Paper Example on Background Music Is Important in Documentary Footage

Published: 2021-07-16
1691 words
7 pages
15 min to read
Vanderbilt University
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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Since the start of the documentary production, there has been the evolution of background music and mostly used for entertainment reasons. In this study, there is an investigation of the effects of background music as applied in crocodile documentary production. Ominous background music mostly used in crocodile documentaries contributes to fear. Using an experiment, participants are requested to watch a crocodile documentary clip set to either uplifting or ominous music and indicate their perception of the crocodiles and their willingness to support conservation efforts. The findings show that background music can influence viewers' attitudes towards the content of a documentary. Since nature documentaries are considered as informative, film studies can develop appropriate music for documentaries for proper interpretation.


Music is essential in the soundscape of any documentary films. Some of the classic documentaries that pioneered the use of music and scored by famous composers include Night Mail in 1936 and The River in 1937. Since then there has been an evolution of background music as used in documentaries. The function of the music is not to outshine the recreations or interviews in the documentary but to heighten the viewers' emotions. The utilization of background music in documentaries helps in the expansion of the interest of the view and naturally occurring feelings. It is therefore important to carefully determine the kind of music that is appropriate for a specific documentary. Music is ubiquitous and an important part of a documentary as it induces mood, essential in the communication of meaning, enhances the sense of reality and makes symbolization possible. The emotional connotations developed by music has a close correlation with structural attributes such as key, rhythm, tempo, and interval. It is has been evidenced that it impacts on viewers in various ways. There is an urgent need to conserve and manage the crocodiles' progress, but authorities have not been keen. For many years, crocodiles have been vilified, and there is the continuation of negative perception towards crocodiles are still being propagated through media creating stereotypes that result to inaccurate information. The fear of crocodiles has been due to inflated fear of attacks that has been due to rare events such as crocodile bites. The study investigated the relationship between background music and documentaries which influence viewers' perception of sharks.

Literature ReviewPrimary LiteratureIn this investigation, a section from crocodile documentary as produced by National Geographic Society which produces most of the National Geographic Channels viewed on the Television (NAT, GEO).

Secondary Review

Have (2008) discusses the issues of background music and background feelings. It is explained that we have background music surrounding us in our everyday life. The background music means the kind of music that does not capture our conscious attention. Background music can be when we go shopping, when dining, and when watching movies and documentaries. Despite us not paying attention to the background music, it has some influence on us. Such effects are related to the development of emotions and feelings. This article will be used in evaluating the implications that the background music has on viewers of documentaries. Have (2008) focuses on the background music in films and therefore determining the correlation between music and emotions. The article also argues a theory that ties the experience musical structures with the issue of emotions. There has been the analysis of background music and used in a Danish TV-documentary, and this is done by emphasizing on a single scene (Have 3).

Have (2010), investigates the attitudes that viewers have towards soundtracks in documentaries. It entails what happens concerning emotional immersion and critical reflection. The author asserts that there is a relationship that exists between musical experience and emotional and imaginative engagement of the viewer. There has been a discussion of how documentaries are in relationship to inferential knowledge systems. It has been when there is the application of background music to acting as a tool of communication and thereby ending up an object of epistemological critique. The author discusses attitudes towards background music used in documentaries after a focus group listens to different voices. There is the negotiation of attitude that exists as a form of emotional immersion or critical reflection. The author uses manipulation as the underlying theme.

In the article, Ruoff (1992) explains the comparison that exists between forms of sound practices that have been traditionally used in documentaries. There has been the discussion of the evolution of soundtracks from 1960, and 1970s. The author points out that music is essential in the soundscape of documentaries. There has been evidence of the use of music in various classic documentaries such as Night Mail in1936 and The River in 1937 (Ruoff 6). There is the appearance of record music in various observational documentaries. It means that music plays a critical role in relaying the message of the documentary to the viewers.

