Tough question. I don’t think there really is a “standard procedure” to do that. It has helped me to decline jobs that are not paid well and also to risk losing jobs by asking for more money. It is a very challenging strategy though and has caused some massive financial problems at first for me but it kinda got me to a point where my clients started to value my work also financially. When negotiating payments it also helps to refer to “industry standards” to kinda educate clients about what normal fees are for such work. But you will definitely lose clients on the way who either simply don’t have the money to pay more or are not willing to pay more. But in the end, one thing I’ve learned is that saying no to projects helps getting better projects, as absurd as it sounds…
Welcome to this little section of my page. Here you can ask me anonymously any music career etc. related question you might have.
Study score sheets, transcribe music by ear and read books on orchestration. This will probably be the next best thing after trying out things with real musicians. You can get a lot of classical score sheets on www.imslp.org for free which will give you a lot of learning material.
Yes, several possibilities:
https://vi-control.net/community/ – lot’s of composers working in the industry in this forum, offer your services there
https://www.facebook.com/search/groups/?q=scorecast – depending on your location, request to join the closest group, lot’s of composers there as well
Or the good old fashioned way: google for homepages of composers and write them a message.
It’s always one of the trickiest parts to find the right thematic material. I personally find it much easier to just work through a piece once the thematic material and concept is clear.
As you can imagine, writing these takes a lot of time, so currently there are no new ones planned, but maybe in the future.
Neither of your presumptions are correct in current times. Most of the time, the job of an orchestrator nowadays is to transform what the composer has produced in his/her DAW into something a real orchestra can play. So as an orchestrator you’re left with session files/midi files, audio mockups and stems and need to find a way to get close to the sound of the sample production with the real ensemble. It depends of course a lot on the composer how much freedom you get there but due to the fact that the mockups are used to sell the music to the client/director, most composers want to get as close as possible to the overall impression of the sample version.
The more traditional way would have been the one you mentioned: to work from short scores. That is what orchestrators did/do for John Williams for instance, but hardly any composer in the media world now writes scores (in whatever form) as the first step.
Doing “actual orchestrations” as you described it is probably not happening and I guess what you’re referring to would rather be called arrangement, but when you are in the role of an orchestrator, it actually is your job to do what the composer has indicated. You might be lucky to be trusted enough by the composer to have *some* creative freedom, but in the end, the composer is your boss. If you have an ego problem with that, orchestration is probably not the right field for you…
Now that’s what I call a specific question :) Unfortunately, in spite of your detailed description it is impossible to give a qualified statement on that when not knowing exactly where in their range the individual instruments are playing as this has a tremendous influence on how things balance. Maybe you want to email me (see “contact”) the score sheet in question and I can try to give a more qualified advice.
You might want to check out an article I wrote a while ago about the function of film music. It will pretty much sum up why movies need music:
Thanks for these kind words, Alun! I’m really glad that people actually find some use in the stuff that I’m writing here :)
“Cinematic Orchestration” as you call it is first of all essentially not different from “normal” orchestration but is merely a specific style to orchestrate. So all the hard rules of orchestration apply anyway and can be learned from books or orchestration courses. When it comes to really learn how orchestration is used in a filmic context, the biggest problem is that it is so rapidly changing what is currently in style that no book or course could really cover it. My personal way was to really learn traditional orchestration in every detail. When I was young I read every book on orchestration that I could get my fingers on, some several times. Later on in music university I had several courses on “classical” orchestration as well. Once you understand what is going on in “traditional” literature it is actually pretty easy to analyze the orchestration of most film scores by ear. Even if you cannot hear every single note, you simply know “it has to be this way”. So I basically learned the stylistics of all my favourite film composer just by listening to their music with my background knowledge of classical orchestration. Later on I got the chance to read through actual score sheets by several film scores I loved seeing most of the things I already heard being confirmed but still also learning a few interesting strategies to orchestrate. So the essence is to not presume that cinematic orchestration is massively different but simply learn to orchestrate. The stylistic feeling will come with that and with listening to a lot of film scores.
If you’re trying to get an understanding of the orchestration of a piece that you admire (which is by the way quite different from analyzing the composition itself) you should start by having a look at the big picture. How many different elements are present, who presents the main musical idea, who is providing harmonic backbone, when going more into detail have a look at instrumental combinations, which instruments are coupled with each other, next step would be looking at the orchestration of chords/voicings – how the tones are distributed in the orchestra, which functions of chords are where, which are doubled etc. It is also quite interesting sometimes to individually have a look at all sorts of orchestral “effects” – weird sounds, special playing techniques etc. That covers the basis, but it is always depending on the actual piece. If you analyse music from the classical/early romantic period, you will pretty much get a general idea of orchestration strategies with just a few different pieces while music from later periods needs more studying and more different pieces to look at as many composers developed individual orchestration styles which sometimes differ heavily.
