Music is at the heart and soul of most supposedly new visual media. Therefore, it is incredibly important to your projects as well.
Motion pictures, videos, many stage performances, even churches, all use music to create involvement, provoke emotion, develop community, and as such will essentially provide a cohesive and memorable flow to the project, topic, or performance.
The trend to using pop music and hit songs in motion pictures notwithstanding, the single most important element to a film can indeed be its “main theme” or score.
Children and adults of the Star Wars generation know John Williams’ Star Wars theme, the Darth Vader theme, and virtually every sound cue in each of the Star Wars movies.
Williams’ music became just as iconic in the Superman movies, ET, and more. Alan Silvestri’s themes and cues for “Back to the Future” transferred into three films worth of excitement and emotion.
Some of the most extraordinary film music was created by Bernard Herrmann, who, I daresay, despite my reverence for Orson Welles, provided the real emotional force behind Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons.
Thirty years later he did the same for The Twilight Zone and, just before his death, Taxi Driver.
On TV, the impact is more limited, but music can still reach iconic status—albeit usually with lyrics and with a limitation to the beginning and end of the show. Examples: “I’ll Be There for You,” the Friends theme; the Rockford Files theme; LA Law; Law and Order; the Family Guy theme; All in the Family; the Sopranos.
And Paul Schaefer’s Late Night theme (reinterpreted nicely for the Late Show) helped define late-night television for nearly 30 years. Jon Batiste and Stay Human have much the same impact for the current Late Show.
Of course, chances are very good that you will not be commissioning or creating original music for your project.
The good news, however, is many resources are available to help you “score” your project, and score your project you must.
To be blunt, I prefer orchestral music to Top 40 music for scoring a video. (The exception is a key love song or personal favorite of the honoree.) Pop music has baggage. The singer, the lyrics, the personal associations that come with pop music are undeniable, and they have nothing to do with Jen and Greg, Uncle Al, your parents, or the retiring Mr. Quigley from accounting. This is their story, and we want the audience to think about them, not Jennifer Aniston. The exceptions that prove the rule: the song that played at an honoree’s wedding; a team fight song, patriotic music, a song that perfectly summarizes the chronological point in the video, such as “For What It’s Worth” for a Vietnam war sequence.
Library music—orchestral music—supports the story, directs emotions, but does not take over the story.
More on the use of music to tell that story next time.