Music for Films
Music has had an evolving and intimate relationship with film ever since the days of live music accompanying the first public projections of the Lumière brothers in the 1890s in Paris. Music was recognised as an essential tool to create atmosphere and give the audience emotional cues.
Perfecting the art of using the right music for film – whether you’re using stock music or a specially-composed score - requires knowledge of how music can direct an audience, and the effects you are trying to achieve within a scene, or across the whole film, whether it’s for drama or horror, sci-fi or something sexy.
What is a film score?
Also sometimes called background music, film soundtrack or incidental music, a film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film. A number of orchestral, instrumental or choral pieces, known as cues, are timed to begin and end at specific points to enhance the scene’s drama and emotional impact.
Music for filmmakers
Free Music for film
Despite the plethora of music you can download for free on Spotify, you can’t just put any music into your production – you can find yourself in hot water, legally. So, your options are to hire a composer or musician, or find music that you can license. Yes, there are plenty of royalty-free sites available, but your project is unique and your music should be too.
Looking for inspiration? Listen to our top picks:
How to license music for film
If you don’t want to commission a composer, there are numerous music libraries for film and TV, which are a great source of music for filmmakers. Audio Network has a catalogue of over 175,000 tracks, created by big-name composers and bright new talent and recorded in some of the world’s best studios – including Abbey Road. We also have a team of music specialists on hand to advise you.
Crafted with media in mind, and organised by genre, every track has a variety of cut-downs and mixes, making it easy to find exactly the right piece, at the right length.
And, with simple, clear licensing, clearing the rights to use them couldn’t be simpler.
The Best Movie Soundtracks
If you’re looking for library or stock music for films, then why not get inspiration from some of cinema’s classics? We’ve picked our favourites below – and suggested some playlists from our catalogue to make choosing the ideal track for your project even easier.
If you need any confirmation that music can be key to creating the emotion, atmosphere and pace of a scene, then look no further than these two clips of the ‘Royal Award Ceremony’ from Star Wars Episode IV. Without the iconic John Williams score, the scene is weirdly flat (other than Chewbacca’s original – pretty unnerving - shriek and R2D2’s clanking happy dance), as there’s no dialogue to lift it. The score is crucial in producing an atmosphere of triumphant celebration.
Here’s the original scene, complete with trumpet fanfare:
And here’s the version with everyone just looking awkwardly at each other:
Plus, for an example of the importance of the key that score music is in, have a listen to Darth Vader’s Imperial March transposed into a major key. Somehow the intergalactic threat seems much more manageable.
If you’re looking for dramatic music that’s suitable for action, our Maximum Impact collection has been composed, recorded and produced specifically to harness emotions – particularly for film and TV trailers.
Black Panther – Ludwig Goransson
Multi-talented instrumentalist, record producer and composer Ludwig Goransson has worked on all of Black Panther director Ryan Coogler’s previous films. He travelled to Africa to immerse himself and research traditional, authentic African music – a first for a superhero movie. Goransson toured with Senegalese musician Baaba Maal and blended recordings of talking drums, a kora, a vuvuzela and a tambin. The London Symphony orchestra and a 40-person choir singing in the Xhosa language were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, adding a further classical element.
Coogler’s goal for the film was to explore ‘what it means to be African’ and Ludwig Goransson’s wide-ranging, distinctive score certainly achieves that aim, whilst creating and capturing the film’s unique Wakandan setting.
Looking for something similar? Our catalogue has a huge variety of world music.
A Clockwork Orange – Classical
Kubrick showcases Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, with juvenile delinquent, rapist and proponent of ‘ultraviolence’ Alex DeLarge passionate about ‘a bit of old Ludwig Van’. Kubrick’s love of classical music sees him incorporate Rossini, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and an electronic transcription of Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary into the soundtrack, together with Moog synthesizer compositions by Wendy Carlos.
Audio Network’s collection of classical music offers a huge variety, with passionate arias, stirring marches, romantic waltzes and energetic overtures. From opera to baroque and chamber music, there’s drama and inspiration, emotion and excitement to create and match any mood.
The Shape of Water – Alexandre Desplat
Alexandre Desplat won the best original score Oscar for his melodic music for The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s film blends science fiction, magic realism, romance and thriller elements, with its mute heroine and ‘fish man’ hero. Trying to capture and create the feeling of water was crucial for Desplat. Explaining how he found the principle melodies, the composer said;
‘I always say that to compose is to think. Playing is good, it’s useful, but it’s how your intellect puts the ideas together that will bring hands to write or to play. So, it’s really a combination of many things; hearing sounds, hearing layers of counterpoints, of chords. We were talking about water… it was completely unconscious, but the melody I wrote for the opening scene is actually made of waves. I did not do that on purpose, but by being completely immersed in this love and these water elements, I wrote a melody that plays arpeggios like waves.’
Desplat’s score gives voices to the film’s two mute main characters. Although the director ‘wanted a European type of score’, the ‘creature’ has a South American sound; Desplat was thinking of the bandoneon, which is used for the tango (actually created on the soundtrack by an accordion). And although Elisa, the heroine, can’t use her voice, she’s shown to be carefree by whistling.
The composer also reveals how the storyline guides the pace of the music, ‘it’s clear in the film that there’s some plateaus that you have to follow, and there’s a climax. There are several climaxes, like in a musical. Musicals are made of several climaxes that keep growing and growing; when you think it’s over, it still continues growing up in plateaus. That’s what I was trying to achieve.’
This was first published on 13/05/2019 and updated on 21/01/2020.