modern record machine player with creative commons text

The Sound of Teaching: Soundtracks and their Pitfalls

I frequently mention that YouTube and TedTalks have greatly impacted student expectations for what an e-lecture should look and sound like. There is a wealth of research on the apparently short attention span of students, so it is hardly surprising that short, flashy twenty minute topic-talks are starting to make their way into academic best practices. One common practice of the YouTube genre is the addition of low key soundtracks. These soundtracks play throughout the video, hiding edited pauses for breath, and generally bringing the content together by providing an interwoven emotional pull. But before you rush off to download your all time favorite soundtracks, let’s have a frank discussion about copyright.

Copyright and Lecture Soundtracks

Copyright and the music industry come hand in hand. Edited content on social media mainstays like Instagram and Facebook can still be removed for copyright infringement. YouTube also closely monitors uploaded content for copyrighted audio. For the average e-lecture, especially one hosted on Blackboard and behind the ATSU firewalls, you’d be right in thinking that your content is probably protected by educational Fair Use . That said, what happens when you want to share your content? How can you upload a sample lecture to YouTube or embed it on a personal website without creating potential liability?

I make no claims to be a Copyright expert. But I do monitor some of the best practices of educational content producers because I am a huge advocate of establishing a public, academic presence outside the classroom. Even behind the educational firewall, I’d recommend using music that is not as strictly monitored in case you ever want to re-use your content. How can you skirt copyright? By finding creative commons music that has been created specifically to be used “freely”.  I say “freely” because there are multiple layers of creative commons licences: some require attribution- allowing you to use the content as you see fit so long as you credit the original artist. Others come with conditions- that you must make your content open for use, or that you must not change or edit the content you are borrowing. Some require that your work be non-commercial. You can find an complete license list and explanation for the types of creative commons licences at the creative commons organization site.

You’ve made the decision to start using Creative Commons music- what’s next?

First, you have to find the perfect soundtrack. I’d recommend using Free Music Archive . This site allows you to search free or creative commons music, but be warned the process to find the right track can take some time. For the Free Music Archive I’d recommend starting by searching for Ambient, Instrumental or Electronic music. From there, you can use the search bar to get an advanced search where you can select “only instrumental” tracks and you can narrow down the creative commons licences. I’d recommend public domain or creative commons: attribution only (Remember to cite your music source if you choose the latter). After that you’ll have to click on a few tracks to find one that will work.

After you’ve found the perfect track, you can download the mp4 and add it to your presentation.

Top tips:

  1. Remember to add the attribution if the license requires it
  2. Keep the volume of your soundtrack consistently low- you don’t want it to take away from your content



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