7 Movies With Great Soundtracks: My Personal Favorites

Many films just wouldn’t be the same without an amazing soundtrack to serve as the backdrop to the action, the character relationships, and the emotion portrayed. However, some movies definitely do better in the music department than others.

For some movies, the soundtrack nearly outshines the movie itself and for others, the soundtrack amplifies a scene making it more than it ever would have been on its own or with a different song to back it up.

In this article, I’ll list out some of my favorite movie soundtracks. It’s probably no mistake that some of the movies on this list are also some of my favorite movies of all time. A soundtrack can really make or break a movie.

As an acoustic folk singer/songwriter myself, I may be a bit biased on some of these choices, but here’s my somewhat subjective list of the best movie soundtracks of all time.

1. Harold & Maude

A quirky cult classic from the 70s, Harold and Maude tells the story of Harold, a young guy obsessed with faking his own death, and Maude, an eccentric woman who is about to turn 80 years old. This is one of the most unusual love stories ever filmed, but it’s one of my personal favorites.

While the film is a cult classic today, the movie wouldn’t have been half as effective without the music of Cat Stevens as a backdrop. From the opening scene to the final sequence, Cat Stevens’ songs have a huge presence in the film. His songs do a lot of help move the story forward and make the film seem unique. The characters also sing one of his songs during the movie as well.

This movie is well worth a watch if you love films that are a bit quirky and weird or if you love Cat Stevens

Unfortunately, getting an actual copy of this soundtrack will prove difficult. The album was released on cassette and vinyl in Japan in 1972, and there was another vinyl release of only 2500 copies in 2007. Fortunately, all of the songs are available separately on other releases by Cat Stevens.

2. Once

A more recent film, Once is also one of my personal favorite movies and also has one of the best soundtracks. Once is set in Dublin and is centered around two musicians who meet and decide to record an album together. However, there’s also a lot more to it than that. It’s the story of two people who come together and affect each other’s lives in unexpected ways.

The movie features the music of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who in real life, make up the band The Swell Season. Glen Hansard is also the longtime frontman of the Irish rock band, The Frames.

If you like singer-songwriter music and you want to see a simple but effective story being told, Once is a great movie to consider watching, or at least listening to.

Of course, if you’re into musicals, you might want to learn more about the broadway version. This movie has been adapted to the stage and has become a hit on broadway. The broadway version many of the same songs from the movie.

3. The Graduate

I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I left one of the best-regarded films of all time off of this list. The Graduate is about Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman), a recent college grad who is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft). The movie is a very popular piece of film history that is currently at #17 on AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Movies” list.

The soundtrack features the music of Simon & Garfunkel, making it one of the best soundtracks of all time. The film helped to put Simon & Garfunkel on the map. Mrs. Robinson, The Sound of Silence, and Simon & Garfunkel’s rendition of Scarborough Fair all are featured in the soundtrack.

If you’ve never seen The Graduate, you should. The movie is one of the most well-made films of all time and the soundtrack is unforgettable. The pairing of the two is even better.

4. O Brother Where Art Thou

O Brother Where Art Thou is another movie with a great soundtrack that is also simply a lot of fun to watch. The story follows several inmates who escape a chain gang in search of buried treasure. The movie was made by the Cohen Brothers but the story is actually based on The Odyssey by Homer.

The movie is very “folksy” and features plenty of music throughout. This music is mostly in the vein of bluegrass, old-time country, and blues. Legendary musicians and singers fill in the soundtrack of O Brother Where Art Thou including Alison Krauss & Union Station, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, and John Hartford.

With musicians like this featured, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2001.

5. Garden State

Garden State is another cult indie favorite movie in which the soundtrack is nearly a character all its own. Zach Braff wrote, directed, and starred in this indie flick. The soundtrack ended up winning Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media at The Grammys.

The film follows Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) as he returns home for his mother’s funeral. He subsequently meets “manic pixie dream girl” Sam (Natalie Portman) who quickly introduces Andrew Largeman and plenty of indie film lovers to The Shins.

