Film Discussion: Music


(This is part of my series on how to better dialogue with and about films. See more here)

As I finish up this series, we come to the next step in the filmmaking process after sound design: music. Music is one of the most important aspects for creating the emotional power and undertones in a film. Though it can many times go unnoticed among the many other elements in the film as you watch, it provides immeasurable impact on the film-watching experience.

The music is often one of the last aspects of the film to be created, since much of it cannot be created until there is "picture lock," or when no more editorial changes are being made to the film. It is important for the music to sync with the emotional beats in the visuals and other auditory elements, so until there is a firm timeline to sync with, creating a complex orchestral piece is almost pointless.

But I can tell you from personal experience that when the music is added to the film, it's almost like new life is breathed into the project. The edit can be perfect, the camera and colors working in tandem with the acting, and the emotions the filmmakers are striving after can be present, but when the music is added on top, the real power is unleashed. Highs soar even higher, and the lows strike a chord in the heart, evoking emotions only hinted at before the music.

I cannot fully explain what is going on, but music has a particular effect on the emotions of us humans. I'm sure someone with much more knowledge than I could elaborate on why it has this power, but it does. People flock to concerts and purchase countless albums every year, consuming music more than almost any other medium, and why? I think it's because it hits our emotions and heart in ways other mediums cannot, and I'm sure much of it is happening unconsciously. So when this medium is added to the other elements of a film, it provides that added emotional connection for the viewers.

So when you watch your next film ask yourself these questions:

What about the music stands out? Are there moments where you didn't even realize the music was there but felt the emotional impact? And what is the impact when the music is obvious, swelling above all other sounds?

Is the music orchestral, or is it a song that you would hear on the radio? How does each affect the film? Does one have more impact than the other?

What would the film or scene lack without the music? Or would it have been strengthened without music at all, allowing the sound design and dialogue take over on their own?

Does it ever seem that the music is ever its own character, telling the story in its own way?

There are many ways that music interacts with the medium and film, and it allows for some interesting discussion looking at both mediums. Take some time to think about this, or music in general and it's effect on you. It's quite fruitful in learning how these mediums can work almost subconsciously to evoke feelings and perhaps even actions from us.


As I mentioned before, the difference of a film before and after the music is added is really amazing. If there is anyway you can find to watch a movie without the music and then add it in and see the difference, go for it!

If you can't, try using a video you made yourself or a clip from a film without music. Watch it and then add some music. What changes does it make? Now try a different song with a different emotion or style or beat and note the difference it made on the emotion of the scene. As you do this, hopefully you'll begin to see and appreciate that effects of music on film.

Once you've done this, go grab a soundtrack of a film you've already watched. As a starter, maybe even grab a soundtrack that has won some awards so that it's a safe bet that it did it's job of supporting the film well. After seeing the film, listen to just the soundtrack. What do you notice when you listen to just the music? Does anything stand out that you didn't notice while watching the movie? Do scenes and emotions come to mind while you listen?

As always, I'd love to hear what you find, so post it below!
(Thanks to chrisbb for the image)