Note: This lecture will be available online (except for audio and video clips for legal reasons) at

My name is Jason Downer, but I will respond to any number of nicknames, including "Hey You". Please feel free to ask questions, have me repeat things, or replay video or sound clips.

Don't be polite: wave your arms a lot and shout. I'm serious about this, interrupt me if you have any questions. There's a lot to cover today, so don't wait to the end.

I would like to apologize in advance for the language in some of the video clips, some of you may find it offensive. There is even some French.

I'm going to try and get through the boring part of this as fast as possible so we can watch more video clips that show what I'm talking about, so bear with me.

If you're interested in sound or music, I would strongly encourage you to play around with spectrogram software such as baudline. Spectrograms allow you to see a sound broken down into frequency and time, and see exactly what's right or wrong with your signal.

Spectrogram image

Does your film need music?

The Birds and No Country For Old Men had minimal music, but a lot of environment and foley.

You should keep in mind that there is a rather fine line between what is just sound and what is music. A sound editor is in fact composing, just with a larger palette.


Now, for some background. Sounds push buttons you didn't know you had.

Sound is your first sense to develop

Hearing kicks in at 4.5 months in the womb, and for the next 4.5 months after that it is your only sense. Once you're born it takes on a secondary role only to vision, but it is always on, always part of your experiences.

Visceral and learned responses.

Your memories are stored and retrieved via associative links. An experience or thought is linked to many other memories, and often pop up in your head unbidden. For example, the smell of a highlighter pen or seeing a cracked window could cause memories to be re-lived. This indexing method is a bit chaotic but very effective.

Little story. My old dog's favorite word: "Chookeebyebreawah"

Whenever I needed her undivided attention I call out this portmanteau of “Cheese Cookies Bye bye Bread Walk”. She had no clue what it meant but you could see the wheels turning, whatever she saw in her mind must have been awesome. She would always stop dead in her tracks and stare at me wide eyed and lips quivering.

Sound and music can also cause physiological and psychological responses:





Heartbeat, walking, voice: most common sounds in our lives.

When you walk or run, a percussive rhythm of the impact goes through your body. When you hear a rhythm like that, your mind automatically ties it together with gait. The same goes for a racing heart.

You ever had intense happiness or sadness, and could feel what was like a weight on your chest? Sustained, low frequency sounds can make your chest feel that same heaviness. Take a deep breath and then let out a long resonant “mmmmmm” sound. You feel that? Your mind detects that and makes associations to a whole slew of emotions and situations .

Is music universal?

[Thomas] Fritz and his team conducted two experiments with a group of 21 Mafa, remote farmers in Cameroon, Africa who said they had had no previous exposure to Western music.

They were then asked whether they thought each piece of music expressed happiness, sadness, or fear and to point to photos of faces showing the relevant expressions. The Mafa's ability to correctly identify the emotion was far greater than chance, picking the ‘happy’ music 60% of the time on average and ‘sad’ and ‘fearful’ emotions about half the time...

"Western music mimics the emotional features of human speech, using the same melodic and rhythmic structures," Koelsch said.

Music is often called ‘the universal language’ but there is much disagreement and conjecture around music, emotion and the brain – from how and why the emotional responses to music are created in the first place to the purpose of music.


Film mirrors real world human experience, except for music. Violins don't start to play in the background when you fall in love. But some violin music makes you feel like you did when you fell in love.

For whatever reason music has the ability to hack into our emotions. It can be an extremely powerful tool to talk to your audience. Tell them what to feel, tell them where they are, smooth or sharpen transitions between scenes, or just really confuse them.

Tell, Smooth, or Mislead

Recut Trailers:

The Shining

Office Space

Mary Poppins

Mrs Doubtfire


Experience is about change, vision and hearing are all keyed to detect change

All human experience is about change, and our senses focus on change. Our eyes and ears especially single out the new or different. Contrasts in color, motion all draw the eye.

You're spoon feeding the audience information, good story telling keeps them interested and occupied from one moment to the next.

Keeping their interest involves change. The unexpected inspires curiosity. A good score will change along with the story, and when it's not needed, it should get out of the way.

If you want to emphasize something, make a change in how it represented visually or sonically.

There's power in silence. Important dialog coming up? Kill the music, maybe even the foley, too. That change will cause your audience to focus again on what they are about to hear.

Three Bowls of Water

Fill three bowls with water, hot on the left, room temp in the middle, and ice water on the right. Sit down and put your left hand in the left bowl and right hand in the right bowl. After a minute, put both hands in the room temperature bowl. One hand is telling you the water is hot, the other that it's cold. (Original idea from Frank Herbert)

So, how effective is a horror movie that has one frightening scene after the other and a constant, pounding, violent score?