Garden State is really the quintessential “indie film” and when I was younger I watched it over and over again. The music featured on this soundtrack is top-notch. Among others, the movie’s soundtrack includes songs by The Shins, Iron & Wine, Alexi Murdoch, Nick Drake, Coldplay, and of course, Simon & Garfunkel.

6. The Big Lebowski

Another cult favorite, The Big Lebowski features some of the weirdest and most memorable music moments ever put into film. In The Big Lebowski, Jeff Lebowski aka “The Dude”, gets mistaken for a millionaire who has the same name. He finds himself mixed up in a ridiculous but potentially deadly plot.

Plenty of trippy drug-induced sequences are in the movie and songs such as “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan and the early Kenny Rogers psychedelic pop hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” help to make this the cult favorite film that it is.

Also featured in the film and/or on the official soundtrack are songs by Elvis Costello, Captain Beefheart, Henry Mancini, Townes Van Zandt, and more.

7. Good Will Hunting

It would be difficult to write a list of movies with great soundtracks without mentioning the film that put Elliott Smith on the map and introduced him to depressed teenagers everywhere. The late Elliott Smith is one of the best singer/songwriters of the modern age.

Good Will Hunting stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and served as a kind of launching pad for them as well. The movie follows Will Hunting (Matt Damon) who has a genius-level IQ and works as a janitor at MIT. He struggles to reach his full potential, however, and this movie follows his journey.

The movie features some of the best songs by Elliott Smith including Between the Bars, Say Yes, Miss Misery, Angeles, and No Name #3. Some of the other artists featured on the soundtrack include The Dandy Warhols, Luscious Jackson, and Al Green.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of other movies with great soundtracks out there. However, the ones listed above are some of my personal favorites. If you need a movie to watch that uses music in great ways and serves as an excellent backdrop, then you can’t go wrong with any of the above films.

5 Best Songwriting Tips For Beginners

Looking for the best songwriting tips for beginners?

Wondering how to write a song for the first time?

Songwriting can be a lot of fun and can be a very rewarding skill to learn. It’s also very easy to get started with. While playing the guitar or another instrument can take a lot of time to get the basic techniques down, songwriting is comparatively easy to start.

If you know just a few chords on the guitar or piano or another instrument you have what you need to start writing songs. In fact, many professional songwriters never even learn how to play an instrument but simply stick to writing the lyrics instead.

Whatever your plans are, it’s important to know a few special songwriting tips to get started on the right foot. Below I’ll give you a few of my very best songwriting tips for beginners. You’ll want to keep these in mind when getting started with the craft.

1. Know the Most Common Song Structures

One of the first things you should do when you’re getting ready to start writing songs is to learn about a few of the most common song structures and how they work when it comes to songwriting.

A basic song will feature distinct sections including verses, pre-choruses, choruses, and bridges. These building blocks work to create a song structure and typically follow one another in predictable ways.

For example, one of the most common song structures goes like this:

  • Verse 1
  • Chorus
  • Verse 2
  • Chorus
  • Bridge
  • Chorus

Believe it or not, hundreds upon thousands of the most popular songs use this same structure and fit into this basic framework.

Using this type of structure gives your songwriting a place to go and can influence your song in positive ways. Trying to fit your initial idea into an already created framework or structure can be a big help and can allow your songwriting skills to advance a lot more quickly.

A song structure can help you make sure you’re saying what you want to say in the most digestible way. Similar to poetry forms, it will also influence how you go about saying what you want to say.

2. Start Looking Everywhere For Inspiration

It should come as no surprise that looking for inspiration is one of the most important skills to master if you want to write great songs. Unfortunately, many aspiring songwriters foolishly wait for inspiration to come to them, rather than seeking it out on their own.

Looking for inspiration can come to you like a bolt of lightning from time to time, simply while going about your day. However, you should be trying to train yourself to consciously look for it.

It’s a great idea to bring a notepad around with you all day or to be prepared to take notes in your phone at ay time.

