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Soundtrack refers to the sound part of an audiovisual projection, whether it is composed of dialogues, ambient sounds, music and any other type of sound, be it real or synthetic. It is normally assimilated with music in the movie theater (cinema), but it can also be used in any other audiovisual product, such as video games , television programs and derivative products.

A soundtrack is usually understood to be all that music, both vocal and instrumental, that is broadcast together with the motion picture. Although at first the soundtrack can be considered as the music composed expressly for a film , even in the silent film era, the truth is that the soundtrack itself was born with the appearance of the talkies .

The two initial systems were the Vitaphone , created by the Bell Telephone and Western Electric companies in 1927, and later the Photophone System , created by the RCA and General Electric companies , in 1928.

The soundtrack of a movie, in its physical sense, can be of two types: magnetic or optical . In the first case, one or more magnetic recording strips run along the edges of the film strip. When these lines are read by a device in synchronization with the projection, the sounds are generated in a similar way to how a cassette player would . In the case of optical soundtracks, these are areas of darkness and light on one or two sides of the film strip. The different intensities of light are then converted into electrical impulses creating the whole of the soundtrack.

Digital sound systems are also used , which are now becoming common in cinematographic projections and which respond to the 1080p , 2K , UHD , 4K and 8K digital projection standards , already in force.


A soundtrack, in general, usually has the following structure:

  • Entry / start / header theme . It is usually the theme or song that begins the movie or series for which it has been composed. Opening or Main Title, in English.
  • Main theme . It is usually a theme that is identified with the main character or characters or with the predominant action in the film. It may be reminiscent of the entry topic or it may also be a different topic.
  • Exit / closing / ending theme . It is usually the theme or song that plays along with the end credits of the movie or series for which it has been composed.
  • Leitmotiv . Resource used to symbolize an emotion, an object, a character or a protagonist. It can coincide with the main theme ( James Bond ).
  • Background or incidental music: Set of themes that are adapted to action (horror movies).

Soundtrack functions

The soundtrack is an integral part of the audiovisual message and generally serves to:

  • Highlight the actions.
  • Convey information.
  • Increase the sense of reality.
  • Help convey emotions.

Direct sound and recorded sound.

The soundtrack can collect two types of sound by its origin:

The direct sound is one that is taken during the recording of images and jointly with them.

This type of sound is used primarily in non-professional recordings, documentaries, and experimental, artistic and home video projects. The very fact that the sound recording is made over the original video recording makes the sound appear fragmented during montage.

The recorded sound can be of three types: Recorded before, during or after recording the images.

In any of the three cases, these sounds are integrated into the final montage during the post - production phase . This includes studio recording or "dubbing" of the characters' dialogues, which can be performed by the same actors who play the different roles or by actors specialized in dubbing, especially when the dialogues are translated into other languages.

The sounds of the special effects are included in this type , which serve to highlight and set the actions shown in the images. This type of sound is the most common way of making audio in an audiovisual production.

The recorded sound also includes accompanying music and film music , composed for a film, which is one that usually assimilate with the original soundtrack (OST).

Diegetic sound and extradiegetic sound

Another way of classifying sound is linked to its function in the context of the audiovisual message.

It is usually called diegetic sound to all that sound that is part of the narrated story or the narration itself. Thus, if one of the characters is playing a musical instrument, or plays a compact disc, the resulting sound is diegetic.

On the contrary, if the sound or background music is not heard by the characters, it is called extradiegetic or non-diegetic . Themes composed as a film arrangement (generally called a "soundtrack") are extradiegetic or non-diegetic. So are background music, which serves to enhance a scene, or special stress or psychological effects that can appear in certain scenes.

Stages in the development of the soundtrack

From 1895 to 1927

The first attempts to incorporate the soundtrack to the films were based on the operation in tandem, with the attendant problems, of the projector and a phonograph . Indeed, in many of the best cinemas already existed "musical accompaniment", usually provided by a piano or pianola . The films were also presented or narrated by someone from the movie theater itself or by one of the actors or filmmakers, in the most prominent screenings. If a film lost interest on the part of the public, it was sometimes encouraged with musical numbers or performances of all kinds, before, during or after the projection.

