A Guide To Creating Low-Budget Soundtracks For Free  

by Matt Hawkins, 19/09/2011
Categories : Sound FX

A video is nothing without a decent soundtrack. Unfortunately many film makers struggle to create soundtracks to match their video creations.

This guide aims to explain how you can obtain quality, free and legal sound effects and music to use in your films, movies and YouTube videos.

There are three components to a decent soundtrack.

1. Original sound from the recorded video
2. Sound effects
3. Music

Sound Effects and Music are items I've always had to acquire from other sources because they are usually impossible for me to create myself.

I can create the occasional sound effect but I'm not a musician so creating original music has always been a problem. In the past I have done what most amateur film makers have done - simply used commercial music. Given the number of people who would ever see your film was limited to friends and family this approach was fine.

With the rise of online video and social media this approach is no longer viable. You need a free and legal source of music so you can upload your films to the net without worrying about getting into trouble.

Luckily it is now possible to add high quality sound fx and music tracks to your movies legally and for free. There are a number of free tools and services available to allow you to get creative but stay on the right side of the law.

Sound Effects

All films require sound effects. These may range from explosions and gun shots to footsteps or the slam of a car door.

There are a number of ways to acquire sound effects.

1) Record it yourself

When recording sound effects myself I generally just use my camcorder. Position it at a suitable distance and record. You can use VirtualDub to extract the sound as a WAV from the resulting video file. Audacity can then be used to trim the audio and fade the start and end.

2) Use a sound fx library CD

There are plenty of sound effects CDs around to buy but they generally only contain a maximum of 99 effects.

3) Download a sound effect

This is probably the easiest way and you get a choice of thousands of different effects.

MattHawkins Sound Effects
My library of sound effects that I have used in past projects.

Free Special Effects
A library of sound effects.

The Freesound Project is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds. Freesound focusses only on sound, not songs.


Obtaining music has always been a challenge because it either requires you to create your own or use someone elses work.

Unless you know people who can create music for you this has always resulted in film makers risking copyright infringement by using commercial music.

Luckily there are other options.

Option 1 : Use someone else's music

A huge library of quality music, across all genres, that is released under one of the six Creative Commons licenses. This usually means that you download it, modify it and use it in your videos legally and for free. All you have to do is credit the artist.

Option 2 : Create the music yourself

ccMixter is a community music site offering remixes and sample packs licensed under Creative Commons.

Roc - Music Creator
Use Aviary's music creator to simulate dozens of musical instruments including piano, guitars and drums. Create music loops and patterns for use in Aviary's audio editor (Myna) or as ring tones.

You can use the tools listed below to put it all together.

Tools & Applications

The following audio tools are all free and can be used to create your soundtracks.

Audacity: Free Audio Editor and Recorder
Audio editor for recording, slicing, and mixing audio. Can be used to trim, cut, paste and fade audio files. It is perfect for tidying up sound effect elements.

Myna - Audio Editor
Free online application to remix music tracks and audio clips. Apply sound effects and record your own voice or instruments!

So there really is no excuse for using commercial music in your video creations. If you upload your film to YouTube with commercial music you risk the audio track being muted and that is a lot of wasted editing time!

Author : Matt Hawkins  Last Edit By : Matt Hawkins
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