What makes for the perfect background music?


When you think of soundtracks that have really helped make the film the experience it was for you as the viewer, you may think of films such as ‘Star Wars’, ‘Shaft’ ‘American Beauty’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ to name just a few 

These film soundtracks worked so well, as they were all such a powerful tools within the film in creating its overall texture. The relationship to what was happening on screen and the sound was so pure and fed off one another to such a degree they became one and the same in the viewers eyes. In order for a soundtrack to be used to its full potential within the composer there has to be a huge understanding of firstly what the film is really about and secondly what the film is desiring to achieve. 

An example of this is Thomas Newman’s original score for ‘American Beauty’ which uses a range of tones to reflect the complexity of each character shown on screen. This soundtrack also uses long silences between notes and melodies with an echo effect on each note to reflect  the distance between the characters emotionally. This combination heightened the haunting mood of the film within the viewer and this is why this soundtrack is so memorable.

In an example such as ‘Shaft’ the music encapsulates so much about the film which is why it is so powerful. The theme song by Isaac Hayes is truly a perfect exploration of the film’s plot, themes, characters and setting through sound.  The 1970′s synth on the baseline filled with attitude (that starts the theme song and film) is a prominent sign to the viewer of 1970′s Funk music made within the afro american community of New York (where the film is set) with the strings that follow this having an uplifting fairytale quality to them. Already from these two instruments the soundtrack has communicated to the viewer ideas of morality and a hero with attitude within 1970′s black community living in New York. In essence this tells the viewer what the film is all about before the credits have stopped rolling… but yet at the same time this only intrigues the viewer more, as they are so engaged by these signs at this point.

When creating a perfect soundtrack to your film or video firstly you have to be sure of what your film is trying to achieve. For example, if the film is for advertising purposes the first step in creating a perfect soundtrack is to really understand your brand image. The second step is understanding the position of the brand in the marketplace. The third step is understanding what the main purpose of the video is. If a video has too many purposes the overall effect of each of these falls flat. If you look at all the powerful films or advertising campaigns you have seen they all have had a clear objective despite having complex characters, narrative, diverse visual effects ect.

Once you have a great understanding of all of these creating a perfect soundtrack to your film will come organically as you will be aware of the mood you are trying to create, the pace of the music, whether you want the composition to have a classical feel or an electronic edge through the choice of instruments, The climax points, where to build up melodies and where you slow them down, whether to use a singer to make it more engaging…the list goes on and on.


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