Create Your Theme Music!

More music production ideas! Okay, we’re not all super heroes. That said, we can always pretend…

Theme Music: the Ultimate Calling Card

A theme song is like a calling card for a character, show, film, game, or even artist. Get it right, and it’ll stick in peoples’ minds forever. No further proof should be needed than this – skip to 1.50 for the good stuff:

But what exactly makes a good theme song? In the case of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, sure everyone in that audience knew the words like the back of their hand but it was the deceptively simple synth string line over the basic beat that made Will Smith crease up and keeps that simple song bouncing around in our heads nearly two decades later.

Is it the Sounds?

Is it the sounds used or the melody itself that makes theme music so good at instantly taking us to ‘that place’? Well, that depends. You could probably play the Bond Theme on spoons and it would still be recognisable – but despite that, the famous reworking of the Bond Theme by Moby kept that spaghetti western guitar in the mix as the central motif: 

Or is it the Melody?

So much of the great theme music is created by orchestral composers. John Williams has more theme music credits under his belt than most of us have had hot dinners (insert something a little more witty there and pretend I said it), from Star Wars to Superman to Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park is one of my favourite all time pieces of music, and it’s not even important what instruments play it. Listen to how the central melody evolves and gets passed around the orchestra…

Video game themes, especially from series whose inception was in the 8 bit era, are also prime examples of how often it’s the melody, not the instruments, that makes the piece great. Take Zelda: first 8 bit, then orchestral:


 So What’s the Secret?

Well, we’ve established three things:

  • Keeping something simple helps its memorability
  • Sometimes a signature sound helps
  • A great melody can be played on anything

So points two and three sort of contradict each other, but think about it. When old 007 is nestling up to his latest beau, or silently infiltrating an evil lair, we’re serenaded by the theme in hushed, sultry tones; violins, clarinets, and if he’s on a tropical island, maybe steel drums are the order of the day. That instantly recognisable guitar is saved for the big moment – the explosion with Bond ziplining through it, helpless female under his arm like some kind of besuited neanderthal.

Do it Yourself

Setting a project up to have a go yourself? Line up a bunch of instruments – piano, synth, orchestral strings, flutes, and whatever takes your fancy. Focus on that simple melody, and switch between instruments to keep yourself on your toes. Remember: Keep it Simple, Stupid! Every example in this Assignment has a central motif that’s no longer than eight bars, and those eight bars seem to just roll off each other like water.

If you come up with anything – or have any favourite themes of your own – let us know in the comments! Similarly if you have any other music production ideas or want inspiration on a specific topic, let us know that too!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to calm down. I think playing the Jurassic Park theme and Zelda theme back to back has given me feel-good overload…

  • Phil Barbone

    thanks, i enjoyed the writing and i like your wit.

    • Chris

      Why thank you!

  • Franco Baccarini

    Nice and inspiring article!

    (Please, add the like/tweet/+1 button instead of the share. Three clicks, instead 1 for facebook will cost you a lot of potential shares :))

    • Chris

      Thanks Franco – you can press the facebook or twitter buttons, which will give you a total of two clicks (and allow you to customise your share), but we’re always looking for ways to tighten up so thanks for your input!

      • Franco Baccarini

        It needs three clicks because sometimes i want to change the privacy level (facebook remember last setting). With like it use the standard privacy setting.

        (sorry for my bad english. I hope you understand :P ).

        Keep up the good work and thanks for all the fish!

        • Chris

          Ah I see, thanks again for your advice Franco!

  • Paulski

    What’s the secret to a good theme tune?
    Be John Williams

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