As I was washing the dishes tonight with Seinfeld on in the background I got to thinking, “Wow, Seinfeld’s music really sucks. But it might be the best comedy ever on TV. Maybe music’s not that important. Whahhh!”
Or something like that.
Is music really that important when paired up with TV, movies, theater, or games? Well, after much soul-searching I’d have to say “yes!”
Ok, maybe I was a bit harsh on Seinfeld’s music. It’s not actually terrible. The key in Seinfeld’s case is the music’s not good, but it doesn’t get in the way. That’s important for both good and bad music. It shouldn’t get in the way of the storytelling. But the big shame with Seinfeld is that the music could have made a great show even greater. Cheers had a great theme. People ask me to play it on the piano. It was a really funny and well written show too, but you could say that the music helped stick Cheers even further inside the American psyche. Cheers’ music instantly transported you to that lonely, insecure world of that Boston bar. But it was friendly and non-threatening, also just like the bar.
Seinfeld’s music, on the other hand, really doesn’t bring you into Jerry’s world. It does after 9 years of being the theme, just by association, but it’s a cold and uninviting theme. Its synthesized sounds do nothing to bring you into Jerry’s apartment. It’s kind of goofy, but Jerry’s comedy isn’t simply goofy. It’s deeper and more nuanced than that. The music is just too shallow for the show.
So I have no reason to worry. Seinfeld would have succeeded with white noise as the theme. But a good soundtrack will help make a good TV show or game great and a bad show or game at least interesting to listen to. The great games will survive without an amazing soundtrack, but it would always be a shame to have the asterisk… “One of the top five games of all-time *but the soundtrack was dull.”
One last point, though I’m usually not concerned whether or not games can be considered “art” (just play them and hope to have some fun, let history decide how to categorize games), if games are to be considered “art” I would think they’ve got to have the entire package, music included.