Music forms a key part of any movie. In fact, the first movies were made entirely of only sound. Before the birth of recorded sounds, silent films were accompanied by classical music played by a live orchestra. Today, music continues to play a big role in filmmaking despite recorded dialogue. Selecting music to aid in carrying film narrative is a real skill. These include film scores and soundtracks. But what are their differences?
What is a film score?
Film scores have been described by different terms such as underscore, film score music, scoring, or simply just “scores”. But, what exactly is a score?
A score is a piece of music specially composed for use in visual media such as a film. Scores are typically orchestral pieces put together with strings, percussion, and classical instruments.
Modern scores however include electronic instruments. Unlike the typical traditional film score, they express a more current and unique sound. The purpose of film scores is to support particular scenes in the movie - to add to the gravitas of a scene or to lighten the mood in the narrative.
Film scoring is like filmmaking
Who writes the film score? It is composed by someone known as a film score composer. Film composers are like classical music composers. They are perhaps the replacement of classical music, which failed to see any progression or new music. Except film score composers are specifically trained in the art of creating music for the film.
Film score composers usually work long hours in order to create the best, original music for a film. This often involves lengthy back and forth discussions with the director to nail down the right sound and musical pieces for the movie.
Usually, the film director and editor decide exactly when and where music should be placed within each scene of a film. Ideally, the music should support the relationships between the movie characters or send a particular message to the audience that is not expressed in the dialogue.
There are two types of scores: background and featured. The majority of scores are background score music. Background scores are to be noticed but do not grab the attention of the audience. They support the storyline without distracting the viewer.
Featured score music on the other hand, is usually placed in a scene where there is no dialogue and the music is a lot more upfront and noticeable. Featured score music is commonly used in montage scenes where no one is speaking, but there is music and action within the scene.
Budget film scores
Not every filmmaker has the budget to hire a film composer to create original compositions for the movie. This is where stock music comes to rescue the budget filmmaker.
With music licensing, film directors, producers, and editors can license premade music, such as scores, through online music libraries. These music libraries offer time-saving and money for filmmakers who have no time to wait for custom-made music pieces.
What is a soundtrack?
Soundtracks are different from film scores. These are songs created by music bands and artists for the purpose of releasing albums. Songs may include vocals or could just be an instrumental piece. They also fall into music genres such as rock, alternative, synth-pop, post-rock, pop, and several others.
While songs are written primarily for album releases, scores are composed specifically for visual media and film. Another big difference is how they are distributed. Film scores are released in films while songs are distributed to online streaming sites, CDs, and classic vinyl records.
A band or an artist would spend about 1 to 2 years working on an album with around 10 to 15 songs. A film score composer would spend about a month creating music for a feature film and the demands and commitment is long but of a shorter duration than a music album.