Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Music or no Music?

Guest post by Adam Rutherford, Nature Video 

Last week, Nature Video posted a rather lovely video, made by Charlotte Stoddart, to accompany a stunning new technique on brain imaging. On Tuesday, I collared Nature’s Editor-in-Chief Phil Campbell as he ambled past our desks, to show off Charlotte’s work. Phil has editorial oversight of all Nature’s content, but largely leaves us to our own editorial judgment. However, he did make one specific comment about this film, which was that the music was somewhere between distracting and dreadful. Phil is a thoughtful and musical man and values Liszt and Led Zeppelin with equal vim.

I overruled, and signed off the film with music. This discussion immediately brought to mind the somewhat amusing debacle of music volume in Brian Cox’s landmark BBC series Wonders of the Universe in 2011, in which a volume of viewers apparently complained about the volume and incessancy of the soundtrack. In the Daily Mail, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, truculently described it as ‘muzak’, and the volume was adjusted in subsequent episodes. Indeed in 2012, I received a single letter of complaint for a programme on synthetic biology that I presented for the BBC strand Horizon, in which one poor viewer was compelled to watch ‘with her fingers in her ears’.

As filmmakers, we put music in to engage the viewer on an emotional level. These films are not purely informational, and as Cox said at the time, presenting science on film can be ‘a rather more cinematic experience. At the end of the day it’s a piece of film on TV and it’s not a lecture.’ But, with music being a highly personal art, soundtracks do appear to be divisive.

In the spirit of experimentation, here we present the original version, and the same film sans muzak. In this most unscientific test, let us know which you prefer.

With Music 

No Music 

Take the survey

The Results are in!

Figure 1 - Results from our survey monkey

Figure 1 – Results from our survey monkey



  1. Report this comment

    Karen McKee said:

    Science videos are meant to inform, but to be effective they must engage the viewer and keep their attention throughout …especially important for the non-specialist audience. As you say, music can help by setting the mood or creating an emotional response in the viewer, just as the use of striking images or animations enhance the visual experience. Yes, the music should not overwhelm or distract from the message, but when done well it can add to the viewer’s experience. I thought the music accompanying the See-through Brain video was appropriate and not at all distracting.

    As a scientist who has been using video for a number of years to describe my research, I know how challenging it is to create an effective science video that appeals to a broad audience yet does not draw criticism from fellow scientists.


  2. Report this comment

    Laura Wheeler said:

    Here are a selection of the comments from the “Other” option

    • Music’s OK initially – but at 1:50 it becomes distracting.

    • The video with music that isn’t garbage

    • A generic soundtrack is distracting at certain points because it doesn’t match the motion of the visuals. Sound effects that pair with the visuals would be excellent!

    • Different music…

    • It depends on what kinda of music and volume level

    • With music, but marginally lower volume. Consider different soundtrack: “Elizabeth the Mouse” (Featured on MinutePhysics), by Dr. Schroeder on Soundcloud.

    • other music than the ‘new age’ one

    • No music, but needs more words

    • Without music the montage should be different (without awkward pauses in narration)

    • Why not do exactly what you have done here and give the choice? Also consider if this was a radio piece, would you have the music?

Comments are closed.