The Thankless Role of Music in Film

The saying “a soundtrack works best when you don’t even notice it” is something I often agree with. As part of a larger whole, the soundtrack of a film should complement the experience and works best when it’s not even acknowledged by the viewer.

It’s when you start to pay attention that you notice just how important music is when watching a film. Just like the cinematography, the acting, the direction, it’s clear that every aspect of a film is designed to make you feel a certain way. Yet to the average viewer, myself included, we never take into account just how integral music is.

Music Director Justin Freer puts it best, saying “well crafted sound design and sound effects are so very necessary in the creation of a film, music touches the emotion, the psyche, the things you cannot see”.

In music lies this raw ability to manipulate someone’s emotions that is necessary when trying to convey a particular message or feeling to the audience. As examples, films such as Jaws, Star Wars and Harry Potter all have soundtracks that make you feel a certain way. Be it fear, amazement or wonder, all three soundtracks know how to make you feel in any given moment.

But because we can’t “see it”, it often goes unnoticed. Because it’s most effective when it doesn’t take centre stage, it doesn’t receive the acknowledgement it deserves. That’s the point though, “Music guides your audience and invokes the emotions behind your film’s story, the action and the words.”

What the music should accomplish is to act as an invisible guide and catalyst, the unseen middle man between the scene itself and the person watching. It acts as a significant but subtle extension of the film, unconsciously manipulating you so that you reach a desired state of mind.

And it’s perhaps this ability to affect us without even making us aware of its presence that best describes why we don’t appreciate music in films like we should. How can we describe the way music makes us feel during a certain scene if we never even realise that it was the music that made us feel that way? Maybe that’s for the best though. “A soundtrack is best when you don’t even notice it.”

In the end, while it might go unappreciated by most, it doesn’t go unrecognised. It serves its role so well that by being intentionally unnoticeable it succeeds in what it set out to accomplish.


Photo credit: Jesse Kruger


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