The DIY silent film score

A Silent Film, one video in the series 365: No Day is Ordinary 049/365, by owlsongs (real name Wanda). It uses an Incompetech soundtrack, and I like the imaginative combination of webcam vlogging with silent film titles

If you have spent any time browsing through YouTube for silent films (especially silent pastiches), or indeed for a good many other kinds of video requiring a made-to-measure soundtrack, you are bound to have heard the music of Kevin McLeod. He runs Incompetech, a music download site with an extensive range of royalty-free music, including a section on silent film scores.

For anyone with a three-minute video requiring a generic piano acompaniment in traditional silent film style, this is the place to go. Tunes such as ‘Plucky Daisy’, ‘Work is Work’ and ‘Look Busy’ have been used countless times for YouTube videos, for mock silents, animation films, cute animals (lots of cute animals) and more. A typical piece will come with this information:

Gold Rush
Genre: Silent Film Score
Length: 0:47
Instruments: Piano
Tempo: 120

Peppy piano duet. 031 Bouncy, Driving, Humorous 2007

You can play the tune on the site or download it for free as an MP3 file. Other themes include ‘Comic Plodding’, ‘Old Timey’, ‘Friendly Day’ and ‘Hammock Fight’ provide bright, immediate piano scores between thirty seconds and two minutes, sometimes with additional instrumentation coming in as the music progresses. You get music for chases, villains, nostalgia, comic scenes, fanfares, and multi-purpose linking tunes.

Professional silent film accompianists might have a word or two to say about the formulaic nature of the sound clips, but there’s no denying that McLeod is good at conjuring up catchy accompaniments with strong hooks that find use across thousands of online videos – though it needs to be pointed out this include scores produced by McLeod across many other genres. Under Royalty Free he lists African, Blues, Classical, Contemporary, Disco, Electronica, Funk, Holiday, Horror, Jazz, Latin, Modern, Musical, Polka, Pop, Radio Drama, Reggae, Rock, Silent Film Score, Soundtrack, Stings, Unclassifiable and World. Truly something for everyone.

Of course, sites like Incompetech help reinforce the idea of silent films as being inexorably wedded to tinkly piano. Here at the Bioscope we have tried to champion different kinds of silent film scores. So we would hope that Electronica, Modern, Unclassifiable or World might supply equally serviceable soundtracks for the budding silent film producer (but possibly not Polka). Meanwhile, do take a browse – and remember that in the silent era many cinemas installed player pianos (such as the Fotoplayer, illustrated in an earlier post). The automatic score is part of the silent film tradition too.

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