Incidental Music

Incidental Music: def. (noun)- music used in a film as a background to create or enhance a particular atmosphere, otherwise known as a score

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Score vs. Soundtrack

Hello everyone! Today, I want to discuss a question that might seem to have a straight forward answer...but perhaps not! For the most recent Twilight movie and for many other movies, there is a soundtrack album and a score album. So, what is the different between a score and a soundtrack?

Let's start with the basic dictionary and Wikipedia definitions. According to Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster, a soundtrack is "a recording of the musical accompaniment to a movie." A score, however, is "music composed for a movie." Wikipedia's definitions expand on this a little- a soundtrack is "recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture" and a score is "original music written specifically to accompany a film." OK, so what's the difference? If the soundtrack is a recording of the musical accompaniment to the film, and if the score is the music written to accompany a film, then there's really no difference between a soundtrack and a score, right? Well, yes and no.

For many movies, it's true that the soundtrack and the score are the exact same thing-"Lincoln" has no other music accompanying it except  for John William's divinely inspired melodies, so therefore, its score is its soundtrack! In other cases, however, there is more music accompanying the film besides the music written specifically for it. In these cases, a score is written by one person, usually for an orchestra. His/her music plays constantly in the background of the movie with full versions of each track. A soundtrack, however, contains songs by various different artists and most, if not all, of these songs were not written specifically for the movie. These songs are usually not orchestral songs, and each track only has a small portion of it played throughout the movie.

Here's how this whole thing works: I loved the movie "Shrek" when I was a kid and I still love it. It's got a gorgeous score written by Harry Gregson Williams and John Powell. (see here: Shrek Score Suite) But "Shrek" also has a soundtrack. Remember that opening scene where Shrek's brushing his teeth with slug slime and Smashmouth is belting out "All Star" in the background? Or Shrek and Donkey's epic journey to Princess Fiona's castle accompanied by The Proclaimers singing "I'm On My Way"? Or John Cale's heart rending version of "Hallelujah" behind images of sad Princess Fiona and sad Shrek after he's given her over to Lord Farquaad? These songs are part of the soundtrack, not the score. You only hear snippets of these songs, and they're not orchestral music. These songs are also written by multiple artists and they aren't exclusive for the movie. For instance, "All Star" is also on the soundtrack to another kids' movie-"Inspector Gadget." 

These distinctions between the soundtrack and the score mostly hold true, but of course, there are exceptions. For example, I mentioned "Breaking Dawn: Part Two" earlier. It does indeed have a soundtrack and a score...but all the songs on the soundtrack were written by those artists specifically for the movie, so that distinction is null. The soundtrack, in that case, is written by lots of people, it's not orchestral, and the songs are played in short sound clips throughout the movie. Actually, I think some of those songs actually aren't even in the movie at all, which kinda makes me wonder why they're even there. Another exception is "Moonrise Kingdom," which has an orchestral score written specifically for the film by Alexandre Desplat...but that score doesn't get an album of its own because it's very short.  It's included on a soundtrack album with the rest of the songs from the film, which weren't written specifically for the film. This begs the question...why release two different albums for the score and soundtrack anyway? It's all mu

The answer is probably that the studios want more money. They try to squeeze as much as they can out of you by releasing two albums at a low/medium price instead of one album at a high price to trick you into buying both (a trick which I have definitely fallen for multiple times). I'd prefer to believe, however, that although it might be more lucrative, it also gives appreciation and acknowledgement to all artists involved in proportion to their work on the film. The soundtrack artists, though their music adds a lot to the film, usually give one song each so they're all compiled together on one album. The movie music composer often contributes over an hour of music to the film with many, many tracks, so there's a special album just for him/her :) I generally prefer the score to the soundtrack...but then again, I do write about film scores, so that shouldn't be a surprise!

Well, that's all I have for you this week! Comment below with your thoughts on scores vs. soundtracks: Am I right or did I get the answer completely wrong? Let me know! Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving in advance! I hope you've all got fantastic plans for the holiday that involve spending time with those you love :) Next week, look for reviews of the scores for Breaking Dawn Part Two and Anna Karenina, as well as some other topic yet to be determined!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Composer of the Month and Skyfall/Lincoln Score Reviews

Hi! Welcome to post #3!

