This installment won’t be going beyond overview because I already have a full article series that goes into songs that tell a story. Going into more detail here would be redundant. Instead, while I will discuss music as narrative there’s another use for music in storytelling I’ll be going over.
Ahh, music. The universal language. I’m playing some music as I write this. When it comes to music in storytelling, as I just noted, there are two ways to go about it. There’s a song on it’s own, which is what Sing Me A Story is about, and there’s background music. Both have their place in storytelling and both can actually do the same job as the other. That will make more sense once I stop having to pad out this intro for the front page and get into what I’m talking about. Oh, look, there it is. Thank you, banner, for extending the post on the home page because I really don’t know what else to say without getting into the actual discussion. Frankly I’ll be spending more time looking for samples than writing the article itself, and that’s if I even have room for it.
First off, song as narrative. Again, I have an article series for that but it comes in three methods. A song can pinpoint a moment in time, a thought or emotion being expressed by the songwriter, either based on a personal experience or an overall shared generality. On rare occasions I’ve even seen a full on narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end. You can even string a bunch of songs together to form one larger story. Rock opera, and really regular opera now that I think about it, does this quite often. Experimental albums have been made on this premise.
This idea has even continued on to the instrumental. For example, one of the records I used to get out of the public library was a version of Peter And The Wolf. On one side was just the music, showing each event without words. If you needed more help the other side had a narrated story. Take a look at Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555: The 5tory Of The 5ecret 5star 5ystem and I can’t believe spell check only snagged the first word of that title. The album “Discovery” has all the songs and you can just listen to it, but the anime fills in the full story. I don’t know if the story translates as well in instrumental without any dialog or visuals though. Unless you know what’s happening all you get are vague notions of “this is scary”, “this is silly”, or “this must have a lot of action I wish I could see”.
That’s why instrumental music works better as background for a story. Good background music–whether in TV, movies, audio dramas, or video games, help set the mood. It should never overpower the visuals. It should add to the emotion, further drawing the audience into the story. In video games this is probably the most important. Imagine playing a level of a Resident Evil game and this is your background.
On the other hand, a funny video using footage from the game and your many failures would totally benefit. A huge fight scene in a movie…not so much. Imagine that played to this:
The scary part is how well that matches up with the staircase sequence, and probably could have matched up with the second fight had they tried. Seriously, try it for yourself. Mute the fight and play the music. Doesn’t really match the tone they were going for, but it lines up.
Even the theme song or opening credits music really needs to match up with what you’re about to see. A good song itself won’t save an intro but the music really needs to sell the intro and thus the show. One of my problems with some anime intros is when they don’t match the show they’re doing. You get a bouncy tune for a more serious show and I’ve seen the reverse as well. It’s what I love about the intro to Starcom: The US Space Force.
I went over it in my review years ago, but one of the things that work is how the music is all heroic for Starcom (the name Trump SHOULD have given to the Space Force but I digress) scenes but when the villains show up the music alters to match, then goes right back into hero mode when our heroes arrive at the villain’s space base. Some themes are iconic because of how they help ready you for the fictional world you’re going to be dropped in. When you hear the theme for Superman: The Movie or Star Wars you know immediately what it’s from, even if you haven’t seen it.
Even songs with lyrics can help set the mood. Your protagonist may be lost in thought, recalling or assessing where they are in the story. It may just be there to sell the soundtrack and make a few extra bucks off of the movie, but if done right it really does set the mood. Otherwise, just stick it in the closing credits as the audience leaves the theater. If one of your protagonists is a singer or a scene is set during a concert having good music is very important. If the music sucks your character doesn’t look so good as a musician. And that’s not even getting into musicals, which is an article on its own.
So, music as narrative or music to support the narrative. Either way it’s an important part of the art of storytelling. If you’re telling any kind of story with audio…and I’ve seen soundtracks to novels and comics as well, plus the right music can benefit a writer or artist working on a certain scene but that’s on the creative end…it’s an important thing to consider to create the mood and emotion you want. Don’t discount it. If game shows can get this right your video or audio drama better.