Culture/Movies

Soundtracks are going to outlive albums

Soundtracks are now a staple of the Billboard 200 and the music industry needs to face the music.

April 2, 2018

Our favourite moments in TV and film are underscored by kick-ass music. When we remember the thrilling car chase, the steamy love scene or the plot twist that made our jaws drop, we also think fondly of the awesome song that was playing in that moment. Soundtracks are a way for us to re-live those epic scenes. The charts are telling an interesting story: out of the top 50 albums on the Billboard 200, five of them are soundtracks. It’s a trend worth paying attention to for record labels and film studios alike.

From a record label’s perspective, movie soundtracks are a good business move. When a label’s star artist is between albums, a soundtrack can be an effective way to maintain marketing momentum. For instance, days after news broke in January that Kendrick Lamar would be curating the Black Panther soundtrack, his album DAMN. crept back into the top 10 on the Billboard 200 for the first time in three months. Even before the soundtrack or the film were released, Top Dawg Entertainment found a way to tap into the Black Panther frenzy–and it’s had a positive impact on their bottom line.

Because soundtracks are typically a hodgepodge of different artists, they are also a good tool to promote newer or lesser-known acts. What better way to build buzz around an emerging artist than to attach them to a highly-anticipated film? South African artist Babes Wodumo’s appearance on the Black Panther soundtrack (“Redemption”) helped gqom (a sub-genre of house music from South Africa) music penetrate the international mainstream, and actress Keala Settle (The Greatest Showman) jumped more than 20 slots on the Billboard Emerging Artist chart after her performance of “This Is Me” at the Oscars. Because of their potential to reach a wider, more varied audience, soundtracks can be a godsend for artists looking to gain crossover appeal.

A movie on its own is just a movie. But pairing it with a killer soundtrack makes the film an event.

For the music industry, releasing a soundtrack is a no-brainer — they’re marketing goldmines. But they also hold latent advantages for film and TV. Consuming art comes with an opportunity for community-building that’s all part of the fun. We debate over flicks in the lunchroom at work and reenact our favourite scenes in the school cafeteria. We turn our favourite lines into memes and dream up alternate endings to movies with our social media friends. The think pieces, the fan fiction, the cosplay, the memorabilia: movie-watching, or any type of art consumption for that matter, is enhanced when we can engage with it in multiple ways. A movie on its own is just a movie. But pairing it with a killer soundtrack makes the film an event.

Movie ticket sales are slumping. According to Bloomberg, moviegoing in Canada and the U.S. fell to a 25-year low in 2017. Not only are cinemas competing with streaming titans like Netflix, but a poor selection of film offerings from Hollywood is setting numbers the box office further behind. A good soundtrack might be the key to getting moviegoers off the couch and into the theatre. Take Fifty Shades Freed, which, with an aggregate score of 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, was the object of nearly unanimous disdain from critics.

Despite its lacklustre reviews, it’s one of the highest-grossing films of 2018 so far and its soundtrack is one of the Billboard 200’s top 30 albums. The book franchise, along with the movies and their soundtracks are a package deal: watching Freed becomes less about the film itself and more about indulging in the Fifty Shades experience. When Netflix and chill is such a enticing option, movies, especially poor ones, can ill afford to be a one-trick pony.

The think pieces, the fan fiction, the cosplay, the memorabilia: movie-watching, or any type of art consumption for that matter, is enhanced when we can engage with it in multiple ways.

The same kind of culture-building that soundtracks bring to movies can be found in other forms of media as well. Through music, Fox’s comedy-drama Glee went from a TV show to a force, with a catalogue that rivals even the most seasoned vets: 16 soundtrack albums (several of which were certified either gold or platinum), 19 EPs and over 450 singles. The Glee Live! In Concert! tour was another way for fans to engage with the television show, helping Glee make an impact beyond the Nielsen ratings.

HBO’s Insecure is also using music to broaden its appeal. Not only is the show’s award-winning music supervision an additional way for fans to engage (their soundtracks and Spotify playlists give us our Issa/Molly fix between seasons), but it’s become an unofficial tastemaker as well. The show debuted exclusive new music by LeiKeli47, Miguel and Jorja Smith in its last season and fans have come to know Insecure as a place to hear the latest music from their favs.

Long story short, songs used to break in the clubs, but now they break on our TV screens. In this era of cable-cutting and binge-watching, the shows and films that will make it out ahead are the ones that learn how to multitask. A solid soundtrack is way to sell viewers a richer overall experience and make an impact long after the silver screen fades to black.

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