Anyone who has watched a movie or a TV show knows how important song selection and music placement can be. A well-placed song can elevate a scene whereas a misplaced song can end up being distracting. While most films enlist a composer to create the score (i.e. the emotional backbone of a project), it is the music supervisor who is tasked with placing songs alongside those composed pieces.
One of my current favorite bands, M83, has started gaining some traction and, unsurprisingly, started popping up in various films and trailers. I noticed that two different songs from the band were used in two different ways recently – one in a scene in Step Up Revolution (“Wait”) and one in the trailer for Cloud Atlas (“Outro”.) One of these placements worked well (see: Cloud Atlus trailer) and one did not (see: the kissing scene in Step Up Revolution.)
M83’s otherworldly, electronic sound was the perfect fit for a film like Cloud Atlus and the use of “Outro” in the film’s trailer worked to add to the emotion of the stunning visuals. Granted such a small portion of “Wait” was used in Step Up Revolution it actually cut off before the lyrics really started to come in, but the song still seemed misplaced and felt more forced than a natural accompaniment to the scene. But when a band starts getting placed everywhere, instead of just getting that music exposed to new ears, it can sometimes cause the band to become oversaturated and end up working against the artist. It was hard to listen to any soundtrack in 2010 without coming across a track from Florence and the Machine and The Black Keys, both great bands, but ones that started to toe that line of oversaturation.
It is no surprise when an artist starts getting some heat to hear their music in movies, shows, and trailers – when you’re hot, you’re hot. But it got me thinking about the converse effect – how placing songs from artists that have not been in rotation or on the radio in a while end up giving those songs new life while also making their usage all the more memorable. Sure – within this context the songs are usually used for comedic effect rather than an emotional one, but it is still interesting to see how these songs and artists would have more than likely faded into the past until they turned up in these films. Most people were probably not rocking out to The Foundations and Bert Kaempfert, but thanks to some smart placement, these tunes were suddenly back on audience’s radars, even if it was only for that moment.
I rounded up my top five “old is new again” placements here – head to the comment section to let me know some of your own!
5. My Best Friend’s Wedding – “Say A Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick
4. Something About Mary – “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations
3. Bridesmaids – “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips
2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – “Danke Schoen” by Bert Kaempfert
1. The 40 Year Old Virgin – “Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by James Rado and Gerome Ragni
And, of course, there’s Anchorman and the steak-and-waffles-and-scotch-infused “Afternoon Delight.”
Do you think artists can get overused in films and television shows when they hit a popular streak? Do you like it when older or lesser-known songs get placed in funny or unexpected ways?