The Magic of the Movie Soundtrack and Why It Is a NOT Separate Genre

Do you often find yourself humming the intro for Game of Thrones, or is the theme from Mission Impossible your go-to song for when you are feeling sneaky? Do you happen to pop some of those amazing movie soundtracks on the background when you are reading or doing housework? Then you too are a fan of soundtracks and treat them as a distinct genre. And you are not alone. A lot of people develop real passions for the music they hear in movies and even keep soundtrack albums on their phones to listen whenever they feel like it. So, with such a solid fan base, how come soundtracks are not a distinct genre?


Why is it not a separate genre?

Record of a motion picture soundtrack

Record of a motion picture soundtrack

Because if you turned soundtracks into a separate genre, you would have to do the same for elevator music or supermarket music. Without running the risk of offending anyone, here is what we mean. A movie soundtrack can have all new songs, specially composed for some of the moments in the film, or it can use already existing music. And since movies are complex, you might need music from a variety of genres to cover all sound needs.

For example, a movie about Salsa dancers can have a lot of Salsa songs. You could introduce a new hit with the help of the movie or you can bring back an old classical song. The predominance of the Latin genre will be obvious in that movie. However, should any of the characters pass by a French café, go through a personal drama or make a sudden discovery, other types of music will accompany their emotions. These musical pieces will be from different genres. But chances are you will not notice this.

Between the most noticeable and least noticeable things about a movie

Speaking about not noticing some of the music on the background, don’t you find it amazing that sometimes soundtracks can make you feel uplifted, or you can miss them completely? This is the magic of the soundtrack. The movie producers are giving you cues as to which are the more emotional parts of the film. A dramatic breakup, a fight scene, a revelation, a love declaration will all have well-chosen, powerful songs on the background. Some that will jerk that tear a bit faster.

On the other hand, there is the music on the background when the character is doing day-to-day stuff, going through the motions, walking on a random street. And you should know that this music is just as well-chosen. However, they are keeping you at a neutral point with your emotions so they can build them up when it matters the most. And as you are watching the movie, you are letting them do this to you.

You can grow to love a composer just as much as you like singers

Stage set for a performance of Danny Elfman's 'Nightmare Before Christmas'

Stage set for a performance of Danny Elfman’s ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’

… if not more.
A song is a separate piece of creation. It means taking a distinct feeling and putting notes and lyrics onto it. It may tell a story, but it is usually taken out of context. By comparison, movie music is tied to the actions, the emotions of the characters, and the storyline. It is meant to enhance the feeling. Could you ever imagine Rocky’s training scene without Eye of the Tiger? Or would the Black Pearl push just as proudly through dangerous waters without the He’s a Pirate song in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’? Of course not! And simply knowing that someone composed the song and put it there specifically, creating a unique moment for you, the watcher, can only increase your appreciation of the work done.

Some soundtracks reinvent music as you used to know it

Does this sound a bit weird to you? Maybe it did if your favorite songs on movie soundtracks were songs that were afterwards marketed separately as well. What a Feelin’ comes to mind and so does the Who You Gonna Call ‘Ghostbusters’ song. So, while these songs went on to have success on their own, even among people who never saw the movie, there are the songs that make more sense when you know where the composer came from. This is not to say that a person could not find them beautiful without ever having seen the movie, but that the movie AND song experience is the real deal. Some examples we could mention here would be the Yann Tiersen ‘Amelie’ soundtrack or the songs on the ‘Titanic’ soundtrack.

Regular song vs. movie song

Orchestra performing Hans Zimmer music

Orchestra performing Hans Zimmer music

A regular song can be whatever you imagine it to be. And the possibilities are endless. A movie song, on the other hand, will always take you back to the movie moment. You will play it out in your head, reenact it a million times, and live out the strong emotions. One good example would be LP’s song Muddy Waters. This is an amazing song per se, but fans of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ TV show cannot help almost shed a tear as one of the movie characters was murdered to it in a more than epic season finale. No matter how intense and saddening a song might become for you, you will still listen to it with a lot more passion than you do a song you are less invested in.

When the music surpasses the movie

Time of Our Lives (‘Dirty Dancing’), I Will Always Love You (‘Bodyguard’), New York, New York (‘New York, New York’) are just some of the songs that have become more famous than the movies that first made them popular. There is the small issue of finding it easier to play a song on the radio, over and over again, so that it becomes popular for future generations as well. However, the movies may be left behind unless there is a real interest for them. Does this make the song less powerful for audiences? It seems not. Despite everything we said so far, it looks like music does overcome the message and the scene it initially had in the background.