First, our composer of the month is...John Williams! Two reasons why: First, he released a beautiful new score this month (to be discussed later). Second, and more importantly, I think everyone who wants to know about film music needs to know about him. If there was a god of movie music, it'd be him. So, who is John William anyway? Well, I've spent this week learning about him and his life, and I realized that I didn't actually know the answer to that question as well as I thought!

John Williams was born in Long Island, New York on February 8, 1932. He learned how to play piano at a very young age, and by the time he moved to L.A. at age 16, he was the leader of his own jazz band and arranging music. His ambition was to be a concert pianist, and at age 19, he debuted his first original piece of music.

After going to UCLA and Los Angeles City College, he studied orchestration and music composition under film music writers of the time. He conducted for the first time when he was drafted into the Air Force, where he arranged music and conducted for the Air Force Band for three years. After his military service, he studied piano playing at Julliard and worked in jazz clubs to pay the bills. After some years there, he moved back to L.A. where he found work in Hollywood as a film studio orchestrator, working on television show music and on movie music.

His first film score was for "Daddy-O" in 1958, popularized by Mystery Science Theater 3000 for being, well, a terrible film ( if you're interested in watching some MST3K). The score itself isn't necessarily brilliant, but it reveals William's strong background in jazz. He continued scoring throughout the 1960s, mostly on comedies, but then, in 1971, he won his first Oscar for his orchestration of the musical Fiddler on the Roof!  Isn't that awesome? I didn't know he worked on that movie, let alone won an Oscar for it!

The 1970s were a pretty awesome time for Williams. He began his friendship with Steven Spielberg in the early years of the decade and won an Oscar in 1975 for his collaboration with Spielberg on "Jaws"- After that, he worked with a guy named George Lucas on a movie called "Star Wars" and won an Oscar for that too in 1977. The "Star Wars" score is widely regarded as the score that changed movie music forever, bringing back the epic cinema sound that had characterized film scores in the 1930s and 1940s. It is still the best selling score  of all time- The big, brassy sound you hear in the opening credits to Star Wars came to be known as Williams' characteristic sound.

His career continued gloriously. He wrote for the rest of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, "Superman," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and "E.T." (Oscar winning). He also wrote for the first three Harry Potter films, "Schindler's List"(Oscar winning), "Jurassic Park," and many many more. He continues to score films to this day, at 80 years old! That's amazing and basically confirms my belief that the music business keeps people young forever and ever.

All in all, Williams has written well over a hundred scores, been nominated for an Academy Award over fifty times, and has won five times (which if you ask me, is insulting considering his INCREDIBLE work). There has never been any one like him in the film score business, and I very much doubt there ever will be, considering the sheer length of time he's been scoring and the amount of scores he's written. I love so much of his work that I really couldn't pick a favorite. And his music only seems to be improving with age. His most recent scores are some of his best ever in my opinion.

Well, that's John Williams in a nutshell! Challenge this week-Go find his music and listen to it! There's tons of if on Spotify and Youtube and Pandora and all those good free music listening sites. Comment below with what score of his you listened to and what you think about him!

Now, onto a couple reviews of scores that were released this week.
  • "Skyfall" by Thomas Newman. Hm. I have mixed feelings on this one. First, let me say that I listened to the score before I saw the movie, and I didn't really like it too much. Then, I saw the movie, and well, it's still not my favorite Bond score. "Casino Royale" still wins that battle. But the "Skyfall" score definitely works so much better in context, and I like it A LOT more after seeing it in action. It accompanies the movie quite well and puts the right feelings in the right places. There's lots of driving beats to keep the tension high with stringed instruments and percussion as the baseline and horns entering to escalate and blast out hints of the Bond theme. Particularly in the action scenes, Newman favors low strings-basses and cellos. Newman also uses appropriate instruments to fit the settings of the various scenes, sometimes exotic, sometimes not. (I won't give the settings to avoid spoilers, but if you listen to the score, you should be able to guess!). My favorite tracks are "Severine,"  "Tennyson," "Brave New World," Komodo Dragon," and "Breadcrumbs." Purchasing suggestion? Listen on Spotify and buy your favorite tracks like I did.
    • Fun Fact About my listening habits: Often, I'm doing something else like doing homework or making dinner while I'm listening to scores. The tracks that force me to stop what I'm doing and listen again are usually the ones that end up my favorites :)   

