Field Notes: 5 Directors Discuss 5 Ways Music Is Misused In Film

Since starting our Field Notes interview series this year, we've had the incredible opportunity to hear from our creative community of filmmakers and musicians. We've heard and shared stories about their experiences creating film, what worked, what didn't work, and ultimately coming out the other end with a powerful piece of art in tow.

In effort to compile some insightful information from this past year, we present 5 ways that music is misused in film and what can be done about it...


1. Using one entire track from start to finish without editing.

One common pitfall that filmmakers have with soundtracks is applying one song that spans the entire film.  Tim Kemple—Co-Founder of adventure film company Camp4 Collective—agreed in our interview with him in October. “Oh man…I am so done with the ‘music video edit.’ You know those short web videos that use an entire track from start to finish and simply lay picture on top. We’ve all done it." He continued by saying "Music [is] a key component to evoking the right emotion in different parts of the film...Sometimes I’ll go out and shoot specifically towards a song that I love. Other times I won’t use music at all. In the end sound (including music) is the most overlooked aspect of a film of any length.

When working on the Curiosity project for The North Face, he "boarded the edit into different acts and had the mood we wanted to achieve in the different parts of our film."

Each film ebbs and flows with different emotions that require different moods from the soundtrack. Kemple expressed that filmmaking is not just about pretty pictures, it's about capturing a raw, human story with music weaving in and out of it. He shared a homework assignment: "The next time you see a great film… close your eyes and just listen - I suspect you’ll find that the sound is more present then you ever imagined. 

Read the full interview with Tim Kemple here.


2. Using stock music

At Marmoset, we believe in real music crafted by real people. It just makes for better, authentic art. In our recent interview with filmmaker, Truen Pence of Instrument, he stated that he's "not a fan of “stock” sounding music" and thinks there's "an “Apple advertisements” style of music that has become our new elevator music in our industry and I’m not usually a fan of it." Pence concluded that he thinks "we’ll look back on this time period and get a laugh out of it. When you hear it you’ll know it.”

We whole-heartily agree. We pride ourselves with the amazing roster of bands that we work with and the soulful music they create. Real music has the power to move people, especially when it perfectly balances what's on screen. When reflecting on his work on the Levi's Commuter series, he stated that "music has the ability to push the picture in a completely different direction. I like the juxtaposition of elements, pairings unexpected combinations of music and sound and feel those are the moments that you remember. Sometimes our job is to push an emotion just a little further or at times just sit in the back seat and let the viewer make their own emotional connection and those decisions are important."

Read the whole interview with Truen Pence here.


3. Playing it safe

The creation of art is about taking risks. The collaboration of music and film is no exception. Filmmaker, Clayton Worfolk of Heist makes this point clear in our November interview with him: “I think music is often used to set a tone as opposed to complementing what’s already there. I think it’s also easy to fall into the trap of playing it safe with music - using the predictable genres of particular types of work.” To Worfolk, the perfect soundtrack is all about rhythm. "Music (and sound design) are crucial elements in helping to establish rhythm. It’s amazing to see how different scenes, be they montages or dialogue-driven passages, change when put to different music."

Clayton's mini-documentary about prison baseball for The New York Times was all about rhythm and juxtaposition. He paired a serene and ambient soundtrack to the gritty landscape of San Quentin Prison. This created a powerful, unpredictable film that demanded the viewers full attention.

Read the full interview with Clayton Worfolk here.


4. Forcing the mood

Music plays a critical role in supporting the emotional moment in a scene, not exaggerating it. Filmmaker, Will Saunders reflects on this point in our October interview: “Music can be misused in film because it can conflict with what’s actually being presented with what’s actually occurring. You can force people a certain way through music, even though your film doesn’t coincide with the mood.” He continued by stating that "this is where pushing yourself to be an exceptional filmmaker comes into play. Music elevates film, but it does not dominate it.” We couldn't agree more.

Saunders inspiring, personal portraits —including the one he made for UNC Health Care—lets both the music and visuals speak for themselves, creating one cohesive and inspiring film.

Read the whole interview with Will Saunders here.


5. Mismatching music with the flow of the film

Like each story has an arc, pacing and energy, films move in the same way. When the energy of the soundtrack isn't on the same page as the visuals, it can be a confusing viewing experience. Ben Fullerton, a filmmaker and Co-Founder of Caveman Collective proved this point with a story of his own: “A little while back I saw a short piece that in many senses was very good– the characters, cinematography, and editing were all fantastic. But a few minutes in, the piece was obviously trying to build to a pinnacle moment, and the music just wasn’t having it. Instead of supporting the drama and pushing it forwards, the music was acting like an anchor. It was holding the film back and preventing me from feeling anything more than I had a minute before.”

As a musician himself, Fullerton takes the role of music in film seriously and found great use of our search filters to help him find the perfect soundtrack to his film below.

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