Smoothing vs. Highlighting

If you have a montage and it feels disconnected, running the same dialog, environment sounds, or music through it can make it feel more whole.

If on the other hand you have change in location or time that isn't readily apparent, change one of those abruptly to emphasize the change.

Boredom: Avoid verbatim repetition / 10 second rule

Avoid verbatim repetition. Your audience will get bored and try to tune out the music or noises. Subtle changes in melody, orchestration, or tempo is all that's needed to keep what might be an endless loop interesting.

Also, if you want to keep something interesting musically, use multiple layers of instrument lines.


Change your focus of attention. You're telling a story with different actors, locations, colors, and camera techniques. Don't forget to include your audio in your tools.

Walter Murch, the guy who invented sound design, said that when it comes to sound, the audience can pay attention to one thing at a time, but you've got three types of sound competing for that attention. You have to decide moment to moment in your sound editing process what information you need to impart.

Is the dialog at this section key to the plot? Get rid of the music, maybe even the environment noises.

Is the enviroment the most important? You need to tell the audience that it's a long dark cave they're in or a busy street? Make that the loudest of the three elements.

Is the general vibe of the scene what matters, people may be talking but it's not what they're saying here, it's how they feel? Play the appropriate music, try lowering the dialog to the threshold of hearing and cut out the environment.


Expectation and good story telling:

"A guy walks into a bank..."

What do you expect to happen? How interesting would that first idea be?

What makes an interesting story, or joke, or piece of music is to take that expectation and then turn it. Know what is expected and do something different.

A slight change makes it interesting, a bigger change can make it funny. A huge change makes it surreal.

Know where this is going, boring →

Interesting →

Humorous →

Just Freaking Weird

Is he going to cash a check?

Is there a fancy, catered office party about to take place inside?

Is it full of Muppets that have been taken hostage by terrorists and they execute Grover just to show everybody they mean business?

Style, Mood, Instruments, Tempo, etc.

Style is always first consideration. Then decide on mood, instruments, tempo, etc.

The style helps you place your setting, time period, and general feel.You can have more than one style, but it should work for your film and have your score still feel like a connected whole.

Style can give you a setting, time period, and general mood.

This was from, apparently the original title music for The Social Network was weird 80s calypso something or other:

Temp music intro

Trent Reznor intro

Happy Accidents: MP3 collection / iTunes /

Render out a scene to a small mov file (720px or less) and open it in Quicktime. Play bits of music off of or iTunes while you have the scene continually looping in another window. See what works, and what doesn't. Try to figure out why and see if you can apply what you've discovered to other parts of your film.

Remember, if something doesn't work, try something else! People won't notice if your music and sound is uninspired, but they will notice if it is wrong.


Acoustics, rooms, booths, headphones, theaters

An actors voice sounds different up close versus far away. In a carpeted room versus a tiled one. Or outside with the door open versus shut. The acoustics of your location carry a lot of information, and if you have to recreate dialog or environment later on, you'll need to understand how to mimic that.

Now for acoustics, in real life sound is coming at you from a multitude of sources and bouncing around and meeting you from different directions. In a theater, all that sound comes from just a few sources.

Thus, the theater's acoustics will actually color your recorded audio even more.

Headphones, however, don't color it much at all, which can be dangerous. If you mix all your sound to be just perfect (right left placement, relative volumes, reverb times) in headphones, be prepared for a dull muddy mess when you hear it in a theater. Things have to be crisper and more pronounced in your phones to sound right in a theater environment.


FX for sound and music

Filters allow you to boost or cut audio frequencies, such as changing bass or treble. You can also boost or notch out specific frequencies to clean up a sound or allow it to fit in better with the rest of the audio tracks. More complex ones like de-essers and pop filters can clean up your dialog.

Limiters change volume according to set parameters. A basic limiter prevents volume from getting to high, provides a "ceiling". Expanders turn down the volume at quiet spots, suppressing noise, and effectively expanding the dynamic range of the audio. And finally compressors boost the average volume level without going over a specific range, often having a proportional response to how hard they limit. Multiband compressors have different responses for different frequency ranges, and are often used in mastering the final audio. While hard to learn, they allow the different sounds in the final mix to mesh together.

Mastering compressor example

Side band compression is a type of limiter that reduces the volume of one track in response to changes in another. Usually this is used in documentaries to reduce background music when there is dialog. Incorrect settings can produce a fluttering effect, but it is still extremely useful.

Delay: audio effect like a crisp echo, is also good for causing a dreamlike feeling

Stereo expanders use a combination of filters, delays, and spectral functions to alter the stereo placement of sounds based on frequency, and to provide a sense of "being in the enviroment".

