Music within films, television shows and games is often overlooked when reviewing the finer details of a game, series or film. Soundtracks are an extra layer of crafting a masterpiece, something a book or art drawing are unable to provide.
Take a scene you might love; try to visualise that scene and ask yourself what is happening. What is the mood? Is it an action scene, perhaps a love scene, or maybe even a comedy scene. Now try to remember what the music was. You should feel that the music enhanced the emotion. Think about John William’s iconic Harry Potter score. It sounds mystical, magical; the same words you might use to describe the Harry Potter series itself. Would you get the same feeling if there was silence? Or maybe, instead of another fantastic John William’s score, you heard, say, a chart song? If when the Harry Potter title comes up on the screen, and you heard Justin Bieber over the top, your brain would have a very different emotional response. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking JB, his music has gotten better with age!) But that is just one of many amazing things people take for granted with a film score. A reinforcement of tone.
In fact, music can set the tone to a point where if any other music was used, your response would be very different. Imagine, for instance, the Game Of Thrones opening credit music was Hatsune Miku – Ievan Polkka. (It’s a strange yet catchy Japanese Anime song). Had you never seen Game Of Thrones before, you might think you’re in for a comedy or a cartoon!
Music can be made to further acknowledge the genre of a particular show, game or film. Might you have watched recently aired HBO’s television series Westworld? Ramin Djawadi, composer for Westworld and Game of Thrones did a fantastic job in capturing the essence of the Western genre in the music. The iconic soft guitar, trumpet, flute and other instruments you often hear in westerns all encapsulated to provide the best experience of a Western story which, again, is a description you could use for the place the show itself – a place people can go to experience the old american west. Djawadi manages to even characterise some compositions, giving certain characters or places a theme, most notably for myself, the Sweetwater theme; every time you hear it coming, you know a scene in the town is about to take place. (And seriously, have a listen too, it really does feel…for lack of a better description, Western!)
A soundtrack can be used to make you feel stronger emotion, be it sad, funny or anywhere in-between. Take a scene from one of my favourite games of all time – The Last Of Us. Without giving too much away, the main female protagonist, Ellie, has been tormented by an antagonist, in a way that is so unfair, that her finally overcoming the obstacle is all the more rewarding. I’d briefly challenge you the reader to watch this scene twice, once with sound and then watch it again, but this time, put the video on mute. Here’s the link, just please note – spoilers ahead! (and ignore the video intro, apologies…)
Watch the video with and without sound? Notice the impact of the music towards the end, the developers using it in such a way, where it doesn’t matter what is being said, the music tells you all that you need. This is just another amazing way that music can better the emotional impact of a scene. Music stops being ambient filler and instead takes an active role in letting a story unfold.
Not only that, but soundtracks can bring an instant recognition to a series. You hear THAT particular AC/DC song that you immediately think of Iron Man. I for one know that whenever I hear “Smash Mouth – All Star” I think “Hey, it’s that Shrek song!” You identify music to a visual icon, associating it with a particular film or character. Think about it – you know the James Bond theme right? The James Bond theme is as important to the character as much as his catchphrases are, because music aids in the creation of a world and/or character. There are innumerable films, Tv shows and games where you could look at the soundtrack list, and there will be a theme track for a character or scene. It is all about adding that extra layer of depth that only these art-forms can produce.
Music can bring depth, emotion and feeling. It can help bring identity to a location or character. Soundtracks have a highly underestimated influence in all forms of media, and should be recognised as being as important as an actor or a location. For an in-depth analysis on a soundtracks emotional impact in film, check out EveryFrameAPainting’s video on the subject, The Marvel Symphonic Universe.
Thanks for reading, and hope this has been of interest to you.