Screenwriting : Use of song titles in script. Good or bad? by Bob Kiely

Bob Kiely

Use of song titles in script. Good or bad?

I read a lot of scripts that include reference to a specific song, which I great if the reader knows the song, but leaves a gap if the reader doesn't. I think it's a mistake to do this instead of just saying something more generic like, "A rap song is playing in the b.g.," or a "steamy torch song..." Even when well done on a generic basis, it sometimes still takes me away from instead of more into the script, as the b.g. mood created may be stronger than the scene itself. Maybe it's just how good it's done or how strongly it may be needed to complete and elevate the scene. On the other hand, I just read a script where "As time goes by" was used, and it really helped make the scene; but what about a reader who didn't know that song (if that's possible:)

A. S. Templeton

Specifying a particular song has licensing (£€$) implications. It also impinges on others' roles in production. Finally, what is meaningful to the writer may be meaningless or be interpreted quite differently by the reader, director etc. Stick to generic descriptors and genres in music callouts.

Mike Romoth

I've heard what Alex said a lot. Rights to a specific song can cost some serious cash. You're better off to leave those decisions to someone else. Although we might love a certain song to death, it might leave others feeling flat. Better to suggest a mood without a specific title to fit that mood.

Bob Kiely

Alex and Mike, Good points. The songs basically enhance mood of the scene, and ultimately can be costly if used, but as most won't be produced, it's more of a "does it help or hurt the script? question. Best, Bob

Stuart Wright

Covered it on my podcast with a music supervisor

Bob Kiely

Thx Stuart; i'll check it out later. Best

John Garrett

I want to go one deeper than any of the legal and cost ideas. Although I understand the reason to want a specific song, I want my story and writing to be so good that I can put "music plays in the background" and that is enough. If I have done a good job as a writer, I would hope that the scene will call for a specific type of song. I am not saying that I could always pull that off, but that would be the ideal.

D Marcus

Putting money and the laws aside for a moment; A song enhances the mood in a movie. Does reading the title of a song enhance the mood in a screenplay? As Bob and Alex mention if the reader doesn't know the specific song reading the title can't really help create a mood.

Alan Tregoning

I have read scripts where the writer has included songs that play over a certain scene and what I find is that most of the time I am not familiar enough with the song for it to do anything to enhance the read and even if I am familiar with the song, it's not like I'm going to crank up spotify and play the song while I read. For me it just comes across as amateurish to write the soundtrack into the script.

Bob Kiely

The consensus seems to be building that specific songs in a script is not a substitute for good writing and may in fact, be confusing, particularly if the reader isn't personally acquainted with the song. Let's see how this develops.

Boomer Murrhee

I have a song from 1965 in mind. Would it require rights to be purchased?

Stuart Wright

Boomer ... Check out my podcast link above

Boomer Murrhee

Thanks Stuart, listening now.

D Marcus

Yes, Boomer. You will need to purchase the rights to use that song you have in mind.

Brian Shell

For my first 4 film scripts, I created the soundtrack before I wrote a word. To me, I first wanted to create the mood... then worry about securing the rights - after. While that approach may not be the best, when I go back and replay those soundtracks (in some cases, 20 years later), I can see see each scene and its setting precisely. I love that. Another thing I did was to create a list of "similar songs" for each song on each soundtrack. Over the years, I've made over 100 cassette-tape "sound-scapes" where I title and date each one... and can instantly go back to that particular time in my life... kinda like a portable "Memory Box"... though now, I do my sound-scapes on CD-R's. Great for seamless, commercial-free listening enjoyment.

Boomer Murrhee

Thanks, D Marcus, the song wasn't essential but did some meaning at the point of the story. I can easily take it out but wanted to alert producer/director so they could consider the option.

Regina Lee

Here's a similar conversation with some of my comments: https://www.stage32.com/lounge/screenwriting/Music-is-a-screenplay

Regina Lee

Btw, I 100% agree with CJ's Final Destination example in the above link.

Regina Lee

FYI, I'm prepping to teach my final S32 Next Level class. Of the 15 feature film script openings we will discuss in class tonight, 2 of the 15 writers have chosen to include a song title within the first 4 script pages. I would never have thought twice about it when reading if not for these posts. Judicious song choice that adds to the story is just fine. But the screenwriter is not the Music Supervisor, so don't overdo it and don't do it when it doesn't add to the story! FYI my class page is https://www.stage32.com/classes/How-To-Hook-Your-Reader-In-Only-5-Pages, should anyone be interested in taking the class "on demand."

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