Reverb is an audio effect that simulates the natural acoustics of a location such as a concert hall, tiled room, or warehouse. A little goes a very long way. Amount of reverb: 10% 60%

Remember that reverb is cumulative, so if you mix it just right with headphones, it's going to be much more wet when played in a theater or living room, because the natural acoustics are going to add on to what you've put in. ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR MIX IN A VARIETY OF SETTINGS.

Now, a bit about SAMPLING REVERB...

Audio from my livingroom

Sampling Reverb or Convolution Reverb is a reverberation effect that uses impulse responses, a digital representation of the acoustics of a location, usually a multi-channel sound recording of a loud sharp noise (starter pistol.) A life saver for ADR, or if you want your source music to really appear to be in the scene with the actors.

Impulses: a room versus a factory

Sampling Reverb example

If you don't already have a sampling reverb already in Logic / Digital Performer / ProTools / Sonar, there are a couple free VST plugins available (could only find Windows)



Visualizing sound placement

This is sort of like trompe-l'œil for the ears.

Right/Left: as you'd expect, but much more pronounced. Remember that a large portion of the sound reaching you (if you're not wearing headphones) is indirect, it's bouncing off of walls and stuff before it gets to you. This obscures the panning of your audio. If something is on the left of your screen, pan it much harder left to compensate.

High/Low: Pitch. Similar pitches obscure one another, they're fighting for the same space in your cochlea to send information to your brain. Use EQ (and a mastering compressor) to avoid pileups.

Depth (Dry/Wet): Reverb or ambiance. Generally the farther away something is from you, the more of the sound you hear is reflected sound. Your brain automagically tells you that wet sounds are in the background. Think of it as depth of field for sound.

Acoustic Space

FX in acoustic space


Music Library

By far the easiest is the music library. Usually very high quality recordings. Most grant you a usage license just by purchasing a disc or downloaded file. Prices can vary greatly, but can be very economical. Downsides are that you have to edit your film to match the music, and that it's difficult to find several tracks that suit your different emotional directions, but still work well together without your film sounding like a hodgepodge of different genres.

Music CDs: Usually grant you a license to use the music just by buying the CD. Read the fine print!

Licensing Existing Music

Licensing well known music is usually prohibitively expensive. It is also time consuming, even with lesser known artists. The parties that own the publishing rights must be tracked down and a deal negotiated for the rights.

On the plus side, smaller films can usually get a break, or even a cheaper clearance deal for festival performances only.

Their asking price will also depend on the popularity of the music you want, how many seconds of it will be in your film, if it occurs in the open titles or end credits, if there are lyrics in the music, and if the lyrics or title of the song are the same as the title of your film.

Good site for licensing music, they have wide variety of styles and even popular artists. Depending on your distribution (festival or general theater release) and the popularity of the artist fees run between $200 and $55k.

Also, Moby has made a number of tracks available online that are free to use for non-commercial purposes. Commerical use requires a small donation to the Humane Society.

Some terminology, there are two types of usage licenses and you'll usually need both.

Synchronization License: allows you to put copyrighted music into your film and distribute / show it

Mechanical License: allows you to use / reproduce the actual recording of the music. The only time you wouldn't need a mechanical license would be if your production recorded it's own version of the song, or just have a character singing it on screen

There are many agencies that you can hire to track down and negotiate a deal for you

Music Clearance Companies:


The last option I'm going to cover is using a composer, because that's what I know. Even if you don't use a composer, most of what I'll cover can be applied to any music you put in your film.

How to find a composer?

This really shouldn't be a problem. Almost everyone involved with music wants to score films.

If you don't know someone you can post a job listing at

Or track down someone via google or a social networking site.

What you need to know is that composers are like actors, most can only do a couple types of role well. Listen carefully to their demo work and make sure it'll be a good match. Someone who specializes in slasher films might not do that well with a romantic comedy.

The Deal / Payment

Specify how much the composer will be paid and when, usually half up front and half on completion. Also, terms for "signing off" on cues, deadlines, and causes for firing. Some may work for nothing except a future percentage of profits.

Package Deal

Composer gets paid a lump sum which includes his fee, rental and recording costs. Protects you from cost overruns, but you have to be explicit in your contract about what is required from the composer.

Live Instruments

A few live instruments can make all the difference in a score, even making sampled instruments in the background sound real. Real performers and the additional time and costs (prep of sheet music, rehearsal time, recording costs) greatly affect your timeline and budget. If you want them, your contract needs to be explicit on those issues.

Work for Hire / Publishing Rights

If you can't afford to pay your composer much, you probably shouldn't push Work for Hire. By allowing them to keep the copyright to the score, you encourage them to work harder on the score. They may be able to use the music elsewhere in the future or release it on an album, as opposed to losing it forever. Work for Hire is cleaner from a legal standpoint though. Your mileage may vary. At the very least...

