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Fuel Your Audience’s Fears with Eerie Royalty-Free Music

Need to ramp up the creeping dread in your supernaturally terrifying scene? Build a haunting soundtrack with eerie royalty-free music.

When you need scary, otherworldly vibes to sell your story, it’s time to put your soundtrack to work in the spookiest way possible. Let’s take a look at the goosebump-inducing instruments that composers turn to when it’s time get ghostly, some of which were employed in the creation of the horror-friendly royalty-free tracks in the playlist at the bottom of this post.

1. Waterphone

The shadows spread across the room as the sun sets outside the window. Your hero cautiously approaches the closed basement door, the wooden floor groaning with each step. He pauses and lets silence take the room. He reaches for the handle — suddenly, a harsh red light beams through the keyhole as a musical cue rises from beyond:

Meet the waterphone, one of Hollywood’s go-to musical tools for scoring things that go bump in the night. The nerve-racking noise created by this instrumental oddity is the very definition of eerie. Keen-eared listeners may have heard the waterphone’s metallic wailing in Poltergeist, Let the Right One In, Aliens, and during pretty much every dramatic moment in every reality TV show ever.

If the waterphone sounds a little like a whale to you, you’re not alone. It also sounds like a whale to whales.

2. Theremin

Patented in 1928, the theremin is an electronic instrument capable of creating music both beautiful and unsettling. The theremin requires no physical contact; performers control the instrument by positioning and moving their hands near two metal antennae — one changes the pitch, the other changes the volume. The theremin’s outgoing electric signals then run into an amp and out of a speaker. Here’s what the instrument sounds like (not) in the hands of its inventor, Leon Theremin.

The theremin sounds as much like a ghost as it does a laboratory aboard a UFO. It was famously featured on the soundtrack for The Day the Earth Stood Still and, more recently, in the score for First Man. For all of our Whovian readers, the theremin is what makes all the BWEEEoooooo and bwooEEEEE sounds in most iterations of the Doctor Who theme song.

3. Ondes Martenot

There must have been something in the water in 1928. Not only was that the year the world met the theremin, it’s also the year that cellist Maurice Martenot seemingly looked at the theremin and said, “No, I require an electronic instrument that is somehow even more unusual. A new instrument as expressive as my beloved cello that will allow me to replicate the accidental tone overlaps of military radio oscillators by playing it like a keyboard or by sliding a ring across a suspended wire.”

Enter the ondes Martenot (French for “Martenot waves”). How does it work? Here’s how The Guardian explains it:

The main interface of the ondes martenot was originally a metal ring, worn on the player’s right index finger that, when slid up and down a wire, would create theremin-like sweeps in tone (through oscillations in vacuum tubes). Later, inventor Maurice Martenot added a four-octave keyboard (with moveable keys that create vibrato when wiggled), all housed in a handsome wooden frame that featured a drawer containing a touch-sensitive glass ‘lozenge’ controlling the the sound (completely silent when untouched, loud when held down).

Well, duh. You can hear the instrument in music by Tom Waits, Joe Jackson, and Damon Albarn — and in the scores of Lawrence of Arabia, There Will Be Blood, and Ghostbusters, to name a few.

Here’s a beautiful segment from the 2012 documentary Wavemakers in which Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, the man responsible for bringing the instrument to modern audiences, tells you everything you need to know — and everything he loves — about the ondes Martenot.

Put Your Audience on Edge with Eerie Royalty-Free Music

If you’re looking to deliver shivers and chills, the curated playlist below features more than a dozen royalty-free songs hand-picked for their haunting atmosphere and horror-flavored ambiance. All of them are perfect for cranking up the creepiness in your next video, and each can be yours in in perpetuity with a simple $49 Standard License.

Cover image via Lario Tus.  
Header image via FOTOKITA.
Playlist header image via ARTFULLY PHOTOGRAPHER.

Looking for more royalty-free music? Just click through to the playlist below.

Creepy Music
Creepy Music
Keep your viewers on edge with spooky, spectral, supernatural songs.
  • Intruder
  • A dark pulsing and sinister introduction leads to swelling drones, ghoulish sound effects, screams and swelling string textures that build at the end create a mood of anticipation and fear.
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  • Ninth Gates
  • Dark and epic, featuring driving strings, brass, choir, synthesizers, and powerful drums that create a passionate, dramatic atmosphere.
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  • Last Fight
  • Dark and heavy, with production / film scores trailer elements featruing menacing strings, percussion, and synthesizer to create an intense and fearful mood.
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  • Unerva
  • Atmospheric and dark, with production film scores horror elements featuring pulsing synthesizer, strings, brass, and percussion to create a threatening and nightmarish mood.
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  • Horror Trailer
  • Dark and ominous, featuring eerie piano and celeste that lead to dissonant strings, monster brass, and heavy percussion creating an urgent, sinister mood.
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