Using incidental music for documentary films, you can expand upon a viewer’s interest and naturally occurring feelings (which varies according to the subject matter and the point of interest). On the other hand, choose the wrong style or tempo of music and you can break the mood of the viewer, causing them to lose interest in the documentary.
It is often suggested that the documentary film director should determine what kind of music is appropriate for the film. Too often, a composer is given full creative freedom and ends up making a soundtrack that is wildly inappropriate to the subject, compromising the seriousness of the project.
Music for serious documentaries has to be subtle, climaxing at revelations of the story or strong emotional cues. There shouldn’t be music just to avoid silence. Documentaries are silent by nature, except during interviews and narratives. Music is typically used at the introduction, at the conclusion and throughout the film, when emotional narrative peaks occur. Subtle is the keyword. Music should never overpower the interviewee’s words or drown out the information that the viewer needs to hear.
Another tip directors give in making music for a documentary video is to avoid working on just sections of the film, going cue to cue, and instead deciding upon an entire “score” of how the final soundtrack will play.
If you’re buying music for serious documentaries, rather than hiring a composer, then you still must decide in advance what peaks there are in the final “composition” rather than leaving it up to chance or whimsy. Always consider whether the music is necessary and if it will support the intent of each sequence and scene. There is such a thing as too much music or too little. If you put noticeable music in one sequence but then use no sound at all for thirty minutes or so, this will also be uneven.
Start thinking about good music in the budgeting phase. If you want to hurry up and make the movie, you can always use what are called “temp” background pieces, which you can download as you need. Then you can redub the music later when you can take your time and decide what piece of music is appropriate.
Pay attention to the music—the unspoken language of documentaries.