Big Four Terms your contract really must have:

1. Right to Synchronize to Picture, and exploit the picture including score

2. In all media, whether now known or hereafter created

3. In perpetuity

4. Throughout the universe

You may also want to include a Non-Disclosure Agreement or Clause (NDA)

Contracts and releases:

What your composer needs:

Spotting session and/or spotting notes- watching film with composer and discussing what you want

Spotting Notes usually notes look something like this:



START score when David and Alex "bump" into each other

Uplifting when Alex's trainer shows up

Continues gently

Becomes darker at flashback of gravesite

END on a cadence at end of scene

Simpson Cue Sheet

Breakdown notes from cue sheet

Styles, instruments, feel of film, what is the film trying to say

Temp music or examples- temporary music placed in rough cut to help with editing or preview screening

Sign-off agreement- how and when you decide to OK a cue, only really needed in a formal or a medium to high budget project

Locked copy of film or reels!

DVD's are great, as are mov files that can fit onto a disk.

Smaller version of is a great help and makes sending over internet easier

Composer will use a smaller version for composing, 720 pixels wide is a good size

Sending over the internet: post to a website using http / https / ftp, use rar file for password protection, also Vimeo password protected uploads.

Time to develop themes and demos for your approval

Time to write and record finished cues!

Composer Speak / Learnèd Gibberish

It's a good thing if you express what you want for a particular scene or event using "feeling" words rather than obscure italian musical terms like rubato or diminuendo. Words like "heroic", "warm", "timid", "brooding", "playful", "harsh", "arrogant", "itchy", "buzzy", or "conflicted" are a wonderful help.

What's even better is if you can play them something that does what you have in mind.

Cue: a piece of music for a scene

Stem: an individual instrument's audio track, part of a whole cue

Sequencer / DAW: software a composer uses to organize music and audio data into a cue. Usually has a video window synced frame for frame to the music

Spotting: meeting in which the producer, director, and composer view the unfinished film and discuss where music should go, and what it needs to accomplish

Mock-up: synthesizer and sampler version of a cue that will be later recorded with live instruments. Used to get sign-off from the film makers on the music before it's too late to change

Ducking: editing sound envelopes so that music is soft enough that dialog can be heard, done by the mixing engineer in a larger film

Underscore: music that can fit under dialog and comment without interfering with it

Source music: music that appears to be coming from somewhere on screen, like from a band or radio. Also called diegetic sound.

Hitting the mark: musically accentuating a precise event on screen

Micky-Mousing: hitting almost every event on screen, like a cartoon. Often occurs in action movies.



If you've never heard of David Neevel, the man is a genius. You can tell by the triumphant movie trailer music.

J-cut into the next scene starts low, masked by the dialog. Karaoke of Walk on the Wild Side is periodically interrupted by 70's funk as the robbery is planned.

The gunshot is loud and crips, until it's heard at the other end of the train. Nice whoosh as the bandit runs. And a duck.

This movie is awesome! From Ennio Morricone homages to cheesy synthesizers. Note the crescendo leading up to the guy running across the desert and how the western piece ends as the guy is thrown from the train.

In addition to using old filming techniques and lenses, the filmmakers had Thomas Newman compose in the style of Max Steiner's 1950s war films.

More music in the style of Max Steiner

John Barry, the composer for the original James Bond films was signed on to write the music for The Incredibles, the perfect person to spoof the genre. Though he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, Michael Giacchino followed the style perfectly, even choosing record the entire jazz orchestra in single takes to get the 60's vibe right.

Recent law school graduate in Memphis, where a lot of classic blues came from.

Unconventional music for a police chase.

The music here needed to be stronger.

The music clips we mixed together here are probably too strong, but are better for a chase.

Traditional Japanese drum music called Taiko, and an ancient theatre form called Noh. Juxtaposing old and new (tribal gang and futuristic landscape.) Fast rhythm gives it energy.

Gasps, mimicking pain, or being out of breath. They speed up as the fear in the scene increases. Creates a visceral feeling of fear and alarm.

Can you you guess the boxer's heritage? Fiddle, dulcimer, Ullean pipes, low Irish whistle

The Ullean pipes convey that the workers are of Irish descent.

Malcolm McDowell's character is a sociopath who experiences joy from beautiful music and by violence. The choice of uplifting music during his attack is intentionally disturbing.


Same brass instruments play Indiana Jones theme, then the evil Nazi theme.

Use of the main theme, but with a different instrument (piano instead of alto sax) and with a different vibe.

A key scene in the film, almost every theme and motif used in the film appear here. Shows use of orchestration in creating themes. Also note that the reaction music appears about a half second after the surprise.


Marina Abramovic is a well known performance artist. This documentary on her life and art covers a wide gamut of emotion. The composer utilizes the most versatile of the orchestra strings. Timid, to sad, playful, and finally a hint of eastern European folk.

