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Music can help you tell your audio story


When used in podcasting, music is being used creatively.

Why use music

Identifying the appropriate music to underpin your podcast is an important job. The right music can add emotional depth and weight to serious moments. It can provide a rhythm or metre that not only pushes the podcast along but gives you, the creator and editor, an idea of where you should trim your audio. The wrong music can feel jarring and provide an obstacle to your listener immersing themselves in your narrative.

Music should not be designed or incorporated separately to the words or the story. Words and music should be harnessed together to tell that story. The music should fit so well that it merges into the words and the story.

  • Punctuation: Music can be used to Highlight. Highlight characteristics of a person, highlight characteristics of a place or even highlight important information/momentous events. It’s a form of punctuation, as in this example from The Truth

“Ordering a rideshare seems like a safe choice. But really, it’s just getting into a stranger’s car.”


  • Info: Music can communicate intangible aspects such as culture or geographical location. The music in the Caliphate example communicates cultural context, but also creates a sense of unease. Lastly, this example shows how music can be used to give listeners time to understand the gravity of what has just happened.

Caliphate - Chapter Five: The Heart[2]

  • Mood: ambient music underpins spoken word content. Ambient music is used to reinforce or enhance a particular emotion that the creator feels is important. Similarly, ambient music can give the listener insight or an insider’s perspective. In this example, music juxtaposes the happiness of an event with the sadness of the wider context of events that are not yet known.

They tell me you are wicked[3]

Finding Music

  1. Existing Music Several sites offer free original music, requiring only acknowledgement of the artist. Free sound is one example.

  2. Composed Music. If you have the budget, it’s much better if you can hire someone to write an instrumental theme and music phrases tailored to your show. You can paint in the mood with these and they will also have a unifying effect. Ask the composer to provide short ‘stings’ and looped variations of differing length. Think about what instruments you’d like to hear. Is it acoustic? Electronic?

Tip: Think carefully about where music comes in and where you take it out. This is where it achieves impact. If you keep music unchanging behind a speaker all the way through, it starts to negate its own effect. It’s about using it as emphasis, to underline a phrase; as mood setter or changer: as a bridge to transition to a new idea; as Reflection, to allow the listener to take something in.

Audition your choice of music. Does it fit? Does it either help the audience ask or answer a question?

How Does Royalty Free Differ - From Creative Commons?

The term ‘royalty free‘ is defined as:

“the right to use copyright material or intellectual property without the need to pay royalties or licence fees for each use or per volume sold, or some time period of use or sales.” [4]

This means you can buy a licence which grants the rights to use a copyrighted song in your podcast. Purchasing a royalty-free licence doesn’t give you exclusive rights. You do however have permission from the composer/artist/band to use it. Make sure to check the terms of the licence. [5]

A ‘Creative Commons‘ agreement is:

“a set of various licences that allow people to share their copyrighted work to be copied, edited, built upon,etc., while retaining the copyright to the original work (often used attributively).” [6]

There are many different types of creative commons licences. Much of the content under Creative Commons licensing seek attribution, non-commercial stipulates limited distribution of the work that incorporates their content. While Creative Commons is free, there is far less material to choose from and there is the possible risk of facing serious legal trouble for misusing the licence terms. [5]

Royalty Free: Royalty-free music is music that can be purchased for a single one-time fee.

Creative Commons is a global not-for-profit organisation that provides a set of guidelines and framework. For more information:

Music with vocals & lyrics: music with lyrics is less frequently used in podcasts unless it is the focus of the podcast. Use care when playing any music with vocals underneath someone speaking as this can very quickly confuse the listener or draw their focus off the audio you want them to hear. Music with vocals is usually reserved in podcasting for when someone is talking about a specific song, for example, in Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, the episode “Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis” focuses on a song that Elvis Presley famously sang. In this context, it would be far less meaningful for the listener to not hear the song that the narrative is about.

Getting Creative

Take some time to contribute to our ‘Sound Library’ of royalty free audio and sound effects for you and your fellow learners to use. Before using a piece in your own work please check the licensing yourself.

  • Find royalty-free sounds/music

  • Label your contribution so it is easily identified

  • Include the website for where you got the sound from or state if you made the music/sound yourself


  1. Newman L. Rideshare [Internet]. The Truth. 2018 [cited 19 September 2018]. Available: The Truth (web link)

  2. The New York Times. The Heart [Internet]. Caliphate. 2018 [cited 19 September 2018]. Available: Caliphate (web link)

  3. Anderson R. 207 -They Tell Me You Are Wicked [Internet]. Awful Grace. 2017. [cited 19 September 2018]. Available: Awful Grace (web link)

  4. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Royalty-free [online]. [cited 19 September 2018]. Available: Wikipedia (web link)

  5. TheTechReviewer.com. (2018). Best Royalty Free Music? - Top 7 Services For Filmmakers [online]. [cited September 2018]. Available: The Tech Reviewer (web link)

  6. www.dictionary.com. (2018). The definition of creative commons [online]. [cited 19 September 2018]. Available: Dictionary (web link)

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This article is from the free online course:

The Power of Podcasting for Storytelling

University of Wollongong