Music for showreels

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Putting together a well-constructed showreel/demo reel with the best examples of your work is key to landing a job. Your showreel needs to showcase your talent and stand out in a very crowded market – and fast.

So, apart from brilliant content and editing, what else makes a difference? Here are our tips for creating that killer reel – how do you pick great music for your showreel, and should you use royalty-free, or pay to license a track?

Check out our music for showreels playlist:

1. Keep your showreel short

‘Because we have to look at so many reels, we would recommend for them to be roughly one-and-a-half to two minutes in length,’ says Claire Anderson of The Mill. ‘We don’t even always get all the way through, so I’d also say to put your best work at the beginning.’ Many industry experts advise finishing with your second-best piece, to avoid starting with a bang and ending with a whimper.

2. Showreel music – what should you consider?

With a short run-time, should you use music throughout, or just to ‘bookend’ the reel?

Usually, there are two types of demo – the rapidly edited ‘collage’ type, or a more ‘scene’-based reel of, say, 20-second clips cut together. For a collage, you might want to use one track throughout, to unify the reel. For scene-based reels, especially if they contain dialogue, it may make sense to bookend with music, which is an effective way to hook the viewer at the start and create a satisfying finish, or to choose a couple of tracks to suit the different scenes. Just ensure that the clips you’re using don’t already have music underneath them.

3. What style, or genre of music should I use?

Experiment with different genres and styles – would a hip hop track grab attention and provide drive? Or would a classical piece work better? Does the music give your viewer an insight about who you are as a creative? What story are you telling through the music?

Whichever approach you favour, don’t just pick a track and whack it in. You’ll ensure a professional result by cutting to the music and using it to drive your reel.

4. Should I use royalty-free music?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, just because music’s available to stream for free on sites like Spotify, you can use it for your showreel. To avoid violating copyright, you need to pay to license music.

Royalty-free means that you pay for a one-off licence to use the music and you don’t have to pay a fee to the copyright owner. As an example, let’s say you’ve purchased a royalty-free licence for your showreel. You’ll pay one, unique price, whether the video has 100 views, or 100,000 – and you can use the music for a day, or ten years. If you upload a demo reel with copyright music on it which you haven’t licensed, then YouTube, Vimeo and other sites can block it or take it down.

5. What are the advantages of paid-for music?

If you’re a filmmaker or video editor, you’re in the business of intellectual property. You want to be properly credited for your work, so why wouldn’t you apply that to the music you’re using?

As your showreel’s also acting, in effect, as your business card, if potential clients see that you’re using uncredited music, or music which you don’t have permission to use, it can make you look unprofessional and undermine your credibility. If you’re willing to cut corners with unlicensed music, then will your potential client’s work be at risk?

The other pros of paying for music are:

  • You won’t fall foul of YouTube or Vimeo’s ContentID system
  • You’ll know that all the licensing has been done for you
  • You’ll have a unique track, rather than one which loads of other creatives might have already used
  • There is much greater choice – enabling you to find the perfect tracks for your demo reel: demonstrate your creativity through music
  • You don’t have to spend a fortune to license a track – Audio Network’s 150,000+ catalogue starts from £69 per track

6. How do I pick the best music for showreels?

If this isn’t a general showreel, but a pitch for a potential job, then bear in mind that you might need to amend the content and the music to put yourself in pole position. What mood are you going for – action, emotion? What skills are you demonstrating? Is this for a broadcast client or a commercial one? If you have enough footage to cover off a variety of options, then you can put together relevant reels, with different music choices. And remember – keep your showreel current. Styles change, brands adapt, cameras and software are updated – and you want to include your most recent work. Look to produce a new showreel every year.

If you’re an animator (for film, video games, TV or mobile) who’s looking for expert advice, then check out the pro tips here – leading animators from Pixar, Naughty Dog and Blue Sky Studios share their industry knowledge.

Our pick of the best showreels

Cut Media Showreel 2019 from Cut Media on Vimeo.

SHØWREEL 2017 from Martin Nabelek on Vimeo.

SALTWATER | Reel 2016 from Saltwater Films on Vimeo.

Still in need of some inspo?
Discover our music for showreels playlist:

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