Music and Film

What does film music do?

Music in film is functional and it provides films with qualities which takes an important role in filmmaking .It helps to engage the audience when watching the movie and there are 50% of the experience which is based on the music which goes with the film. It works effectively in films as it can creates the mood and atmosphere for the scenes.

Soundtrack and score:

Soundtrack means the sound release of songs that related with the movie and it might include complementary popular music, but is not original to the film. Score refers to the background music which was used as the music composed to play under the scene.

Film music:

Psychoanalysis states music as a central part of humanity. This refers to when we are in the womb, constantly listening to the mother’s heart beat and experiencing the surrounding sounds. Music stimulates us to return back to that sense of satisfaction. When we watch films and listen to film music, something similar happens. Bypassing the usual sensors of preconscious, facilitating the hypnotic power of film and stimulating us to return to a place of complete psychic satisfaction.

History of music-

1895 to 1927:

Music was initially played live with the first screen films.Later on, the photograph was a provider for sound before full orchestras accompanied silent movies. During 1905 to 1907, Nickelodeon had a pianist playing live to 15 minutes movies that looped. Music proved as an important thing to the experience of film around the world. In Japan, the subject matter of the earliest Japanese produced films revolved around music.

Sometimes, films were shown in silent which links to the silent movies later on. There was no single integrating practice in worldwide. The organ was one of the most popular instrument to accompany films at that time and Orchestras played from a score sheet that were composed for some type of films and particular sounds were reflecting to specific actions and moods on the screen, for instance: a tremolo for suspense. As film develops in 1910 to 1920, art form based on memory and films started to be extent to 60 to 120 minutes long. More and more movie theatre and presentations started to use music to promote their films.

1895 to 1927:

By listening to score, it allows people to archive with its various categories points to similar conventions within film music. Chicago’s African American community of moviegoers might come across Louis Armstrong as one of the musicians providing music for silent movies. Not long later, popular music became a part of silent movies and started to competing with further flowering of the movie score.

An example is shown on below:

‘Entr’ Acte’ is a silent film in 1924 by Eric Satie and it features no musical leitmotif, no clear rhythm, music is not following the content of the frame and resistance to a integrated tonality. Start from 10:02.

1927- 1960:

Underscoring is introduced to the audience and a technique to have background music while prominent dialogue is happening over it. Around 1930, some European composers arrived in Hollywood and fleeing their war troubled countries for instance, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who becomes a leading figure for scores inspired by romanticism. Other than Barock or Modernism, romantic music was easily approachable for the audience and its melodic sound is suitable to support the narrative in films. During Mid-century, Folk, Jazz, Modernism and Minimalism started to appear in film scoring while romantic music still continuously to play an influential role. Jazz was widely use in the popular Film Noir around the 50’s because of its association with urban decadence which suited the similar characteristics of the films. Minimalist scoring is used in films for example, ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ (1982) by director Godfrey Reggio to purposely not load the sound with emotional elements, but to have the audience develop their own emotional responses.

By mid-20th century, sound productions take the place of the silent film productions.

1960 to present:

Film music is transformed and many new influences such as Rock’n’Roll and Pop is into film music as well. Popular music especially advances the usage of music in film. World music becomes popular and globalization began to influence the funding, production and distribution of film. French New Wave films by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Goddard are very good examples of unconventional and unique usage of sound.

German New Wave films quote everything from Bach to Beatles, sounds are often exaggerated, skewed and cliched and create startling relationships with the images on the screen. Werner Herzog uses the music group Popol Vuh, for a series of electronically generated, arresting sounds in ‘Nosferatu’ (1979).

Synthesisers have made the sounds from around the world more accessible and allowed people to produce their own soundtrack, take from example, the director John Carpenter who uses his own sythesised music on a number of his films such as ‘Halloween’ (1978) or ‘Escape from New York’ (1981).

Political events such as Regime changes in the East and the Islamic Revolution have had a strong influences on the scores used in different countries around the world. Compilations of music from around the world dominate the score and ‘lending’ themes from Popular Music becomes an increasing success story for Hollywood film music, especially towards the end of the century. The background score ‘Moon River’ for the film ‘Moon River’ with Audrey Hepburn becomes a Grammy awarded Best Song of the Year in 1961.

Alfred Hitchcock – ‘Psycho'(1960)

The music from this shower scene in ‘Psycho’ creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and the way how there are some high pitched sounds which add and create a more scary and agitated mood for the scene.

Quentin Tarantino- ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992) “Stuck in the Middle With You”

The song “Stuck in the Middle With You” is popular from the 1970s and it is recorded by Stealers Wheel. It is aimed at the teen and preteen market.The music has got a chirpy melody, banal lyrics, predictable and uncomplicated harmonies involved. Once when the song starts, it turns the character of Mr. Blonde into a psycho sadist. The music is used as an irony to show Mr, Blonde torturing a uniformed cop who is tied to a chair. The music engages the audience and the music helps us to empathize into the film and get emotionally involved, although the music is not what we expect as it is a cheerful song used in here but I think it makes the character appear more scary.

Tarantino has commented that,

‘You hear that guitar strain, you get into it, you’re tapping your toe and you are enjoying Michael Madson (Mr. Blonde) doing his dance and then, voom, it’s too late, you’re a co-conspirator’

‘It’s all guilty fun until the scene turns sour, becomes too violent and not enjoyable anymore. At the same time it engage the audience.’

Music videos-

Music videos are similar to fashion films as they are stylised visualisations of an artist’s vision and the music being the script for it. Fashion films are stylised visualisations for a fashion designer’s vision while the garments being the script for it. The concept of the film is in the garment already. Music videos and fashion films both usually captures the moving images and sound.

Recognisable brands in fashion film and music videos:

The music artist uses a recognisable sound and applies a recognizable approach to market the music. A brand in apparel has a recognisable product and a fashion film creates a visual collage with sound that represents the brand’s identity. Gareth Pugh talks about the opportunity with fashion film to express and present more than just a new collection and it is the identity of his brand represented in all aspects of the film for instance, the visuals, the sound and the way it is presented.

How to choose the right music for your film?

First, think about how the music supports your film and fit in the atmosphere and idea. The music helps to create an atmosphere that extends the visuals with sound to create an overall experience. Then, you can also consider the possibilities of an unconventional approach to make your film more interesting.

Useful websites which provides different types of music:


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