Just as a series or movie uses music to define tone or genre, so do podcasts use music for titles, themes and sound effects.
Think of your favorite show, and it’s very likely you can remember that theme. Stranger Things? Star Wars? Doctor Who? If you like any of those shows, it’s likely you can hum or play in your head the main tracks.
You should have the same effect for your podcast. Make it memorable. Give your listener something to mark the time in their head when they have officially entered your world.
Ultimately, how you use podcast music comes down to three things:
- Where you get the music
- When you use the music
- How you use music in your podcast
In this complete guide, I’ll let you know what you need to create a perfect soundtrack to your show as well as how to use music in your podcast for best results.
In this article...
Podcast music: common questions, answered
First things first, let’s straighten out a few common questions about using music in podcasts.
Can I get podcast music from anywhere on the net?
The easy answer is no, you can’t. Just like any other product you need for your podcast, such as a microphone or mixer, you have to pay for it. And people put hard work into creating music, just as you do with your podcast!
To use music in your podcast, you’ll need to look for ‘Royalty Free’ or ‘Creative Commons-licensed’ music. That means it’s ‘podsafe’, or that you don’t have to pay a fee or royalties to the artist.
That said, if you don’t have money to pay for stock music, there are some services that allow a podcaster to use their podsafe music for free, with some huge caveats.
Anchor, for instance, allows you to use any track on Spotify (yay), but requires your show to solely be on Spotify and you have to play the entire track, unedited (a bummer). That means you risk leaving large gaps in your episode if someone is listening on any other app. Plus, a full track isn’t really useful for a traditional podcast, since only small bites of the music are needed.
It’s much better to be able to chop and clip a track or sound effect to suit your show. You’ll benefit from customization and flexibility if you purchase a license for your podcast music.
You can purchase licenses from stock music companies like Smart Sound or to use a subscription, like with Create Music. That way you never have to worry about the legalities of your show, as you know you are 100% within the law and acting entirely ethically with your purchased podsafe music. Once you’ve licensed a track, you can use it in your podcast as many times as you like, however you like!
Can I use copyrighted music in my podcast?
Yes and no. It’s a tricky and complex situation, so you should always err on the side of caution here and perhaps avoid it altogether. Even a few seconds of a copyrighted song is enough to put you in breach of copyright, and playing it can risk take-down notices for your podcast and get you in a lot of trouble!
For more information on this, check out this guide to Music Copyright from our friends at The Podcast Host.
How do you use music in a podcast?
It is best to not overdo using music in your podcast. It is not necessary to have music playing the entire time throughout your show, as it may become distracting, and you want the focus of your show to be the dialogue.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do this; it’s your show after all, and if that’s the feel you want to go for, go for it. Typically though, we use music as a ‘bumper’ to define the beginning and end of a show, as well as for section transitions. You might also add sound effects, if you host a story or narrative-led podcast, to create atmosphere.
Our quick 4-step success formula for adding music to your podcast
- Start with an intro. In general, you do not want your intro any more than 20 seconds. This is enough to set the tone of your podcast, without losing anyone’s interest. You can have a longer one, but you should at least decrease the volume of the podcast and bring in the dialogue – a process called ‘audio ducking’.
- Audio ducking is when you allow some room for your dialogue over your background music, and raise it back up when there’s no talking. That way you have a consistent volume throughout your work. It also allows your most important part – your dialogue – to shine.
- Include bumpers and stingers. Bumpers and stingers are used between segments to mark a transition from one part of your podcast to another. Bumpers are generally 15-20 seconds long, and stingers a lot shorter, at max 5 seconds.
Why use bumpers and stingers? Your audience might still be processing information from your previous segment, so giving them a little time to digest is okay. Then bring your dialogue back in, either by ending your music or using audio ducking.
- End with an outro. At the end of your episode, you’ll have your outro, which can either be your theme or a variation on it. This can be much longer, obviously. It signals the end of your show and gives time for people to reflect on your podcast before they move on to the next.
