Music That Sets the Scene in Film and TV

The music that is used in a screen production can really make or break the whole project. Even if the cinematography, the acting, the screenplay and the costumes are all perfect, the wrong music can completely change the tone of a scene and ruin what the director is trying to convey to the audience. However, when the music is well suited to what’s happening on screen, it can transform it from something good into something truly great.

Here are just a few examples of when the music has perfectly matched with a TV series or movie, to the point where it becomes a well loved and significant character in its own right.

Game of Thrones

Way back in 2011, Game of Thrones first came to our screens and immediately caused a cultural tidal wave. It’s hard to imagine the world without its influence now. As well as the intriguing storyline, fascinating characters and incredible settings, one of the most noteworthy parts of the production was the music. Since then, Ramin Djawadi’s score and his work as composer have gone on to be nominated for, and even to win, several big awards. The rousing theme song played at the beginning of each episode has been lovingly covered by many artists, and big musical names have recorded songs to become part of several episodes, including The National and Florence Welch. Folk songs featured heavily in the books that inspired the series, and they have been translated to the screen extraordinarily well, helping to set the tone of an alternative medieval universe. There was even a world tour involving an 80 piece orchestra and choir, performing the music for audiences from across the globe.


The global phenomenon that is Outlander has been quieter and slower burning than that of Game of Thrones, but it’s no less powerful for it. Currently standing at 5 seasons long, the tale of Scottish highlanders and a time traveling WWI nurse is much loved by audiences from all over. In order to truly evoke the stirring emotions and rousing passions of both the Jacobite cause and the central characters’ relationships, composer Bear McCreary included traditional Scottish folk tunes alongside his own original compositions. This interweaving of true history with McCreary’s modern interpretation of the show’s themes makes for some memorable music. The score fits the epic landscape and equally dramatic affairs of the heart that make the show so impressive. One especially clever trick has been to subtly shift the theme tune – the traditional ‘Skye Boat Song’ – to fit each different season of the show; for example, season 2 is set in France and therefore the song is sung in French, whereas season 3 partly takes place in the Caribbean and so the song utilises Afro-Cuban percussion.

Memorable piano music

Casino Royale

Whilst the 21st century Bond enthusiast might listen to the latest title song release on Popvortex, sample the range of casino games on offer at PokerStarsCasino, or even test drive an Aston Martin using the AMR-C01 (we should be so lucky!), 007 himself still retains an air of the old school. This was even true of the 2006 reboot, starring Daniel Craig in his first outing as the secret agent. When the franchise relaunched starring a rough-around-the-edges brand new James Bond, the music needed to accommodate both Craig’s unpolished character and the franchise’s long history. Composer David Arnold had worked on Bond before, but for this new movie he collaborated with rock singer, Chris Cornell, to create a new musical theme to repeat throughout the movie’s score. Rather than use the infamous ‘James Bond Theme’, Arnold teased the audience with refrains from Cornell’s title song, ‘You Know My Name’. This was meant to be representative of Bond’s inexperience in the latest reincarnation of the character, with the original and best-known theme reintroduced right at the end of the film.

Mamma Mia

Speaking of Bond, alumnus of that series, Pierce Brosnan, took a step out of his comfort zone when he appeared in the all-singing, all-dancing motion picture versions of Broadway smash hit, Mamma Mia! This tribute to the music of ABBA enjoyed monumental success as a stage musical for years before it was transferred to the big screen with an all-star cast. Both Mamma Mia! and its sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, use the music of the beloved Swedish foursome to great effect, telling the story of a mother/daughter duo and their lives spent on a remote Greek island. Although most of the cast featured in both films are known for their acting abilities rather than their singing and dancing, this accessibility aspect charmed global audiences and made sure that both movies smashed the box office upon release. Both Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame were instrumental in the realisation of the film through their work on developing the musical.

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