Regarding your questions on sample libraries: Yes, I don’t like VSL because of the dry and especially close miced recording. It is practially impossible to get a close mic recording to sound like an ambient recording, no matter how much reverb you pour on it as instruments sound different when miced close than when miced at a distance. For instance with close mics you have the bow noise on string instruments very present – a sound that gets lost just a few feet away. Also the lack of position in the stereo field of the VSL samples makes it very different because panning them very often means to crop their stereo width which very quickly makes the sound of the orchestra very narrow. I do see certain use for VSL samples, it’s just not the sound esthetics I like.
Regarding which sample libraries to recommend – it really depends on your personal taste. I like the Berlin Series by Orchestral Tools but also the Hollywood Brass/Strings by Eastwest quite a bit. The Spitfire libraries sound great from what I’ve heard but I don’t own them so I can’t really comment much on it.
Self-doubt is part of a composer’s job description :)
Depends on how long you’re experiencing this situation already. If it’s just an acute situation, it usually helps me to do something completely different. Take off my mind from music and do a long walk, visit somebody or something, just generally try to relax and give it another go later on or maybe after a good night’s sleep. That usually helps me in every of such cases. But everybody has to find his/her own way with this.
If you’re experiencing such a feeling for a longer time, it is probably much trickier to handle and might have several reasons. Putting too much pressure on yourself might be one thing. It is easy to simply feel completely uncreative with the possibility we have nowadays to instantly listen to music from the greatest musical minds ever and this can be intimidating. But maybe acknowledge that none of them were born with their ability but acquired them over years of hard work. I always enjoy listening to John Williams early works because it brings him back on a human level for me and makes me realize that he just simply kept getting better and better by just doing it. Just understand that not everything you write can and will be a masterpiece, and even if you don’t like something that you’re working on that much at the beginning you might be able to see it as a challenge to still make something you like out of it or at least use it as a source to improve your skills and do better next time.
Something else that works for me is, to listen to a lot of really diverse music, just soaking all these things up like a sponge. If I stumble over something that I like and cannot immediately identify, I might even go to the piano and find out how this works. Sometimes you have these eureka moments and find something that you can store in your “musical vocabulary” to maybe use it in something of your own in the future.
You could also try just not doing any music for a week or whatever period until you actually really feel like you want to make music again. Of course this only works if you’re financial income is not depending on your musical output…
Without any context there is no guideline. The decision to double a line usually has two reasons: 1. to get it louder 2. to give it a different colour.
If your goal is to get it louder it is depending on the context around it. To stay with your example: Sometimes adding a single flute to the violins might be too much and sometimes throwing all woodwinds on the same line might be too little. There is really no hard rule for this.
If you want to colorize it is a little more delicate. Note that it will not make much of a difference in the sound if you double that violin line with one, two or 3 flutes. Usually the violins will dominate that mixture with the flutes adding a little bit of air. Doubling something is a twofold issue. If done right, you get nice interesting sound colours. If done wrong or too excessively it is the acoustic analogy to mixing too many colours resulting in an ugly gray. I think the best way for you would be to get an idea of what works best by studying score sheets and listen to respective recordings. You will eventually get the hang of how good doubling works. Unfortunately you will notice that it is all very depending on context. So there is no rule that always works and is alway appropriate.
Really tough question. I feel like I’m in the incredibly fortunate position to have practically everything I write being performed by a real orchestra. Once you establish this, it is actually not too tricky to have more of such work coming your way but I have to say, I consciously chose to shape my career this way. At one point a few years ago, I started to only continue taking jobs that allowed me to work with real musicians as I hated doing mock-ups so much and enjoyed working with musicians way more. This brought me close to a point of bankruptcy but after a few years it eventually paid off and I became “the guy to call if you are doing a project with real orchestra”
I’m not saying that this is what you should be doing and if it actually is a particularly clever way to force your career into a specific direction, but maybe you can try to slowly develop your career towards this direction by maybe trying to squeeze in to record one real musician on the next project, maybe a couple on the project after this etc. If you work a lot with returning customers you should try to push them into the direction of investing more money in the production. I had a few successful meetings where I showed differences between “in the box” and real orchestra recordings which eventually lead to raising the production budget.
It could be. As you know the jurisdiction in practically every country works the way that even if you do something wrong by accident, it doesn’t protect you from punishment.
