Documentary filmmakers often rely on music to tell stories in powerful, emotive ways. Music can be used to set the tone of a documentary, establish a mood, and even evoke certain emotions in viewers. Music can be used as a form of narration, to comment on characters or events, and to create a sense of atmosphere.
Music is an incredibly versatile tool in the hands of a documentary filmmaker, capable of creating an immersive experience that would be impossible with dialogue or visuals alone. It has the power to transport viewers to another place, evoke a range of feelings, and set the tone for a documentary.
The use of music in documentary storytelling can be divided into three main types. The first is called ‘source music’, which is any music coming from a source within the documentary itself, be it a character playing an instrument, a radio playing in the background, or a situation that naturally produces music. Source music can be used for comic or dramatic effect, such as in the case of the ‘One More Time’ scene from the 2004 documentary ‘Shine a Light’.
The second type of music used in documentary storytelling is ‘score music’. This is music composed specifically for the documentary, either to underscore existing footage or to provide a musical backdrop for certain scenes. Score music can be used to create an atmosphere or to illustrate the character’s inner state.
Finally, there is the use of popular songs in documentaries. Popular songs can be used to add an extra dimension to a documentary, by providing a context or linking the documentary to the audience’s frame of reference. Popular songs can also be used to create a certain mood or to evoke certain emotions in the viewers.
The use of music in documentary storytelling is an art form that requires a great deal of skill and sensitivity. Music can make or break a documentary; it can add depth and emotion to a story, or it can be used to manipulate the viewer’s feelings. Music has the power to transport viewers to different times and places, and it can be used to create a sense of atmosphere and to illustrate the characters’ inner states.