When you think of music in film, what do you think of? The menacing da-dum-da-dum as a great white shark speeds toward a skinny-dipper in Jaws? Or the sound of drums during a canoe chase in Last of the Mohicans? Or perhaps Wagner's “Ride of the Valkyries” as helicopters invade the shore in Apocalypse Now? Music is a crucial component to any motion picture. It sets the tone and balance of your overall soundtrack and it helps elicit emotional response at peak times throughout your film.
Where can I find sound effects libraries?
If you surf the Web you'll find dozens of sites dedicated to sound effects, like www.soundideas.com; you can join many of these for a fee and begin downloading sounds. Other sites offer collections that can also be purchased.
If you're on a very tight budget and have friends who can play instruments, you can always ask them to lend a hand. You can also check out music libraries that feature royalty-free tunes, like www.cssmusic.com or www.musicbakery.com. For a nominal fee, you can find everything you need to make your film sing.
If you have the budget for a music department, then you'll need a music supervisor. This individual works with a composer, oversees all musicians involved in creating a film score, and deals with all details necessary to secure rights to songs (see Chapter 9). What you ideally want to have in a composer is someone who's both creative and adept at bringing out the subtle and dominant themes of your film. Most films have up to an hour or more of music, and that requires talent to keep the threads of your film tightly wound.
The Big Score
The background music of any film is called the film score. Written by a composer, it's meant to match what's happening on the screen in an effort to create a mood or provoke emotion. Often these scores are performed by an orchestra, or can include original or prerecorded songs (some of which you'll need to negotiate rights for). All of the music compiled together becomes part of your film's soundtrack. The film industry has been graced with the talents of many prominent composers who have scored hundreds of films and television series. They include:
Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, The Birds, Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Fahrenheit 451, Cape Fear, Taxi Driver, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Day the Earth Stood Still)
Danny Elfman (Spider-Man, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sleepy Hollow, Men in Black, Mission Impossible, Batman, Dick Tracy, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Chicago)
Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Driving Miss Daisy, Twister, Thelma & Louse, The Lion King, The Prince of Egypt, Gladiator, The Ring, Black Hawk Down, Batman Begins, The Da Vinci Code)
James Horner (Troy, Aliens, A Beautiful Mind, Deep Impact, Titanic, Casper, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Patriot Games, Field of Dreams, Willow, Star Trek II and III, Cocoon, Mighty Joe Young)
Jerry Goldsmith (Alien, The Omen, Planet of the Apes, Patton, Coma, Poltergeist, Chinatown, Basic Instinct, The Mummy, Congo, Total Recall, most of the Star Trek films, and the First Blood trilogy)
John Williams (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Poseidon Adventure, Superman, Schindler's List, Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Home Alone, Harry Potter, and all the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park films)
Max Steiner (Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, King Kong, Mildred Pierce, Dark Victory, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, The Jazz Singer, Bringing Up Baby, Jezebel)
Incidental music is the term used for the musical score that's written specifically to accompany the “feel” of scenes in a film production. Well-edited incidental music is often so subtle that it's not noticeable, and is almost never intrusive. The inclusion of incidental music is designed to punctuate key moments in scenes, and to elicit emotion, suspense, and excitement from your audience. Romantic interludes, explosive action scenes, and lead-ins to dramatic exchanges are often accompanied by musical material of corresponding intensity and pacing.
If you plan to use any music written or recorded after 1922, you're required to contact the copyright holder and secure permission. Don't think that even a small local band will be so “flattered” to find their song playing in your film that they won't sue you.
To help understand and appreciate the impact and intent of incidental music, sit through a few of your favorite movies, paying specific attention to the various ways background music is manipulated to sustain the action onscreen. Skillful use of incidental music can help turn a good film into a great film.
The term needle drop was first used by disc jockeys to describe how they can drop a phonograph needle in the exact place they want a song to begin playing. The term has since been adopted by the filmmaking community. In terms of your soundtrack, it refers to pre-existing songs, usually currently popular music, that is “dropped” into a film to highlight a story point or character moment. Lawrence Kasdan's classic 1983 film The Big Chill is good example of needle dropping.
The best source of information for acquiring music that's in the public domain and royalty free is the Public Domain Music Web site at pdinfo.com. If you're in the hunt for John Philip Sousa's “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” for example, you're in luck. All songs written before 1922 are considered public domain in the United States, and if you visit the site you can not only obtain the sheet music for a nominal fee but also purchase royalty-free CDsor DVDs, or simply download what you need straight to your computer.