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Composing Music for Film: Signs and Gestures

Updated: Apr 30

picture of a dog black labrador driving car

Late at night, fatigue weighs heavily as you drive home. The darkness envelops you like a cloak, and you question your decision to be out. Suddenly, a light appears ahead - a torch in the middle of the road.

A man frantically waves his arms, blocking your path. Accident? Cry for help? Or a warning to stay away?

Instinctively, you slow down, assessing the situation.

You read the signs and gestures:

  • Tempo: How fast are his arms moving?

  • Dynamics and Accent: How urgently does he wave?

  • Expression, Dissonance, Modality: His face reveals more.

Long before spoken language, humans communicated through signs and gestures. When composing music for film, this non-verbal language is crucial.

I use elements like tempo, dynamics, and dissonance to convey emotions, build tension, and create anticipation. I use them to draw your audience in to the situation; to engage them emotionally.

And each scenario demands specific musical cues — to draw the audience in, engage their emotions, and transform their experience.

Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s wisdom:

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

Using musical signs and gestures, I build anticipation in the audience. I lead them down an emotional path that suggests how they should feel and then makes them feel it. This is because music, unlike spoken words, doesn’t denote; it can only connote.

It suggests and infers.

It cannot tell you that the snow is white, but it can tell you that the snow is dangerous, or beautiful, or that you should be cautious while walking through it.

Bespoke music speaks to your emotions that you should feel something specific. It can even suggest that you should buy something.

This is the language of musical signs and gestures that bespoke, emotive and engaging music composition brings to video, film, podcasts, and broadcasts.

If you’re curious about bespoke music for video and film, visit Black Lab Music at

Let the music guide your emotions and tell your story. 🎵🎥

Because without the emotive music, Jaws was just a hungry fish.

Speak soon


headshot of michael coltham of black lab music composing music for film video and podcast

Michael Coltham is a film and media Composer and audio wrangler who specialises in composing emotion through the medium of music. He runs a artisan, boutique Music Production Company called Black Lab Music, that specialises in helping build an emotional connection with audiences. He is a published Indie-classical/Neoclassical composer and artist. You can find his personal work at



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