Does Your Blog Have a Soundtrack?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dumbledore said it best.

Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!

If you've ever watched a movie without music (perhaps in the "deleted scenes" of your favorite DVD) then you know: a movie without music is like a bowl of cereal without milk. Subtract the music, what's left? A bunch of dry exposition without emotional or dramatic oomph. Music adds drama, excitement, psychological color. It can even suggest concrete meaning.

Take for example the vintage feel-good corn of the opening theme of the 80s-era sitcom, Diff'rent Strokes.

Change the music, keeping everything else the same, and a Rosemary's Baby-esque tale of murder or supernatural malice emerges: Disturbing Strokes.

Music can accomplish a full 180-degree reversal in the feel of a particular visual. No single component of a movie or video game has greater visceral emotional impact than the music. Probably the most famous example of the transformative power of music is, you guessed it, the genre-defining Star Wars soundtrack.

Everybody knows (or recognizes when played) the Star Wars theme. But what many people don't know is that the Star Wars theme was so successful, so iconic, that it changed the relationship between movies and music in a way that few film scores ever have.

Star Wars is often credited as heralding the beginning of a revival of grand symphonic scores in the late 1970s. While to ascribe this feat single-handedly to Williams is premature, the popularity and impact of the scores was a major contribution. One technique in particular has had a particular influence: Williams's revival of a technique called "leitmotiv", which is most famously associated with the operas of Richard Wagner and, in film scores, with Steiner. A "leitmotif" is a phrase or melodic cell that signifies a character, place, plot element, mood, idea, relationship or other specific part of the film. It is commonly used in modern film scoring, as a device to mentally anchor certain parts of a film to the soundtrack. Of chief importance for a "leitmotif" is that it must be strong enough for a listener to latch onto while being flexible enough to undergo variation and development.

Much of the credit for the world-breaking success of Star Wars should go to the composer: John Williams. Because without that boisterous, over-the-top symphonic introduction, without the menacing stomp of the Imperial death march, without the syncopated offworld rhythms of the Mos Eisley cantina—without the brooding-yet-yearning theme of the Jedi:

...Star Wars wouldn't be Star Wars.

And of course, it's not just movies; television, video games, documentaries, newscasts, sporting events, and talk radio all incorporate music in one way or another. We hear music in lobbies and elevators and when we're on hold. We've used music to send soldiers into battle. And at this very moment a copy of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is hurtling through the depths of interplanetary space as part of a welcome package which will probably never be found by an alien civilization we may never meet.

Why has music never been applied to standard forms of online writing such as blog posts and online articles?

After all, we embed pictures and video and Flash games on a whim. Why not include a musical selection, chosen by the author, with each piece of online content? Music tastes vary wildly, but couldn't a carefully chosen piece of music add value to the reader's experience? If Hollywood can do it, why can't the blogosphere? Why can't the Internet as a whole?

Why not?

The ostensible answer is that web pages that play music are annoying. But that's really only true of web pages that play music without the user's consent: irksome Myspace profiles, irritating Flash presentations, and the like. Like you, I resent it when a web page makes noise unless I give it permission to make noise.

But what if the "content soundtrack" was optional?

Couldn't we tag each piece of writing with a song, giving readers the option of reading the content while listening to the same music that the author was listening to when he wrote the content? Would some readers enjoy this?

Speaking for myself, the answer is yes.

I'd like to see a "read with soundtrack" button at the top of each and every page of "serious" content: every blog post, every news article, every technical specification.

And as we've all had bad experiences with noisy websites, there would have to be some ground rules:

  • The default state of the "read with soundtrack" button should be OFF.
  • The button should be small, and presented tastefully at the top of the page.
  • Upon pressing the button, the music should play. Upon pressing it a second time, the music should stop.
  • Clicking the button should never do anything (such as navigate to another page) that would interrupt the reading of the current page.
  • The button should include a small piece of hyperlinked text pointing to the discography information.

And there you have it: a non-invasive way to spice up your content and simultaneously promote and discover new music, all without annoying those readers who don't want to hear it. Again, I'm talking about hand-picking a piece of music to give the content greater impact, not spamming readers with random songs.

Then again, I'm a hopeless music geek. Any attempt to glom music together with anything is going to appeal to me. What about you? Is it a worthwhile feature? Sheer craziness? Would you use it, either as a reader or a writer? Let us know.

Tags: blogging, music

31 comment(s)

Maybe the poker sites should use a death-march theme.......

There is one big difference between video and text: while, with video, you can synchronise the audio to get a certain effect: that is impossible with text. This doesn't make it impossible, but it does mean you will have to choose the music to fit the entire page. Then again, blog posts are not that long, so that shouldn't be a problem.

