becoming one of my all-time top albums. In the video below, Myles O'Reilly followed Glen as he made Ramble and you get a unique insight into his views on creativity and voice. I love this quote from his producer on the record; "we all know you're great and all, we just don't know if you're any good." It's at that point that you know he's surrounded himself with the right people to make music, people who aren't afraid to push back and make you second guess yourself.

Art as a Career

The career of an artist is a funny thing. In the documentary below, Glen talks about music sometimes being so personal that it has no actual value to other people. "Why am I asking the public to take part in it, if it's just about exercising my own demons," says Hansard. "Surely you can do that at home."

I think that's something that every artist, no matter what medium, struggles with. Is this just a passion or is there an avenue to invite the greater world into that same feeling? Am I connecting or just dragging the audience along?

Grace Beneath the Pines

My favorite song on the record is the opening track, "Grace Beneath The Pines." There's something haunting and real about the whole song, it just seems to sit with you long after the headphones come off. The way that he sings "I'll get through this," voice quivering and full of anguish, just drags you into this song of redemption and hope.

Every time I hear it, I picture myself walking along the Thames in 2009, a chill March wind blowing swiftly. The pines turn into buildings and street lamps as I try to find an open Tube station. It was a pivotal moment in my life, on a short holiday from my time in Paris. I was struggling to find my own way in life, an identity that I'm still not sure stuck well. There was lots of late nights and walking, but those lights brought some kind of grace to my life, even if just temporary. Sometimes that's all you need.

The documentary below is definitely worth a watch, but if you want to skip ahead to where Glen Hansard talks about creativity just go to the 9:00 minute mark and the 14:30 minute mark. It's definitely a great look into the mind of a wonderful artist and the creative process behind making a record. The video above is my wife's favorite track from the record, "McCormack's Wall," which is based on a true story from Glen's past. I'm pretty sure it's because of the beautiful Irish ballad undertones and violins at the end. I really need to take her to Ireland soon. A small cottage by the water, that sounds about right. Soon.