Image and sound are both equally important parts of a film. Apart from dialogue and ambience, extradiegetic sound plays a major role in film and audiovisual media. Music can highly influence the way we perceive a scene or a sequence, giving it a completely different meaning depending on how it is conceived and edited together. Below, we go over 5 ways to use music in the most effective way possible.
How to Use Music in Film – 5 Tips
1. Know when to use a score and a soundtrack
This is mostly a matter of budget, though it can end up being a functional matter as well. A score is original music composed for the film, while the soundtrack is made of existing songs that you deem fitting for your project.
The rights to popular songs tend to be prohibitively expensive for most projects, and having a composer make original music for your film sometimes isn’t exactly affordable. Luckily, there are plenty of royalty-free tracks available nowadays.
2. Drive audience into action with both image and music
Music shouldn’t usually stand by itself, it should serve as a complement when you want to visually communicate something. Accompanying music in a particular scene can add a greater effect than that of just image by itself.
For instance, a chase sequence will be better received as a suspenseful moment in the film if it is edited with some hectic music to match the rhythm of the scenes. Similarly a sad moment can be emphasized with fitting music for an added effect.
3. Use music as a way to convey continuity
Continuity in film is, like its name suggests, the element that binds scenes together to create an illusion of continuous time or space during sequences. It is achieved by paying attention to details like character placement in frame and lighting, but film as a medium allows us to go beyond to bind sequences together with music.
An example of this would be montages of different actions that show someone going through different stages, set to music to indicate they are all part of the same sequence. A character on their daily morning routine before work, training to get in shape, or learning how to master a craft over time.
4. Give your audience music cues along the film
There are subtle ways to let your audience in on what you’re trying to say without spoon-feeding it to them with dialogue. You can introduce sound cues early on in the film to let people know they should keep an eye out for particular things in the story.
A musical leitmotif is a common technique used to achieve this effect, like when the shark is approaching in Jaws and it is preceded by the music we all know and learned to fear.
5. Make sure the music adds something to the sequence
Although it might be common sense, it is worth noting time and time again that the elements you include in a particular scene or sequence should, ideally, bring something to the table.
Sometimes less is more, and a sequence can greatly benefit or be totally ruined by adding music to it. Make sure to read the scenes correctly to decide whether or not you should add a music track or not. Action is all you need at times.