One of the simplest ways to add backing audio to your video production is by ripping a CD or importing an MP3 file and dropping it onto the audio track, and nearly all video editing packages have tools for doing just that. However, if you read last month's column (p117 of the August 2006 edition of PC World Magazine) you'll know that it's not actually legal to do this with copyrighted content - though the chances are that no one will care as long as it's purely for personal use. So what are the alternatives?
The Creative Commons Web site has an enormously useful search engine at http://creativecommons.org/audio/ that lets you find works that can be used in your productions as long as you agree to certain conditions (see "Get creative"). Just make sure that you tick the box that says "I want to use this music in other works" to limit your results to "no derivative" tracks.
Magnatune (http://magnatune.com) is a useful source for both commercial and non-commercial projects, with a wide range of genres (including some excellent classical music that's great for wedding videos). The tracks are all free for non-commercial applications, but commercial users will have to purchase a licence based on the scope of their productions (from $US5 for a wedding video, to $US1000s for a full-scale film production).
In a similar vein, Freeplay Music (www.freeplaymusic.com) also allows music to be used for free in non-commercial, personal productions, which is great news as the Web site has a massive catalogue of quality tracks available for download. This licence does not extend to broadcast use, however, so posting it online or podcasting is not allowed.
While technically you've paid for it, another free option is the SmartSound QuickTracks plug-in - which comes bundled with editors like Pinnacle Studio or Ulead VideoStudio, see Figure 1. This cleverly creates a music track based on a library of 12 installed themes, and automatically trims it to the exact length of your sequence. The themes are a bit cheesy, but there's no licensing to be worried about here, even for commercial users (more themes are available for download).
Not free stuff
When it comes to buying reasonably-priced "buyout" tracks, my two favourite providers are Music Bakery and Q-Music (www.musicbakery.com and www.q-music.co.uk). They don't have the "free for non-commercial use" licence, but offer an impressive collection of professional-quality tracks in a variety of genres, which can be purchased as collections on CD or downloaded on a track-by-track basis - see Figure 2. Music Bakery tracks have a tendency to lean towards an "American TV" feel, while Q-Music is generally pretty classy. They're both just as good as the other.
Both sites offer a highly-flexible "buy once, licence forever" policy, with prices for single tracks starting at around $US20, which is extremely cheap for the terms offered and the quality of their product.
If you're looking at high-volume distribution (more than 5000 copies), you should be aware that Music Bakery's terms change, but there's no such limit on Q-Music's tracks.