How Is Music Chosen For Feature Films?

Production,Songwriters,Synch No Comments

Today music has become an essential part of the film making process. In fact, music has become one of the primary factors in determining if a feature film is going to do well at the box office or not. But how is the music chosen for a feature film?

Today producers, a directors, agents, songwriters and composers all want to be involved in choosing the music you hear at the movies. Ultimately, however, the final decision rests with the producer — who is strongly influenced by his or her director. They are responsible for the final decision of which music will be used.

Movie music falls into three basic categories.

The first category is the underscore, or background music. Think of the haunting James Horner score for “Titanic,” John Williams’ lilting music for “ET” or Randy Newman’s whimsical score “Toy Story.”

The second category is specific songs used in the film. Sometimes producers decide on using preexisting songs that fit the mood of their film. A good example is the song “Hungry Heart” from Bruce Springsteen that was used in “The Perfect Storm” or the song “American Woman” by The Guess Who in the academy award winning “American Beauty.”

The third category is songs written specifically for a film. An example is the song “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Phil Collins who wrote it for the Disney film “Tarzan.”

Each of these categories involve very different negotiations. There are specific contracts for each category and royalties paid on the back end can vary widely.

Most strive to find music that will create a mood. Perhaps they are seeking music that will create the flavor of a certain period of place. Songs are often inserted in specific scenes to make the audience cry. Some songs are meant to elicit other emotions such as fear, excitement, sorrow or happiness.

Successful soundtracks add public interest to a film. Who doesn’t remember such monster soundtracks as “Saturday Night Fever” or “The Big Chill?” Film soundtracks have been among the best selling albums of all time.

Many times the songs that play while the opening credits are run are used by the producer and director to set the theme of the film. They infuse the film with a certain ambiance. As a result, these songs are frequently considered more important to the success of the film than other music used in the background.

Similarly, music used at the end of the film while the credits are rolling are important to the audience remembering the film. Today, more and more, multiple songs run over the end credits. This is done many times to allow additional songs to be included on the film’s soundtrack album.

A film producer who desires to include an existing song in his film has to first be granted the rights from the music publisher. After negotiations a fee agreement is reached. The fees collected by the music publisher are then shared with the songwriter and artists who perform the song. The music publisher agrees to a broad rights license or a synchronization agreement which grants the film studio the rights to use the song in the film which will be distributed to theaters worldwide. The film producers may also sell the film to television. They may also include the song in theatrical trailers and in promoting the film over radio, TV and Internet.

Much goes into choosing the music for major motion pictures. But what a wonderful thing it is to sit in the movie theater and hear the lilting theme of “Dr. Zhivago”, the snappy tunes of “Flashdance” or the beautiful voice of a young Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Truly movie soundtracks have become an important part of the soundtracks of our lives.

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