Adding music to your film will give it some much needed oomph! Make sure to leave yourself enough time at the end of a project to write and record (or buy) some tunes, I cannot emphasise how much they will increase the quality and feel of your work. Seriously.
Music in your film can be incidental (like a character switching on the radio in a scene) or much more likely, it will mean a soundtrack. A soundtrack is music you have playing in the background of your film to increase or ‘play up’ the emotion in a scene. It can be also used to accompany a visual montage to illustrate the passing of time or to bridge two scenes.
Soundtrack’s can cater to the wide variety of human emotions that exist. Which means it can be hard choosing or creating the right music for the moment. Think about the emotions that are present in your scene and think of ways you can draw more out of them. At times, this will mean complimentary music, like dusty old slide guitar over a hot desert or soft piano during a love scene. At times though, you’re soundtrack might want to contrast with the on-screen action to enhance the emotional pull of your scene. Quentin Tarantino’s use of the jangly, upbeat ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ during a torture scene springs to mind. The important thing to remember is to anticipate your audience’s reaction and to play with that. If they are expecting sad music, maybe give it to them, or maybe mess with their expectations to create new and unique takes on tired clichés. The choice is yours.
Most recently, we worked on a Behind the Scenes documentary for a big arts festival in Melbourne, Light in Winter. The documentary needed a soundtrack and as our resident music maker, I got hurriedly to work. During the dit process I had used a temp song to keep my cutting and pacing on track but now I had to face the fact that I didn’t own the song I was using and that I would have to come up with something on my own!
I thought, ‘how hard could it be?’ only to discover over many failed attempts that ‘corporate’ and ‘uplifting’ weren’t really two words I had in my repertoire. I spent a good half a day toying with sounds that just didn’t ‘feel’ right, different chord progressions, different instruments, but nothing was coming together. I felt like I was failing, fast.
Until I used harp. Harp was the key, it had the levity and corporate grace that I needed. A quick finger picked rhythm and a rousing steady beat and my track started to take shape. A bit of piano here, some guitar and bass there and I had it. The piece finally came together and most importantly of all it felt right as an accompaniment to the visuals.
I made sure the entire composition could be stripped down into its individual elements for a slower, more thought provoking moment, or ramped right up to create that frenetic and exciting feeling of being at a festival.
Here is not the place to go into the depths of what you need to know to create a soundtrack. This is just a quick roundup of the kinds of the things you might need/need to keep in mind when building out your soundtrack.
You’ll need some software to put together your song. This will be like an NLE but for music, and these are called Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs. They function in much the same way as an NLE but has unique functions related to audio and not video. Some programs like Soundtrack PRO by Apple, combine elements of an NLE and a DAW into one super duper software experience, but these can result in a case of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, so be careful, and choose your DAW wisely.
Obviously you’ll need instruments, or at the least a MIDI keyboard and access to some MIDI samples so you can create music. Hopefully, if you’re planning to make a soundtrack you have some musical knowledge. If you have absolutely none, bundles of royalty free samples can be acquired (both freely with products like Apple loops and for cost on many, many websites) and you can mix and match these to your heart’s content. Websites will often have packs of soundtracks organized by feel or instrument to make your task of searching for that perfect tune, that much easier. Provide some links here.
Finally, to integrate your soundtrack into your project you will need to export your song in a format that your NLE is happy to play nice with (check your NLE to see what it wants, for FCP7 it needs files with a sample rate of 48khz but every NLE will be different). For more on mixing music into your project, see Sound Mix.
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