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Heard but not scene: How music in films impacts the viewing experience

In the world of cinema, where each frame carries tales of emotion and awe, there exists an unseen storyteller. This conductor takes our minds and hearts on a journey, transforming the mere moments of a movie into unforgettable scenes. It brings emotions and offers a depth to a film that words and pictures alone are incapable of capturing. This invisible conductor is the background music. We may not consciously recognize how a high note can fill our eyes with tears, or how a dramatic strum of a guitar can arouse anger. However, the feelings that we associate with a movie are greatly influenced by these “background noises.”

Illustration by Anna Youngs

The creation and selection process of finding the soundtracks for movies and television is often overlooked by the public. The preparation, creation and production process of a score – the original music created for a production –  is carefully planned out in advance, in order to get the project done within the provided time frame. According to Sebastian Watzinger, a freelance composer, who offers online advice for aspiring composers, the average writing process takes about two to three months for most composers. In this job, composers have to take multiple factors into account, such as the feelings that each scene needs to portray, the time period of the movie and the film’s location. In some scenes, a more dramatic background song is necessary to support the acting and execute the movie producer’s vision. The composers and artists must understand all of these factors in order to achieve their visions.

Illustration by Ava Stephens

Having played piano since the seventh grade, Ian Krumwiede, a senior in the Advanced Performance Workshop (APW) class, has started creating his own music career. Along with many of his classmates, Krumwiede enjoys songwriting and making music by starting with simple chords and rhythms. As someone very involved in the music program, Krumwiede recognizes the impact that music has on a listener.

“My middle school band teacher had his students watch a scene from a movie with music, and [then] without the soundtrack, and it was completely different. Music definitely brings a lot of emotion that people don’t realize, especially if they don’t take [music classes],” Krumwiede said. 

The science behind this is studied by people like David Courtier-Dutton, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sound Out. Sound Out is a company that measures the impact of music in marketing through the use of neuroscience. According to their research, sound directly affects the subconscious mind and manipulates emotions without one’s knowledge of this effect, making music an especially effective method of imparting emotion.

“You’re hearing [the music], but you’re not seeing it because you’re paying attention to the movie,” Krumwiede said.

The result of all the work that composers put into creating the soundtrack and score for a film is its impact on its audience. Junior Bo Mussallem, the president of the Dead Film Society club, notices that music in films can significantly contribute to the audience’s interpretation of the acting. 

“[Music] can give you perspective into what the characters are feeling,” Mussallem said. “It can make a scene way more dramatic, or make it less dramatic and just completely change the vibe of the scene.” 

Although the main job of music in movies is to emphasize different feelings and emotions, it can also be a strong platform for artists to promote their own music. Kurt Hoffmann, founder of record label Alien Feedings, a band member and former producer is familiar with the music business and has extensive experience in networking and the music industry. He has noticed that increased opportunities have made the pathway from musician to getting a track into a movie soundtrack more accessible.

Infographic by Anna Youngs

“There are some pretty cool programs you can record yourself for under $100 and you can put your music out on Distro Kid (a music distribution service that allows artists to get their music onto Spotify) or other distribution services. Then you can do all sorts of creative things to produce your music,” Hoffman said. 

Programs like these have made it easier for films to use music from independent artists, who often have new perspectives and allow productions to save money while promoting fresh voices. In order to find this music, producers go to music supervisors who curate a soundtrack for a film using their network of artists and knowledge of the industry. After studying marketing in college, Hoffmann was able to make a name for himself, attending various band performances in order to attract attention. Focusing more on the business side of the industry, as well as working with his own band, Hoffmann decided to take a stab at music supervision. 

“I wanted to see if the music supervision was [something] I could do. It was a lot. [We produced] lots of videos, we did a documentary film about the band, [and] we were getting interviews on the radio again and doing shows. But the music supervision thing, I [was] never able to crack into. You [just have] to get those contacts,” Hoffman said. 

From 90s chick flicks to dystopian thrillers, the music behind a film can greatly influence the impact and authenticity of a production. The score and soundtrack in a production is able to shape narratives and execute storylines in a way that no other element of the industry can. It is important to recognize this and explore the career opportunities that this business provides. While watching a movie, recognizing the impact of background music can strengthen the emotions of a viewing experience, proving that every note of music is just as significant as each line an actor speaks.

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About the Contributor
Anna Youngs
Anna Youngs, Opinion Editor
Anna Youngs is a junior and an opinion editor for the Bark. She enjoys swimming, spending time with friends and traveling.