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!

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