The soundtrack of a movie can really help make a film, deepening the anxiety of suspense, heightening the glory of victory, magnifying the heartache of tragedy, and accenting the protagonist’s change of course. Daniel Day-Lewis’ leap into a waterfall in TheLast of the Mohicans wouldn’t be as dramatic without Trevor Jones’ score swelling in the background, nor would Kevin McCallister’s reunion with his mom at the end of Home Alone without John Williams’. The takeoff of jets has never felt so badass, nor physical training so thumotic, as when synchronized with “Danger Zone” and “Gonna Fly Now,” respectively. Whether the soundtrack for a film is comprised of original compositions, or collections of well-known pop songs, the music adds an essential element of texture and emotional salience to the storytelling.
It has always been so. The earliest “silent” films weren’t actually silent at all, but rather accompanied by live music provided by in-theater orchestras and organists. Even before the dawn of modern cinema — way, way before — singing choruses added dramatic depth to the tragedies of the ancient Greeks.
With distinct chapters and turning points, twists and turns, griefs and triumphs, our own individual lives have often been compared to narratives — ones we must author, direct, in memorable, fulfilling ways. In this pursuit, we would be well served to take a cue from other forms of storytelling, by overlaying the unfolding course of our lives with potent musical accompaniment.
To some extent, you probably do this already, turning on angry songs when you’re angry, and sad songs when you’re sad.
But directing a layered, rich, aesthetically interesting, dramatically compelling life story requires employing more intention with your music than that. Below, we’ll unpack how to move beyond typical defaults to create a soundtrack that will truly enhance both the day-to-day rounds and the enduring arc of your life.
How to Create a Soundtrack for Your Life
There are obviously a lot of key differences between a cinematic film and your personal life story. When it comes to creating a soundtrack for the latter, two of the most crucial of these differences are that your life will (hopefully) last a great deal longer than two hours, and that it doesn’t proceed in a strictly linear fashion. A human life rolls on for decades, and moves in seasonal cycles — through winter, spring, summer, and fall, and sets of accompanying rhythms, from one’s daily work schedule, to the repeating calendar of holidays and anniversaries.
While a movie director doesn’t have to worry about a song losing its potency over the course of a single film, you do have to worry about your music collection losing its emotion-magnifying, narrative-enhancing punch over the course of your lifetime. Fortunately, there are ways to stem this loss of salience, so that your personal soundtrack maintains its power your entire life through.
Separate Your Music for Different Times/Moods/Seasons/Tasks
Imagine if a movie kept the same song playing the entire length of the film, or if it repeatedly played a happy song during suspenseful moments, and a sad song during happy ones; the music would lose its significance and its capacity to act as a cue for greater emotional involvement.
And yet in our own lives, we typically play the same songs whether it’s spring or fall, whether we’re working or working out, driving or doing dishes. We often lean into a certain mood of music when we’re in a certain mood ourselves, but when these personal moods are not so pronounced (e.g., coming off a break-up), we don’t tend to make much differentiation in the songs we decide to cue up.
As a result, the potency of life’s soundtrack is greatly degraded.
Many folks suffer from “the horror of the same old thing,” where life seems flat, devoid of texture, endlessly monotonous. And the way we use our music, with unthinking homogeneity, contributes to this meh-defined state.
Part of the cure for the horror of the same old thing is to listen to certain songs during certain times/moods/seasons/tasks, and only during those times/moods/seasons/tasks.
To understand why, and how well, this works, think of Christmas music. Everyone knows that one of the best parts of the