Following soundtracks

Reading Marc's "This Week in Sound" newsletter and I'm prompted to think about soundtrack recordings.

He shared the news that "Sony Music Masterworks Acquires Soundtrack Label Milan Records" and pondered: the internet has made such niches more substantial. Milan has a sizable catalog of exactly the sort of music that Sony had long defined itself as above, as apart from. Sony has released plenty of movie soundtracks over the years, but the perception to some degree is that Sony releases the major works (or, to borrow its label terminology, Masterworks), leaving the vast remainder to labels like Milan, Lakeshore, and Varèse Sarabande. Now that distinction is muddier, as Sony gets deeper into the field.

From a dry economics perspective, it seems inevitable that larger companies swallow smaller ones in the pursuit of growth; and I'm going to look in a different direction to the potential mergers that Marc entertains.

For me it makes sense for Sony to recognise the synergies with their own music and film businesses.

After all, they're a company who popularised "synergy" as a growth strategy.

Instead, I wonder if soundtracks are growing in popularity.

Now, since I can't be bothered looking for data, I will reflect on an audience I observed.

While studying TV production last decade, I was surprised at the popularity the production music libraries had among the more dedicated students.

Production music is a term I'm using for the releases aimed at broadcast industries, supplying soundtracks for television shows and advertising.

When you became attuned to the material, it was surprising to recognise the often bland muzak in the background of media.

That was one conversation we'd have but the music took on other roles.

Between takes I'd overhear them comparing notes on the albums with vague titles that evoked moods and genres.

Sometimes they'd identify pieces that had taken on too much character through successive uses, other times they'd discuss favourite pieces.

As a former film critic, I'd been interested in soundtracks and been frustrated in pre-internet times that albums would disappear from catalogues faster than the films would disappear from the cinemas.

As a maker of mixtapes, I'd love dubbing an obscure piece of music from a powerful scene and await questions from listeners about where they'd heard it before.

And the TV production students were listening to the soundtrack albums for similar reasons, as well as others.

Like, I'd share a drive and we'd listen to Hans Zimmer and discuss the role of music in scenes or the fine-line between background and foreground listening.

Or I'd hear them listening to the production music library to create their own soundtracks, whether it was research for an assignment that needed material or as a way of giving their own lives a cinematic quality.

That last observation seemed particularly telling.

Throughout my life I've gravitated toward MTV-style clips that promote music by adding visuals, sometimes by featuring the musicians but also by creating cinematic experiences.

It seemed to me that the TV Production students were inverting that last impression, by adding soundtrack-style music to their own lives for feeling of being part of a movie.

Given the popularity of behind-the-scenes documentaries which, again we're part of reading around the subject, I couldn't shake the feeling their passion for (what I once would've called) cinema was expressed through a desire to create moments like those experienced in movies.

Music is often powerful in turning our thoughts to times we've previous heard a piece, yet the students seemed to be using soundtracks in a different way.

The production music had attracted their interest because they were attentive to their studies and, from being the material they used in assignments, had become part of the soundtracks to their lives.

Sure, it's not so different to how other genres of music is used more generally.

Yet it made me think that soundtracks had transcended reflecting genres for dramatic effect and become a genre for dramatic effect.