Why is music so important in movies?

They say that a picture paints a thousand words, which you will know from personal experience is undoubtedly true, but have you ever thought of how a moving picture is enhanced by the music that you hear when watching? Just try switching off the sound during some iconic moment, such as that scene in Casablanca, or the run up to a hurly-burly action sequence in fun kids’ movies such as Paddington 2 or one of the great battle portrayals in any of the Star Wars movies, and you’ll soon get the picture, plus a better sense of the vital role that music plays in the impact a movie makes.

Blurring boundaries

It’s not really surprising when you think about the boundaries that have traditionally existed between art forms and how these have changed over the years. Once upon a time, for instance, poetry was a relatively private experience – something beautiful or maybe even savage, written on a page, which you enjoyed in tranquil moments alone with your thoughts. However, this peaceful, rather passive art form also became home to performance poets who accented words differently, speaking stridently, and rappers, with music behind them, who seemed to create a whole new version of what poetry meant.

Images and music

At the same time, recorded music evolved into music videos, where images were an intrinsic part of the experience, so sound and moving images merged to create what was in effect more than the sum of their parts – something bigger than a soundtrack, because it was enhanced by visual interpretation. Live music TV programs had already used live dance to accompany soundtracks, and eventually dance became part of music videos, so in effect you had three different art forms interacting as one – music, dance, and moving images.

Classic examples

Root around for older examples of the power of music in film and you’ll soon uncover the delights of classic movies such as The Producers, where numbers such as Springtime for Hitler, as executed on a Broadway stage, will most likely make you double up with laughter – music, acting (sort of), singing, dancing all in one movie – the connections between the art forms conspire to help you enjoy the fun.

Effective use of music will tug at your heartstrings in a sad or romantic movie or fill you with dread if you’re in the company of that master of suspense and generally scary stuff, Alfred Hitchcock, for example. Check out the use of music in his movies, including The Birds, Psycho, and Marnie, to name a few.

Taking artistic decisions

Who do you think makes the decisions about the use of music in movies? Is it always the director, for example, or does the producer get a say? Well, there are different answers for different circumstances, so nothing is entirely clear cut. There are composers, for instance, whose works are widely revered, such as Hans Zimmer, whose credits include the movie series Sherlock Holmes, Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Then there is entrepreneur Ryan Kavanaugh, recipient of many awards, who has invested considerably in movies over the years, financing some very important releases, including Oscar-nominated movies such as Mama Mia!

One size doesn’t fit all

Experts tell us that sometimes we need to use music sparingly, however, such as making sure to cut background music because it’s important to focus on the on-screen interactions and conversations. As long as the dialogue or enacted plot has enough impetus to make sure that the scene you’re watching is compelling, that’s fine, and the use of music is most likely superfluous.

Movie music matters

However, it’s interesting that even during all those years when only “silent” films were available, because technology hadn’t yet found a way exactly to match sound recording with visual recording,  musicians in movie theaters were still employed to play to accompany the screenings. In most cases, of course, this was a pianist as the instrument is indeed a wonderful solution to creating any kind of atmosphere or mood, the better to make you feel at home when watching your favorite movie.

We can say, in the end, that music really makes a big difference to the visual material that you watch. Whether you love the movies, music videos, or live gigs featuring rappers as well as bands, you’ll soon appreciate the important role that music plays in your favorite recitals, movies, and games.

As far as movie music goes, here some of the best movie soundtracks of all time.