String cluster glissandi are scary as hell. So are little girls with big booming footsteps.

There's a long montage of late night research leading up to this clip, where fast paced version of the movie's theme plays. The percussive elements in the cue cover up the knocking at the door at first, so we experience the same surprise realization that there's knocking. Notice how the music ending neatly and deliberately as the door closes prepares us psychologically for the next scene's change in tone.

Okay, same theme as above, but slower. Also notice that the orchestration is different, there's a lack of percussive elements. Not only does this make it feel less energetic, but we are able to clearly hear the clicking of the cameras, the opposite effect from hiding the knocking in the other clip.

Half speed Gamelan gongs and metal percussion emphasize the cold metal of the space station.

Throughout this film I used the sounds of a musicbox and a duduk, an ancient form of the oboe, often regarded as being most imitative of a man's voice. Here the instruments are used in an upbeat title sequence.

Still using the musicbox and duduk, the mood is sad. Scene includes a flashback to the main title sequence.

Starts with silence, then muted, sustained violins come in. Piano softly plays one of the main themes. The emotional impact of the dialog is reinforced by the bass and cellos coming in.

Synthesizer and then bass strings imitate slo-mo footage and slowed down helicopter foley. When we return to normal speed we have every instrument in the orchestra playing something different, a massive cluster of sound. the cue fades out into the next scene.

Strings capable of love theme and then creating an oppressive mood. Note that the English horn is used in this film to mirror the feelings of Zelweger's character.

Toni Collette's character is represented by flutes, while Paltrow's is by clarinets and possibly a bassoon. The mood invoked by the music is of good intentioned scheming.

A hurdy-gurdy is a crank driven violin with keys. the strings resonate inside the instrument and create a wheezy, claustrophobic sound. This mimics the feeling of being in a chemical warfare suit. Note also the change over to guitar and drums for the touchdowns.

This scene could have been scary, but instead the music tells us that it's mysterious. The hammered dulcimer is a traditionally appalachian or folk instrument, emphasizing the setting. The bass flute mimics the voice of Jodi Foster's character.

Again there is mystery here, but there are no percussive elements that would interfere with the foley of the wood chopping.

A group of instruments all starting at different pitches is called a cluster. It creates a disorienting, dissonant sound. Slow rising or falling glissandos of string clusters are a horror show staple. Note how the glissandos mimic the eye glow.

Theres only a few long notes and very little movement in this cue, but the feeling of hope is conveyed almost entirely by instrument choice. The drums match the tempo of the children's running feet.

Music sneaks in during the previous scene, pizzicato (plucked) strings mirror his fast but ambling gate. A lone clarinet warbles slowly to make you feel disturbed. Out of tune dulcimer (maybe banjo) brings the anxiety up further, mirroring the photographer's insanity. Finally, the foley from the train matches the jump cuts at the end.

This is a date movie, so the music is never too dark. Throughout Paul Bettany's character is associated with guitars and Kirsten Dunst with piano. Mood changes as Paul says "Look." Both piano and guitar play through love theme.

Hitting Mark

This transition is emphasized by placing the ring right on the cut.

Jumps cuts that tell the passage of time are emphasized by being placed on downbeats and the beginning of the singer's words.

Wall to wall music. Garbles the dialog, constant soft movement, but essentially just a drone. Doesn't comment, not memorable because there's no "hummable" melody.

Here's what happens if you are hitting the action / Micky-Mousing, and are off by a few frames.

End of a four minute scene that is the epitome of a great action cue, finally gets to this point of relative silence. There's a soft metallic synth sound that mirrors the creaking metal of the fire escape and a breathy sound to remind you of the wind. The music gets out of the way of the railing breaking off the wall. then there's a short pulsing of synth bass to sound like a heartbeat. Double bass slaps (drum sound) and short staccato string bows rhythmically lead up to the door bursting open. harp harmonics and plucked strings (pizzicato) for sneaking around, but the rhythm of the notes is unpredictable and the expectation of those notes keeps your focused. Finally it ends anticlimactically and goes quiet. That sets you up for the surprise of the car door slam in the next scene.

Great use of silence as we go into this scene. We're straining to hear the voice on the phone, makes the click from the holster seem much louder and surprising. Music comes in immediately after, it doesn't get in the way of that click. The first musical hit sounds like a growl, drums sound like running, synthesizer bass sounds like a rapid heart beat. Finally there's a drum roll to his escape.

The gist of the scene is that the bad guys are tracking down the hero, the dialog isn't that important and has some tech sounding jargon. Because the mood is what's most important here, the music takes a greater roll. Notice the use of drum hats and cymbals, which interfere with hearing the s's and t's in the dialog, because the dialog isn't that important here it's okay to use them. Also note that jump cut where Cooper hits the wall and the crash cymbal and drums take off. Most of the cuts in this scene line up with the hats.

