Apr 30, 2007

A Telenovela's Soundtrack-Part I: Incidental Music

Music plays a huge role in telenovelas. Plots and characters are defined by the music that accompanies them. However, it's the incidental music the one that underscores every scene establishing its mood: romance, humor, suspense, etc. The incidental music also signals the transitions between scenes.

In this video Victor Escalona explains how incidental music works in a telenovela. He uses examples from Cosita Rica.

The video is in Spanish, but I think it isn't difficult to figure out what Mr. Escalona is saying.


Rey said...

I cannot even believe someone gets paid for choosing the same "dramatic effects" over and over and over again. It's just like in the Batman from the sixties. Batman hits with the right, POW, with feet, THUD, with head, CLUNK. Please, tell me where do I sign for this job; I can download a whole library of effects from e-mule like in 5 minutes, tops.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Hi Rey,

Well, it isn't as easy as you describe it. Nor is it as unidimensional and trite as the 60s Batman. Creating incidental music for a telenovela is a job because these music snippets not only create "moods", but are also part of the language of each telenovela and an essential ingredient of the "brand" that every telenovela attempts to create. They aren't the same over and over again. Finally, even though incidental music may contain "effects," it isn't only a set of effects.
Many thanks for leaving your comment.

Gustavo Morales said...

Well, I agree with Rey. Telenovelas' music, incidental music or whatever, is completely generic. Nothing really going on there artistically, although, truth be told, "dramatic effects" in telenovelas usually express more than scripts. Those guys just do what they learn to do in school, someone cries, emotional clip, a girl reveals she's pregnant, shocking clip, and so on. It's pretty much formulaic as the stories, and it's a hell of a lot cheaper for TV channels than creating a real soundtrack that nobody is gonna buy anyway. Nothing beats a guy with a finger in each hand and a synthesizer.

There's no need to be rude, though. Probably this guy in youtube was good in a previous life, so in this one he got awarded with an easy way to make a buck. :)

PD: Kind of busy lately, so I'm still reading, Dr. Acosta, but I'll get back to you soon.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Sorry to take so long to reply. I've been away from my computer the last few days.

Telenovela incidental music isn't supposed to be "music" like the one we usually associate with a soundtrack. Incidental music is part of the telenovela language/code. It isn't supposed to be anything else. However, I believe we still need to respect those who do it because it isn't as simple as we think it is to create an effects/incidents musical vocabulary for every telenovelas. Yes, it's formulaic: you need to create effects that fit the formula. At the same time these effects should feel "new" and associated only to the telenovela being watched/enjoyed. Therefore, telenovela production enterprises choose very carefully who will create the incidental music for a telenovela. By the way, this is a different person/persons from the musicalizador who actually "places" the music on each episode, once it's been edited.

Now, regarding the music themes of a telenovela, these days some telenovelas could actually sell a CD, (and some actually do), with the different themes especially written and/or used for the main characters and storylines. I detailed some of those in the posts that come after this particular one:
A Telenovela's Soundtrack-Part II: Characters' Musical Themes
A Telenovela's Soundtrack-Part III: Stories' Musical Themes
A Telenovela's Soundtrack-Part IV: The Main Musical Theme

Thanks to both for your comments.

Gustavo Morales said...

The telenovelas musical themes (original theme) are an extraordinary success story few people talk about. Like you say, they are able to sell CDs but that's not all, whole careers have been built around one single song. In fact, for years hitting it off with a telenovela song was the best (if not the only) way to jumpstart a career in Venezuela. Take for instance, Ricardo Montaner, who would still be playing "Fiestas Patronales" in Maracaibo had it not being for a telenovela. Or Kiara, or Guillermo Davila, or Karina, etc. In times of the LP, dozens of one hit wonders made a living for a while selling LP's with just one good song and some of them are still touring without much else.
Most telenovelas, in fact, are immediately associated with its theme song (which unlike incidental music) aren't generic at all, and were and still are (in some cases) composed by the best authors in Latin America. eg. Rudy la Scala, who has made a fortune penning love songs for TV.
Anyway, for a guy who dislikes the genre as much as I do, my collection of telenovela singles speaks loudly of a marketing tool Spanish TV channels know how to use.
And by the way, Dr. Acosta, on the last episode (51) of Entourage (HBO Sundays at 10pm), there's an interesting (and very funny) development about Soap Operas, involving the wife of one of the characters who pops this great line: "it's a soap opera baby, there's no good, just degrees of bad." Link here: hbo.com/entourage/episode/season04/episode51.html (took out the http thingy since it doesn't work on blogs)

Gustavo Morales said...

I just saw the video of "El Darwin", Jeez, I felt like I was eating a banana peel. Here I have to agree with Rey, it's mindnumbing anyone can get paid for writing that!
Obviously I'm not the target but it would have been at least campy interesting if Mr. Montilla had a voice (the guy sounds like a Subway announcer) or if there was at least one real instrument playing in the back. We really need to create some sort of award for telenovelas. Two actually, one serious and academic to support artistic efforts in every category of the genre, and another one like the Razzie awards, just to put things like this in their rightful place. Ears still hurt.