I really dig movie soundtracks, by which I mean real albums of music written for the movie, not the fake soundtracks that are just collections of pop songs. Ever since I first heard the music from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial while not watching the movie, I’ve been fascinated by the effect of feeling the movie’s emotions using just my ears.
But just like other albums, a movie soundtrack isn’t usually 100% good, and unless you’ve got plenty of money to burn, there’s no excuse to pay $10 on $3 worth of music. I’ve got a few pieces of advice that have worked well for me in the past.
Trust the wisdom of crowds
If you have iTunes, you can sort tracks by popularity. Just click the word “popularity” in the list and the tracks will sort themselves:
Of course, you can still use this technique even if you don’t want to buy ultimately from iTunes.
Preview the whole song
We’re mostly familiar with the 30-second preview available for years on both Amazon and iTunes, but now you can listen to the entirety of most songs on LaLa.com. They also have a handy, high-quality MP3 download option.
A lot of the time, composers will re-visit the best musical themes in the opening or end credits. Look for these terms:
- end titles
Or, if you were paying better attention than I usually do while at the movies, look for tracks with your favorite character’s name in them. For example, “Valerie” from V for Vendetta, “Jack Sparrow” from Pirates of the Caribbean, or “Martha’s Theme” from Doctor Who Series 3. For what it’s worth, all of those tracks have five stars in my library.
You may just want to get the most bang for your buck, so look for tracks over five minutes long. Music labels aren’t foolish, of course, so the longer the track, the more likely it is to be marked “Album Only,” which we all know is obnoxious and stupid. All it means is they won’t be getting my money for that track. But what can we do other than complain?
Updated May 5, 2014 and originally published March 2, 2010.