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A soundtrack, also written sound track, can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, book, television program or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film or TV show; or the physical area of a film that contains the synchronized recorded sound. Wikipedia, Soundtrack

Silent films almost always featured music:

Showings of silent films almost always featured live music, starting with the guitarist, at the first public projection of movies by the Lumière Brothers on December 28, 1895 in Paris. This was furthered in 1896 by the first motion picture exhibition in the United States at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York City. Wikipedia, Silent films

Soundtrack industry is considered to have been started around 1930s. So, I assume that the music featured in silent films isn't called a soundtrack. Am I right? Why is this (or the vice versa) so (note that the emboldened wikipedia sentence gives a definition that would actually call them soundtracks)?

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    Perhaps the operative word here is track -- a word that nearly always denotes some kind of recording. – NReilingh Feb 24 '15 at 18:03
  • Semantics, perhaps, but I think this question is perhaps better asked whether or not it constitutes a "film score" rather than a "soundtrack". Per that, Wikipedia gives a pretty good short explanation here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photoplay_music . – Lin Feb 24 '15 at 18:06
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The word "soundtrack" dates back to 1928, which is about the time that "talkie" movies were picking up momentum. Talkies were either presented with a sound-on-disc system or a sound-on-film system. With sound-on-film, the sound literally comes from a track on the film itself that contains the sound information, which was how the sound was able to be synchronized with the pictures in the film. The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length film with synchronized dialog, was released in 1927. This film featured the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system. Under this system, the film projector and the sound turntable were mechanically linked to provide the synchronization. These discs were soon called soundtrack discs. (The discs had better sound fidelity than the sound-on-film systems, which is why they became popular first. Sound-on-film technology quickly caught up, and by the early 1930's, the movie studios had mostly switched over to sound-on-film.)

The term "track" implies that it is tightly synchronized with all the other tracks. On multitrack film or tape, you have different sections that are all being recorded/played at the same time in sync with each other, which is what enabled talking films. In the silent film era, any sound that accompanied the film (whether it was live sound, or recorded music) was not synchronized with the film, so I don't think it is quite accurate to call it a "soundtrack."

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    For me, exactly the sort of thing I would want to find out by using this community. Love the answer too. – Angst Feb 24 '15 at 18:32
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The key words in the Wikipedia definition are "written", "recorded", and "synchronized". Live music to accompany a silent film is often improvised (rather than written), and it is (by definition!) never recorded or synchronized with the movie.

Currently, when you watch a silent film, accompaniment music is usually included as part of the film media or digital file--which would, I think, qualify as a "sound track." That's still a bit debatable, though, because the soundtrack in that case is a later addition to the film and not the film itself. Still, such accompanying music is often specifically written to be synchronized with the film itself (scoring silent films is a common project for young composers), in which case I think it would qualify if it's actually recorded and synchronized. (Also see my edit below.)

Note that the music for The Artist is a major exception to this rule, since the soundtrack is an integral part of the film itself.

EDIT: Arguably silent film scores performed live during viewings of a silent film can be considered "synchronized" with the film, although in a different sense than recorded sounds can be "synchronized" with video. Also, having watched a few more silent films, I believe that written scores for silent films were a bit more common than I realized, so artistically, it's hard to argue that even new recordings of these scores are merely a "later addition" to an existing film.

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