Most everyone loves a good movie. Be it a thriller, comedy, romance, or science fiction, film remains an important staple in pop culture if only due to its profound ability to make us feel raw emotion on a purely visceral level.
What’s the secret?
Well, there’s not any one reason that elevates a mediocre film to blockbuster status. Good directing, acting, writing, editing, etc., all contribute to a film’s success. However, I’ve always held the belief that the most important element to any film, TV, or commercial lies in the musical choices selected to accompany the images on screen.
Need an example?
Watch this YouTube video that uses a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws to make this exact point:
The first half of the video plays sans John Williams’ iconic score. The second half is accompanied by the maestro. Which do you prefer?
Here’s another dramatic example taken from Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial*. The first video, again, plays sans music (the score cuts off around 22 seconds), while the second video features the same scene with Williams’ magical score. (Fast forward to the minute mark in the second video to watch the scene under review.)
*Spielberg’s films often employ a heavy musical arrangement, almost always composed by John Williams, which is why I’m using sequences from his films specifically to make my point.
Let’s venture into the “smaller” realm of television, where budget constraints often limit what a producer/director is able to accomplish on the sound stage. Here’s a clip from Breaking Bad. Actually, it’s the final scene of what many consider the greatest TV show of all time. (In other words, spoilers may ensue.)
The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, opted to use an upbeat rock song to wrap up the tragic tale of Walter White/Heisenberg. It’s a bittersweet moment summed up perfectly through the song’s lyrics, which, if you listen carefully, go a long way in summarizing the series in its entirety.
Interestingly, Gilligan, actually had to fight to keep the song in place as his music supervisor, Thomas Golubic, felt the music didn’t fit the scene, as explained to RollingStone in 2013:
“But in came the dailies, with that wonderful crane shot moving over Walter White, and once we played the song, [we thought], ‘Oh, I get it now,'” Golubić continues. “This is a love-affair story of Walt and his love of science, and this was his greatest product – his greatest triumph as a chemist. It wasn’t about Walter White as a criminal or a murderer or an awful person. It was him ending on his own terms. It felt creatively right.”
The music renders the final scene of Breaking Bad both sad, and heroic, as the man we had come to both love and fear arrived at his final denouement amongst his greatest accomplishment — a methamphetamine factory.
As you can see — or hear — music goes a long way in helping a TV show or motion picture transcend its purpose as a bit of entertainment into a surreal artistic experience.
The same goes for commercials, which have a limited amount of time to capture our attention.
Check out this ad, which runs a lengthy three minutes in length, but utilizes a simple theme — helping people — to sell, above all things, insurance. Note the music, as it turns playful, dramatic, sad, happy …
Now, imagine this ad without music. Would it feel the same? Would it feel too long? Would the emotional impact still resonate? The message would undoubtedly remain powerful, but would we feel the sentiment? Even if you don’t remember the music, it still reverberates on a subconscious level.
That being said, sometimes a lack of music can be just as pivotal to a story’s success. Remember the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park, another Spielberg/Williams collaboration? Think back and try to remember the music that was played during this very intense encounter between man and beast.
You can’t, can you?
That’s because there was no music. Yet, that sequence is one of the more thrilling and intense moments ever captured on film, and it’s driven almost entirely by sound FX — beginning with the rain thumping on the roof of the cars enclosing the film’s main protagonists, the forceful boom accompanying Rexy’s footsteps, the occasional burst of thunder; all of which build to a terrifying attack in which cars are flipped, lawyers are chomped, and dinosaurs run amok. Is it far-fetched to say a musical score during this sequence would’ve lessened its impact?
During last year’s American Film Institute tribute to John Williams, the maestro, in a rare behind the scenes interview, posited that one of the most important aspects of his job was sitting down with the director to decide which scenes didn’t need music.
Sometimes silence is more powerful than a grandiose soundtrack.
Let’s turn now and look at how music affects audiences.