And I wonder... would it be possible to mix the music while you are scrolling up and down the page? That would be really cool :D

I'd love to see the difference in comments on an article if the "read with soundtrack button" randomly returned one of two different scores (Diff'rent Strokes or Disturbing Strokes).


Aside from valhallasw's correct observation that much of the power of music in movies and television comes from its precise synchronization, there's a more fundamental problem: reading is active while watching is passive. Have you tried reading with music on before? One of two things happens, either you are distracted by the music and can't read, or you tune the music out so that you can read. In neither case does the music amplify the experience.



Nope, doesn't work the same when you're reading. There's a complicated visual connection. One theory is that the "music instinct" emerged from the way we closely couple sound with action (ie, voices communicating while hunting, setting up camp, etc). So a soundtrack works for driving, dancing, drama, etc -- all of which involve action and have a strong visual component.

...the visual component makes the action more concrete. Reading by itself doesn't do the trick.

...maybe motion in general, with human motion (action) being the most significant case.

Does your poker bot have a soundtrack? Da da dadaaaa, automate...

Actually, edit that:

Does your poker bot have a soundtrack? Da da dadaaaa, automate... I have this one young Skywalker!

Awesome idea... make it happen. I've actually thought about what songs would I include in the sound track of my life? The list is long but distinguished. I think most bloggers would skip this cause it might add too much to think about when posting. I've seen where people include the "what am I listening to now."

I agree with what Nathan said: reading is active, watching is passive. OTOH I've seen YouTube videos which are mostly text on a dark screen with a music accompaniment and in those cases the music does seem to add something...

Interesting idea.

Music, I'm not so interested in. But a blog that could pour me a beer...that would be something. The real question should be does your blog have a bartender?

That would be cool.

[quote]The default state of the "read with soundtrack" button should be OFF[/quote]

There's your problem; since sites don't adhere to this rule, people have come to see music as invasive. From the General MIDI file played on Geocities sites to the atmospheric soundtrack for some Flash-based design site.

I always liked this quote : "Music is the soundtrack of our lives".

Since our lives are finite, the music we listen to is the soundtrack. Your blog has a life span. That music you included, is the soundtrack of your blog, and to a larger extent, the soundtrack of your life, and mine now.

A Zen perspective from one of your Zen Readers...Something to think about.

I heart this idea! :-) I started using Myspace because of the profile songs. Music is very important to me!! This would also be a great way for bands and musicians to get their songs heard! If you do this, plz post it as a widget so other people can use...

Have you not seen "No Country For Old Men" ??? There's not one note of music in that and some would say the film is better because of it!

I imagine lack of music is difficult to pull off in a film. Most movies are enhanced by there soundtrack, though I hate seeing music used a crutch. This is usually done in studio crap aimed at a younger movie-goer. How many times can they regurgitate "Time to Pretend".

Parts of Watchmen are guilty of this, such as when Rorschach and Nite Owl are flying to Antarctica with Hendrix's version of All Along the Watchtower playing. I liken these short little half-song music videos to playing the first 20 seconds of a high energy song--over and over again--at a sporting event. They at least could have used the Dylan version, since Dylan is credited in the book.

No Country for Old Men -- good point. I think the music has to REALLY fit in order to overcome the distraction element. Hitchcock had to be talked into adding music to the shower scene in Psycho. But look at [url=]Vertigo[/url].

I actually like this idea, but I can't resist pointing out that one of your favorite shows -- The Office -- has almost no music whatsoever!!

The only music you'll hear in The Office is a) the opening theme and b) incidental music such as when Michael tries to turn the downstairs closet into a disco cafe.

"Change the music, keeping everything else the same, and a Rosemary's Baby-esque tale of murder or supernatural malice emerges: Disturbing Strokes."

This might be a tad anal, but Diff'rent Strokes and Disturbing Strokes are two completely different videos (visually as well as musically).

Love this idea. Unfortunately, like someone up there pointed out, the original wave of Internet lusers ruined this for us with crappy websites with embedded music that can't be turned off.

Interesting idea, I must admit. But I didn't quite get one part, why add music to articles and news? Isn't the soundtrack primariy supposed to raise emotions in the person watching the movie (or reading the text)? Just go back to see the binary sunset if you don't get me. News and scientific articles, if properly done, should not try to make us feel and emotions. I guess white noise could be objective enough soundtrack for those.

Love that video. Hate the idea. But I think the younger generation will be more amenable to this.

Love that idea! At least very interesting ;)

I've experimented with music for my posts [url][/url] but not with automation. I started doing this on a whim since it was a song that on many occasions inspired me to write.

I like you idea of an icon indicating that the post is best experienced by pushing play first.

I loved this post so much I submitted it to Digg. This was great. Keep it up!

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