How to Match the Music to Your Movie – Secrets of a Music Supervisor and Film Composer

So you’ve finally put together a great script, a team, and have even shot some of your scenes. You’re beginning to think about Post-Production, the editing and final touches to your film… and whoa, what about the music? Should you hire a composer? What about a music supervisor? What to do?

So many filmmakers find themselves in this position. As evidenced by any visit to a filmmaker’s industry panel or workshop, there is inevitably someone who is 90% finished but still has not thought about where to get the music either original custom scoring or licensed songs and soundtrack.

So with that in mind, here’s a quick overview of how to match music to your film.

1) Who is the intended audience?

Who are you aiming for to watch your film. The tighter your focus the better. Don’t just say everyone. Really think about who would most enjoy and even tell others and promote and evangelize your great work. These are your die-hards and your core audience. After all, creating something is about connecting with your audience. Who is your audience?

2) What emotion do you want to convey?

Music is cool in that it is invisible and yet so powerful. It’s like the magic weapon of master communicators. Just look at the advertising industry. 99% of the 30 second television spots have music or some form of enhanced sound design acting as music. The music is what carries the emotion. It bypasses the logical, judgmental left brain and goes straight to the core of emotion. You wouldn’t see people crying in the movies without the music – guaranteed. You can try this experiment at home. Watch some horror flick or thriller and turn down or even mute the sound. You wouldn’t be jumping in your seat. In fact, here’s a great test. Turn on a film like Friday the 13th with the sound off. Then, turn on a CD of something like Django Rheinhardt or Dixieland swing or some thing like that song by Katrina & the Waves & “Walking on Sunshine”. Pretty interesting juxtaposition. And this is what music supervisors and composers do all the time. They think about what the subtext of the scene and the entire arc of the film is and they match it musically.

3) Limit Your Universe.

Now you need to limit the choices of music/emotion you want to communicate. In a scene by scene list, you can start writing keywords. For a thriller, you may want to write words like fear, anxiety. There needs to be a release from the tension somewhere too. By creating this list prior to your spotting session, you have a way of communicating to your team whether that’s your editor, a composer, producer, music supervisor, etc. The spotting session is where you watch the film scene by scene and discuss where music should be and, just as important, where there should be no music.

4) It’s All About Timing

The late great film composer Jerry Goldsmith remarked, “It’s all about the timing.”80% of the job is carried by matching the tempo of the scene. This starts to get pretty specific and each composer or music supervisor will have their own take, but generally there is an established rhythm to a scene based on the edits and the overall context of where we are in the story.