Music and cinema have an interesting relationship. Audiences relate music in movies to soundtracks; however, soundtracks represent only a portion of the music one hears. What purpose does music serve in a film? Well, lets address the obvious use of music. Sometimes, in fact often times, music is played through the natural course of action, i.e. in settings were it is naturally heard/played, in cars, bars/clubs. Yet, lets remember that music like clothing can serve as a marker of time. If a story is supposed to take place during a specific time period, the choice of music should fit into this framework providing an authentic feeling that, if done well, can enhance the viewing experience.
In books, readers are often given access into the internal thoughts of characters. We use this glimpse into the psyche as valuable tools that provide motive for future actions and clues into areas that we would remain blind to otherwise. Music is a great equalizer, because it can convey emotion. It can sound dark and ominous or bright and cheerful. And, while it’s often used during sequences of summary, music can provide the same contextual clues associated with other aspects of setting weather, time of day etc. In fact, lyrics can serve as a substitute for internal monologue expressing the thoughts of characters or telling an audience how to interpret a situation/point of conflict.
In the end, the more thought that’s put into music choices the better. If generic half-hearted choices are made an audience may not buy into the music and merely use it as a chance to take a mental break. However, if the choices are made with precision enhancing the overall experience, viewers will gain a greater understanding of the story being told and as a result enjoy it more. Its all in the details.