There is a single technical term to describe music in a movie which is not part of a separate soundtrack, but which is generated by actions in the film. For example, a radio is turned on or a recording is played. "something"-genic music perhaps? I've forgotten it, and I would love to recover it.

  • Do you mean background music? Or are you looking for something more specific than that? Is it important what the background music is? Jul 31 '19 at 20:09
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    @JasonBassford The OP is talking about scenes such as in...like Harry Potter 7 part 1 where he and Hermione are dancing to music from the radio. There is a term, but I just cannot think of it right now.
    – Cascabel
    Jul 31 '19 at 20:12
  • @Cascabel I still think it's correct to call that background music. It's music that's part of the scene itself. (But your answer specifically matches the looked-for word form.) Jul 31 '19 at 20:22
  • @Cascabel Harry Potter reference is a perfect example of what I meant. Thanks for that; I couldn't think of one off the top of my head. Aug 1 '19 at 11:55
  • Hi, P.S. I just thought of a great example from the in the movie "Almost Famous", the scene on the bus where Tiny Dancer starts playing on the radio, and one by one the entire cast joins in and sings along. You can see it here.
    – Cascabel
    Aug 1 '19 at 17:42

Source Music, a form of Diegesis

Diegetic music or Source Music is music in a drama (e.g., film or video game) that is part of the fictional setting and so, presumably, is heard by the characters.

1 The term refers to diegesis, a style of storytelling.


In films, it is often heard as part of a dance sequence, or possibly from a car radio on-the-road setting, or home sound system when the characters choose music to set an ambience or illustrate their own personal style. Recently it appears in the form of the "lone runner in the street listening to earbud " music as a popular meme or trope, when the the director or writer are struggling to find a good way to introduce another action figure.

Source Music means musical works (and accompanying literary works) and sound recordings not specifically composed or created for use in the Film and incorporated into the soundtrack of the Film;

--Definition of Source Music, Law insider

People working in the industry, however, usually used Source Music when I was doing that kind of thing. Diegesis is one of those words that academics use.

Also see: Dictionary.university

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    Better than my answer, although both may be correct.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 31 '19 at 20:31
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    Actually, a lot of the times when viewers think they are listening to ambient music in a dance scene, there really is nothing but the clump of feet on the original track. It is like sitting in the first row at the Royal Ballet...all you hear are grunts...with the orchestra in stereo.
    – Cascabel
    Jul 31 '19 at 23:21
  • Cue the Glossary
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 1 '19 at 0:55
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    "Diegetic" is exactly the term I was looking for. Thank you, Cascabel. Aug 1 '19 at 11:53
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    @KRyan: Songs which would be heard as songs by any other characters who are present should count; those which are heard as songs by the audience but would be perceived as speech by other characters, or would serve as fourth-wall asides which are "magically" inaudible to other characters who are present, should not.
    – supercat
    Aug 1 '19 at 16:14

"Occasional music" is the standard term I've seen used academically for such music, even though it primarily refers to music composed for the purpose of the film.

The abbreviation "OST" for "original soundtrack" can include both true "occasional music" and bonus music inspired by the movies that isn't played at all until the credits, and other music that does not accompany the action (e.g. music in the opening and closing sequences of an anime).

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    This needs references, otherwise it remains opinion.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 1 '19 at 10:34
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    Agree with @NigelJ - I can't find a single instance of this usage, so a source would help. Aug 1 '19 at 13:00

The term I've always used is incidental music.

Incidental music is music in a play, television program, radio program, video game, film, or some other presentation form that is not primarily musical. The term is less frequently applied to film music, with such music being referred to instead as the "film score" or "soundtrack".

Incidental music is often "background" music, and is intended to add atmosphere to the action

  • Incidental music is not necessarily heard by the characters
    – eques
    Aug 2 '19 at 17:13
  • @eques You are absolutely correct! In fact, I'd say it's never heard by the characters -- it's more like the narrator's voice, strictly for the audience's ears. I missed that part of the question. Aug 3 '19 at 18:04

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