  • "Lincoln" by John Williams. I've already made it known that I adore Williams, so it really shouldn't be a surprise that I love this score. Now, I haven't seen the movie yet, but the story of Lincoln's life is very familiar to me after learning about him so much in school. I have a pretty good idea of about the kind of moods the score should evoke. For the most part, the score should put the audience in the Civil War era with its instruments and inspire in them admiration, sadness, respect, reverence, and awe for this great man. I felt all of that from the first 30 seconds of the score. In fact, um, I teared up during the first 30 seconds. It's just really beautiful! Those of you familiar with Williams' work will find it reminiscent of his "War Horse" score. I don't have a favorite track. I love the whole thing, so I'll just highlight a few tracks. "The American Process" has a really lovely woodwind section-oboes, clarinets, flutes, and bassoons. Then, Williams brings it all down to a simple piano line. He does that quite a bit in this, working with a number of instruments then bringing the melody to a single instrument. In "The Southern Delegation and the Dream," the instrument is a trumpet for a large part of the it, then a french horn. In "Freedom's Call," the instrument is a violin.  For me, this single instrument evokes the image of Lincoln standing up amidst a crowd and giving speeches. Another track worth noting is "Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom," which begins with a drum beat and a piccolo, and continues with a full choir singing Battle Cry of Freedom, an anthem for the Union during the Civil War. There's a couple fun fiddling tracks as well-"Getting Out the Vote" and "The Race to the House."  Purchasing suggestions? Buy the whole score and listen to it all the time. It's worth your money. 
Well, that's all I have for you today! Thanks for reading! Remember to listen to the wonderful John Williams this week and comment below with what you listened to and what you like/don't like about his music. Maybe you don't think he's a genius at all, but a terrible composer! Let me know. Also, please listen to the two scores above and feel free to tell me what YOU think-I'd like to hear your opinions! Talk to you soon!
(John Williams Biography courtesy of and

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Female Composers (Or Lack Thereof) and November Film Scores

Hi everyone! First of all, HUGE thanks to you who are reading this and following me on Facebook or Tumblr. I'm super excited about starting this blog and writing about something I really love. So thanks for joining me!

Today, I'd like to address a comment I made in my first post: one of the factors that contributes to my low chances of being a film score composer is that "I'm not a man." Why should that make a difference? Well, let's begin with a generic list of the 100 greatest film score composers of all time from (it's a very debatable list, but it's a good illustration of the point I'm making) See that one little red arrow? It's pointing to the ONLY woman on the list.

You might be thinking, "There must be more out there...maybe they just aren't considered 'great'?" Well, let's go even more basic-how about a Wikipedia article?  It's true that there are more female film composers out there in the world...but not many. This page lists at least 500 score composers - 38 are women ( Not only is that an astonishingly low number, but based on further research, very few of them actually compose for movies. Most are just composers of their own independent music. Apparently, it's not just film music that suffers a lack of females. Orchestral music in general needs more estrogen!

I really can't believe there are so few female composers, and I have to wonder...why? Thankfully, there are plenty of answers to this question because I'm not the only one who's noticed this problem. I found many articles discussing this issue, and I've posted the links to my three favorites at the bottom of the paragraph if you'd like to read them. The New York Times article, written by Anthony Tommasini, gives two reasons which I think are valid. First reason?  "Deep-seated male chauvinism" from the 1700s and before claiming that women couldn't compose music as well as men. Second reason? "Until relatively recent times, musicians, ensembles and musical institutions were overwhelmingly male" because women weren't encouraged to play many of the orchestral therefore orchestras were less inclined to play music written by a mere female. Hm.  It seems that writing music is yet another field in which men were perceived better than women, and therefore won out. Now, I'm not a hard core feminist, but this gets me really upset, because I'm sure the world has lost some beautiful music because women were prevented from sharing it. Sigh.