Cold ending hitting the cut. Note a few seconds of silence to let audience realize that the film is over before credit music starts.

Johnny Depp's character is waiting for the man outside to stop following him. His character's theme has a playful military march feel to it. To indicate the passage of time, the music abruptly changes on the cut to sustained strings and a treble piano part that mimics the nervous tapping of his hand. When the lights come on the nervous music stops.

Stock horror picture gag. Dragging a pick across a piano's strings, and a rising glissando of clustered strings with a cymbal crash at the end. We have a half second to relax, and then comes the scare.

All the classic (and cliched) Micky-Mousing (closely following action) from glissandos upwards when looking up, downward glissandos when looking down or things falling, xylophone runs for running feet, bassoon playing while something silly is being said, glockenspiel for innocence, tremolos for building anticipation, and finally a shock chord when something scary happens (Roger actually gets shocked!)

A crescendo leading up to the cut.


I assure you this clip is not a joke. This is from the second season of Kasamh Se, a hugely popular soap opera in India. Mom is giving saris to her three daughters, but playing a mind game on the youngest child. This is why Micky-Mousing is named after a cartoon character.

So here's a chase scene with a lot of dialog and important sound cues. The fast percussion reminds you of running, but there are other sounds which need to come to the front. The sound of the special doors opening, the whoosh of the stadium pan, the street noise, and dialog all have their moments. So the instruments used in the rhythm change from synth bass, to drums, to cymbals and clicks, to make room in the acoustic picture. Notice that the snare line in the beginning crescendos with the sound of the bathroom door being broke open.

Time is not on your side when telling a story, some concepts you have to establish quickly and firmly. Here the protagonists meet and instanly fall in love. This is a very, very important point made early in the film: these two were meant to be together. So mysterious music comes in after we've been music free for several minutes. There's soft angelic choir, woodwinds, dulcimer and piano all growing. A eighth note bass mimics a racing heart, and that long deep tone we've talked so much about swells. Also cool, the sound of bare feet on tile, the shoes on the carpeted stairs.

After attending a funeral in India the three brothers are introspective and remembering their father's recent funeral. The slow motion, lack of dialog and enviroment give the opening shot a dreamy quality. The song ends neatly on the cut to the flashback of riding to their father's memorial. (Also note the change in color, focus, and music)

Amanda Seyfried's character is a stalker, but the actress isn't really all that frightening a person, so there's a lot of close ups and scary music. The strings sneak in, then more and more discordant elements are added. The bass drum as she looks into the camera makes it scary. In the next shot we realize the weird whispering sound is actually ice skates.

On the eve of World War One, Igor Stravinski's premier of The Rite of Spring has gone badly. Instead of returning to Russia, he stays in France, later meeting Coco Chanel in 1920. All this is explained with archival footage, a Russian folksong and some Ragtime. The opening dialog is clever: "What do you do when confronted by a monster?" "Fight." "No, SING."

Very subtle and balanced use of music and sound effects. Timpani, muted strings, and pizzicato violins play for a few seconds for a horror effect, but don't overpower the jingling keys, footsteps, breaths, blood squishes, or metallic ring of the fallen knife.

A convicted killer is confessing his crimes in a jail cell. There's very little room reverberation other than to make it sound cold. His voice is sad, trembling, heartbreaking. We need to hear every tremble, breath, click of his mouth. The flashback comes on with sad piano music, but no environment sounds. Those don't come in until the bright flash and sound of the shotgun, which breaks the spell. We are no longer thinking of the sadness of the murderer, we are dropped into the reality of his crimes. Notice also how the music pauses so we can hear Hoffman sigh and wipe the tears away, a very delicate, human sound we would have missed otherwise. Finally, a new location is set for the next scene with the sound of the typewriter.

Alec Baldwin is joking about finding a pair of panties hanging from a Vegas lounge singer's dressing room door. The real reason for the conversation is that the singer is waiting for his fix. Behind the sad piano piece are dissonant guitar harmonics, bending up and down in pitch. Very disconcerting. After the injection, the withdrawal and the music are gone.

Tension with low bass strings making a growl sound, a violin tremolo matched with the sound of flies. When it comes for Hardy to make his character’s signature “hmph”, the strings have stopped so you can hear it.

If you watch this scene without music, there's little or no tension. the bowed metallic sounds, the crescendo and tremolo strings before he looks up all tell the audience how to feel. The timpani roll builds up the tension for the turning heads.

Flutes line going up and down, up and down is an old trick to mimic flying or flapping wings. Bass strings swell up to mirror her surprise. Mens choir makes an Ahhhh sound when the camera cuts to the open mouth of the statue. Plucked (pizzicato) strings imitate cautious footsteps, and finally a hollow synthesizer sound emphasizes the emptiness of the labyrinth.

