Want Your Music to be Original? Aim to be a Soundtrack

With all the music floating around online, it’s hard not to think that much of it all sounds the same. The average hip-hop and pop songs follow the same formulas as the chart-topping hits but sacrifice on catchiness, dance and house music use the same underlying bass beats for every song, and metal bands throw in predictable screams and breakdowns whenever possible. This is a gross generalization, but it holds true for a large percentage of newly released music. How do we change this?

Now that I think of the much-anticipated TRON: LEGACY soundtrack by Daft Punk and their ensuing world tour, I wonder if there would be more good music out there if bands thought of their music as a soundtrack. Many bands, regardless of whether their music is ever used for a film, write concept albums that follow a certain lyrical and musical theme to keep the flow from track to track fluid. If artists focus on the shifting dynamics of scenes in a movie, they might be able to transfer the same emotional impact of a film’s storyline to their music.

Think of your favorite movies and the way the music contributes to the overall cinematic experience. Some of my favorite movies get the music just right—Dazed and Confused, Pulp Fiction, and Run Lola Run each have a soundtrack that makes you feel the right emotions at the right time (suspense, tearfulness, nostalgia, and poignancy are some words that come to mind). Often times when I listen to a particularly powerful song I picture how it would fit into a movie scene. Are the ebbs and troughs perfect for the shifting dynamics of an action or suspense scene? Does the emotion in the vocals mirror the feelings in a climactic scene of a love story? Is the production on this song retro enough for a Tarantino film?

My suggestion to artists, whether as a true way to create music or merely as an experimentation into their own creativity, is to watch a movie and ignore the music that is already in it. Think about how you would make the soundtrack to a horror film, romantic comedy, or action flick. Since dynamics in music play a key role in the emotions we feel while listening to a song, we might find new ideas in how to approach songcraft by taking a nod from our favorites movies.