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The Oscars and the importance of soundtracks in film

The Oscars and the importance of soundtracks in film

Cult director and actor Kevin Smith (“Clerks”, “Live Free or Die Hard”, “Daredevil”, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”) once said in a MAGIX interview that even the worst home videos can be made presentable by editing them and adding a good music soundtrack. The 89th Oscars will be held on February 26 in Los Angeles, so we’re focusing on the theme of movie score. Why is the soundtrack so important—and what makes a good movie score? And what have Sequoia mastering engineer Heba Kadry and MAGIX got to do with the Oscars? Keep reading to find out!

Music in film

Music is very powerful for evoking emotions and it can be used to tie unrelated scenes together. It’s not for nothing that most films include a soundtrack, which can add extra recognition value for a feature and may be on sale separately in stores after the film comes out. Some films use big chart hits, others unknown songs, and bigger features will often employ a soundtrack composer (e.g. Hans Zimmer and John Williams) to write individual arrangements for scenes.
Music is normally added “extraneously”, as an additional layer of information, and rarely plays a part in the story or is reacted to by characters. However, it can be used or produced within a scene, say for instance if a radio is playing in a scene. This is referred to as “on music” or diegetic sound (in contrast to non-diegetic sound, which is not perceived by the characters).
Film music can fulfil a role of different functions:
Syntactic function: This can play a role in the structuring of storylines, such as when the same musical motif is used for certain scenes within a parallel montage.
Expressive function: When music sets a certain interpretation of a scene, such as when emotional music is added to a scene to characterize it as tragic.
Music can completely transform how viewers interpret an image. If a scene of a forest is scored with playful, happy music, the imagery appears harmless and inviting, but if darker, threatening audio is used for the background music, the viewer can automatically have a more negative impression of the same scene. The same imagery can therefore be presented as an idyll, a mystery or a danger. The music score can also be used to play around with the viewer’s expectations and lead them down the garden path for a greater shock effect. This can be done when harmless background music is suddenly interrupted by something unexpected and shocking and distorts the supposed idyllic scene. This effect should only be used in moderation, because viewers are so used to associating certain types of music with certain emotions that it isn’t so easy to lead them astray.
The term “leitmotif”, which plays a role in film and literally means “leading motif”, has its roots in music and is defined as a recurring musical phrase. Music in itself can be used as a leitmotif to lend individual characters or locations their own acoustic signature: in this way, the music “leads” the viewer. A classic example of a leitmotif is from “Jaws”, where the same melody is heard each time the shark appears on screen. Later, even when the melody is used standalone, it evokes extreme danger.

Music at the Oscars

On February 27, 2017 all eyes will be on Hollywood, where the 89th Academy Awards are being held in the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. Late-night movie buffs across the world will have to stay up late for the showdown! As well the categories for “Best Picture”, “Best Director”, the winners for “Best Music (Original Score)” will be announced.
This year the following soundtracks have received an Oscar nomination:
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Mica Levi – Jackie
Thomas Newman – Passengers
Dustin O’Halloran und Hauschka – Lion

We’re happy to say that OST for “Jackie”, starring Natalie Portman, was mastered using Sequoia by Heba Kadry, who we spoke to in a recent interview for our audio blog. We’ve caught up with Heba to find out her thoughts on the nomination!

Congratulations on the nomination of Mica Levi’s OST „Jackie“ where you have been significantly involved as a mastering engineer!

Thank you! I’m so excited for Mica. It’s so richly deserved.

You said that you’ve sequenced the Soundtrack in the way Mica wanted. Can you shortly describe how the collaboration looked like?

It was a really wonderful. I’ve been a Mica fan forever, so working with her was such a treat. I first started getting the 5.1 fold downs from her fall of last year. Based on how she wanted things to sound we were making minor adjustments to the mix balances and going back and forth before we even started mastering. It was great, because we had an ongoing text exchange and she was always there to respond right away to any questions I had. There was also a high pressure deadline so we needed to move forward fast.

What I love about Mica is how hands off and trusting she was. This was the first time we worked together and she put a great deal of trust in me. We had tried a few directions for the album until we settled on the mastering direction that she liked the most. Once that was set it was pretty smooth sailing. After that came the edits, sequencing and then it was pretty much ready for cutting lacquers and digital release.

How’s the chance that Mica Levi’s Filmmusic will win an Oscar? With La La Land (Justin Hurwitz) and Passengers (Thomas Newman), the concurrence is not that bad!

Honestly I haven’t seen La La Land yet! I would love for her to get this but being nominated is so awesome as well. She’s so talented! Her compositions are so weird, dark and amazing and frankly a breath of fresh air from most soundtracks these days. If you’ve seen Jackie or her previous composition for the movie “Under The Skin”, you’ll understand how much she gets the storyline, the struggle of the characters and knows how to convey that in her music in a way that makes it inextricable from the film experience. Mica is a genius. She can work on swooping majestic soundtracks for major movies and also make some really fun/weirdo indie music for her band Micachu and The Shapes.

Have you thought about what would change if the OST wins? Would you like to focus even more on Filmmusic in the future?

I would love to do more of these! They are so magical to work on and I would particularly want to focus on mastering for surround. Definitely a goal for the future.

Find out more about Sequoia and Heba Kadry on our audio website.
And don’t forget to watch the upcoming Oscars ceremony to find out who will win!


Basti is a freshman at MAGIX since 2015 and works in the Social Media team, mostly focussing on french communication. He is studying Music and Media and currently writing his Bachelor thesis on the origins of hip-hop. When he does not navigate the social media world, he loves to play piano and dance.

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