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Knowledge Base Article: KB2323
Topic: FAQ - Composer and Producer Issues

Title: What is a Film Score?

Last Reviewed: Jun 05, 2011

What is a Film Score?

A film score (also sometimes called background music or incidental music) is original music written specifically to accompany a film, forming part of the film's soundtrack, which also usually includes dialog and sound effects. The score comprises a number of orchestral, instrumental or choral pieces called cues which are timed to begin and end at specific points during the film in order to enhance the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of the scene in question.

Songs are usually not considered part of the film's score, although songs do also form part of the film's soundtrack. Although some songs, especially in musicals, are based on thematic ideas from the score (or vice-versa), scores usually do not have lyrics, except for when sung by choirs or soloists as part of a cue. Similarly, pop songs which are "needle dropped" into a specific scene in film for added emphasis are not considered part of the score, although occasionally the score's composer will write an original pop song based on his themes, such as James Horner's "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic, written for Celine Dion.

Scores are written by one or more composers , under the guidance of the film's director and/or producer, and are then usually performed by an ensemble of musicians - most often comprising an orchestra or band, instrumental soloists, and choir or vocalists - and recorded by a sound engineer.

Film scores encompass an enormous variety of styles of music, depending on the nature of the film it accompanies. The majority of scores are orchestral works rooted in Western classical music, but a great number of scores also draw influence from Jazz, Rock, Pop, Blues, New Age, Ambient music, and a wide range of ethnic and world music styles. Since the 1950s, a growing number of scores have also included electronic elements as part of the score, and many scores written today feature a hybrid of orchestral and electronic instruments.

Since the invention of digital technology and audio sampling, many low budget films have been able to rely on digital samples to imitate the sound of live instruments, and many scores are created and performed wholly by the composers themselves, by programming sophisticated music composition software.


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