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Video Scoring Tip: When To Use Music In Video, Part 2

Scoring Series :: August 21, 2015
Video Scoring Tip: When To Use Music In Video, Part 2

Russell Crowe in "Gladiator". Music score by Hans Zimmer.

Last month we explored the creative impetus behind where to start music in your movie or video. Of course once you have music playing in your video, it forces a new question upon you: Where should I end this?

Sometimes this is as simple as just doing the opposite of what made you put music into the scene in the first place, in which case the key is the way you do it. Other times your story or video may be made better by finding the less obvious moment and buttoning the music right there. Either way, this installment of Video Scoring Tips will give you the tools to turn your music choices into beautiful endings that will make a bigger impression on your audience.

Lets start with the less obvious. As discussed in last month's article you may have decided to place music into a scene because of some change: A change in your character (a "look"), activity, dialogue, scenery or background, storyline or import or some other change in your video. While the end of this change, the end of this "motivation" if you will, marks an obvious place to create an end for the music in the scene, it may be helpful to ask yourself some questions in order to find a less obvious place to end the music. Doing this creates a movie that is more seamless to the viewer since the scenes won't all be packaged up in nice, neat bundles. Having music play to a point in a succeeding scene ties those scenes together and helps you create a movie that "hangs together" better than one where each scene is explicitly defined.

In finding such a point you might consider the following:

  • The original activity, dialogue, scenery, or whatever changed, but is my main character, product or some other main element still present? If the main character, product or whatever is still present you may have a very good reason to continue to play them longer or until a less expected and more interesting end is available.
  • If the main character, etc is still in but the context has changed, does it make sense to continue the previous theme but change the mood or it’s mix or other elements to reflect this change of context, thereby tying the scenes together and creating a more multi-faceted character with different dimensions?
  • Typically, if the main character, product, etc is out of the subsequent scene, it makes sense to end it at that point. However, there are storylines or narratives that sometimes allow you the opportunity to continue to play the theme in the subsequent scene in a more subtle or ephemeral way that infers the character or product, etc, into the scene when they’re not actually there. This can make sense when they had an impact on the subsequent people or events that you want to bring out. This is a powerful technique whose effect is reversely proportional to the frequency of its use – the more you use it, the less effective it is, so limit it to situations where its only going to really work with your footage and/or storyline/message.
  • Note that this effect can sometimes be more subtly accomplished by just having the previous music play over into the new scene for a two or three seconds. Professionals call this “pre-lapping” the music or sound effects and it’s another great way to smooth out your film. The difference between pre-lapping and the example in the previous bullet is that it doesn’t sustain the character through the new scene which has much less impact, and therefore can be used much more often.
  • Finally, if the main character, product, etc, is no longer in the subsequent scene, is there a secondary character or aspect that you want to create a theme for and transition too? This would imply the use of a different piece or music that is smoothly transitioned to. Such a transition ties the two characters or aspect together and creates new interesting opportunities to take music back out.

Its important to note such transitional techniques should not cause you to “wall-to-wall the music”, as professionals call it. This is where music winds up being used all the way through, from first frame to very end of the video or show, hence "wall-to-wall". There are some styles where this is done; reality TV is typically scored entirely, with no breaks in the music. But generally, for most projects, having music in all the time detracts from its impact: Points where there is no music create the best opportunities to place music in more meaningful and impactful ways.

Main EndingSmartSound's music often supplies you with different ending options. You can see these in the Bin window, they are the blocks with a backwards flag at the end of the block. While they can't always substitute for each other, they often can and when they do, they can give you great options to create the endings discussed in this article.

When the Obvious Ending Is the Right Ending

In a balanced approach to filmmaking as often as not, it will make sense to end the music in the scene when the original impetus for music in the first place also ends, either through another change or a return to a previous status of the characters, product or other aspects. If this is the case then the techniques used in ending the music become paramount.

The first thing to keep in mind is it’s key that the music actually end – and not fade out. When the music is done in such a way as to have an actual musical ending at the same moment that the scene’s key visual or filmic impetus is also ending, it is one of the most powerful ways to create a cohesive experience for your audience. SmartSound’s powerful and patented Custom Length feature is founded on this principal and prior to that, the music editing industry for film and television itself existed in large part because of it.

A second thing to keep in mind is that the musical ending that coincides with the scene ending allows you to determine how your audience feels after the scene is through. Whether driven by character, storyline, product or other reasons, the scene is in your video for a reason. If it’s important enough to have in your movie, its important enough to help your audience understand its larger context. The musical ending is great at this.

Musical ends for scenes are powerful because they give you choices on how to leave your audience: Should it end firmly final? Or is there still lingering unknowns? Should the scene end bright and positive, or dark and somber? Or should it be somewhere in between? Firm and final implies a powerful final chord to the music. For lingering unknowns a sense of neutrality should be present in the music, optionally perhaps with less orchestration, something you can often control in SmartSound. Obviously bright and positive endings need bright and positive final chords and the opposite for dark and somber.

Creating this context for the viewer helps put the scene in the larger context of the move as whole. A musical fade out not only forfeits this opportunity but often creates conflict with the scene end because the audience hears the music kind of just going away in the middle of a phrase, leaving them to decide for themselves what the scene meant. Maybe they’ll get it right… and maybe they won’t.

So those are the basics of ending a piece of music you’ve put into your movie: Transition to a less obvious but more interesting place to end the music using the techniques discussed above, or end the music in conjunction with the scene end making sure to use all the tools available to you to create the impact and context you want the audience to have for the scene.

SmartSound's Customized and Patented Solution Makes It Easy

Main EndingThe Sonicfire Pro timeline gives you more control over customizing the endings. This sequence is the natural 30 second piece created by SmartSound's patented process. I then selected the "Smart Razor" tool from the Timeline menu and it instantly broke the piece into its component blocks.

Alternate EndingThis allowed me to delete the ending block and simply substitute (drag & drop) the other ending block titled "resolution 2", the other ending block circled in the Bin window above. As discussed in the article, the block called "The End" is much more final and firm but is also more neutral. Sometimes I may want that. Resolution 2 on the other hand is equally smooth as an ending but is much more bright and positive than "The End", which could be useful in other situations. Taking advantage of these types of choices creates powerful options to communicate your intent and message to your audience.

Mile Away Clearly EndingSonicfire Pro's Express Track search engine also helps you get the ending you want, quickly and easily. In the bottom right you see the "Waveform Preview". This allows you see where your piece of music actually ends time-wise compared to the final four seconds of time, which can help you with timing accuracy greatly. But as mentioned in this article you can also audition the track's different endings for their impact on your movie and what you want to communicate. In this case, the "Clearly" Variation happens to have a more up and bright feel to it.

Mile Away Oboe EndingHowever, without having to change anything but the Variation to "Oboe", which is a version of the same track featuring an oboe melody, I get a different ending for this same 30 second piece that is not quite as bright and is a bit more neutral than the ending of "Clearly". A sign that this is going to be the case is that the Waveform display of the end looks clearly different for the Oboe arrangement than for well, "Clearly." As discussed above, this allows me to leave the audience a little less certain than had I ended the piece with the Clearly ending. Either one might be the preferred choice depending on the rest of the scene and what I want the audience to feel at this point.

Learn more about Sonicfire Pro and all of its great features.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more Video Scoring Tips in the future.

Successful filmmaking!
Kevin Klingler