How to make a podcast intro using royalty free music
Full disclosure: I work for Create Music. But I do think it’s a truly incredible tool for podcasters.
Create Music has a huge library of high-quality, royalty free stock music and sound effects for one low, monthly price. It comes with an app that can change the length of its stock music tracks, as well as perform more complex jobs like audio ducking, without the need to upskill yourself in audio editing. That way you can do everything soundtrack-related in one easy, podsafe music app.
If you’re not using Create Music, the workflow below is still a useful example of how to create an intro/outro and use podcast music as part of your wider editing process.
A simple workflow for creating a podcast intro with Create Music
Using Create Music is simple. First thing: upload your podcast as a reference. Just click and drag any mp3 or wav (up to one hour) into the “Upload Video/Audio” box.
Your video is only in the cache and never actually uploaded to Create Music’s servers. In the search box, type in the style of music you think best fits your podcast.
In this example, I’ve used Acid Jazz.
You can first set the length you want it for (you can adjust this later) to 10 seconds and then choose the song. Create Music automatically adjusts all the songs in the library to be ten seconds long. There are no cuts. They have a clear intro and ending.
“Hello Nighttime” sounds like a solid groove for my crime podcast. Let’s select that by clicking the plus icon for Add to Timeline.
If you decide you need the track to be longer (or shorter), just click on the edge of the track’s display box and drag it to the appropriate length. You can then listen to your podcast and see how it fits.
Do you need to raise or lower the volume?
Click on the automation tool and move the white nodes by clicking and dragging them. You can add more nodes by double clicking on the line. In this way, you can make your own audio ducking feature, if you want to extend the music over your dialogue.
Like the track but not the instrument?
No problem, just adjust which instruments you want in the mixer. Here I have only the drums and strings.
Making segment change music
For the segment change music, just click on the edge of the timeline object and drag it to 15 seconds (use the “scale timeline” slider to zoom out).
Maybe you do not want the exact same music. Look up to the “Select Variation”, and you will find a list of track variations, each related by theme. If you want to change it up even more, use “Select Mix” and see how just changing the instrumentation can make meaningful changes to the tracks.
Making an outro
Here you can use the same music you used for the intro. But since you can go longer, extend it out for 25 or even 30 seconds. Use the “automation” if you want it to fade out, otherwise it automatically inserts its own track ending.
It is a good idea to use the same track, because this will work as either your series’ or episode theme song. When people are done listening to your podcast, this will be the last impression they are left with.
Insert SFX (sound effects)
Now you have all the music tracks set, if you need any sound effects, like café ambience, cars honking, or spaceships shooting at each other, that is just as easy to add. Switch to the “Search FX” section, and then find what you need.
Adding it to the timeline is just as simple with the “Add To Timeline”, and it will add that effect wherever your cursor is (you can adjust the placement afterwards by clicking and dragging). If you need to adjust the volume, turn on the track automation by using the button or the “a” hotkey, and adjust the yellow line.
Exporting the track and SFX
Not sure about the track yet? Click the blue “Export Preview” and download the mp3 version. This version has an audio watermark. It doesn’t charge your account and you can see how it sounds with your podcast. If you’re ready to go, just click “Checkout Project” and download it in wav format without the watermark.
The project is saved to your account and the license is good forever (even after you leave Create Music). The licenses cover any project you made while having a Create Music subscription.
Recap: using music in your podcast is easy!
Don’t let your podcast sit in silence!
Using podcast music is really easy and is a quick way to add atmosphere to your episodes. Whatever you end up choosing for your soundtrack choice, just use the tricks shared in this guide and it will be sure to make your podcast shine!
What to do next
- Try Create Music out or try the full version for just a couple of dollars for your first month for licensed projects.
- Inspired to start your own podcast? Check out our step-by-step guide to creating and launching your own show.
- Need a hand with editing? We’ve got you covered with our podcast editing best practices and software recommendations for beginners.