Background Music and Sound Effects In Movies: How They Work and Where to Get Them

Anyone with even a passing interest in the cinema knows the importance of sound effects (SFX) and background music, that’s even if they don’t realize it.

Those who have watched more than their fair share of films developed a subconscious ear for what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the scoring of movies and TV shows. Of course, that goes for all types of visual media.

It’s one of those things that you’ll instantly know is of kilter if not done well and something we appreciate instantly when it’s done well. Some may consider the soundtrack to a film or video project to be somehow of less importance than the visuals, but that’s absolutely not the case.

Background Music and Sound Effects In Movies

In many ways, the two need to act in a symbiotic relationship, one feeding off the other, for the partnership to successfully come to fruition. It’s not an easy task but one that is greatly aided by providers of the relevant music and Sound effects at an inexpensive rate (more on this later).

Sound Effects, Score & Soundtrack: What’s What?

Let’s start with some terminology information. When you hear someone referencing sound effects (SFX), this covers a wide range of things. This can be SFX used to replicate a natural phenomenon or add something you couldn’t get on the shoot itself.

A film’s score is music used as ‘background’ sound. When expertly used, it will almost feed directly to your brain. Without it, your film and video project will feel almost hollow and two-dimensional.

That leaves a soundtrack, and this is usually considered the music you add that is not incidental and is part of the overall soundscape you are creating. Think Quentin Tarantino’s soundtrack choices, which have become an artform in themselves, tracks like ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ (the famous ear slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs) and ‘Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon’ (the track playing before Uma Thurman’s overdose in Pulp Fiction).

Martin Scorsese is another master of this art, though, of course, both directors get more than a little input and help from their respective music consultants.

Setting The Mood and Increasing the Tension

SFX and score can be used superbly to ramp up the tension or to bring the audience to the edge of their seats.

Think about a classic horror film scenario, a creaking door, footsteps above, the slashing of a knife, all excellent SFX additions. Then add to the mix an eerie score that is at times completely silent and then brought to life with an intense crescendo of noise.

Or a car chase in a thriller, where your overall soundscape needs screeching tires, up-tempo music and maybe throw in an explosion or two, maybe the smashing of a windscreen.

When done right, you’ll add a great deal of realism to your film or video project, and if done perfectly, it will leave your audience gripped. You can also bring a sense of an increase in production values when you use your audio well.

Knowing the Genre

A big part of successfully putting together your film or video project’s soundscape is knowing the genre you are working within. There are certain rules that have become synonymous with different types of production your feature might fall within and other aspects that will become apparent as you put your project together.

If the look and feel of your project is deliberately insular or maybe ‘indie’ in nature, your overall sound might be understated. Or perhaps your project is looking to be grand and plentiful, and therefore you are looking for an epic score and perhaps even an exaggerated use of SFX.

Setting the Right Pace

In much the same way as the visuals, script, and narrative of your project need to be well-paced to better serve the overall story you are telling, the same is true of the soundtrack you are creating.

This means you don’t need to layer things too thickly; sometimes (in fact, very often), less is more. Just because you found that great track doesn’t necessarily mean it will go well with your opening sequence.

Learn the pace of your visuals and match them with the soundtrack accordingly. In other words, you want to be noticed but not seen.

Putting Together Your Own Soundtrack

Due to strict licensing laws that protect musicians from having their music used without their permission and payment, you may find it easier and more cost-effective to use royalty-free music to put together the soundtrack and SFX for your production.

Royalty-free music is offered by relevant providers for a fixed one-off payment that clears it for use in any of your chosen projects. There’s, therefore, no risk of accidentally using music that you don’t have the relevant license for, which happens more often than you might think.

Also, the best royalty-free music providers have massive libraries of musical content that make it much easier to find the tracks and SFX that work best for any particular scene in your film or video.

This musical output is usually available for a relatively inexpensive fee that’s part of a subscription you sign-up for. This can be doubly useful if you regularly produce content and therefore are always on the lookout for great tracks, samples, and effects for your projects.

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About the author

Vidya Menon

Vidya is an online content developer for Justwebworld. She has a BA in English Language and Literature and an MA in Current Linguistics. She is a passionate reader, writer and researcher with a background in academic writing.