How and Why to Start Captioning Music

By: Verbit Editorial
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Music is often a vital component of a piece of video content. Creators and editors painstakingly select the music they would like to accompany their projects. Adding music to content is one of the most reliable ways to set the mood or establish a specific setting.

In and of itself, video content is not always sufficiently accessible for individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing. That’s why creators and media platforms continue to invest in closed captioning and similar assistive technologies. Captioning the spoken dialogue or narration of a video may seem fairly straightforward. In these cases, the need for captions is clear- without them, many viewers will lack the ability to follow along with the events or concepts that the video conveys. However, not everyone thinks about captioning music. Without these, the viewing experience isn’t equitable as the lyrics in songs may be an important part of the storytelling. Here are a few ways creators may choose to represent music in the closed captions of their video content. With these efforts, it’s possible to create equitable viewing experiences for audience members who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Table of Contents:

The role of closed captioning

Captioning refers to the process of converting a video’s audio track to on-screen text. Occasionally, you may see the terms “captions” and “subtitles” used interchangeably. However, it’s important to note that these tools aren’t the same and that they serve different audiences.

Captions represent every audio element of a video, including music, sound effects and other non-speech audio elements. Subtitles, on the other hand, only convey the spoken dialogue rather than captioning non-speech elements.

For this reason, creators should focus on providing captions if the goal is to improve the accessibility of their content. To that end, one of the most popular captioning formats is “closed captioning.” Viewers can enable and disable closed captions at will. The captions aren’t a permanent fixture in a video so a remote control or an on-screen button can control them. Most often, closed captions appear as white text within a black box, though certain captioning styles may allow further customization.

playing piano and captioning music

Why should you start captioning music?

Think about your favorite movie. What kind of role does the soundtrack play in your viewing experience? Odds are, it would feel a little different (or a lot different) without the music contributing to the atmosphere.

Furthermore, in recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the popularity of musical films and TV shows like La La Land and Glee. In this genre, the music often contributes directly to the narrative, so failing to caption musical numbers would leave large gaps in the messaging of the content.

Many viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing rely upon closed captions to engage with video content. However, other individuals stand to benefit similarly from accurate music captioning. For example, some people with autism spectrum disorder have significant sensory sensitivities. These viewers may prefer to consume video content with the sound off. Closed captioning music helps provide equitable experiences for individuals with ASD and other neurodiverse conditions like auditory processing disorder.

woman captioning music

How to start captioning music

There are a few different ways to caption music depending on the specifics of the project.

  • Song Title Captioning: If the project is using a published song as part of the video’s background music or score, you may choose to include a caption with the song title and artist’s name.
  • Lyrics Captioning: If the lyrics contribute directly to the plot, you may choose to caption the lyrics of the song in their entirety. It’s important to make sure that these captions do not obscure any important dialogue or other plot-relevant audio elements.
  • Atmospherics Captioning: If the music in question is instrumental and not a recognizable piece, you may choose to instead provide a description of the music in the captions. This description may convey the style, tone or even specific instruments featured.
playing violin and trying captioning music

Captioning music examples

Here are a few examples of each of the above music captioning styles.

Song title

This style is fairly straightforward and can simply consist of the song title and artist name.

Examples:

[“AFRICA” BY TOTO PLAYS]

[“NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP” BY RICK ASTLEY PLAYS]

[PLAYING “LOVE SONG” BY SARA BAREILLES]

Lyrics

This method requires that you caption the song’s lyrics in much the same way that you would caption dialogue. The captions’ timing should sync with the lyrics as they play in real time. You can denote that the captions are song lyrics by including either a # or a ♪ symbol.

Examples:

[ ♪ I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AFRICA]

[# NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP]

[♪ I’M NOT GONNA WRITE YOU A LOVE SONG]

Atmospherics

Captioning atmospherics or instrumental music may pose some unique challenges. In order to provide equitable viewing experiences for those with disabilities, it’s not satisfactory to go about closed captioning music descriptions in such simplistic terms as:

[INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC]

Instead, it’s advisable to be as specific as possible and to try to get creative when selecting music adjectives for captioning purposes. Some possible examples include:

[GENTLE GUITAR MUSIC PLAYING]

[ORCHESTAL MUSIC SWELLS]

[HIGH-OCTANE ROCK MUSIC PLAYS]

By captioning music descriptions in this way, creators can offer more enjoyable, comprehensive viewing experiences to all audience members. Many individuals who are not affected by hearing loss still prefer to consume video content with the sound off, so everyone stands to benefit from carefully crafted, accurate captions.

Captioning every audio element with Verbit

If the idea of manually captioning every audio component of your video seems a bit daunting, consider partnering with Verbit. Verbit uses advanced artificial intelligence software in conjunction with a vast network of professional human transcribers to help creators tackle even large-scale captioning projects with ease.

Verbit’s captioning process achieves accuracy rates as high as 99% and can help to support key accessibility guidelines. Reach out to learn more about how Verbit’s captioning, transcription, translation and audio description services are helping creators offer more inclusive content for their audiences.