As you sit down to watch an old episode of “Friends,” you are hit with a strong feeling of nostalgia with the words “No one told you life was gonna be this way,” as you wildly clap your hands together to precisely hit the three clapping beats. If you were to hear this song formally called “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts anywhere, you would immediately be taken back to all those nights spent laughing watching “Friends.” That familiarity and association indicates the power of music and theme songs in the film and TV industry. Music can serve many different purposes in film, whether it is scary music in a horror movie, or a popular Top 40 song to set the scene in a comedy. No matter what type of music or where it is used, one can definitely argue that music has the power to create a mood and emphasize specific emotions elicited by a scene.
Recently, there has been a trend in the usefulness and effect of music in a film. The background music in a movie is called the film score which is “original music written specifically to accompany a film and instrumental or choral pieces called cues which are timed to begin and end at specific points during the film in order to enhance the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of the scene in question,” according to Mark Savage from BBC. Some notable examples of successful film scores include those in “Jaws,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Star Trek” and “Harry Potter.” There is no doubt that if someone were to play any of the music from these movies, it would be recognized immediately. Therefore, music creates a unique identity for a movie and allows its thematic elements and legacy to live on.
Along with the technical term of “score,” the soundtrack of a movie is something that is very closely tied to the identity of a movie. Although soundtracks have always existed, they have just recently become popular to consumers. To name a few examples, “the Hunger Games” soundtracks, the “Frozen” soundtrack and the soundtrack for the new movie “Divergent” have been extremely successful, even more successful than some full albums by musicians.
Recently, I looked at the iTunes store and lo and behold, “Frozen” (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Various Artists is No. 1 on Top Albums, preceding Shakira, Luke Bryan and Beyonce (yes, even Queen Bey). To quantify “Frozen’s” musical success, it has been at the top of the chart for nine non-consecutive weeks according to Nielsen SoundScan data for the week ending April 6. Another week at the pinnacle will create a tie with the chart-topping performance of “The Lion King,” which reigned in 1994-95. The album will likely top sales of 2 million next week”, according to Variety Magazine.
OK, so enough about “Frozen” (but if you have not seen it yet, go!). But really, soundtracks and film scores are groundbreaking and provide such a strong emotional connection to movies. The “Divergent” soundtrack offers new songs written specifically for the movie by major artists including A$AP Rocky, Ellie Goulding and M83. And even if these songs are not played during the actual movie, they still provide fans with another avenue to connect with the film for years to come. This can also be applied to TV shows like “Friends,” where specific networks and shows purposefully select songs that will resonate with the audience and elicit certain emotions. The TV show “Nashville” is half music and half drama, as the actors on the show are real musicians who write and produce original music for the show to be released on CDs (smart marketing there)!
The next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the music in the background and wonder why the filmmaker selected that song. If it were not there would the scene still have the same impact? Would “Friends” create that same nostalgia?