It is such an important part of a film because it is everything that isn’t said. It can lead, emote, it is a language that is global. You can watch a film where you don’t understand the language and you can get a sense of what is being conveyed by just listening to the music. Apart from the music, the sound elements are setting up a world and shaping characters. Sounds provide the world beyond the screen, sets the scene and helps the director tell their story. I don’t think enough emphasis is put on sound and music but it is such a critical storytelling device. In some genres it is more important, as it is saying more than what is on the screen – think about a horror movie and how much is said with sound and music. The soundtrack really does cut through and stay with people, think of Jaws.
Music as a Narrative Device blog below is from METRO SCREEN, September 30, 2015, which I have copied below as Metro Screen is closing at the end of the year and I’m not sure how long the link will last.
It’s a coincidence that I am writing about the idea of light becoming sound, while traveling in Northern Italy. Here, the natural light of the sky was the stepping-stone of many classical painters, particularly Caravaggio, known as the Godfather of Cinematography. But, I am not here to talk to you about that. This is about the light of sound…Let me explain.
Music as a Narrative Device
Guest Blog from our partners Audio Network Director Brandon Faris knows the powerful effect music has on any production. Below he explains how he uses music to amplify the tone and emotion of a story.
One Sunday morning, Pastor Coots reached into a box and pulled out a rattlesnake. I was so transfixed by the rockabilly gospel playing that instead of being terrified, I was mesmerized. I was filming my short documentary Venom & Fire and at that moment I realized the power of music as a narrative device.
As a filmmaker, I have devoted much of my time to commercial and documentary work. Sometimes I feel confined by the script or testimony. Music, however, gives me the ability to transform content, allowing me to tell the story that’s in my mind’s eye.
After selecting the right music, I look for space in my edit where it will naturally push the story along. Constant music throughout an edit can make a video feel pre-fabricated. Think of music as a breath, knowing when to inhale and exhale. I use silence as a mechanism to contrast with my tracks – it helps build an emotion or transition to a new idea. When you mute the dialogue tracks, you should be able to hear the story arc in the music. This is how you know you have selected music that is working hard to support your story. When done right, the viewer should barely notice the music because they are consumed by the story.
I have developed a few exercises that help me select music with a purpose and not out of a necessity that I’d like to share.
Lose yourself in the music
I’m not talking about getting high on recreational narcotics and staring at the cosmos, I’m proposing that you let go of your personal music bias and open yourself to the story. Dive deep into the culture of your subject, even if it goes against anything you would publicly admit you have listened to.
While making Hoofer, a short documentary about a tap dancer, I selected cheesy teen pop music for a dance montage. I don’t usually listen to teen pop house, but it brought the scene to life and our film was awarded Best Music at the International Documentary Challenge.
Listen to your surroundings
When you are on set, it’s easy to be consumed by the visuals. In an industry obsessed with the next big thing in video resolution, filmmakers often omit the importance of sound. As a documentary filmmaker, I’m always listening to the room. Something playing in the background could be an indicator of the general tone of your subject: consider it a gift.
While filming Venom & Fire, I asked the daughter to sing her favorite hymn for me. I recorded her and captured what would become the theme for the film. By setting it against simple Dobro slide chording, it came to life.
Trust your emotions
Music has the power to shape your mood. The human experience has a broad range of emotions that you have been experiencing your whole life. Fear, joy, depression, and angst come naturally – so will the music. When you are selecting tracks to support or drive a story, allow yourself the space to feel the music. When you share a rough cut with people, ask them how it made them feel.
In an attempt to inspire my native Cincinnati, I carefully selected tracks for my short film Art & Craft: A Tale of Beer and Brushes. At the premiere, over 500 hometown supporters erupted into applause and you could feel the sense of pride in the room. With the wrong music, it would have just been some pretty pictures and an interesting interview.
As I think about my experience that day in the hills of Appalachia, I recall the charismatic sights and sounds. Although the people and stories were intriguing, it’s the music that haunts me. I witnessed something mystical, beautiful, and I will never forget what that sound looks like.
Brandon is the director of LEAPframe, a Cincinnati-based video production company.
Multimedia Systems: What is Multimedia?
Creating a multitrack from David Bartolo in Adobe Audition
Amplitube tutorial: Exploring amp and FX settings | lynda.com
DSN Animation: What Is Sound?
Thomas Edison and the use of cylinders, Phonograph
Emile Berliner and the use of discs, Gramophone and the introduction of amplification and filtering.
Bop till You Drop is Ry Cooder’s eighth album, released in 1979. The album was the first digitally recordedmajor-label album in popular music. Bop till You Drop was recorded on a digital 32-track machine built by 3M.