The speed of the music slowly increase through the cue as the tension rises.

Editing and FX

Watch this clip. Where do you feel uneasy?

Subliminally, there are two types of sound that really creep people out, and both can be on just the edge of hearing. Good thing about that, they can sit in a mix and not interfere with noise and dialog, and can do their job without the audience knowing they are being manipulated. The first is high pitched dissonance, like a ringing in the ears or prolonged fingernail on chalkboard sound. The second is infra-sound, tones below about 30 Hz. Infra-sound is more felt than heard, it makes the chest vibrate and can induce feelings of being watched, nausea, and even terror. Use it sparingly, it eats up your headroom, can make crappy speakers buzz, or actually make your audience get up and leave.

Now with everything at double speed...

ADR is tough. Robert DeNiro has a cameo in a film he directed, so you know he's going to be picky about his performance. Halfway into this scene his original dialog is replaced. They've used sampling reverb and EQ to try and match the location, but it still isn't enough. He speaking in a much more controlled manner, and softer, directly into a microphone. The sync looks great, but the transition between the two is jarring. So instead of replacing just one line and having two cuts in the audio, they continue with his ADR through the rest of the scene.


Remember that reverb is basically blurring sound. We de-focus the dialog here and have a ringing in the ears noise. Doesn't matter what the doctor is saying, we are sharing in the character's shock.

In animation and video games, all the sounds have to be put there intentionally. The layers and layers of sound in Howl's Moving Castle are amazing. High and low pitched winds, footsteps, clothing, grass, the walking stick, helicopter sound, booms, grating metal, creaking wood, steam, and a huge belch!

How would you film this? If you actually had music playing on the other side of that door, you'd need to film it all in one take for all the audio to line up. Instead, film it normally, do the edit and place the music later, with reverb and EQ, using envelopes to change the wet/dry mix when the door opens. Or, later actually play that music on the other side of the door later and record the audio.

Magnolia, the movie with the falling frogs. It seems like a funny concept, but the characters are terrified. The rising, tumultuous banging makes us realize the horrifying danger.

Press conference, the echo of the room makes you feel like you're away from the action. The room feels cold. Contrast that with the next scene in the car, where there is no echo and Hoffman is speaking softly, it feels more intimate. We hear what his personal thoughts are about the last scene.

The dividers prevent us from seeing the rest of this location, but the wetness of the sound imply that it is huge (and probably cold).

The camera breaks the 180° rule here, pointing in four different directions. The enviroment noise helps tie the shots together, the rain and thunder from outside continue to play inside, with EQ dropping the treble as the door closes. Once inside a second layer, the sound of rain on glass, is added.

There's no music here, just a LOT of enviroment (gasps, squeeking shoes, a train) which makes this feel more real.

A short excerpt from a much longer sequence. There's a lot of foley and sound effects here and we strain to hear them, you probably found yourself holding your breath. Note the sound of the air from under the door, tons of detail. When the explosion comes, as we know it will, it still startles.

More amazing sound design, from the sound of the shotgun and the echoey report of the machine gun through the ventilation ducts.

The wind noises change abruptly with the cut here, emphasizing the change. Brolin has gone from the top of the windy ridge down to the dead smugglers in that cut. We instinctively know that time has passed.

Meryl Streep's character tries a drug made from orchids that promotes feelings of fascination. She becomes fascinated with brushing her teeth. The mic placement and stereo image change to mimic how teeth brushing sounds in your own head.

Disregard the fact that this is all in French, it's the mood of the voice over and the environment noises that matter in this example. Amelie has forged an old love letter for her neighbor. Supposedly a reconciliation and plea for forgiveness from the dead husband who left her for another woman thirty years before. Amelie made it from clippings of other letters the man had written and rearranged the phrases to make this one. Note how the voice's emotion abruptly changes as does the background noise.

Probably the only flaw in the remastered Apocalypse Now, dialog audio was accidentally doubled, making this metallic "flange" effect. If you are using a short delay on your audio to widen the stereo field, this weird side effect could creep in when your venue has bad speaker placement or only a monophonic system. Also note that there's some annoying, sustained high pitched tones to create apprehension.

The big sound cliche is to use reverb on flashbacks. Here they try more for a slightly more realistic approach: the drum sticks and boat engine fade to the background, but never quite leave. The soft voice over and strange music are what tells us we're in a flashback.

On 35mm prints, the film comes in 10 minute reels, which are joined together two by two: reels 1&2, reels 3&4, etc. As the projector switches between reels, there is a slight overlap about every twenty minutes. The maker of this are the "cigarette burns" mention in Fight Club. Because they overlap, common practice is to have the audio (dialog, fx, music, all of it) come to rest along these breaks so that there are no strange echos or metallic flanging.

