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Settling the Score: The Importance of Music in Film

Zack Burkett

In Music Videos, Video Production Posted

I would argue that half of any movie is its score.

I realize that’s a bold statement, so if you beg to differ, that’s okay—there are undoubtedly a number of factors that play important roles in crafting a film. Editing, cinematography, and performance, to name a few. But there’s no denying that music does a lot of the heavy lifting. When connecting to your audience, the musical score is one of the most essential components in any film or video project. And one of the most important tools in a filmmaker’s toolbox.

There’s a reason some film scores have become so iconic. Think Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park. (Come on, how could we not mention John Williams?) Try to imagine Jaws without Williams’s classic two-note motif. You can’t, can you? How about the shower scene in Psycho where (spoiler!) Janet Leigh bites it without the famous screech of Bernard Herrmann’s discordant strings? It’s impossible. These examples represent a perfect marriage between the musical and the visual, where sound and image have become inseparable.

Take a moment to consider the final scene of Star Wars Episode IV sans music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj-GZJhfBmI

All humor aside, it just doesn’t work. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. You can hear the crickets chirping. It becomes a bunch of doofuses standing around in silence, exchanging cheesy smiles with one another. This is because it’s the music that speaks to us, telling us this is a joyous, triumphant moment for our heroes. In Jaws, the music warns us that the shark is lurking close by (danger is near!) and, on a subconscious level, tells us to be afraid. In Psycho, Herrmann’s shrieking strings accentuate the shock and chaos of Janet Leigh’s sudden and brutal death, surprising the audience just as much as the hapless Marion Crane.

Music is the bridge between the audience and what is happening on the screen. It’s what sucks us in and emotionally invests us in these two-dimensional images we’re seeing, setting the tone and dictating our mood. Music is not there only to fill in the background, but to compel us to feel. It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, it’s a little manipulative. And if used in the right way, it can influence your audience’s emotions without them even realizing it. Joy, wonder, sadness, horror, dread—we are at the mercy of the composer. And we give ourselves over to it willingly.

And this isn’t true only of film. In the world of corporate video, score is just as important, if not even more so. Whether you’re producing a video promoting pet adoption at a local animal shelter, creating branding content for a major company like Grubhub or Spotify, or marketing a new app that makes splitting checks easier than ever, music is one of the easiest and most important ways to connect to your audience. What it boils down to is simple:

Music helps create a sense of story.

Generally speaking, most corporate and advertising videos are inherently non-narrative. Their first priority is to market a product or service; telling a story, while still important, is secondary to their primary goal. Clever editing and photography can help create the feel of a story, but music goes the furthest toward lending a narrative quality to your video, making it seem like a story exists where you didn’t even know one did.

Like how Jaws without John Williams’s score probably wouldn’t be very scary, a corporate video without music probably wouldn’t be very interesting. In fact, it’d likely feel pretty boring and soulless—an info dump with all of the facts but none of the flavor. Nothing for the viewer to latch onto emotionally. As we said before, music is the pathos that plays on audiences’ emotion. The best way to make sure your product or service reaches its audience is to get them to invest in it emotionally, and that starts with choosing the right score. It’s all about that connection.

While we sadly can’t get John Williams to score our video projects, there are a ton of resources out there to help you find the right music tracks for your video. For example, websites like Incompetech and Free Stock Music offer professional tracks for your videos that are completely free to download and use. All that is required is a proper credit to the artist. And then there are online libraries like Epidemic Sound and Audio Jungle, which provide massive archives of royalty-free music that may require subscription or licensing fees. It is important to remember that free and royalty-free are not the same thing! You’ll find a whole world of stock music resources for every possible genre, style, and tone to help reach your audience and create the mood you’re going for.

The only downfall of stock music is everyone else has access to it too, so there’s a chance someone may have heard your track in another video or commercial. If you really want to stand out, and especially if you live in a city filled with aspiring artists and other creative types (*cough* Atlanta), it may be a good idea to reach out to local artists to compose original music for your project. It’ll be an opportunity for them to get some good experience and exposure, and you’re guaranteed a one-of-a-kind soundtrack for your video or short film. It’s a win for everyone!

Whatever direction you choose for scoring your video project, remember that a good musical score not only complements the story and visuals, but elevates them, taking them to new heights. It’s your chance to connect to your audience on an emotional level, and—like a violinist skillfully maneuvering their bow—pull on those heart strings!

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