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Visuals are one part of a media experience—a key part, usually the first thing you think of when asked to discuss your favorite movie, mini-series, or show. But every fan knows, a soundtrack can really make or break a scene. Some songs are so well-suited to their film or episode that they become emblematic, associated with their piece of media for years to come. The name Titanic immediately conjures the penny whistle solo from “My Heart Will Go On,” and Grey’s Anatomy plotlines are practically whispered between tearful stanzas of “Chasing Cars.” Some things just wouldn’t be the same without their musical accompaniment.

There are many examples of how music supplements, embellishes, and sometimes redefines media. A well-chosen score brings the movie to life. Can you imagine the climactic battle of Thor: Ragnarok without Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”? Every time I hear that opening beat, a dazzling mental image of the god of thunder is not far behind. This is entirely intentional. Music is important in the branding of a show (think of iconic theme songs like the opening of Friends), but it’s also intrinsically linked to your reaction to what’s on screen. Music often serves as a non-visual indicator of what’s to come. The dundun dundun of Jaws is the easiest example of the musical cue of disaster, but this technique is used ubiquitously. Rising tension in music tends to parallel the rising tension on screen, indicating an outburst—physical, verbal, emotional—timed to the melodic climax of the score.

This is based in simple psychology. Music plays on how your brain associates sound with different emotions, images, and even the sense of foreshadowing. It essentially tells you when to be happy, sad, anxious, or excited when you view the media. If an upbeat waltz played during a dramatic death scene, it would be off-putting to you. You would innately know that the sound doesn’t match the emotional gravitas of the scene. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect a violent scene to come on the tail end of a very peaceful song. The music is giving you hints. Of course, music serves more than a purely reactionary purpose in media; it also creates a theme, an aesthetic, a sense of continuity to the film or show.

When you take away the score, how much does the impact change? Drastically. If you mute a horror movie, the “jump scare” will lose most of its power. So much of the dread and fear is laced into the anticipatory soundtrack for a horror movie; without it, it’s just some scary pictures. This is why scoring media is an entire profession and we award expertise in this field at the Oscars. The media experience is irrevocably linked to music. We asked you: What’s your favorite music-in-media moment? 10 favs in no particular order

  1. The entire score of Euphoria

  2. “All of the Stars” in Black Panther

  3. “Fly” in I Am Not Okay with This

  4. Bowie’s “Heroes” in Regular Show

  5. The Bridgerton soundtrack

  6. The museum scene to “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

  7. Katy Perry’s “Roar” in New Girl

  8. The Pride and Prejudice score

  9. “A Thousand Years” in Twilight

  10. The fight scene to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Shaun of the Dead


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