The screams get softer as the shot gets farther away.

Why would you ever need to use a convolution / sampling reverb of a metal tub on your ADR?

There's three things that compete for attention in sound mixing: dialog, noises, and music. To emphasize one, you've got to turn the others down, and in an action scene this is a juggling act. Note how the music drops every time the flail hits the jeep, and how the music stops when the bad guys say "Let's get out of here!"

You don't have to show it to know it happened.

Using volume, reverb wet/dry mix, and left/right pre-delay, the dubbing engineer simulates the sound of approaching a military marching band (which we never actually see)

Huh, I wonder what time period this film is in? The 40's, the 50's even? Oh, right.

Sounds meant to come from the distance are wet (reverb) while the dialog is dry and in the center channel. Sounds that are meant to be behind us are also dry, but hard panned on the right and left.

After spending the whole movie in Iraq, the lead's culture shock is emphasized by the sound of fluorescent lights, muzak, rain, and TV static.

Echoes are just scary, I don't know why. Here a military crackdown is accentuated by heavily reverbed percussion.

A slight tone cluster from the strings to show something is wrong, then after the bump to the head, silence and a tone like ringing in the ears. Everything goes quiet so you pay attention to the title card.

Mom comes home from the hospital after a suicide attempt. Music plays and we don't hear the dialog, until the important conversation later.

The opposite of above. Music plays around the important dialog and foley (door bell), not over it.

The source music is supposed to appear to be coming from jukebox, louder when the camera is closer to it, but the timing is off. Also when Michael Caine is across the bar it just stops. It would have been better to have it be heavily reverbed and fade it out over a longer period. They could have also altered the EQ as Caine moved about.

This scene shows shock and emptiness. The background noise fades out, replaced by a hollow, breathy sound. The piano is drenched in reverb, making it sound distant and lonely. The bass drum mimics a slow, heavy heartbeat. Slowly, the garage and street noise return as he walks away.

Typical action car chase music, then a shock chord when we see the body in the road. the music cuts off cold which forces us to concentrate on the sounds of the crash.

Dropping out crowd noise foley except for photo-bulbs to mimic feeling of being stunned by a punch.

This clip needs some set up. The man in the tower has been fatally shot and is trying to warn his partner down below that the killer is looking for him, he had tried a shouting, but no one heard. He drops coins to get clear the crowd below and prepares to jump as an Irish lament plays. The music is placed so that it ends as he jumps. Halfway through his fall, all sound, even the rushing wind, stops. This is so everyone is listening closely when the horrible splat comes.

The dialog here is not as important as the feeling of bonding, so the dialog cuts out and we only see laughing and chatting as tender, but sad music plays.

Flashback sequences often have echos (delay) and a heavy wash of reverb. They also put it reverse and stuttering sound effects to reflect the visual special effects in the flashback.

Disturbing adaptation of a disturbing Shakespeare play. The young girl has had her hands and tongue cut off. Her scream is replaced by a synthesizer pad and a woman singing a sustained note.

Emotional effect music plays over the swing source music. Note the use of reverb on the swing music to push it into the background.

the audience expects to hear the gunshots from the machine gun. By cutting out the rain foley and the gunshots, this scene has a surreal calm, mirroring Paul Newman's character's resignation to his fate. The rain slowly creeps back in, in time for his last words. The falling piano notes mimic the falling bodies and the rain. The deep strings make our chests vibrate, giving a feeling similar to feeling a powerful emotion.

The internal monologue is heavy with reverb and the sounds resemble ears ringing. After time is called, the monologue is dry. A piano, which is associated with Kirsten Dunst's character plays when she calls him. The tempo of the drums (tabla and toms, ancient and modern sounds) matches the action and most of the racket hits come close to drums hits.

Use of Licensed Music

A lot of what the composer of the documentary Baraka did, was music editing. Using a wide palette of source material and his own music he created a soundtrack as long as the film. Here is a clip from the "war" sequence. To underscore the fact that conflict is universal he used instruments from around the world; Scottish Bagpipes, a Japanese Taiko drum ensemble, Tibetan Rag Dung horns, and Armenian Zourna.

Another Solaris clip. Mentally unstable character is listening to mentally unstable music (Insane Clown Posse.)

One of the few movies where the music was selected before filming began. Many of the songs in this picture where played by the crew during production, and some shots where designed for those cues. Also note how music ends nicely right before the splash.

The choice to use pop music here is to emphasize how this party felt at that point in history, to be accurate of the mood, not the style.

Using licensed music for comic effect. Note the editing on the first music and the abrupt cutoff of the second.

Film makes frequent reference to scenes from Point Break and Bad Boyz II, so the film's climax uses the exact same music form those scenes for this parody. Both music and film had to be edited to match up right.