The Emotional Impact of music in Movies

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Music has always played a pivotal role in audiovisual projects. Whether it is a film, a short film, a documentary project, or even an ad, music is always present to some degree. Of course, the complexity of a soundtrack goes from the traditional worn-off jingle to a whole new composition.

Music in audiovisual projects is highly linked with the emotional impact the project intends to deliver. Think of Christmas ads and the music they involve: all those soundtracks and jingles include elements highly associated with that time of the year, which ultimately emphasizes the storytelling in terms of Christmas and the message the project wants to convey.

Since the era of mass media and advertising started, the role of music strengthened the relationship between musical compositions and moving images, understanding moving images as any audiovisual project; however, this bond raises one question: why do all these musical elements fit so well in these projects?

The Importance of The Emotional Impact

Since our brains are capable of establishing an emotional bond between a piece of music and something either positive, sad, joyful, negative, etc., the fact that the vast majority audiovisual projects include music, original soundtrack songs and other musical elements suggests that actually all these elements help make the storytelling more enticing, digestible and memorable, as they tend to make our associated memory equal in strength the emotions they cause — which is why we remember these pieces and associate what’s happening in the audiovisual project with things we’ve experienced before.

It’s important to also consider what type of music is the one that better resonates and better interacts with our brain in order for us to produce the aforementioned associations. The music that naturally triggers this particular area in our brains is rather special — it is not just any type of music.

According to one experiment carried out in Australia, a group of people was presented with different audio clips in order to establish what emotions were present in their brains while hearing them, and it turned out that different types of music create different types of emotions. Different types of melodies, keys, chord progressions, time signature changes, etc., can produce a very different response in our brains. Strings ensembles, for example, playing a chord in a major tonality often lead 90% of individuals to feel things associated with happiness and joy, whereas melodies and chords in a minor tonality lead 90% of individuals to evoke things associated with sadness and melancholy.

This example only shows how important it is for filmmakers and advertisers to have a deep understanding of the emotion they want to convey through their stories, but most importantly, they need to figure out what emotion they want the audience to feel in the end (and what type of music and instruments will help them in such endeavor.)

The Importance of The Storytelling

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Making the most out of our bodies’ capability to associate music and musical elements through our long-term memory is something achieved not only through the composition but also through the editing process. Of course, there are basic ways to make sure the audience responds accordingly: if the lyrics of a song used in a film match what is happening in the moving images, our brain will not only remember that particular scene but also will help us bond deeper with what is going on as we look for associations from a possible past.

The visuals in an audiovisual project trigger our capability to pay attention to what’s happening, but when melody and melodic elements come in, they sort of create this hypnotic effect, making the audience get involved to a much deeper extent. In a wider general sense, music and musical elements not only help set the tone for a business’s personality (via ads) but also to create bonds with the audiences in the film industry.

Both filmmakers and advertisers choose existing tracks or songs from well-renowned artists; however, and especially within the film industry, many directors rely on composers to help them convey the story with musical elements. And that definitely works. Composers such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone are known for having crafted some of the most remembered musical pieces for films. Think of Jaws, Indiana Jones, Interstellar, The Lord Of The Rings, etc. Without music, there’s simply no way to engage with the audience.

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