Over the course of my music-loving life, I’ve been fascinated by soundtracks. If there’s one thing about the movies I love, the music has to be there too. So, among some of my favorite albums of all time are included some soundtracks. Albums like Back to the Future, Boomerang, City of Angels, The Crow, 13 Going on 30, The Craft, Above the Rim, and She’s the One. I used to sit there and rewind movies, trying to catch all of the lyrics I could so I could go hunting to find the songs at my local library, or if I was really lucky, to find the soundtrack itself.
Then, I found out something horrific. Not all songs from the movie are included on its soundtrack, for whatever reason. And worse still, of the songs not included on the soundtrack, most of them were unavailable elsewhere too. Now, keep in mind this was back before you could just get single songs on iTunes, and back when amazon was selling only books and CDs. CDNow was around, but they only had specific songs you could put together on a “custom-made” CD. So, I sought out a way to get all the songs from a movie’s soundtrack together in one place, to create a comprehensive soundtrack, the one “they shoulda made.” This was easier said than done, but it was made easier when my then-fiance got me a CD burner. No more tape madness.
Step One: Finding the Actual Soundtrack
I mentioned the library. Well, first off, the major problem with library CDs is that they’re library CDs, meaning people can check them out and do whatever they want with them. So trying to get them to copy using my CD burner, without having any skips, was a labor of love (that and some heavy duty solution guaranteed to prevent skips — which worked about half the time). If the library didn’t carry the soundtrack (usually because it was too new or the library just didn’t have that kind of budget), it was time to go for Plan B, which was trying to find the CD on amazon. This was easier than the library, but it took something the library didn’t — money. So, the job switched from finding the soundtrack to finding an affordable copy of the soundtrack. Another solution, if the soundtrack had a lot of songs that were on individual artist’s albums (which happened more often than not back in the day, but not so much now — too many soundtracks have to have “songs exclusive to the soundtrack” nowadays), was to find those individual albums through the library and piece it together into the soundtrack. As you can expect, this was a lot harder to do than to just get the soundtrack, even if I had to buy it from amazon.
Step Two: Finding the “Extra” Songs
As I said earlier, there were too many songs that were in the movie but that didn’t make their way onto that movie’s soundtrack. It stymied me for ages why this was the case until a friend of mine told me it was because they couldn’t get the rights from the artist’s record company to include it on the soundtrack. Of course that made me think, “well then, how did they get the song in the movie in the first place?” but no answers were forthcoming for that one. The only thing I could think to explain it was that back in those days they were really trying to narrow the number of songs for the soundtrack down to a manageable 12. If that was the case, too many movies had at least 20 or more songs in them, so that left out at least 8 songs. My mission was to find those 8 songs and to get them back into the soundtrack, where they belonged. Now, finding those songs was even harder than finding the actual soundtracks themselves. That was for several reasons. The first was that the song wasn’t always on an artist’s album. The second was that even if it was on the artist’s album, the album itself was really hard to find, even on amazon. For example, I love Doc Hollywood, and the intro song to the movie is “The One and Only.” You’ve heard it. It was even one of the top songs of 1991, but for some odd reason the song wasn’t included on the official soundtrack. I didn’t even know who sang it, and there was no Shazam back then to help me out. All I had was the internet, and Yahoo!’s search engine was woefully inadequate at the time. I didn’t even have a social network to assist me, so I had to resort to something called Limewire (oh, the horror!) in order to find a lot of the “extra” songs.
Step Three: Determining the Tracklist
After finding the soundtrack AND the extra songs, the time had come to determine the tracklist, to figure out how the songs were going to finally fit together in the final product, what I liked to call the faux-soundtrack. Now, I have never been under the opinion that the soundtrack engineer got it right, or even that the order in which the songs appear in the movie is the correct order for them to appear on the faux-soundtrack. Not at all. In fact, most times I find myself dramatically changing the song order when finally compiling the tracklist for the album. I like to stick with the idea of themes, so if there are songs that deal with lost love, I like to keep them together. The same is true if there are songs that focus on dreams, etc. Then I like to think about the flow of the songs. If I have a really loud song, do I follow it with one that is soft, or try something in-between, to bring the tempo back down, to bring the mood back level? In that way I piece the songs together, often moving them around more than once, a constant dance of songs round and round until I’m satisfied where they land. One thing I never do, though, is put all of the extra songs together, like a bonus songs type of thing. I find that to be very cheesy, so I make sure I can spread them throughout.
Step Four: Burn, Burn Baby
Nothing left to do then except to burn. Having the perfect tracklist, creating the perfect artwork that fits, and making sure there are no skips on the original soundtrack all leads to the fun part of the whole thing, burning the CD. There is nothing better than knowing that you put it all together and that the final product is something that you, and you alone, have. The order, the tracks, and the art, all done in a meticulous fashion for the desired results.
After creating several movie faux-soundtracks (most notably for Vanilla Sky and for Philadelphia), it hit me out of the blue. If I could do something like that with real movie soundtracks, what was to stop me from doing that with soundtracks to television shows, even if those shows had no original soundtracks? Sure, it was even harder to find the songs through the library, but by then the internet had caught up with me and had many TV show websites that listed every song from every episode. I had by then ditched Limewire (after it trashed my computer — EEK), but iTunes and being able to purchase individual songs from amazon helped me out at that point. And out of all of that preparation was born the TV show faux-soundtrack. After having made a few of those, the technology again shifted, allowing me to create playlists instead of just tracklists for a CD. Then I could put them on my new iPod and the sky was the limit on number of songs. Now I have several faux-soundtrack playlists, most notably for Gossip Girl, Dawson’s Creek, Six Feet Under, and Dexter. I love the intricacies of having an entire TV series musically captured on a playlist. I do the same thing with each song on a playlist that I do for each CD. The labor of love magnified.
What I love the most about my faux-soundtracks is that I haven’t settled for whatever the record company decided I should listen to when it comes to a soundtrack. I do my own thing, and it’s oh so faux-sweet.