Here are a few ways you may find inspiration:

  • You overhear a conversation in the street and somebody uses an interesting phrase.
  • Listening to a song on the radio, you hear a lyrical phrase that you decide you would like to expand on or alter in some way.
  • You see a movie title that you think would make a good song (P.S. Nobody can copyright titles).
  • You experience a funny situation during your daily routine and think it would make a good song.
  • You reflect on a past relationship and decide to write a song based on your unsettled feelings towards the person.

There are a million ways to find inspiration. However, as long as you’re on the lookout and start thinking like a songwriter it will come from time to time.

3. Follow Your Impulses and Don’t Censor Yourself Too Soon

Inspiration doesn’t always happen on its own. When it doesn’t come, sometimes you just need to start writing words down anyway. When you sit down for a songwriting session and don’t already have inspiration in mind there are still ways to get your creative juices flowing. Getting into the practice of freewriting is a big help in getting that hidden “stuff” out of you.

When you sit down to write a song, remember that you shouldn’t “censor” yourself too much early on. It’s better to start writing and to get each line and section of a song out. Verses, choruses, bridges, and anything else you create for your song can be edited and re-edited as many times as you want.

I’ve taken some improv comedy classes in the past and I often think of what I learned when I’m writing songs. One of the biggest principles of improv comedy is that you shouldn’t say “No” to your scene partner but instead, you should say “Yes, and”. Don’t say no to yourself when you’re writing songs. Instead, keep letting the words come out, however random they may be, and just see where it takes you.

Also in improv, it’s important to follow your impulse and the same is true with songwriting. Go with your first instinct and write down the first line that comes to your mind.

When you feel like you’re having writer’s block sometimes it’s just that you’re shutting down every single one of your own ideas before you even try them.

4. Get It Down on Paper (Or Somewhere Else)

Some beginner songwriters make the mistake of believing that they’ll remember any musical ideas, lyrics, or inspirational snippets that they come up with. Unfortunately, just because you’ve come up with a unique melody in your head it doesn’t mean that it will be there for you to recall once you sit down in a few days to turn it into a song.

Don’t assume you’ll remember everything you come up with in your head. Instead, get your inspirational thoughts down in some way as soon as possible.

The medium you record your ideas on doesn’t matter as much as you may think. Some people swear that the only way to write a song is to do it by hand on a physical page in a notebook. Others write it all on their computer and type it out. Others simply record the idea as soon as they come up with it or speak the lyrics into a personal voice recorder.

Personally, I type most of my lyrics and musical ideas out on the computer. I have numerous basic text files that I use and I’ll scribble lines, complete songs, titles and other tidbits all in one place, one after another.

A typical song I’ve written will look like this in my text document. It will usually be just my lyrics with some chords above it. Below is an example of this.

Excerpt from “This Town is a Stranger”

Heading east across the bridge
I’m so far gone but I had an itch
To see these streets we used to know
But now I wonder where did they go
F#m        A                           E
This town is a stranger to me
F#m         A       E
This town is a stranger

I typically write the chords above the lyrics and as long as I do that I’ll remember the melody very well without actually needing to record it or put it into musical notation.

Only you can decide what works best for you. The most important thing is that you have some kind of method in place to record your ideas. This will allow you to remember them and refer back to them later on.

5. Play It All the Way Through Multiple Times

Once you’ve written a new song I believe that the best thing you can do is to start playing through it all the way. Doing this you can give a much better idea of the overall idea and concept of the song. You’ll also see how it’s working as a complete, living, breathing thing.

Playing through it multiple times after it’s on paper will give you a chance to better solidify the melody, rhythm, chord progressions, and lyrics in your mind. You’ll also have the chance to tweak anything that is necessary.

The melody may need to be a bit more interesting in the chorus or you may decide that the bridge doesn’t provide a big enough contrast to the rest of the song. You may decide that a few lyrical lines don’t make sense. You may want to remove or add sections completely or move them around to different parts of the song.

Playing through your song, and ideally, memorizing it after writing it, can allow you to fully flesh out your song idea. Even more importantly, it will allow you the chance to start performing it in a complete way.

