The act of matching music to a great film, or indeed scene, is an art form and one that some directors are much more adept at than others. There are instances where the marriage of a single track and the visuals is so intrinsically satisfying that it can elevate the entire movie to a different sphere.
The use of music in movies traditionally falls into two categories. Songs that previously existed and are used to fit certain aspects of the movie itself or songs that were specifically written for the film itself. The art of finding the right track, or writing one, isn’t as easy as you might think.
Clearly most major productions employ music supervisors specifically for this part of the scoring of a movie. It’s worth noting that the use of existing music throws up a number of additional issues a production must take into account when it comes to music licensing, and these aspects are time-consuming and can be incredibly expensive.
There are films that make music the centerpiece and others that use certain tracks like dabs of paint on a canvas, in order to add weight to scenes and visuals. Some directors are well known for this and can lean on specific artists and bands that they commonly use.
The Five Best Uses of Songs in Movies
Layla – Goodfellas
Martin Scorsese has always been partial to using similar types, and musicians, for his setpieces and this one is nothing short of spectacular. Layla, by Derek and the Dominoes (fronted by Eric Clapton), majestically overlays a scene of destruction in Goodfellas.
The song plays as we see a number of characters dealt with in particularly cruel and abrupt ways. The track really makes the scene stand out, even within the confines of a masterpiece.
Stuck in the Middle with You – Reservoir Dogs
There are instances when the music is so synonymous with a scene in a movie that it’s hard to imagine it in any other context. Here the music is playing on the radio in the background as a particularly sadistic Michael Madsen is brutally torturing a cop in an abandoned warehouse.
Everything about the scene is timed to perfection. The tune is light and playful and that somehow adds menace to the situation, especially when Madsen decides to communicate via the ear he has removed from the hapless policeman.
Don’t You Forget About Me – The Breakfast Club
John Hughes, who penned and directed this 80s classic, always managed to squeeze in classic tracks into his movies and this one by Simple Minds is perhaps the most well-known usage in his films.
The song was written specifically for the movie and perfectly encapsulates the overall ethos and messaging of the movie. This usage is less about a specific scene and more about the context and mood it sets. Unsurprisingly the song went to number one in the US charts.
Stayin Alive’ – Saturday Night Fever
As far as a song, or a soundtrack, being the beating heart of a movie this is perhaps the clearest example of just how crucial music can be to a movie. Without the Bee Gees soundtrack, this movie would pretty much be meaningless.
This particular track plays as we are first introduced to ‘stud’ Tony Manero and even if you’ve never seen the film, you know the song and the dance moves associated with it. The soundtrack to the movie sold over 16 million copies in the US alone!
I’ve Had the Time of My Life – Dirty Dancing
Another 80s classic movie that was fronted by an awesome song that basically makes the movie. Whatever you think of the film, and many find Dirty Dancing to be a ridiculous mess, you still know the theme song and the scenes where it hit home, that is the power of music when perfectly complementing a scene.
It’s no surprise that the song, sung by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, won the Oscar for best original song in 1987. Given that the whole movie is about music and dance as an expression of self, the importance of having a lead track to sell the film can’t be overstated. One wonders if Dirty Dancing would have become such a cultural cornerstone if that one song wasn’t written for it.
These are just five noted examples of how a single song can speak for an entire movie and while there are countless other great uses of tracks in films, it’s not an easy skill to master.
Clearly, it helps in Hollywood terms as they can easily access, pay for and secure permission for the tracks they think will work best for their films. If you don’t happen to be Tarantino on Scorsese, then you’ll have to find other ways to ably score your film soundtrack.
The use of royalty-free music is one, solid, path to consider. Doing so will provide you with a mountain of great tracks, and SFX (Sound Effects), for use in your film and video projects. All for an inexpensive subscription fee and without the need to worry about securing additional licenses.
This is perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective way of scoring your project effectively and the quality of music offered, especially from the best providers, is of a very high standard indeed. Therefore, there is no compromise in going down this route.