Incidental Music_ Comprehensive Guide

Incidental Music: Comprehensive Guide

Incidental or background music is music played in the background to create an atmosphere or mood and enhance a movie scene, video game, commercial, theater, or TV show.

The music evokes emotion without interfering with what's happening on screen. Incidental music can be anything from classical symphonies to techno dance beats. It can be instrumental, or it can include vocals.

Here is a comprehensive guide on incidental music. But first;

Why is Incidental Music Important?

Incidental Music Important

Incidental music plays a major role in the emotional resonance of visual media. Here are some reasons why incidental music is essential:

1. Enhances emotions and storytelling

Incidental music helps to evoke the mood and feelings of a scene. Thus, making it easier for the audience to relate to the narrative and the characters. Based on the scene's requirements, it can create tension, cliffhangers, excitement, or sadness.

2. Adds production value

Incidental music that is well-chosen can significantly improve the overall production quality of a film, TV show, or play. It can add complexity and depth to the narrative, making it more interactive and unforgettable.

3. Contributes to marketing and branding

Incidental music is used in the branding and marketing strategy of production. Captivating and identifiable music can generate buzz and interest in the production, increasing its chances of success.

4. Composers' talent is showcased

Incidental music allows composers to demonstrate their talent and creativity. A well-crafted piece of music can elevate a production to a greater level of artistry, leaving an indelible impression on both audiences and critics.

Now, isn't incidental music the film's soundtrack? Well, there is a difference between the two.

Difference Between Incidental Music and Sound Track.

Difference Between Incidental Music and Sound Track

Incidental music is composed primarily for production to support the action on a tv set or stage and represents just a tiny portion of the soundtrack’s music files. The soundtrack, on the contrary, is the complete musical selection used throughout the film, including both vocal and instrumental themes. A soundtrack is chosen to support or contrast with the video elements rather than being explicitly composed for the production.

Incorporating Previously Used Incidental Music

It is a common practice to use previously used incidental music in production projects, especially those with tight deadlines or finances. However, when employing already-existing incidental music, there are a few things to consider;

  • Check if the music fits the production and effectively advances the story and mood of your content.
  • Secure the required authorizations and licenses before using the music. Using music protected by copyright without permission may result in penalties and legal action.

How to Get Incidental Music

Get Incidental Music

Apart from paying royalty and copyright fee for incidental music, there are different ways of getting incidental music. Some of these options include;

1. Hire a Composer

Hiring a composer to compose a unique score or live background music primarily for the production constitutes one of the most popular ways to obtain incidental music. The production team can work collaboratively with the composer to ensure the music complements the production's story, mood, and character development. With this option, you’ll have an unrepeatable and unique sound that you can exclusively use in your play, video game, or television program.

Note: This service is more expensive than a license fee to use existing incidental music.

2. Use of public domain music

Public domain music is no longer copyrighted and can be used in any film production without authorization or license fees. Various websites such as bensound provide public domain music, such as classical music and conventional folk songs.

Note: This is the most economical way to obtain incidental music.

3. Use a stock music library

Stock libraries offer pre-existing tracks which can be used without any further licensing fees. Stock libraries come in many different varieties – classical, jazz, ethnic and so on – so it's important to find one that fits your needs.

Factors to consider when choosing incidental music

Factors to consider when choosing incidental music

There are various factors to consider when selecting incidental music:

  • Genre: The music genre should be suitable for the scene or production. If the performance is a period drama, the music should be classical and depict the time.
  • Length: The music should be the same length as the scene, with larger scenes requiring longer music.
  • Mood and Tone: The music's mood and tone should be consistent with the scene's or production's overall mood and tone. The music should be tense or foreboding if the scene is designed to be tense.
  • Instrumentation: The music's instrumentation should fit the production's or scene's needs. For instance, if the setting is located in a church, the music should include choirs or organs.
  • Composer: The composer's reputation, style, and previous work should all be considered. A composer with a solid reputation and expertise in the genre can create music appropriate for the production.
  • Budget: When selecting incidental music, remember the production's budget. Using pre-existing music instead of commissioning a composer to produce creative music might be a more cost-effective option.

Challenges of using incidental music

Challenges of using incidental music

While incidental music can be a useful tool for creating a sense in your video project, it has some drawbacks. They include;

1. Finding the right music

Choosing incidental music that meets the production's narrative, emotions, and characterization can be complex. It necessitates careful thoughts of the production's vision, audience, and impact.

2. Legal concerns

Obtaining the proper authorization and licensing requirements to use the songs can be time-consuming and complicated. Similarly, using copyrighted music without permission can lead to legal ramifications such as fines and lawsuits.

3. Cost

Commissioning a new score or purchasing music rights can be costly, especially for projects with tight spending limits. The production crew must balance the value and significance of the production and the song's price.


Incidental music plays a major role in the emotional resonance of visual media, enhances emotions and storytelling, sets the tone and atmosphere, adds production value, and showcases the composer's talent. Using incidental music has its benefits and challenges. When choosing incidental music and using previously existing one, several factors should be considered, including genre, music length, and your budget.

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