Green (2016), explains that viewers like sharks more when there is upbeat music as background music for a documentary. Sharks are not friendly, but they are not the villains described in movies and nature documentaries. Showcasing sharks as frightening animals can imbue dry documentaries, but scientists are worried that the creation of negative attitude might hinder conservation efforts. A study conducted shows that the use of ominous background music in nature documentaries has subtle effects on the perception of viewers on sharks.

Nobel (2016), discusses that experimental research has determined the implication of soundtracks in nature documentaries on fundraising campaigns. The authors explain how scary music as background music hinders conservation efforts since they create negative perceptions. There has been stigmatization of sharks since 1975 during the production of the movie Jaws (Nobel 1). In a study, the use of ominous music made respondents to rate sharks negative in comparison to those who viewed the same clip having uplifting music as the background music.

A report by Schelenz (2016) shows that sharks documentaries need new background music. For a long time, human beings have endangered sharks, but a study has shown another potential danger for the sharks. The study conducted had shown the different perceptions of sharks when the same documentary was shown using three different background music. This means that music has been marginalizing sharks. Nature documentaries are considered a source of primary information and this means they inform viewers' thereby leading to positive or negative perceptions.


The investigation involved the use of both of primary and secondary research approaches in the collection of appropriate data. The participants were recruited with the use of Amazon Mechanical Turk and appropriate compensation for their participation. One hundred respondents were recruited and requested to watch a video clip. There was the inclusion of both genders in this investigation. The participants were asked to answer questions after they watched the crocodile documentary video clip with different background music. The questions helped in the determination of the perception of respondents which can either be positive or negative. After watching the video clip, respondents were requested to answer a series of survey questions to determine the perception their perception and if they could participate in shark conservation. They were also asked to provide some personal information such as age, gender, race, income and their political views. This data helped to determine the effects of background music on the perception of viewers.

In the measurement of the viewers' attitudes after watching the documentary, respondents were requested to indicate their views are either being positive or negative. For the negative attitude, they would indicate scary or vicious. For the positive attitude, they were requested to indicate peaceful or graceful. They were also asked to indicate whether they would be willing to participate in conservation efforts to protect this endangered species.


After watching the documentary with ominous music as the background music, 80% of the participants described their perception of crocodiles as scary and vicious. They also indicated that they would never participate in crocodile conservation efforts. After participants had been asked to view the crocodile documentary with uplifting music as the background music, 92% of the participants described their perception of crocodiles as peaceful and graceful. They also pointed out that they would very much engage in crocodile conservation efforts.


The finding of this study shows that the perception of viewers is highly affected by the background music used in crocodile footage. Respondents who watched the documentary set to ominous background music had negative ratings of crocodiles and more positively for those who watched with uplifting music. It also showed that those who rated the crocodiles positively mentioned they would help in crocodile conservation efforts. This means that background music can be successfully used in changing people's perception of nature documentaries which may lead to successful conservation efforts.

JustificationThis investigation tried to establish the implication of background music in crocodile's documentaries that has affected the perception of viewers towards crocodiles. The study helped in determining the effects of background music on the perception of viewers of nature documentaries. Information from the investigation will be crucial in film studies since it will prove that background music is critical in influencing the perception people have when watching documentaries. With this information, the film studies will be able to determine the appropriate type of music to be used in documentaries. By this, they will be able to support conservation effects through the improvement of peoples' attitudes when they watch nature documentaries.

Limitation of the StudyOne of the limitations of this study will be sample size. Despite that small sample can be used to support the predictions, large samples would provide more reliability. It will be hard to have a large number of participants due to lack of their availability. Another limitation is that attitude was the only factor which was being tested, it is unknown if this implication can be generalized to other measures.


This study shows that the background music used in documentary footage can potentially affect viewers' perceptions. In this study, it showed that the soundtrack used in the crocodile documentary had effects on peoples attitude towards crocodiles. After viewing the sixty-second documentary using ominous background music, they had a negative perception and positive when uplifting background music was applied. This means that film studies can use this information to do more research on the effect of background music used in documentaries. By doing this,...

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