The good news in all this? Well, maybe I shouldn't be so pessimistic about my own chances in movie music because it looks like things are slowly changing for women in orchestral music. There are now TONS of female musicians involved in orchestras and musical institutions. According to an 2011 article from Equilibrium, the Undergrad Journal for Economics at U-W Madison, women made up about 10% of the members of large orchestras in the US in 1980, but in 1997, they were up to 25% ( I couldn't find any more recent numbers, but if that kind of progress continued, I imagine orchestras are almost 50/50 now. Now, if that's the case (and as long as that male chauvinism is going away too), I think we can anticipate more female composers on the movie music scene very soon. At least I really hope so! This is an issue I'll be tracking as I write this blog and I'll make sure to let you guys know if a new female composer shows up!

As I was writing this post, I realized that I probably should have written about something much more basic and introductory. I mean, gosh, I haven't even covered the difference between a soundtrack and a score, or the process of scoring, or the many different people involved in taking a score from a melody to the screen, or a hundred other important things about scores! But, the reason I wanted to talk about this now is that this issue has been weighing on me for awhile. I also wanted to explain why there's no women when I start featuring composers in my writing. I'm going to have a composer of the month segment on this blog and also occasionally writing about some composers who've passed away who deserve to be remembered for their awesome work. Sadly, there are only two female composers that I know of who fit these categories, and in the coming months, I will write about them both. One's alive. The other...well...not. But more on that later, let's move on to film scores!

Another thing I will be doing on this blog is giving you all a heads up on new scores coming out in the month. So, it's November now, and here are the scores I'm looking forward to and will be listening to all month. This is a really good month for movie score lovers, that's for sure! (The release date shown is the iTunes release date.)
  • November 6th-The Skyfall score, written by Thomas Newman. YAY NEW BOND MOVIE. I love Daniel Craig.  I'm a little nervous about this score because it's not written by David Arnold, the guy who's scored the last few Bond movies. But, this score preview has gotten me pretty excited, and I can't wait to hear the whole thing when it comes out!
  • November 19- The Breaking Dawn Part Two score, written by Carter Burwell. Yes, I know it's a Twilight movie, but that doesn't mean the music can't be fantastic! I was kinda disappointed in Burwell's score for the last Twilight movie. I mean, some tracks were good, but I just didn't think it was memorable, so I hope he does some wonderful things on this last Twilight outing of his. Here's a sample of his work on Breaking Dawn Part One--
  • November 6-The Lincoln score, written by John Williams. I take back my excitement for the new Bond movie and score, because everything about Lincoln screams greatness. You've got Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, which guarantees that the real Abraham Lincoln will be alive again onscreen because Lewis's acting is so good. The score...John Williams...the man who basically created all the iconic movie scores ever! Here's a preview of the score...just listen to it and you'll see why I literally can't wait.
  • November 19th-The Life of Pi score, written by Mychael Danna. This movie comes from a great book, and all the trailers for the movie look so visually stunning that I can't imagine it won't be accompanied by a similarly stunning score. Here's the score preview- So far, so good, I think! Nice use of beautiful vocals and unique instruments.
  • November 13(?)-The Anna Karenina score, written by Dario Marianelli. Again, another one that I'm very excited for, because I love the composer. Interesting Fact: He did the scores for Pride and Prejudice and Atonement...both also Keira Knightly movies like Anna Karenina! The score preview definitely gives off the dramatic Imperial Russia vibe of the Tolstoy novel, and I think it's going to be very lovely.
Well, this was a long post! Thanks again for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know your thoughts about female composers or about these upcoming scores in the comments below. Check back next week for our featured composer of the month and some of my first score reviews! Bye!