Film Music Clichés

Clapperboard and Film It's difficult to be totally original, whether you're writing novels, designing next year's fashions or in the movie business. We've seen it all before and we've heard it all before. Hollywood is an industry that does not like to take big possibly costly risks so we see sequel after sequel, remakes, prequels and plots which seem strangely familiar. Film Music and music in general also has its clichés. Some of these clichés are intrinsic to the medium since certain types of music suggest various locations, moods or emotions (see What is Music?), but also we must remember the time pressures that composers are working under. It's very difficult to write an hour's worth of original music when you've a deadline in a couple of weeks, and if it's backgound music which few will notice (being drowned out by dialogue, car chases and explosions anyway) then what's the point! Forget the excuses, here we've identified some of the more frequent music clichés (but this is all lighthearted, so please don't complain if your favourite film is mentioned):

And still more film music clichés...

And while we're in lighthearted lampooning mood, have you noticed this trick appearing in a number of films and TV shows:

  • Some music is playing unobtrusively in the background. If you even notice it you assume it is part of the soundtrack accompanying the film, until one of the characters switches off the hi-fi and then you realise it was not quite so background after all!
old-fashioned record player

music notes To be serious for one minute, many of these cliches are there for very good reasons. They are just extensions of the concepts mentioned in our article What is Music? It is usually just plain wrong to have energetic action conveyed with subdued music or vice-versa, unless you are trying to achieve a specific and unusual purpose. Likewise there is the appropriateness of high-pitched sounds versus low and deep sounds explored in the article. And finally there are the social conventions, which dictate when it is appropriate to play marches or waltzes.


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