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Soundtracks

Soundtrack Soundtrack

Origin of the term

In movie industry terminology usage, soundtrack is a contraction of "sound track" and is an audio recording created or used in film production or post-production. Initially the dialogue, sound effects, and music in a film each has its own separate track (dialogue track, sound effects track, and music track), and these are mixed together to make what is called the composite track, which is heard in the film. A dubbing track is often later created when films are dubbed into another language. This is also known as a M & E track (music and effects) containing all sound elements minus dialogue which is then supplied by the foreign distributor in the native language of its territory.

The contraction soundtrack came into public consciousness with the advent of so-called "soundtrack albums" in the early 1950s. First conceived by movie companies as a promotional gimmick for new films, these commercially available recordings were labelled and advertised as "music from the original motion picture soundtrack." This phrase was soon shortened to just "original motion picture soundtrack." More accurately such recordings are made from a film's music track, because they usually consist of the isolated music from a film, not the composite (sound) track with dialogue and sound effects.

The abbreviation OST is often used to describe the musical soundtrack on a recorded medium, such as CD, and it stands for Original Soundtrack; however, it is sometimes also used to differentiate the original music heard and recorded versus a rerecording or cover of the music.

Soundtracks are not the same as "cast albums". Original cast recordings are studio made recordings of the songs from a stage musical. The performers sing the score live every night. They do not lip-synch to pre-recorded tracks. Incorrect use of the terminologies creates confusion in the marketplace. For example as of July 2008 there are two albums of the Mamma Mia score. The first is the original London cast recording from 1999, while the latest is the film soundtrack. While it is correct to call the soundtrack a cast recording (since it is the cast of the film version) it is incorrect to call the original London cast recording a soundtrack.

Types of recordings

In the soundtrack genre there are three types of recordings:

  1. Musical film soundtracks which concentrate primarily on the songs
    (Examples: Grease, Singin' in the Rain)
  2. Film scores which showcase the background music from non-musicals
    (Examples: Star Wars, Exodus)
  3. Albums of pop songs heard in whole or part in the background of non-musicals
    (Examples: Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally)

The first musical film to have a commercially issued soundtrack album was MGM's film biography of Show Boat composer Jerome Kern, Till the Clouds Roll By. The album was originally issued as a set of four 10-inch 78-rpm records. Only eight selections from the film are included in this album. In order to fit the songs onto the record sides the musical material needed editing and manipulation. This was before tape existed, so the record producer needed to copy segments from the playback discs used on set, the copy and re-copy them from one disc to another adding transitions and cross-fades until the final master was created. Needless to say, it was several generations removed from the original and the sound quality suffered for it. The playback recordings were purposely recorded very "dry" (without reverberation); otherwise it would come across as too hollow sounding in large movie theatres. This made these albums sound flat and boxy.

MGM Records called these "original cast albums" in the style of Decca's Broadway show cast albums. They also coined the phrase "recorded directly from the soundtrack." Over the years the term "soundtrack" began to be commonly applied to any recording from a film, whether taken from the actual film soundtrack or re-recorded in studio. The phrase is also sometimes incorrectly used for Broadway cast recordings. While it is correct to call a "soundtrack" a "cast recording" (since it represents the film cast) it is never correct to call a "cast recording" a "soundtrack." Among their most notable soundtrack albums were those of the films Good News, Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun, Singin' in the Rain, Show Boat, The Band Wagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Gigi.

Film score albums did not really become popular until the LP era, although a few were issued in 78-rpm albums. Alex North's score for the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire was released on a 10-inch LP by Capitol Records and sold so well that the label later re-released it on one side of a 12-inch LP with some of Max Steiner's film music on the reverse.

Steiner's score for Gone with the Wind has been recorded many times, but when the film was reissued in 1967, MGM Records finally released an album of the famous score recorded directly from the soundtrack. Like the 1967 re-release of the film, this version of the score was artificially "enhanced for stereo". In recent years, Rhino Records has released a 2-CD set of the complete Gone With the Wind score, restored to its original mono sound.

