Managing Clients’ Expectations When it Comes to Music

Posted on: Feb 15, 2023

a wheelchaired film editor working on a movie wearing a yellow shirt using three screens.Photo Credit: EvgeniyShkolenko / iStock

By Jabari Clarke-Pennegan

As a video editor, it’s a rare experience to edit a video for a client and get feedback saying, “It’s perfect, no need for changes.” Even though many videographers and editors dream of this validation, most of us become accustomed to clients requesting a myriad of changes that we have to get through.

One of the most important aspects of the edit, where we might clash with clients, is that of music.

As editors, many of us learn to create a sense of “visual prosody.” This is when the rhythm of the music and transitions of the footage appears to ebb and flow in unison, forming a pleasing pattern and conveying storytelling creatively. Our human brains really enjoy this syncing of sound and image, so we build our edit to match a song that we think fits with the visuals. Then the client says “Let’s change the music.”

What you do next can make or break your relationship with the client, so here are some tips on how to manage the situation:

Keep what you like for your portfolio

As a beginner, one of my first projects was a promotional video for a masquerade ball, with a theme inspired by the 2010 film ‘Black Swan’. While the client loved the theme, their choice of music, a French pop song, didn’t fit with the aesthetic of the visuals I shot. We went back and forth over their choice of song versus mine, and even with feedback from other aspiring creatives and a pro cinematographer, they were still adamant about having the song that they wanted.

Being a student at the time, and this being unpaid work, I refused to use their choice. Eventually, they relented, but winning this exchange ultimately didn’t feel great, and in the end, I’m not sure they even used the video to promote their event. Fortunately for me, the video would go on to bring me other paid projects, but from then on, I avoided contention with clients about changes to the music. The solution I found was to keep the version of the edit that I liked for my portfolio, and give the client what they wanted.

Advise the client on the consequences of using copyrighted music

Another issue that comes up with clients and music is the use of copyrighted songs. You can inform the client of the risks of using copyrighted music, but ultimately the decision of what music they want to use is up to them.

I worked with a fitness instructor filming her classes, and in one particular video she wanted to use a very popular hip-hop song. I gently let her know that if she used that song and put the video on YouTube or other social media, she ran the risk of the video being taken down. She expressed to me how much she really loved the song, how it was a part of her vision for the project, and that the copyright-free music I chose just wasn’t doing it for her.

I recut the video with the copyrighted hip-hop song that was so dear to her vision. Last I saw she had someone else recut the video with different music and visual effects, while the copyright-free version that I put on my portfolio is still there.

Offer the client copyright-free options

It’s helpful to be prepared and have some links to copyright-free music that you can share with clients.

I once worked with a startup YouTuber who wanted to monetize her channel. Luckily, she understood the issues with using copyrighted music, monetization and having videos taken down. She was willing to do her own editing, so I only had to film and pass the footage along to her. Like many first-time YouTubers, she didn’t know where to find usable music, so I provided her with a link to Kevin MacLeod’s — where she could find a variety of tracks, which she appreciated and put to great use.

YouTube does offer its own library of royalty-free music, which has grown extensively since 2013 — and some copyright holders do allow use of their music on the platform — but avoiding copyrighted music is still a best practice, specifically for videos that you intend to monetize.

Where to look for copyright-free music:


Don’t start the edit until the music is chosen

Oftentimes when editing, music becomes the foundation of the video — especially for something like a highlight or recap of an event. The editing is built around the music to make the project feel more dynamic to the viewer.

One client I worked with, who was in publishing, would ask me to get started on the edit and then send them a rough cut without having selected any music. I didn’t feel I could give them much pushback when it came to editing changes, but I knew I had to get music they approved of before I started editing, otherwise I’d find myself with double the work. This client had no time to go through a music site searching for a song that fit them, but they had an intern who was up to the task. They emailed the approved music to me so that I could start editing.

Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but pushing to get the music before you begin editing will save you so much time and effort in the long run.

Keep a detached perspective about the music

Managing clients and their music preferences can be a challenge. It’s natural for each of us to have our own individual tastes, but as professionals it’s better to keep a neutral point of view so that it’s easier to give the client what they want. And while it would be fun to edit to whatever song is trending on social media at any given moment, it’s important that we do our best to stay within the parameters of what’s legal.

Ultimately, it’s my hope that with these tips, up-and-coming videographers and editors will have a smoother client experience when it comes to choices in music. Good luck!

Video editor Jabari Clarke-Pennegan explains how you can manage a client's expectations when it comes to music.
Photo courtesy of Jabari Clarke-Pennegan.
Jabari Clarke-Pennegan is an award-winning filmmaker and freelance videographer with a decade of experience working in New York City.

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