Getting Started With These Songwriting Tips

If you’re ready to learn how to write a song, the above songwriting tips for beginners should be enough to get you started. Try using these tips when you’re trying to create songs from scratch and you may just be surprised at what you’re capable of.

Finished your song and ready to start playing it live? Click here to learn about my top tips for successfully playing your songs at a local open mic night.

5 Best Guitar Accessories For Acoustic Players

1. Guitar Capo

One of the most useful guitar accessories is the guitar capo. The guitar capo allows you to instantly change the key that you’re playing in.

For example, when playing with a capo on the 5th fret and using G chord shapes, you’ll actually be playing in the key of C. This can add a lot of options for creativity and can change the sound of the guitar in interesting ways.

This can be especially helpful if you sing while playing or if you’ll be playing with a vocalist. You’ll instantly be able to transpose your key to suit a particular singer’s voice. Every guitarist needs to have a capo sooner or later.

Be sure that you buy a capo and learn how to use it if you want to have an easier time singing or accompanying others as a guitarist.

2. Clip-On Tuner

Probably the most important type of guitar accessory for any player is a guitar tuner. A well-tuned guitar can make even the most beginner player sound 10x better, but a guitar that isn’t tuned can make even the best player sound worse. Don’t underestimate the value of a guitar tuner.

There are several types of guitar tuners available including electric guitar tuners, pedal tuners, and clip-on guitar tuners. You can also easily download a free guitar tuner such as GuitarTuna on your smartphone.

Since I mostly play acoustic guitar, I prefer using a clip-on tuner. Clip-on tuners make tuning very simple by picking up the vibrations of the guitar. You’ll also be able to tune it even when there’s a lot of noise going around you. This makes it ideal for jam sessions or busking. Electric players, on the other hand, would probably make the best use of a pedal tuner that an electric guitar can be plugged into directly.

If you want to learn more about the different types of guitar tuners that are available, be sure to check out my post about guitar tuners on Music to My Wallet after you’re done reading this one.

3. Metronome

A metronome is one of the best tools you can use with your guitar when practicing. Practicing with a metronome allows you to practice your timing which is essential for improving your playing. With a metronome, you’ll be able to easily set a tempo and have a steady beat to practice with.

It’s especially important to practice with a metronome if you want to be prepared for playing with a band or ensemble. However, even though I mostly play solo, I’ve done plenty of practicing with metronomes to improve my timing as well.

If you’re serious about improving when playing your instrument, a metronome is essential. It can be a great help when learning scales and modes or when trying to build up your finger strength. However, keep in mind that metronomes aren’t just good for lead players but are just as important for playing rhythm.

You can easily find both digital and old-fashioned metronomes at your local music store. Like tuners, there are also metronomes you can use in your web browser or on your phone as well.

4. Guitar Strap

If you ever plan on playing on stage either solo or in a band a guitar strap is very important. Playing with a guitar strap can make you seem more professional and allow you to have a much better stage presence. While singer/songwriters and solo acoustic players often do sit down when playing, if you’re in a band you’ll pretty much always need to stand up.

Playing with a guitar strap can be a lot of fun and while it can be difficult to get used to at first, it will allow you to become a more versatile player and potentially a great performer as well. Make sure to get a guitar strap for your guitar as soon as possible.

5. Carrying Case

Like the guitar strap, a carrying case isn’t really necessary if you’ll only be playing your acoustic guitar in your bedroom. However, if you want to go out and jam with friends or rock an open mic night, you’ll probably be going to want to get one sooner or later.

The main decision you’ll want to make when buying a carrying case is whether you want a protected hardshell case or just a gig bag.

A gig bag will be cheaper and can be more convenient if you live in the city and you’ll be walking around with it often. A hardshell case, on the other hand, will be a better choice if you want to make sure it has the most protection possible.

Using the Best Guitar Accessories to Improve Your Playing

While there is an unlimited number of acoustic guitar accessories available, the items above are the best acoustic guitar accessories around. If you’re ready to expand your playing and make your guitar easier to use, you may just want to get a few of the accessories listed above.