One of the biggest-selling film scores of all time was John Williams's music from the movie Star Wars. Many film score albums go out-of-print after the films finish their theatrical runs and some have become extremely rare collectors' items.

In a few rare instances an entire film dialogue track was issued on records. The 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film of Romeo and Juliet was issued as a 4-LP set, as a single LP with musical and dialogue excerpts, and as an album containing only the film's musical score. The ground-breaking film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was issued by Warner Bros Records as a 2-LP set containing virtually all the dialogue from the film. RCA Victor also issued a 2-LP set what was virtually all the dialogue from the film soundtrack of A Man for All Seasons.

Movie and television soundtracks

Main article: Film score

The term soundtrack now most commonly refers to the music used in a movie (or television show), and/or to an album sold containing that music. Sometimes, the music has been recorded just for the film or album (e.g. Saturday Night Fever). Often, but not always, and depending on the type of movie, the soundtrack album will contain portions of the score, music composed for dramatic effect as the movie's plot occurs. In 1908, Camille Saint-Saëns composed the first music specifically for use in a motion picture (L'assasinat du duc de Guise), and releasing recordings of songs used in films became prevalent in the 1930s. Henry Mancini, who won an Emmy Award and two Grammys for his soundtrack to Peter Gunn, was the first composer to have a widespread hit with a song from a soundtrack.

By convention, a soundtrack record can contain all kinds of music including music "inspired by" but not actually appearing in the movie; the score contains only music by the original film's composer(s).

Video game soundtracks

Main article: Video game music

Soundtrack may also refer to music used in video games. While sound effects were nearly universally used for action happening in the game, music to accompany the gameplay was a later development. Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway were early composers of music specifically for video games for the 1980s Commodore 64 computer. Koji Kondo was an early and important composer for Nintendo games. As the technology improved, polyphonic and often orchestral soundtracks replaced simple monophonic melodies starting in the late 1980s and the soundtracks to popular games such as the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series began to be released separately. In addition to compositions written specifically for video games, the advent of CD technology allowed developers to incorporate licensed songs into their soundtrack (the Grand Theft Auto series is a good example of this). Furthermore, when Microsoft released the Xbox in 2001, it featured an option allowing users to customize the soundtrack for certain games by ripping a CD to the hard-drive.

Book soundtracks

Only a few cases exist of an entire soundtrack being written specifically for a book.

A soundtrack for J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was composed by Craig Russell for the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony. Commissioned in 1995, it was finally put on disk in 2000 by the San Luis Obispo Symphony.[citation needed]

For the 1996 Star Wars novel Shadows of the Empire (written by author Steve Perry), Lucasfilm chose Joel McNeely to write a score. This was an eccentric, experimental project, in contrast to all other soundtracks, as the composer was allowed to convey general moods and themes, rather than having to write music to flow for specific scenes. A project called "Sine Fiction" has made some soundtracks to novels by science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, and has thus far released 19 soundtracks to science-fiction novels or short stories. All of them are available for free download. Author L. Ron Hubbard composed and recorded a soundtrack album to his novel Battlefield Earth entitled Space Jazz. He marketed the concept album as "the only original sound track ever produced for a book before it becomes a movie". There are two other soundtracks to Hubbard novels, being Mission Earth by Edgar Winter and To the Stars by Chick Corea.

The 1985 novel Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin, originally came in a box set with an audiocassette entitled Music and Poetry of the Kesh, featuring three performances of poetry, and ten musical compositions by Todd Barton.

In comics, Daniel Clowes' graphic novel Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron had an official soundtrack album. The original black-and-white Nexus #3 from Capitol comics included the "Flexi-Nexi" which was a soundtrack flexi-disc for the issue. Trosper by Jim Woodring included a soundtrack album composed and performed by Bill Frisell, and the Absolute Edition of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier is planned to include an original vinyl record.

As Internet access became more widespread, a similar practice developed of accompanying a printed work with a downloadable theme song, rather than a complete and physically published album. The theme songs for Nextwave, Runaways, Achewood, Dinosaur Comics and Killroy and Tina are examples of this.

Many audio books have some form of musical accompaniment, but these are generally not extensive enough to be released as a separate soundtrack.

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