Halloween, All Hallows' Eve, Goth Christmas: whatever you prefer to call it, the spookiest time of year is finally upon us and, personally, we could not be more delighted. Taking a break from carving pumpkins, planning our costumes and bingeing on Disney’s 1993 classic Hocus Pocus, we’re here to show you how to the set the tone for your Halloween productions with some suitably chilling soundtracks.
The truth is, without sinister or suspenseful themes and/or spooky sound design, Halloween content can easily lack bite. That’s where we come in: with curated collections and playlists covering everything from horror and Halloween songs to tense beds and dark drones, we have everything you need to create a creepy ambiance.
In this blog, we explore the vital role music plays in Halloween productions and offer some choice soundtrack suggestions.
Setting the Mood
Halloween is synonymous with horror content. And from the shower scene in Psycho to the imminent threat of a shark attack in Jaws, the most iconic moments in horror movie history are intrinsically linked to the scene’s soundtrack. The truth is, if you get the musical bed right and you’ll increase the sense of dread tenfold.
For proof of the vital role music plays in setting a mood, watch the opening credits of Kubrick’s classic horror movie The Shining overdubbed with happier music. Divorced from their sinister sonic context, the visuals lose all sense of suspense:
While Western pop music is often pretty formulaic in its construction, Halloween soundtracks can luxuriate in more unpredictable territory. Whether utilising minor keys, sustained notes, shifting time signatures and sudden chord switches, or building a grim sense of inevitability with repeated motifs and claustrophobically pulsating rhythms, there are plenty of ways to add tension and fear to your production.
Crafting Eerie Soundscapes
Just what makes a soundtrack eerie? And how does music play a role in horror movies? There are lots of musical devices that assist in creating a creepy ambience, including instrumentation, minor keys and tritone chords.
There are several key instruments closely associated with horror and Halloween content:
- Pipe Organ
- Ondes Martenot
- The Apprehension Engine
Theramin – As heard in Spellbound, The Thing from Another World and The Machinist, the otherworldly sounds of the theremin are a popular means of creating suspense.
Xylophone – Pioneered by Saint-Saens, the plink-plonk of the xylophone is very effective in evoking the image of bones rattling.
Pipe Organ – Think Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’, AKA the iconic theme to The Exorcist. Fun fact: Oldfield reportedly didn’t want to see the film because he was worried he’d find it too frightening.
Ondes Martenot – One of the earliest electronic instruments, the Ondes Martenot is played via keyboard and emits a spooky, theramin-like wail. You’ll recognise it from Ghostbusters and There Will Be Blood.
The Apprehension Engine – Created by Canadian composer Mark Korven and luthier Tony Duggan-Smith, the Apprehension Engine is part guitar, part percussion instrument and was described by com as “history’s most terrifying musical instrument.”
Minor Keys & Tritone Chords
Minor keys are great for creating a sense of uncertainty and foreboding, and thereby perfect for creepy content. Just think of John Carpenter’s iconic theme for Halloween (1978), which was written in F# minor.
Another key device for creating a spooky atmosphere is the tritone chord. Playfully nicknamed “the devil's interval” it’s the practice of simultaneously playing two notes that are three tones apart. The result is an evil- sounding combination designed to create a chilling ambience.
Sound Effects & Sound Design
Creaking doors, heavy breathing, the echo of footsteps getting ever closer: there are lots of sonic devices to help you set viewers’ spines tingling. Check out our Editor’s Toolkit, which features playlists of sound effects extending from horror and dark drones to pulses, heartbeats and ticks.
Discussing the benefits of sound design, Bobby Krlic AKA The Haxan Cloak shared his approach to composing the score for Ari Aster’s hit horror movie Midsommar:
“A lot of the score is sound design, it’s almost wall-to-wall if you listen carefully enough. I did a lot of recording with really high register strings and gongs and cymbals, putting them all to tape and slowing them down… There’s a lot of these textural wind things and breathy noises and just this general uneasy tone throughout the whole film.”
Evoking Emotions & Enhancing Storytelling:
It’s important to note that there’s no single genre most suited to Halloween content. From classical music to jazz, punk to pop, there’s a spooky soundtrack to suit every mood. Indeed, the most streamed Halloween song in the UK remains Michael Jackson’s 1983 classic ‘Thriller’.
One thing we can confirm, however, is that the right choice of music can intensify the emotional impact of Halloween productions, making scares more effective and adding depth to the storytelling. Just think of Bernard Hermann’s score for Psycho, which used high-pitched string stabs to accentuate the brutal bludgeoning going on on-screen. Or of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind's score for the opening scene of The Shining, which employs ominous organ and wailing synth sounds to trace Jack Torrance’s ill-fated journey through the Rocky Mountains.
As for musical moments in contemporary Halloween content, look no further than the viral dance scene from 2022 Netflix-smash Wednesday. Jenna Ortega’s creepy moves to The Cramps’ 1981 psychobilly classic ‘Goo Goo Muck’ became instantly meme-able and sparked a whole new TikTok dance craze.
For our money, one of the most successful soundtracks in recent years was Mica Levi’s score for Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi horror Under The Skin. Inspired by the compositions of Stanley Kubrick’s favourite composer György Ligeti, Levi uses synths with tremolo strings and elongated scraping textures to flesh out the uncanny personality of its unnamed alien protagonist. Check out the hauntingly elegiac ‘Love’ below:
Audio Network's Halloween Music Collection
Commissioning a bespoke soundtrack can cost dearly, which is where Audio Network’s high-quality catalogue of Halloween music comes in. We offer a huge selection of off-the-peg compositions, spanning every mood and style imaginable, licensed for any platform, forever. We even offer stems and cut-downs on selected tracks.
Not only that, but we make finding the process of finding the right track simple, offering lightning-fast search tools and a vast array of curated content. Hand-picked playlists include Hip Hop Beats: Heavy Tension, Tense Dramedy and, of course, our Halloween playlist, plus we’ve rounded up resources including Tense Beds, Dark Soundscapes and even a Horror Toolkit. Dive in and discover more of our spookiest selections below.
Taken from their latest spookfest What Goes Bump In The Night, Jake Field and Randall Breneman’s ‘Night of the Beast’ is a full-moon romp featuring beastly male vocals, trembling tremolo guitar, bewitching sax and theremin over a swampy groove. Ideal for a kitsch, retro-leaning Halloween content.
For creepy sound design, look no further than ‘Scary Stuff’ by Welsh composer Ceiri Torjussen. Featuring insect-like strings with brass chords, this textural orchestral horror is all-but guaranteed to set skin crawling.
Looking for a light-hearted take on Halloween? Try ‘Scary Bones’ by acclaimed composer James Brett. Taken from his album Cartoon Gothic, it’s a ghoulish mock horror with a spooky orchestra and bone rattling xylophone.
Written to depict Death appearing at midnight on Halloween, ‘Danse Macabre’ is an enigmatic, ghoulish dance featuring an orchestral arrangement with violin lead. Listen out for the use of xylophones to mimic the bones dancing.
A hip hop take on Halloween featuring orchestral samples, hip hop beats and DJ scratches.
An evocative cut from the album Mystery, Malevolence and Murder, featuring dissonant, slithering modern orchestra in three equally terrifying sections.
Enjoyed our round up of music in Halloween productions? Why not read some of our other seasonal content, including the Best Halloween Campaigns, the Best Halloween Movies for Kids and How To Make a Horror Movie.
If you just want to get into the spirit (ha) of things, then we’ve got any number of horror and Halloween playlists for you. Plus, if you’re looking for music to license, then we have music for advertising and music for TV programmes in every possible genre.
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