Screenwriting : Music in Screenplays by Brandon Brown

Brandon Brown

Music in Screenplays

Good afternoon all,

Greetings from London, UK.

Quick question for all my fellow writers:

If I have a piece of music in mind when writing a scene, can I add that it should be playing at that moment in the script? Or is this a no-no ?

Appreciate your help in advance!


Christopher Phillips

In the US, it's a no-no. It runs into issues with licensing and producers start adding up the tab instead of reading the story. I forget who explained the difference with the U.K., might have been Lucy V. Hay, it's apparently fine to add songs in scripts in the U.K..

Also, as a director, you can do what you want since it's your script. As a spec script, people might like it or not like it.

Dan Guardino

Don't do it. It's not your job.

Neal Howard

It depends on the circumstance. In most cases no, but there are always exceptions. If the piece of music you have in mind is uniquely integral to the movie (not just the scene) in helping to convey your essential concept(s) as well as setting an essential tone then indicate it. It should absolutely be vital to your screenplay though. It that circumstance it can help the reader "get" exactly what you want them to get from your story. As to whether or not the music can actually be had or not and at what cost, unless the project you're working on is actually getting produced, who cares? You're writing a spec script and want the reader immersed in that universe, so use the tools you have available to do that. Just don't do it frivolously or because you dig it or if it's interchangeable with any number of other songs. The music, like everything else in your screenplay, should only be there if it's critical to the script.

Debbie Croysdale

@Brandon I agree with most that generally its a No but for rare exception, eg Indie film where writer is also director and maybe part producer. Usually the producers of studio films source who does the music score. Often producers will hire a musician especially to write score for film.

Debbie Croysdale

@ Neal has a point, which i do not discount but also whoever reads your script will have music inside their own head depending on how your words made them feel. I did a number of Sundance music workshops years back and met Javiar Navarrete and others who are hired to write scores depicting what’s inside head of lead characters. As a writer who gives birth to your characters, off course you are number one in understanding them but a producer/director might have a slightly different take on your version of events. On a script per sae I never indicate music unless I have a meeting with an exec/producer and then I verbally suggest a piece of music. EG I have a Rom Com set in Ireland and just give out script BUT in personal meetings I suggest music score, which “encapsulates” characters to a tee.

Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services Coordinator

I'd put it in there until someone who has paid me tells me they can't afford it and it needs to go.

Doug Nelson

Forget the 'but if...' exceptions. Just avoid the hassle and don't do it. Nick; bad advice.

Neal Howard

It's not a hassle if and when it provides critical, creative information. That won't often be the case, but occasionally it does. No producer is going to reject a script just because a specific song was mentioned if that choice makes the script all that more compelling/entertaining. Never say never. Like every other choice you make in your script, just be very thoughtful about it.

Dan Guardino

The only exception would be if it is essential to the story. For example if it helped a detective solve a murder.

Doug Nelson

'But if...' - some of you'll argue with a fence post all day.

Dan Guardino

Doug. I agree.

Claude Gagne

You can well imagine, IF the director is going to direct this film, he/she'll have songs already flipping around in their heads. Let them have fun a little.

Christiane Lange

My main character is a jazz fanatic, so in 2 spots in the script, the music is specified (artist, not specific song). It is part of showing who the character is.

Phil Clarke

Hi Brandon Brown - you should have your answer from the many responses above, but if you need further confirmation, go with the advice from Dan Guardino and Doug Nelson . Steer clear unless it is CRUCIAL to the story.

Natalie Diorio

In my script I put it as a suggestion... (Insert music. Something like Purple Haze.) It was for a Vietnam flashback scene. Remember, right now, you're writing your spec script for the reader. A script annalist, if you hire one, will tell you to keep it or delete it. Mine saw it as a directors note and said the suggestion was fine.

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