In 1896 , less than a year after the presentation of the mute apparatus, Edison already patented his quinetophone , which combined film and phonographic mechanics. From the first moments, as mentioned above, the music was performed live on screen. Specialized people, including "the explainer", told what was happening and by means of gadgets they made the noises, wind, storms, bird chirps and others, which were used for a better understanding of the language of the silent images. Sound increases the impression of reality. It gives the film sound continuity. It is a mechanism to achieve unity.

Music recording.

Another significant advance occurred with the creation of the chronophone, with which a better synchrony was achieved between the songs played by the phonograph and the images, although it still had very noticeable flaws in the spoken sound. The system made film production significantly more expensive and the war of 1914 almost completely stopped its use.

From 1927 to the present day

After the first attempts to create a synchronized sound system, basically the Warner Bros Vitaphone system , in 1927, and until the appearance of the Photophone System , which uses an optical soundtrack, in 1928, the first attempts to create an OST linked to cinematographic projection.

Since then, three successive stages can be marked in the stylistic evolution of the BSO [ 1 ] :

Classical symphonism (1930-1950)

It is characterized by the development of long pieces, conceived for the film, descriptive or epic. Singular themes also appear.

Music in the cinema really begins with the work of those European exiles who come to the United States looking for work, and they get it in the nascent talkies. Korngold, Steiner, Waxman, Tiomkin, Rózsa are names remembered in the history of cinema. What would Robin Hood be without Korngold's fanfare, or Scarlett O'Hara without Steiner? In fact, it was the latter who, being a disciple of Gustav Mahler in Vienna, decided to transform King Kong into an instrumental musical work. This decision, together with the producer, transformed the history of cinema, since from there the BSOs were extremely important.

The main theme (1951-1971)

One theme dominates the entire film, repeating itself several times during the footage.

External themes not created for the film appear, but which are integrated into it in a significant way, giving it a new character: the music of North American folklore, or of any other country. jazz or rock and roll begin to appear in the footage of the films as an effect of the nascent record industry, the LP or single records , which give birth to a new consumer product.

At this time, great singers and musical performers began to appear who became movie stars, such as Bing Crosby , Frank Sinatra , Elvis Presley , Louis Armstrong and others, who starred in many of Hollywood's films and who in many cases released albums with the songs they perform. At this time there is a great harmony between the music industry and the film industry.

Despite the appearance of this trend in film music, most films did not stop having classic soundtracks. Thus, a certain continuity with the stage of classical symphonism can be seen in composers who worked throughout these years. This is the case of Leonard Bernstein , David Raksin and especially Bernard Herrmann , probably the great genius of film music .

New Symphonism (1972-2019)

Return to classical symphonism, with a mixture of contents.

Over the past 30 years some renowned composers have given audiences new ratings for soundtracks. Examples of this are John Williams , Jerry Goldsmith , Joe Hisaishi , Hans Zimmer , James Newton Howard , Danny Elfman , Basil Poledouris , James Horner , Vangelis , Nicola Piovani , or Ennio Morricone .
Some albums are still sold by the millions, as the Scorpion King and the song of I Stand Alone by Godsmack , Chariots of Fireand Blade Runner by Vangelis or The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini .

Great OST Composers

Great composers of all time:
John Williams
" Shark ," " Star Wars ," " Superman: The Movie ," " Harry Potter ," " Indiana Jones ," " Schindler's List ," " ET the Extra-Terrestrial ," " Jurassic Park ."
" Blade Runner ", " Chariots of Fire ", " 1492: the conquest of paradise ".
Hans Zimmer
" The Lion King ", " Gladiator ", " Pirates of the Caribbean ", " Inception ", " The Dark Knight ".
Joe Hisaishi
" Spirited Away ", " Princess Mononoke ", " Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind ", " Howl no Ugoku Shiro ", " Kids Return ".
Nino Rota
" The godfather ", " Romeo and Juliet ", " La dolce vita ".
Danny Elfman
«Beetlejuice», «Edward Scissorhands», «The Nightmare Before Christmas», «Sleepy Hollow», «Corpse Bride», «Batman» de Tim Burton.
Jerry Goldsmith
«Mulan», «Alien: el octavo pasajero», «The Secret of NIMH», «Rambo», «Basic Instinct», «Congo», «Gremlins» o «Total Recall».
Howard Shore
The Lord of the Rings , " The Aviator " or " The Departed ."
James Horner
«Avatar», «A Beautiful Mind», «Braveheart», «Titanic», «Apolo 13», «Aliens: El regreso».
Elliot Goldenthal
" Alien³ ", " Interview with the Vampire ", " Heat ", " Sphere ", " Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ", " Batman and Robin " by " Joel Schumacher ", and " Frida ".
Trevor Jones
«The Last of the Mohicans», «Notting Hill», «Dark City», «From Hell», «En el nombre del padre».
James Newton Howard
7-time Oscar nominee, author of " The Prince of Tides ," " Defiance ," " Michael Clayton ," " The Village ," " The Fugitive, " and Christopher Nolan's " Batman " (with Hans Zimmer ).
Elliot Goldenthal
" Alien³ ", " Interview with the Vampire ", " Heat ", " Sphere ", " Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ", " Batman and Robin " by " Joel Schumacher ", and " Frida ".
Randy Newman
« Toy Story», «A Bug's Life», «Monsters, Inc.», «Cars», «The Princess and the Frog». Ganador del Oscar por If I Didn't Have YouMonsters, Inc.») y We Belong TogetherToy Story 3»).
Ennio Morricone
« The good, the bad, the ugly », « La misión », « Cinema Paradiso », « Érase una vez en América », « Orca, la ballena asesina », « The Thing ».

Other composers perhaps somewhat less known for composing also for sectors such as television , video games or animation , can be:

Graeme Revell
Author of a huge amount of works both for the cinema (" Total calm ", " The crow ", " Strange days ", " Sin City ", " Pitch Black ", " Red planet ", " Daredevil ", " The Insider " ... up to a total of 84 films) such as television (" CSI: Miami ", " Unidentified ", " Dune ") and video games such as " Call of Duty ".
Randy Edelman
" Dragonheart ", " MacGyver " (TV), " The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ", " 27 Dresses ", " xXx ", " Dragon: The Story of Bruce Lee ".
Michael Giacchino
Awarded with the Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy for " Up ", author of " Super 8 " and " The Incredibles " and soundtracks for television series such as " Alias " or " Lost ". He is also the author of the award-winning soundtrack for the video game " Medal of Honor ."
Steve Jablonsky
for movies " The Island ", " Transformers ", television (" Desperate Housewives ") and video games such as " Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands " and " Gears of War 2 ".
John Powell
Especially in animated films like " Rio " (2011), " How to Train Your Dragon " (2010), " Kung Fu Panda " (2008, with Hans Zimmer ), " Shrek " (2001), " The Road to El Dorado "(2000)," Antz "( Hormigaz , 1998) ... Oscar nominated for" How to train your dragon "and winner of several Annie Awards (the Oscars of animation) and ASCAP among others. [ 2 ]
Kōji Kondō
One of the most recognized composers in the field of video games. Soundtrack creator for the Nintendo franchises " The Legend of Zelda " and " Mario ".
Jun Senoue
Another of the most recognized composers in the field of video games. Soundtrack creator for the SEGA franchises ' Sonic The Hedgehog '

Other prominent authors are:

John Barry
«Out of Africa», «Dances with Wolves», «Chaplin».
Klaus Badelt
«Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl».
Clint Mansell
" Requiem for a Dream ", " Doom: Hell's Gate ".
John Debney
" The Passion of Christ ", " The island of severed heads ."
Alberto Iglesias placeholder image
" The Constant Gardener ", " Kites in the Sky ", " Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ".

See also


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