5 Best Open Mic Tips For Musicians and Performers

Looking for the best open mic tips?

Getting ready for your very first open mic night performance?

Playing open mic nights offers a lot of benefits for budding solo performers and bands. However, if you’re new to this particular type of event it can be easy to get stressed out or be nervous.

Personally, I’ve played a lot of open mics over the years and every time I do I learn something from other performers and get a little bit better at what I do. While it can be hard to overcome the initial trepidation you may be feeling, if you want to grow as a performer it’s well worth it to start playing open mics

It can help to have a few of these open mic tips at your disposal if you want your performance to go as smoothly as possible. Below I’ll give you my top 10 open mic tips for making the most of an open mic night and having fun doing it.

1. Always Practice First

While it should go without saying, it’s important that you practice whatever you plan to play at your open mic first. While open mics are great for beginners you should still make sure you’re playing to the best of your ability.

Run through your entire song multiple times leading up to the big day and ideally memorize your songs as well. While mistakes will probably happen on stage, get into the practice of continuing your song as seamlessly as possible when mistakes do happen

You don’t necessarily have to practice the same day of the performance you should practice your songs and setlist thoroughly before you’re actually on stage.

After all, Bob Dylan once sang – “I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”

2. Think Carefully About Your Setlist

In order to practice your songs for the open mic, you should have some idea of what you’re going to play before you arrive.

It’s a great idea to plan your setlist out in advance although you can change it some while in the moment if you feel like doing it once you’re on stage. It’s often a good idea to vary it up a bit playing a variety of both fast, upbeat songs and slow ballads rather than just one or the other.

Another important thing you should think about is whether you want to play covers or originals. Part of this will depend on the open mic itself and what typically goes at the particular event you’re attending.

At some places, covers are more typically expected while at some open mics only allow performers to play originals. At many open mics, a combination of both will be the best choice.

3. Bring the Right Gear

Depending on what you use for your performance it can be easy to overlook some necessary items. It’s a great idea to make a gear list when planning on attending an open mic so you don’t forget anything. Be sure you bring anything necessary with you. This may include guitar picks, a guitar tuner, a capo, a guitar strap, extra strings, a set list, or sheet music.

Keep in mind that for an open mic it’s ideal to pack light. You probably won’t need every single bit of gear you would need for a full gig.

Set up and take down between each open mic performer needs to be very quick. If you take an excessively long amount of time to get on and off stage you run the risk of annoying other performers or the open mic host.

4. Support the Other Performers

One big mistake some performers make at open mics is the remain far too focused on themselves and their own music. The best thing about an open mic is that it allows you to mingle with other performers and hear their music. If you want to eventually move onto longer gigs after open mics networking with other musicians is essential and can make your search a lot easier when the time comes.

While some of the performers will be exceptional and some may leave you yawning, you can always learn something from other performers. Always be respectful no matter what you think about another musician’s performance or songs and pay attention.

If you’ve enjoyed another performer be sure to let them know after they’re done. A few kind words will be more appreciated by performers than you may realize and can give you the potential to make a real connection.

5. Try to Stay Relaxed

The hardest part for many new and even experienced open mic performers is learning how to stay relaxed and how to be confident on stage. An open mic is just an open mic. It’s about as casual as things come when it comes to playing live music.

Don’t take yourself too seriously when playing open mics but learn how to enjoy it no matter how many things you think you did wrong while on stage. Mistakes happen and it’s better to just move on when they do. Refrain from apologizing when on stage either before or after you play a song.

Audience members will mostly be other musicians who know exactly what you’re going through. If you have some stage fright, don’t worry. They’ll all be rooting for you.

Using These Open Mic Tips to Your Advantage

Playing open mics can be a great way to practice new material, build your confidence, and get ready for playing longer music gigs.

By using the above open mic tips you’ll make sure you’re having the best performance possible every time and having fun at local open mic nights you attend.