Feeling All the Feels: How to Choose the Right Music for Your Film
What does “Eye of the Tiger”, “Maniac”, and “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” have in common? They’re all songs that immediately bring to mind the films that made them iconic.
There are plenty of songs and scores that remind us of important scenes from our favorite movies – I’ve already listed a few, but some scores that come to mind are those from Ben Hur, The Godfather, and Star Wars. Anybody who hears the ominous rhythm of John Williams’ “Imperial March” is instantly taken back to the Death Star as Darth Vader oppressively boots around the craft breathing heavily through his mask.
So, what is at work here? Why do these songs become iconic? How are they able to forever link themselves to the films they appear in? Why do they seem so – perfect – for the scenes in which they play?
The answer is probably a lot more scientifically entrenched than most of us know, but suffice it to say that the marriage between music and film is a lot like a marriage between two humans: it’s all about emotions, baby.
To help you figure out how to choose the right music for your project, here are a few things to think about when looking over your footage:
What’s going on emotionally? What’s the tone?
Whether you’re shooting a film, a commercial, or a wedding video, there will inherently be an emotional and tonal energy that you will want to match your music to. Is the scene in your film dark and ominous? Then maybe you’ll want something with a cello (like in Jaws) or a piano piece played in a minor key. Is your wedding video light and jaunty, highlighting the happiness of two lovebirds being all in love and newly married? Then maybe a more celebratory sound, like a “happy” acoustic guitar (also known as the “Jack Johnson guitar”) would work better.
How fast or slow is the pacing of each shot?
Emotion is a huge factor to consider when choosing music, but pacing, how fast or slow the editing is, is also extremely important. Now, your piece may not have a discernable pace, and that’s okay, but if it does, you might want to find music that mimics it.
You see this all the time in action sequences – the editing is fast and fierce, which is why there’s usually a electronic or metal song playing through it. (Silence of the Lambs is one exception that comes to mind, but the choice to play Bach’s "Goldberg Variations: Aria" obviously during such a savage scene is used as an oppositional juxtaposition.)
Is there a distinct rhythm to action?
Marching, dancing, a fight scene, a love scene – all of these actions usually have a certain rhythm to them. As I mentioned before, the “Imperial March” has a distinct rhythm to it, because Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers have a distinct rhythm to their marching. Think about the toga party scene in Animal House – it progressively gets wilder as the song picks up and becomes more dynamic.
What about silence?
Sometimes we forget that not having audio is also an option – sometimes it’s the best option. Music should be adding something to the scene, so if the scene already has everything it needs, a song or score might make the moment feel bloated.
Now, a huge part of choosing a song is having a song to choose. Several of the videos above utilized the extensive library of SongFreedom, a music licensing platform that offers downloads from not only indie artists, but mainstream ones as well, like Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic, and Colbie Caillat for $49.99. (And if you need some cinematic stuff, they've got that, too.) No matter what mood you need to set, or what your project's needs are, there is finally one place you can actually get it all. Go check out what SongFreedom has to offer to see if their services are right for you and your project.