What’s the best music for images? An original soundtrack or pre-existing, publicly available music?

The specialised international press present at a recent film festivals has devoted numerous articles to music in the broadest sense, including film, documentary, television and publicity in this regard, and highlighting the growing importance of pre-existing music over original music as commentary to images.

Of course, some of these articles have openly criticised this trend, giving voice to a few original music composers, who regard the whole thing as an attack on their professionalism.

What is disconcerting in this controversy – not a recent one by any means, is that nobody has given any attention or consideration to the essential question in either case, and that is: “conveying images with music” is first and foremost an act of creation, which pursues a given aesthetic result.

Film music publishers will not miss the opportunity to express their point of view when addressing professional publications. Still, articles published afterwards have never come to an actual conclusion, and endless debates, conferences and professional meetings have put the issue down in very simple terms: Is it best to use original music or pre-existing music?

Corporatist positions aside, the practical cases we have examined describe, on the one hand, the myths of great collaborations between directors and composers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, Federico Fellini and Nino Rota, Claude Lelouche and Francis Lay. On the other hand, we find Quentin Tarantino, presented as a forerunner in the use of pre-existing music with Pulp Fiction, but also other directors, who disregard original scores and favour instead pre-existing music that conveys the sought-after emotion in their films, as Nanni Moretti accomplished recently with My Mother.

Already before Pulp Fiction, major films produced soundtracks with pre-existing music including 2001 Space Odyssey, The Exorcist, and almost all of Woody Allen’s films.

This is because, after all, it’s only about conveying emotions, and everything revolves indeed around this single word: emotion.

Therefore, it concerns emotions arising from the music and image together, which depend on an aesthetic choice, and not so much on a work system or -even less so- on a particular point of view. In any case, there is really no need to make choice between both approaches, because both of them have been used in the same film at times.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to the talent of both parties; on the one hand, the composer who creates the original music and, on the other hand, possibly the director, who chooses a pre-existing score to highlight a certain film sequence.