I’m no lawyer but theoretically you should only be liable if it is clearly the same melody. But as you might have noticed Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke have been sued last year just because they created a song that had the same vibe as another song. So you’re never really safe. But you also shouldn’t worry too much. As long as there is nobody who sues you nothing will happen. And unless you’re making a fortune with this track even if someone who thinks you stole from him notices it, he/she might simply not see a point in sueing you.
Wow, now that is a long question :)
To be honest I don’t know any book that covers such a thing. I personally doubt such a thing exists for the simple reason that every individual reacts differently on music and just because you feel a certain emotion with a certain progression doesn’t mean everybody does.
But I think you’re absolutely on the right track with what you’re saying: You’re building up your own musical vocabulary. And that is the most important thing. Of course it takes years but the more you do this the more you can fall back on things you already know. Just continue absorbing all these things and build your own musical dictionary – because that is and will be what defines your style and voice as a composer. If there was a book that said “do that to create this emotion” what would be the reason for anybody to look for new and interesting ways to say something in a way that hasn’t been done before.
I do think so, yes. If you for instance sort the modes of major from bright to dark, lydian is way brighter and uplifting than phrygian. Just as with happy major and sad minor, you get very different shades of brightness with different modes. If you include the commonly used modes of melodic minor and other scales you get a whole set of emotionally very diverse scales and chords that can be used effectively to create certain moods.
I personally feel that even single different chord voicings of the same chord can change the mood of it dramatically…
These questions cannot be answered in a general way. On some movies one theme might be too much on another 10 might be too few.
The decision of whether a character (or something else) needs a theme is usually depending on how prominent the character is (or maybe NOT is but should be) and also heavily depending on the genre. Usually genres that require a lot of themes often have very stereotypical characters like superheros or villains, so it is pretty easy to find a tone for these themes. On more complex characters I usually look for things in the character that are not that obvious on screen. Just doubling what is obvious already doesn’t really lift the music to a higher level. Well written movies have characters develop during the movie so often a good point to start looking for a theme is to hint earlier in the movie where the journey of the character is going (unless you give away essential plot points with that). The in my opinion important thing with a theme is to try and give the character another level or to highlight a character trait that is important to understand its motivation…
Very broad question and hard to answer. One of the most important things would probably be to also write music that would be realistic to play on these instruments. Endless sustaining notes on brass/ww will take away any realism.
I think one of the best ways would be to get a score sheet of a piece where you have a recording from and try to reacreate it with midi mockup. The real recording will give you a great benchmark of how the balances between the instruments are as well as how ambient certain instruments sound like. Always do an A-B comparison when working on it to get as close as possible. You will learn alot from such a thing even though it is a lot of work…
Really tough question as I don’t really know how the music world in Australia works. Here in Germany you might be able to approach youth or university orchestras and try to connect with them. You might not get the most professional result from it but it is a good starting point and by the way a really great way to learn the instruments as less professional players will give you a way clearer idea of where the limits on the instruments are…
It’s really depending on the medium. If it’s for film, obviously the structure is dictated by the visuals. I usually do these cues by laying out the tempi and then trying to come up with something that connects all the structural elements/hitpoints musically.
With music that is not connected to a visual, I usually work with rough concepts beforehand. I have an idea of where I want the piece to go but I don’t have a strict plan of when exactly to reach these moments. If during the writing I feel for instance that a certain buildup needs more time to work most effectively, I will extend it without slavishly sticking to what I initially wanted to do. I personally feel that experience helps alot with this. You get more secure with doing decisions that could lead a piece into a slightly different direction than what was planned originally. However the concepts that I use are way more than just basic structures that I fill out with chord progressions etc. It’s more of a sound or general musical feeling that I hear in my head than just a structural element. Hard to descirbe actually…
Study Jazz Harmony – particularly chord extensions and modal harmony. You will get a lot of great possibilities by understanding this. Check out the book: Twentieth- Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti as well, which will also give you a few cool ideas on modern yet tonal chord progressions…
That is an incredibly complex question that can’t be answered in a few sentences. Writing proper dissonances that sound great is really tricky. I would recommend studying Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRINGS for extremely effective use of dissonances. Particularly pay attention how he very often writes structures that are pretty consonant within individual sections but create strong dissonance with other sections…
Can’t comment much on Berkeley. I have tutored a few years for Thinkspace but they just recently changed alot of their structure. Generally both courses should probably give a good basic understanding of orchestration but will probably not replace proper orchestration lessons. You might also want to check out Thomas Goss’ Orchestration Online course.