Posted by: 6x6pix | August 15, 2010

Music on Photo Sites? No Thanks

As my long-suffering Facebook friends (and all my neighbors, present and past) know, I’m a music fan. I don’t just love music, I lurve/loave/loff it. I can easily go without food for days at a time, but I can’t go a day without listening to music. So you’d think I’d be the perfect target market for portfolio sites with soundtracks. right? Wrong. Really, very wrong.

Invariably, I mute the music as soon as my finger can get to the F3 key on my laptop, but I’m always left wondering about the photographer’s choices — the choice of particular music to play, and the choice to set their images to music in the first place. It strikes me as an exceptionally risky move. People will either like the specific music you’ve chosen, or they won’t (and chances are, they won’t) so on the most basic level, the risk is that people who don’t like the music you’ve chosen will leave your site before looking at your images. If, in an effort to avoid negative reactions, you’ve chosen something widely considered to be “pleasant,” “nice,” or “safe,” you run the risk that people will, by association, consider your work to be “middle of the road”  (or worse, will think you consider your work that way).

The reasons I hear from photographers who’ve chosen to have music on their sites are usually along the lines of “it adds to the emotional impact of the images.” True enough that music certainly evokes emotion in people; and because it affects mood and can stir passions, music can set the tone for how we perceive and process inputs from our other senses. But that can cut both ways, because people’s responses to music are entirely subjective, and as mentioned above, one man’s ‘soothing’ is another man’s ‘snoozing.’

There’s not only taste to consider, there’s also the fact that people have strong associations with certain types of music and/or specific songs. Sure, it’s possible that someone visiting your site has fantastic memories associated with the particular track you’ve chosen to pair your images with, but it could just as likely remind them of their axe-wielding ex or the time they lost their job and their dog on the same day. You just can’t know which it will be; do you really want to risk it?

Consider also that:

  • People who want to listen to music while browsing the web most likely already have music playing
  • People who are browsing at work, or in the vicinity of sleeping babies, won’t appreciate the call to attention your music produces
  • Adding music to an already-slow Flash site (and all Flash sites are slower than they should be) will make it even slower. Slow is death on portfolio sites.

And if you’re not convinced yet, remember that in order to legally use music on your site you need to first clear it, either by purchasing rights or by getting written permission to use the music for free (from not only the artist but also the publisher and the record label), or purchase music from one of the many sites that specialize in royalty-free music — the music world’s equivalent to stock photography.



  1. I agree , ;-p
    Although …. a-hummm .. if a website has a home/start/welcome page that one needs to click ” enter site” at before seeing sets of photos … ambiguous music music playing does not bother me … maybe it does others , Idono …

  2. Most of the time I don’t like the music choice, so that’s what makes me hate music on websites. The worst culprits are wedding photographers and hip scenester photographers. They always have either the worst taste in the music, or the most in-your-face-annoying choice in music for a website. There is no accounting for taste. Wait, actually there is. And I’m the accountant. Most people’s taste in music sucks. Mine is awesome. ;)

    (however, the WORST of the worst are the people that add music to videos on Youtube… it’s like, “here’s a video of my little brother at a spelling bee, oh and the music I added in the background is this awesome Nordic Black Metal band called “Goatblood”, hope you enjoy.” No, I didn’t enjoy it at all. Because of your stupid music.)

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