Jun 22, 2010

Music Should Challenge, Not Compliment

Just imagine for a second that we changed the musical anthem of Jaws-a movie where we watch about 90% of the action without it’s biggest star. All we get is a fin and a whole bunch of water. What if we gave it something more like a car chase scene type of music or a full symphony building drama with every string? Wouldn’t that be expected? Wouldn't you anticipate such a music for people running feverishly for their lives from a giant killer shark? Instead, we go a much simpler and stronger piece, one that still makes us all think twice every time we decide to put a toe in the ocean. And that’s the emotional power of music that dares to challenge our senses rather than complimenting what we anticipate it to be. And for commercial production, the senses need to be challenged the same way.
You see, music is the bond that connects visuals to audiences. But the right music, the music that is remembered by audiences shouldn’t always be what is expected. If we cue up 100 chase scenes in commercials or even movies, we can quickly identify the same theme among each and every spot. However, in a spot for Windows (click to see the spot) , we see a chase scene that uses a more dramatic and emotional musical tone-escaping the traditional chase scene music. With this piece, our character is so emotionally distraught with what she’s loosing, she will do whatever it takes to get it back. And we only get this understanding though the music. Remove it and replace with a high-energy chase scene score, and we get what we expect, a chase scene. Boring because we know what's coming-there's no need to pay attention. And in doing so, we loose the emotional tie and audience investment as to why she is chasing after the apps and why she is so compelled to do so.
If we replace the current music in the Windows commercial with a chase scene score we are left wondering and constructing the story on our own. Did the apps rob her? Perhaps, she was a crazy glue-sniffing app stalker and they were trying to get away? Or just maybe, the apps were trying out to be the new Yankee’s mascot and shot a t-shirt cannon into the stands which caused the woman to spill her jumbo coke and hot dog all down her shirt and she was trying to get them to pay for dry cleaning? We could construct a hundred scenarios, but the music as it stands does a great job of conveying the feeling it wants us to, more so than if they would have used music typically expected by the audience in this type of scene.
The goal, a lot of times for music is to do what’s the audience will expect-to compliment the visuals. And when we get what we expect, it tends to blend in and not be remembered. But as we dive in closer to the purpose of music in commercials, we can see that music which challenges what the audience expects has a greater opportunity to build stronger emotional bonds. To do this, we must get out of our comfort zones when it comes to selecting music and pick or create music to relate the emotion or reason for the action rather than the action itself. When music is used to compliment what is expected, the visuals becomes what is expected. There is a familiarity but no breakthrough. But when music challenges the visuals, it has a way of transforming the visuals and creating a more powerful experience than either piece could do alone.

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