Making Waves: the visualisation of sound is shown as a wave. When a loud speaker vibrates it moves the air that generates sound waves.
Amplitude: how loud a song seems will depend on it amplitude and is measured in decibels or dB.
Wavelength: the distance between wave peaks or troughs
Period is how long one cycle takes in seconds, could be 0.25 of a second.
Resonance: where a wave is reinforced at the right time. The resonance frequency of a container is reached then the sound will become suddenly louder, like when you run your finger around the rim of a wine glass.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse “Gallopin’ Gertie”
Sample Rate: how many times a second it is sampled, like video is frames or the speed at which the samples are collected. If the sound is sampled at more than twice the frequency contained in the sound you capture all the sound. CD’s = 44.1 kHz or 44,100 samples of music every second, professional audio at 48 kHz such as video. Can go as high as 96kHz, some people are capturing at 88.2 kHz which is twice 44.1 kHz and can cut in half for a CD.
Sample Rate Comparison
Bit Depth: the number of bits used to store the sound, 8, 16, 24 or 32-bit float. This determines the dynamic range of the file, the amount of information or sound levels that can be stored, the hight the bit depth the more information or dynamic range.
dB: how loud 2 sounds are with respect to one another, referring to the ratio of one sound level to another. The maximum sound level for a piece of equipment is often designated as 0dB.
VU Meter is a device displaying a representation of the signal level in audio equipment, averaging out peaks and troughs of short duration and reflects more the perceived loudness of the material.
Distortion: is usually the alteration of the original wave shape and thus the sound. A typical example is when the sound wave has been clipped when the level is too high.
Speech audio sample of clipping caused by poor amplifier quality or selection
Compression: or Dynamic range compression, also called audio level compression, in which the dynamic range, the difference between loud and quiet, of an audio waveform is reduced.
File Formats: can be unchanged or compressed by either removing some of the audio or by cleverly merging sounds.
- uncompressed: e.g. wav, diff, BWF
- lossless compression file formats: e.g. wma, m4a, flac, ape, WavPack, Monkey’s Audio, ALAC
A lossless compressed format stores data in less space without losing any information. The original, uncompressed data can be recreated from the compressed version.
- lossy compression file formats: e.g. mp3, verbs, AAC
Lossy compression enables even greater reductions in file size by removing some of the audio information and simplifying the data.
An early example of this was on the soundtrack Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, in which up to 90 overdubs were made to allow 1 person (Oldfield) to seem to play a large number of instruments simultaneously. Tubular Bells was largely responsible for the early success of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.
History of Multitracking is a process where the tape is divided into multiple audio tracks parallel with each other. Because they are carried on the same medium, the tracks stay in perfect synchronisation.
Creating a multitrack from David Bartolo in Adobe Audition
HELPFUL and INTERESTING RESOURCES, BITS AND PIECES
AUDIO JUNGLE Royalty free music and audio tracks from $1
AUDIO NETWORK Music that tells your story. 120,000+ original tracks, cleared for use on any platform, anywhere in the world, forever
AUDIOMICRO: 2,000+ free sound effects
The Daily Wav: great resource for sound clips
FIND SOUNDS: a free site when you can search the Web for sound effects
FREE TECHNOLOGY for TEACHERS: 7 Sources of Free Sounds for Multimedia Projects
HONGKIAT: Sound effects, 55 Great Websites To Download Free Sound Effects
INCOMPETECH: royalty free music
JAMENDO MUSIC: The independent music community
“You can hear the roar of a space shuttle launch or Neil Armstrong’s ‘One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind’ every time you get a phone call,”
PRODUCTIONTRAX Productiontrax is a community of creative people like you who are dedicated to producing amazing music and sound effects, stock audio and production elements you can use free from worry. We believe that all of your projects, no matter how big or small, deserve the best royalty free content so that you can tell your story the way you envisioned.
PSSOUND: the sound encyclopaedia, free sound clips, royalty free sound, public domain sounds
PluralEyes Audio/Video sync in Seconds
SOUND BIBLE: has thousands of free sound effects for everyone. Browse our extensive sound library and pick and choose the sounds you want. Sounds are updated 3x a week or more.
SOUNDDOGS: downloadable sound effects
SOUND JAY: allowed to use the sounds on our website free of charge and royalty free in your projects but you are NOT allowed to post the sounds on any web site for others to download, link directly to individual audio files or sell the sounds to anyone else.
SOURCE FORGE: Audacity a free multi-track audio editor and recorder
SOUNDSNAP: sound effects and loops
FAMOUS SOUND CLIPS: