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Support Your Documentary Vision with a Thoughtfully Considered Soundtrack

What are you trying to say? What do you want them to feel? Bolster your documentary’s message and flesh out its mood with the right royalty-free soundtrack.

No matter what kind of documentary project you’re undertaking, one thing is vital: Ensuring the topic you’ve worked to capture and present hits home. Your film has to connect with viewers in a way that fictional presentations do not; you’re dealing with reality and a higher purpose — “If I don’t tell this story, then who will?”

When looking to engage audiences on a deeper emotional level, few tools are as powerful as thoughtfully chosen music. The right soundtrack essentially underlines the information you’ve shared in your footage. It can help your points hit harder or act as a soft light that gracefully illuminates important moments. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a diverse selection of curated music for documentary projects. Give the playlist a listen and find some songs to support your vision and sell your film’s purpose.

Setting the appropriate mood with music

Support Your Documentary Vision with a Thoughtfully Considered Soundtrack

Documentary Superstar Ken Burns. Image via Peter Carney.

In “A Complete Guide to Documentary Filmmaking,” PremiumBeat’s Jourdan Aldredge offers an authoritative collection of nuts-and-bolts tips and techniques for film and video creators chasing their documentary dreams. He explores the six most common “modes” of documentary films, listing them as follows:

  1. Poetic Documentaries – focuses on experiences and images to create a feeling rather than a truth.
  2. Expository Documentaries – aims to persuade and inform, often through “Voice of God” narration.
  3. Observational Documentaries – simply observes the world — your classic cinéma vérité style.
  4. Participatory Documentaries – includes the filmmaker and influences the major actions of the narrative.
  5. Reflexive Documentaries – includes the filmmaker but focuses solely on the act of making the film.
  6. Performative Documentaries – the “Michael Moore” style that uses subject experience to share an emotional response with the world.

No matter which style of documentary you’re tackling, Aldredge says, “Your sound and music are merely tools to help you define the mood or tone that you’ve already worked to develop.”

Of course, sometimes your sound can be no sound at all. “Before you go too crazy with soundtracking your documentary,” Aldredge says, “consider the possibility of no soundtrack at all (or at least, very little). Emotional cues can be built many different ways.” Tony Zhou explores the topic of meaningful silence in the following video.

As you dive into the playlist below, remember to treat your soundtrack as an emotional extension of your documentary’s purpose and style. Let the music complement the pacing of your dialogue and the tone of your topic. The songs in the mix run the gamut of moods and genres, and everything you’ll hear is available in perpetuity with a simple $49 Standard License. We’re confident you’ll find something that supports your carefully shot story.

Cover image via The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO).
Header image via Free Solo (National Geographic).
Playlist header image via FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Netflix).

Your search for the best royalty-free music ends here. Check out these additional playlists.

Documentary Soundtracks
Documentary Soundtracks
Support your documentary's message with the right music.
  • Apparel
  • Pulsing and building, featuring floating synth textures, dark drones and underlying beats that create an introspective, innovative feel.
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  • The Engineer
  • Pulsing and driving, with production / film scores human drama elements featuring inquisitive marimba, strings, and piano to create a determined and suspenseful mood.
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  • Caretaker
  • Breezy and sunny, with Country-folk elements featuring earthy banjo and acoustic guitar to create a laidback and slick mood.
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  • Divine Masquerade
  • Bouncy and bold, with production / film scores dramedy elements featuring playful strings, choir, and woodwinds to create curious and intriguing mood.
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  • Bridge Time
  • Rhythmic and pulsing, featuring neo-classical elements, and elegant strings that create an enchanting mood.
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  • Skate West
  • Groovy and driving, with R&B funk elements featuring slick electric guitar, drums, and samples to create a determined and enthusiastic mood.
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  • Raindrop
  • Sly and bouncy, with production / film scores dramedy elements featuring sneaky percussion, strings, and woodwinds to create a curious and investigative mood.
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  • Third Floor
  • Flowing and driving, with classical original compositions elements featuring introspective stings to create an expressive and suspenseful mood.
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