“A soundtrack can carry a visual along, be an unforgettable addition to the film and sometimes there is a small moment of something really great, which exists as beautiful music on its own merit.” -Hans Zimmer
Soundtracks are vitally important when it comes to creating the right feel for your content, whether it be your reel or your web series. Music has the ability to key the audience in on what emotions they should be feeling in a given scene. Horrified? Sad? Lighthearted? Elated?
However, if there is too much going on, the brain often filters things out, and it quickly just becomes noise. Finding the right balance can sometimes be difficult. So here’s a few things to consider when deciding on your music cues.
1. Don’t fall in love with your temp score. Whether you lay a Jon Brion or John Williams track under your little project, it will undoubtedly enhance the experience. But don’t set yourself up to fail, or be disappointed. Giving temp music to a composer allows you to get on the same page and find a common starting place. Just be aware that falling head over heels for a million dollar score can sometimes inhibit creativity.
2. Consider the source. “Source music” refers to music that is integrated into the fictional setting. It could be background music from perhaps a radio or TV within the scene, or be produced by the characters themselves as part of the story. This provides a great alternative to underscoring and helps add another wavelength to the overall soundtrack.
3. Less is more. Always ask yourself, “Does this scene even need music?” Sometimes the combination of sound effects and the atmosphere can be extremely effective in setting the mood. Allow your sound designer (or yourself, depending on the budget) a few calms before the storm. These choices to reign in the music will make sure that when it is playing, the drama will be top notch.
4. It’s the final countdown! Or is it? Yes, music is probably the last major creative stage your project will enter, but start thinking about it well before you get there! Selecting the soundtrack gives you the opportunity to really take your project to the next level and alter its quality significantly. Sadly, composers are given the scraps of budget and time. Take it seriously from the beginning and start thinking about it from day one.
5. Those crazy kids with their loud music! Make sure in the final edit that your music is not mixed too loud. This can often drown out the dialogue and sound effects, dominating performances and story elements. Sure, there will be instances where the soundtrack should climb and take center stage, but choose these wisely. As a general rule, let your background music stay in the back.
Matthew Perkins is a filmmaker living in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @_MatthewPerkins