Background Music for Videos: Wistia’s Guide to Gear

March 20, 2018

Dan Mills


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Creating custom music for our videos has always been a big part of our production process here at Wistia. From making long-form videos more engaging, to serving as the core creative concept of the video itself — background music has helped us strengthen our brand and maintain a consistent level of quality across all of the content we create.

By day, I’m the Creative Director here at Wistia, and by night, I’m a musician. So while I would love nothing more than to wax poetic about songwriting and my process for actually composing music, today I’d like to focus in on a crucial part of the process that I love more than anything else — gear.

Almost all of the music that you hear in the background of our videos was actually created with a pretty modest collection of audio gear. Naturally, every producer has their own preferred setup, but this is what we use here at Wistia to crank out the tunes!

Software for making music

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW): Logic Pro X

Butter or olive oil? Butter. Mittens or gloves? Gloves. Logic or Pro Tools? Logic.

Let me preface this by saying that while I do love Pro Tools (it’s the DAW that I learned on), when it comes to digitally composing music for videos, Logic is the way to go. I prefer using Pro Tools in a larger, studio setting with more organic instruments and that’s often not the case for creating music for videos here at Wistia.

“I prefer using Pro Tools in a larger, studio setting with more organic instruments and that’s often not the case for creating music for videos here at Wistia.”

Logic Pro X is only $199.00, which in my opinion is super cheap when you consider the amount and quality of software-synths, drum machines, midi instruments, samples, and plugins that it comes with. Logic also does an amazing job of keeping an eye on music trends and updating its functionality, synths, and sample library to help you keep your music current without looking too far. Lately, I’ve been really loving the retro arpeggiators and flex-pitch functionality, so I definitely recommend tinkering with those!

Effects Plug-ins: CLA

Compared to most producers, I actually don’t use a ton of plugins outside of the ones that come built-in with Logic Pro X. However, the CLA plugins are a must-have for anyone producing background music for videos.

You know how champion boxer George Foreman has his own electric grill? Well, Chris Lorde-Alge, a famous mix engineer, has his own line of signature audio plug-ins — so basically, #lifegoals. Plugin giant Waves Audio released the CLA plugins back in 2010 and instantly empowered mix engineers everywhere.

CLA plugins are to audio what Instagram-filters are to photography. In essence, they take a series of often complicated techniques (for example: delay, EQ, reverb, compression/limiting) and make it a lot easier for a novice user to navigate. CLA plugins come with a ton of presets to guide you down the right path, and will only allow you to mess with a few broader parameters.

While I do think it’s been really helpful for me as a mixer/producer to have an in-depth understanding of these audio effects and techniques, I’ll be honest…I use the CLA plugins like crazy.

Mastering: LANDR

While I used to do a ton of “shoot-from-the-hip” mastering by using some of Logic’s channel mastering presets on my master track, these days I’m all about Landr.

Landr is a simple online interface that allows you to upload tracks and then generate a few different mastered versions of the music (it produces versions that are low, medium, and high compression). Landr is a fairly new service that I’ve explored recently, but keep in mind that it’s definitely a “one size fits all” mastering approach. This just so happens to be perfect for Wistia’s very digital music!

If you’re composing a song that will sit behind a talking head or voice-over in your video, be sure to bounce and master the music track on it’s own first. This way, the music track will get mastered separately from the voice, just like it would with a track you purchased. Then you can open a new session and hone the mix between the voice, music, and SFX, if you have those too!

Hardware for making music

Audio Interface: Apogee Duet 2

There’s a ton of great home studio audio interfaces out there, but I have always been a fan of the the Apogee Duet. I don’t record a ton of actual audio here at Wistia, so the two inputs are plenty for the occasional vocal, guitar, or synth I use on a Wistia track. Apogee is known for having great A/D converters, and has four simple controls — a big button, a jog-wheel (which is actually just the big button), and two smaller buttons.

What I love about the duet, is that once you get the hang of these four simple controls, you can work really quickly to change the input gains, mute tracks, control the master volume etc. You can even customize what the small buttons do, which I really love. I usually have mine set to “mute” and “sum-to-mono,” the latter is a button I find super helpful when mixing.

Studio Monitors: Adam A7X

Studio monitors are an extremely important part of this conversation — true audio/mix engineers could talk about them for days on end — but to sum it up, it’s important to have a good set of speakers to consistently listen on. At the end of the day, you should listen to what your heart (and ears) tells you and roll with that.

“At the end of the day, you should listen to what your heart (and ears) tells you and roll with that.”

When I picked out the studio monitors for Wistia’s setup, I had already been using the smaller Adam A5X’s in my home studio and was pretty happy with how those sounded. We’ve had the Adam A7X’s for a number of years now, and I still really dig them. They have much more bass response than the the A5X’s because they’re bigger, and I still think the high end sounds great without coloring the audio too much. I love these monitors and would definitely recommend them, but again…listen to your heart.

Midi Controller: Akai MPK mini

I typically use the Akai MPK mini controller to write drum parts or occasionally plunk out some melodies or chords when it’s faster than typing them in. But truth be told — any midi controller will do. I’m not a pianist, so I don’t really care whether the keys are weighted or not. Ultimately, I bought this controller because it was small and has a little pitch bend. Look how cute it is!

Microphones: KSM-32

This might sound kind of silly, but we have yet to invest in a really nice microphone at Wistia for recording vocals or voice overs. It’s definitely something I want to get started on investigating in the near future though!

KSM-32 Product Link

Instruments for making music

Fun Toy: Teenage Engineering OP-1

It’s pretty amazing how one little synth can change your whole entire setup. The Teenage Engineering OP-1 is an incredibly fun little synthesizer-sequencer-sampler-workstation all in one. The OP-1 comes with a lot of great sounds, and a toy-like color-coded based control interface that pushes you to explore with your ears more than your brain.

You can use the OP-1 entirely on it’s own and build songs similar to the way you would with an old MPC drum machine. But I usually use this piece of gear as an external midi track in a Logic session. That way, I can use the sounds on the OP-1, but keep everything nice and clean on the grid with midi regions in Logic.

Here’s the thing: I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone get an OP1, but I do recommend that everyone considers the “why” behind your purchases. I bought the OP-1 because I was feeling a bit spent on some of the Logic synth sounds. Sometimes simply adding a new instrument to your arsenal can really unblock you creatively.

This was the first track I made with OP-1, and I love it!

Vibe: Roland CR-78 Compurhythm

This incredible piece of vintage gear is honestly more of a giant paperweight. We bought this drum machine to use in a series of videos at one of our annual conferences, but it turns out it’s not a very practical piece of gear in the studio — who would’ve thunk it!

Logic has a sampled/midi version of the classic CR-78 that I use all the time, and although the one on my desk is functional and occasionally gets played with, it’s more of prop at this point.

Old Faithful: 1976 Yamaha Acoustic Guitar

Guitar is my main instrument. Whatever your main instrument is, I think it’s super important to have one available to you in your recording studio at all times. I used guitar a lot on some of the earlier Wistia tracks (I’m talking about 2012) but lately, it doesn’t seem to make much of an appearance.

Get those tunes cranking

There you have it. From software and hardware, to physical instruments, we covered everything we use here at Wistia to make sweet, sweet tracks for our videos. If you’re just getting started, we’ve got a ton of resources that can help set you down the right path when it comes to making, adding, or creating music for your videos, so check ’em out:

Do you have any go-to pieces of gear that you can’t live without? Favorite hacks or setting for getting the sound just right? Share with us in the comments!

March 20, 2018

Dan Mills


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