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Saving Money on Soundtracks

This article was written by in Frugality. 14 comments.

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:

iTunes sort by popularity

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 They also have a handy, high-quality MP3 download option.

Special terms

A lot of the time, composers will re-visit the best musical themes in the opening or end credits. Look for these terms:

  • theme
  • prologue
  • opening
  • overture
  • suite
  • end titles
  • credits
  • prelude
  • medley

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.

Track length

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.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I have found that Youtube offers a lot of music for free. It may not be as convenient as owning the song….but I don’t listen to any one song that often so it’s a better deal..

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avatar 2 Anonymous

How could you go through all that without telling us your favorite? It might sound cheesy but I am going to have to go with Rocky IV

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avatar 3 Smithee

My favorite single soundtrack album? I’ll tell you some of my favorites, but I don’t know if I can choose between them: Batman (1989), Back to the Future Part III, Hudsucker Proxy, Stargate (but not all of it), Twin Peaks.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

All this talk about soundtracks makes me think of one person: “Hans Zimmer”

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avatar 5 Anonymous

Hans Zimmer … now there’s a composer.

I can listen to “The Rock” soundtrack for hours and hours. Nice selection indeed Kyle

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