#SciFund Challenge Class

Video storytelling made easy for scientists

Part 13. Using Sound to Convey Emotions

Do you know the kind of emotions that your want your video to convey to your audience? If the answer is yes, you are well on your way to having a successful video. But how do you convey that emotion? The proper choice of sound is a key consideration.

You essentially have three choices with sound throughout your video:

  • No added sound (other than your voice speaking the script).
  • Added sound designed to directly place the viewer in the location of the scene in the video (for example: sounds of the ocean if you are talking about something beach-related).
  • Added sound that does not directly relate to the setting of the scene, but is instead a more metaphorical choice purely designed to convey an emotional feel.

Above all else, remember this rule: any sound in your video should be a deliberate choice by you that furthers the goals of the video. The number one goal? Keep your audience watching.

Here’s an illustration of your overall sound choices:

All too often, science videos use non deliberate sound – specifically a backing track of non-deliberate pleasant music that serves no purpose other than to be, well pleasant. For some reason, the most popular of this kind of background music in science videos is soothing solo guitar or banjo. This kind of non-deliberate sound is distracting and actually detracts from your video.

You are much better off with no sound than non-deliberate background sound. Here is an example, using a section from our Snowy Plover video. In this first video, you’ll hear us speaking with no added sound:

The following video is a repeat of the first, except that a banjo background track has been added. You can hear that the second version is actually much worse than the first version.

Here’s a third version of that video, this time with the sound of waves in the background. How does this influence how the video feels?

Finally, here’s a fourth version with a driving music track in the background. Notice how it adds momentum to what we're saying. This kind of track would be very annoying if it ran all the way through the entire video, but it can add urgency if used sparingly.

Of the four choices given above, the only one that is clearly wrong is the banjo version. Any of the other choices could well be the correct one for this video, depending on how the video as a whole is structured.

If your video has no talking in it, then the music plays an even more important role in your video. Choose a music track that not only suits the subject matter well, but also conveys the types of emotions that you want your audience to be feeling when they watch the cool images that you will be showing over the top. In these circumstances, use the tempo of the song to guide how you cut the clips in your video. Here is a video that we made with music only. In order to to give this video a sense of pacing, in our edit we either timed the cuts to the music or chose to time the movements of the butterflies to the music. Take a look.