In a study conducted by Psychology Today in 2013, a scene from Spielberg’s Minority Report was shown to a group of 245 college students, 111 of which hadn’t seen the movie. The scene in question, a riveting escape sequence through a shopping mall, is accompanied by Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” ballad rather than traditional action music. Although, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t catch the tune as its placed subtly in the background as if playing through the mall’s speaker system.
This use of music, according to film scholars, is called “diegetic music”, or music that exists within the film’s universe. “Nondiegetic music” is the term used to describe a score that accompanies a scene, ala the music in the above Jaws and E.T. videos.
The same scene was shown to the students three separate times: once in its original form using the diegetic background music, the second time with the same “Moon River” song, except this time played over the scene — in other words, as a traditional music score — and a third time with conventional action music lifted from another one of Williams’ scores.
The results, particularly from those who had never seen the movie, were fascinating, as reported by Psychology Today:
Specifically: participants who watched the original diegetic version (music sounding like it was inside the shopping mall)
- perceived the scene as more tense and suspenseful
- perceived the relationship between the male and female as more antagonistic, and more unfriendly and hostile
- believed the two characters had known each other longer
- assumed the female was more fearful and suspicious of the male
- assumed the male was more fearful and suspicious of the female
- believed the male character wanted to harm the female
- perceived the female to be less romantically interested in the male
- and perceived the male to be less romantically interested in the female
… than those who had watched the same scene with the same music presented as a dramatic score (nondiegetic).
The second and third iterations containing the nondiegetic scores resulted in very different reactions, as “those who watched the scene with the ‘chase music’ believed the woman wanted to harm the man, while those who watched it with ‘Moon River’ (played nondiegetically) thought she was out to help him.”
That’s a long way to explain how music can shape a video as much, if not more, than the visuals on screen. The wrong piece of music can destroy a quality production almost as quickly as a bad actor.
So, where does this leave us?
At Ydraw, we have a resourceful group of writers, editors and animators that come together to create the best videos imaginable for a number of companies across the world.
Yet, one of the more pivotal aspects of the videos we produce remains — you guessed it — music.
Drawing from a library of resources, Ydraw’s editors carefully integrate music (and sound FX) into our videos during the final phase of production. Except, if the music doesn’t fit, the video doesn’t work. It’s that simple.
As a former editor, I’ve seen, or been a part of, a number of videos that worked visually, but just didn’t quite deliver on an emotional level. That is, until I altered the music. That’s right, a few extra minutes of shuffling a score can make or break the final product.
Here’s some examples of Ydraw produced videos that boast terrific soundtracks:
Pretty cool, right? The music in these videos was purchased from stock music sources, and then edited accordingly. In each instance, the music goes a long way in creating a particular emotion.
Here’s another Ydraw video featuring an above average soundtrack:
Notice anything different? The music for this particular video was produced by one of our freelancers, namely Rotem Hecht, who specializes in music composition. This talented artist takes the project after it’s been assembled, and designs a score specifically for that video.
Would the video have worked with stock music? Certainly. But Rotem’s score injects powerful emotion into an already potent production, and makes it even better. Note how the pace of the video never falters, but, rather, flows rhythmically, gradually building towards a rousing climax, followed by soft piano that accentuates the overarching message.
Also, it’s important to point out that the music never overtakes the visuals. Instead, the animation and musical composition work hand in hand in telling the dramatic story. Combined with a powerful script, and an effective voice over, this video goes a long way in establishing an emotional connection with its core audience.
More importantly, because of his lucrative experience, Rotem’s turnaround time for producing one of his fantastic scores is typically a little under twenty-four hours. That’s incredible.
His name may not be John Williams, but Rotem aptly lifts Ydraw’s videos from tremendous achievements to something akin to an extraordinary Celestial encounter. Seriously, he’s that good.
Need more convincing?
Check out his website www.rotemmusic.com to listen to the various commercials, corporate ads, games, TV shows, and even films Rotem has scored over the years.
And then give us a call so we can start working on the next great Ydraw video for you!