The Best Types of Production Music Cuts to Use for Scary Scenarios


by Productiontrax

There is wide range of stock music out there. And with such a large potential for genre crossover when it comes to using royalty free music tracks in scary projects on Halloween (or any other time of year), it can get confusing as to what type of track is best suited for which type of scenario.

This guide will explore a few common horror and suspense project scenarios, and the types of music you might want to consider for a soundtrack. At the end, we’ve provided a handy reference chart for search keywords you might want to try when looking for stock music.

Production Music Styles by Scary Scenario

Impending doom

Every scary project needs to convey a sense of impending doom at some point. This helps the filmmaker foreshadow a pivotal event, or upcoming danger for the main characters. For this scenario, tense orchestral or classical music will help. Look for production music that has a slow build up to some kind of finale or abrupt stop. The best-fitting stock music clips will feature instruments in the lower registers (basses, cellos, tubas, trombones). In some instances, avant garde or ambient new age royalty free music tracks with heavily processed electric guitars may work nicely.

Underlying Suspense

Similar to conveying a sense of impending doom, filmmakers may need to just create an overall sense of angst and suspense. Tension may be present in this situation without the need to go anywhere just yet. In fact, many directors will let this tension sit for multiple scenes before building to a climactic moment. Because underlying suspense can sit around for a while, the tracks we select have a different feel than those that signify impending danger. In this situation, opt for stock music tracks that are dark and brooding, but have relatively low dynamic contrast. Droning new age music or world textures, minimalist electronica, and even ambient and experimental textures work nicely here. These production music tracks tend to be static in nature, but provide that element of tension and mysteriousness that the scenario calls for. Feel free to experiment with sharp abrupt noises or sound effects that pop out from time to time to ratchet up the suspense.

Attack!

Moments of climactic danger and sheer horror call for quick, abrupt stabs and energetic music. Orchestral hits using harsh sounds produced by brass instruments, heavy dissonant chords played by the piano or guitar, or even high shrill woodwinds in this situation will create the effect you’re looking for. Stock music tracks that fit the bill here are generally less than :30 seconds to 1 minute in length, so you can narrow the field quickly by adding these search parameters. Don’t overlook royalty free heavy rock music for dark and disturbing scenes, and if you want to get artsy, try a little romantic classical music or opera, which is not just creepy, but many are copyright free.

Tranquility

Horror films aren’t all blood and gore. Effective storytellers know that contrast is key to bringing out suspense, and one way to do this is to insert moments of calm and peacefulness into your project. For this, we prefer royalty free rock and pop tracks that are light and airy, or solo classical instruments or new age piano solos. Light orchestral stock music in a major key would also work nicely, as well as ambient new age tracks that feature calmer moods. Tranquility, much like underlying suspense, requires little to no dynamic contrast, so be sure that the tracks you select are unobtrusive and have little change in overall volume from one moment to the next.

The Chase

Chase scenes are very similar to those “attack!” moments, with one exception. Chases can take quite a bit longer, and require more nuance depending on the type of chase you’re creating. Try switching genres here and look for royalty free action and adventure music and symphonic film scores. These will have enough dynamic contrast to add life and punch to your chase scene, while preserving the tension and more quiet moments where characters might be sneaking around. Make sure you have enough material to work with, so opt for stock music clips that are at least 2-3 minutes long.


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Horror Stock Music Keyword Reference Chart

Impending Doom
tense, orchestral, build up, low brass, low strings, danger, long crescendo, processed electric guitars, dark, slow
Underlying Suspense
drone, world music, orchestral, minimalist, dark, brooding, textures, avant garde, ambient, tense, suspense, mysterious, eerie
Attack!
stab, orchestra hit, abrupt, shrill, psycho, horror, loud, harsh, brass, high woodwinds, dissonant, heavy rock, romantic music, sudden, fast, :30 seconds, :60 seconds
Tranquility
peaceful, pop, light orchestral, tranquil, calm, upbeat, ambient new age, new age piano, classical music, underscore, neutral, smooth
The Chase
action, adventure, symphonic, epic, orchestra, heavy rock, classical, contrast, chase, fast, movement, frenetic