Over 389 films share a sound design cinematic universe, from Star Wars to Toy Story to Anchorman; They all feature the “Wilhelm Scream” in one way or another. The Wilhelm Scream (You’ve heard it before, somewhere, guaranteed) was created for the 1951 western Distant Drums. The sound effect became a part of Warner Brothers sound library and eventually became an inside joke among sound designers.


The scream made its first big break when George Lucas asked Ben Burtt to sound design his upcoming film, Star Wars. The scream lived on in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones film and exploded from there, to over 389 films and countless more TV show. Today it’s remixed and re-used in so many different ways well beyond the “Alligator biting man” of the original recording.



While the Wilhelm scream is a fun inside joke, there’s something to be said for unique audio identity. The proliferation of affordable and high-quality stock music had led to a lot of brands unknowingly sharing the same music. I’ve worked with audio tracks weeks on end during the editing process, so they’re often burned into my brain. They’re inescapable in today’s media, I’ll hear stock music walking into Costco, in TV ads and at trade shows. I’ve heard one stock song over 20 times across multiple brands and genres.


Your audio brand is more important than ever, and music serves as a very powerful tool to quickly reinforce your brand in a sea of short attention spans and shorter run-times. Music works to set the tone for a spot and can be a short-hand to convey tone and location that’s not easy to do in a visual medium. Check out this video with the same footage and four distinct pieces of stock music. Everything else is constant but the emotion of each track is so varied.



The right stock music sets up the tone and emotional context in the right way. These emotional cues are extremely effective and can set a scene faster and more efficiently than visuals alone. Putting the audience in the right context is incredibly important for conveying the message of the spot in a limited time and with impact.


So high quality stock music is both incredibly important, yet many brands unknowingly share the same audio assets, lessening your brand’s unique identity. There are two different approached to this problem. First video content creators need to be mindful of finding new interesting music that’s not overplayed and overused. I maintain a list of ten stock music sites that offer deeper cuts that’s less well known and over-used. By being diligent in the production process we can ensure that each brand gets the song that fits them best without going to the “greatest hits” bin of stock music.


Custom music is a definite solution but can be pricey. But along with it comes incredibly control over the product, allowing content creators to create the exact sound they’re looking for to tell the story. While bespoke music isn’t cheap it’s become more affordable thanks to developments in the gig economy. New sites like MusikPitch allow you to describe your project, needs, budget and timeline and allow various creators to respond and bid for the work. This lowers the cost of custom music and allows content creators to work directly with composers and musicians. Moreover these artists aren’t limited regionally or nationally but often times are located all over the world, bringing in fresh sound and perspectives.


But custom music does have downsides; chiefly among them is time. Custom music isn’t fast — from finding, selecting and sharing the vision with musicians, their time to compose, revise and deliver can take several weeks, whereas stock or licensed music is just a click and credit card away. There’s no right or wrong approach, just whatever fits the vision, budget and timeline of the project.



Defining the voice of a brand using stock music is equally important; vastly different tracks from one spot to the next lowers the cohesion of the brand and created a scattered feeling. The voice of the brand must be considered during the post production process and must be something the creative team agrees on.


Affordable stock and custom music is more available than ever. But video creators must be conscientious to find the music that best fits the brand in both the right voice and uniqueness — avoiding the most popular bin is a must at all costs. It requires spending more time and playing with the right sound mix but the end product is much higher quality, it’s worth the effort.