Film scoring is the art and craft of creating original music to accompany a specific film, with the objective of furthering, complimenting, and elevating that film's story. While on albums or in concerts music exists as the main event, in film the role of music is one of support and servant to the story of the film as perceived and defined by the master storyteller, the director.
“Music, one of our greatest art forms, is to be subjugated to the needs of the picture. That’s the nature of movie making.” - Sydney Lumet
But over the last century of union between motion pictures and music, this relationship has matured and strengthened such that the supporting role of music in film is not seen as peripheral by great filmmakers, but as critically important. This has led cinematic greats to say things like "the sound and music is 50% of the entertainment in a movie" (George Lucas), or "Music and film are inseparable. They always have been and always will be." (Martin Scorcese)
This sentiment has perhaps never been expressed so well as it was by Steven Spielberg in this dedication speech to his decades-long collaborator John Williams at the AFI's 44th annual Lifetime Acheivement Award Gala.
We know that music is incredible powerful and moving. But how does music move us so powerfully?
“Where words fail, music speaks.” - Hans Christian Andersen
Music is, for lack of a better definition, a language of emotion. On it’s own, music can display beauty, convey emotions, or promote energy or lethargy. Music does not have the communicative power to convey propositions on it’s own (i.e. "the sky is blue"), but in human experience music rarely exists entirely on it’s own. Usually we experience it in combination with other mediums of communication or association. For example, when music is combined with words in a song, it tells us how to feel about the propositions in the words.
WHAT DOES MUSIC DO IN FILM?
When music is combined with moving pictures, it tells us how to feel about what we are seeing. It's power lies in it's emotional suggestion and commentary on the film.
And music doesn’t just tell us how to feel, it is my assertion that when it is combined with other communicative mediums, music is the PRIMARY element that is directing our feelings. This means that the audience will follow the emotional suggestions of the music OVER those of the film if and when there is a conflict between the two. This is because for a film to get to your heart, it has to lay out exposition, craft setups, and do the hard work of capturing your attention and building your trust just to get you to be emotionally invested enough to be moved when the love interest dies. But music doesn’t need to do all that; It can get connect with your feelings in a matter of seconds.
This opens up the opportunity for the music to wreck the director's intentions if the music is telling the audience something that conflicts with the goals of the story.
"Brad Bird is fond of saying that music is the easiest thing that can derail a film because if it slightly goes a degree off track it will take the viewer in the wrong emotional direction. To work with people who actually care about that is a good thing." - Michael Giacchino