Short Film Tips: Music Composition in 5 Ways
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Selecting music genres for your short film
  2. How to compose original music score
  3. Using stock music effectively
  4. Why timing matters in film music
  5. How to collaborate with a music composer

Ah, the art of short film making! It's a world where every detail counts, and one of the most impactful of these is music. Knowing how to use music composition for a short film can make the difference between a film that simply passes by and one that truly resonates with its audience. So let's dive in and explore some tips on how to bring your short film to life with the power of music composition.

Selecting music genres for your short film

To kick off our exploration, let's talk about the importance of selecting the right music genre for your short film. This decision can play a big role in setting the mood, enhancing the narrative, and connecting with your audience on an emotional level. But how do we make that decision? Let's break it down:

Understanding your film's theme

First things first: you need to understand your film's theme. Is it a heartwarming tale of friendship? A suspenseful thriller? Or perhaps a humorous romp through an absurd situation? Your film's theme will provide you with clues about what kind of music will best support your story. For instance, a dramatic soundtrack might work well for a thriller, while a lighter, more playful score would be a great fit for a comedy.

Knowing your audience

Next, think about who will be watching your film. Different audience groups can have wildly varying music tastes. If your film is for a younger crowd, you might want to lean towards more modern and upbeat music genres. If your audience leans older, they might appreciate a classical or jazz score. Remember—your music isn't just there to support your story; it's also there to connect with your audience.

Experimenting with genres

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment! The world of music is vast and full of possibilities. Maybe your horror film could benefit from an unexpected sprinkle of bluegrass, or your romantic drama could use some gritty rock 'n' roll. As long as it serves your narrative and connects with your audience, the sky's the limit. So go ahead—play around with your music and see what works best for your short film.

Remember, selecting the right music genre is an important first step in learning how to use music composition for a short film. It sets the tone, enhances your narrative, and helps to connect with your audience on a deeper level. So choose wisely—and have fun with it!

How to compose original music score

Alright, so you've selected a genre that aligns with your film's theme and resonates with your audience. Now, let's roll up our sleeves and dive into the nitty-gritty: composing an original music score for your short film. Sounds daunting? Don't fret—it's a creative process that can be both exciting and rewarding. Let's break it down:

Charting your film's emotional journey

First, you'll want to map out your film's emotional journey. This isn't just about the plot—it's about the feelings and emotions your characters experience and evoke. This emotional map can help guide your music composition. For instance, a scene of triumph might call for a rousing crescendo, while a quiet moment of introspection might be best paired with a soft, slow melody.

Creating motifs and themes

Next, consider creating musical motifs or themes for your characters or key moments in your film. These recurring musical ideas can help to create a sense of continuity and can add layers of meaning to your narrative. Think of the ominous two-note motif in Jaws or the stirring theme of Star Wars—these aren't just catchy tunes, they've become synonymous with the characters and stories they represent.

Experimenting with instrumentation

Finally, experiment with different instruments to create the right atmosphere for your short film. Different instruments can evoke different feelings and emotions—a haunting violin solo, a jubilant trumpet fanfare, a melancholic piano piece. Don't be afraid to mix and match to find the perfect blend of sounds for your film.

Composing original music for your short film can be a challenging but ultimately rewarding process. It's all about understanding your film's emotional journey, creating memorable motifs and themes, and experimenting with different instruments. And remember, this is your composition—there are no wrong answers, only creative choices. So go forth and compose with confidence!

Using stock music effectively

Let's shift gears a bit. What if you're not a composer or don't have access to one? Don't worry—you can still create a memorable soundtrack for your short film using stock music. It might not have the personalized touch of an original score, but used effectively, it can still pack a punch. Here's how:

Choosing the right stock music

Not all stock music is created equal. It's important to find tracks that align with the tone, style, and pace of your film. Pay attention to factors like tempo, instrumentation, and mood. A high-energy pop track might work great for an upbeat montage, but it could fall flat in a dramatic monologue scene. Remember, the perfect piece of stock music should enhance the scene, not distract from it.

Adapting stock music to your film

Once you've found a piece of stock music you like, don't be afraid to adapt it to your film. This could mean fading the music in or out at certain points, adjusting the volume to match the action on screen, or even cutting the track short if it's too long. These small tweaks can make a big difference in how your music fits with your film.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, always respect copyright rules when using stock music. Make sure you have the necessary permissions or licenses to use the music in your film. This can usually be confirmed on the stock music website or with the music's creator. Ignoring copyright can lead to legal issues down the line, so it's always better to play it safe.

All in all, using stock music can be an effective and budget-friendly way to add music to your short film. With careful selection, thoughtful adaptation, and respect for copyright rules, you can create a soundtrack that complements your film and resonates with your audience.

Why timing matters in film music

Now, let's move to an often overlooked but crucial aspect of film music—timing. You may have the perfect track for your film, but if it's not timed correctly, it can throw off the entire scene. Here's why timing matters and how you can get it right:

The role of timing in setting the mood

Imagine this: your film's protagonist is about to make a life-altering decision. The music swells...but then cuts off abruptly. That's likely to leave your audience more confused than moved, right? That's because the timing of music plays a significant role in setting the mood. It can build tension, provide relief, or guide the emotional arc of a scene. When timed correctly, music can magnify the impact of key moments in your short film.

Timing and pacing

Music can also influence the perceived pace of your film. Fast-paced music can make a scene feel more intense or urgent, while slower music can create a sense of calm or melancholy. By carefully timing your music to match the pacing of your scenes, you can enhance the storytelling and make your film more engaging.

How to time your music correctly

Now, the million-dollar question: How do you time your music correctly? Here's a simple tip—start by identifying key moments or 'beats' in your scene. These could be a dramatic reveal, a moment of decision, or a shift in emotion. Next, align your music to these beats. This can help ensure your music enhances the scene rather than distracting from it.

In conclusion, timing is a powerful tool in your music composition toolkit. By understanding its role and learning how to use it effectively, you can create a more impactful and engaging soundtrack for your short film.

How to collaborate with a music composer

Working with a music composer can be a game-changer for your short film. A competent composer brings expertise, creativity, and a fresh perspective to the table. But how do you collaborate effectively with them? Let's break it down:

Communicating your vision

First things first, you need to communicate your vision for the film to the composer. This is not just about the plot or the characters, but also the emotions, themes, and the overall tone of the film. Use descriptive language, share reference tracks, and don't shy away from exploring different music genres. The better the composer understands your vision, the better they can translate it into music.

Allowing creative freedom

While it's important to communicate your vision, it's equally important to allow the composer some creative freedom. Remember, they're not just there to execute your ideas, but also to bring their own unique touch to the project. Give them the space to experiment, and you might be surprised with the results.

Reviewing and giving feedback

Once the composer has created some pieces, it's time for you to review them and give feedback. Be specific about what you like and what you don't. Don't simply say "I don't like it"—instead, try to pinpoint exactly what's not working for you. Is it the tempo? The melody? The instrument choice? The more specific your feedback, the easier it will be for the composer to make adjustments.

Working with a music composer is a partnership—a dance between your vision and their expertise. With clear communication, respect for their creativity, and constructive feedback, you can create a soundtrack that elevates your short film to new heights.

If you're intrigued by the role of music composition in short films and want to learn more, check out the workshop 'Indie Film Composing: Storytelling In Music' by Daisy Coole. This workshop will guide you through the process of creating compelling music for your short films, enhancing the emotional impact and storytelling power of your work.