As we’ve seen in Part 1, music is supposed to enhance the existing emotion. However, there are many compositional techniques to consider when making your choice and not all of them are the obvious ones.
This keeps the audience engaged either subtly, by using a light repetitive beat or sequenced music passage. From an orchestral score point of view, it could literally be a representation of a heartbeat, through a percussion instrument, spiccato strings (bouncing the bow upon the string) or Col Legno strings (using the wooden part of the bow to hit the strings), famously used by Gustav Holst during the opening of his suite The Planets, Mars the Bringer of War. It can make people feel tense, on edge, or excited, but more importantly, it’s a good way to keep the intensity of your video going.
The same logic can be applied to modern music, be it dance, indie, rock or folk. It’s all about the beat and keeping things moving – keeping the audience on track with the vision, whether it’s keeping the crowds going at a club or an informative corporate selling widgets.
A piece with a constant pulse or steady beat can also be used very effectively by briefly stopping it, then re-introducing it a couple of seconds later, preferably keeping in time with the natural beat.
It’s a similar method to using a “drop” in a dance track. It may take you by surprise, especially if it’s disturbed your enjoyment or concentration, but visually speaking, it will draw attention to whatever is on the screen and then there’s the added bonus of extra impact when it returns. This is a simple technique that actually gives you two very contrasting punctuation points for your video.
Similar to pulse, but referring more to the measure of beats within one minute, or more commonly known as the BPM. In layman’s terms – how fast or slow a track is. However, within the film score, documentary or longer corporate film context, pace can also refer to how the music interacts with the vision and overall storytelling process.
This is one of the most difficult things a composer or editor has to try and achieve: to make the music underpin the action or sentiment, without being obtrusive, in other words it should enhance the already existing emotion.
If you notice the background score of a film or documentary (not including the main themes or featured music), this, more often than not, is a bad thing, as it’s not probably not coherent with the visuals, overpowering or simply the wrong choice of score. The overall pace of a music score within a film or documentary can be used to slow it down or speed it up, as long as the climax is reached simultaneously.
This is another very important factor, when choosing a track.
Think high-pitched scratching strings “Psycho” style vs. warm, expansive low-pitched strings – John Barry’s “Dances With Wolves”. The emotional response from these extremes are poles apart. Carefully consider the pitch or tessitura (the most comfortable range of an instrument or voice) of an instrument or group of instruments. Bearing in mind that high and low pitches have a very different sensory response.
High pitched sounds or frequencies played in different styles can intensify any emotion. They can also be associated with motivation and forward thinking etc.
Low pitched sounds or frequencies are more typically associated with a rich and soothing feel, warmth, power, authority and truth. However, it can also create a mournful and sombre mood too. However, these are not hard and fast rules!
So why not try to combine these two techniques, to add drama and tension, either by cleverly fusing two tracks together, or using one piece that moves from the lowest dynamic to the highest. Good examples of this are Samuel Barber’s “Adagio For Strings”, Hans Zimmer’s “Time”, from the 2010 film Inception or Gorecki’s “Symphony 3, 2nd Movement”.
Consider which instruments typically create the texture you’re looking for, bearing in mind that every instrument can be played in varying ways. I would always consider the message and its emotional content as well as the response it’s setting out to achieve. Typically, there are set ideas on this subject – an extreme sports film, for example tends to conjure either an indie feel or raw American metal style.
A travel video may use music from the same group of instruments, however this time, played softly, smooth and warm, to set the scene of relaxing by the pool, sipping a cocktail! The point here is to keep going back to the message you’re trying to convey.
Next, see part 3 of Choosing The Right Music For Your Production.