Daily Film Scoring Bits – Archive Jul-Dec 2011

Posted on Jul 1, 2011 in Daily Film Scoring Bits


Welcome to the Daily Film Scoring Bits Archive of January to June 2011!

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12/23/11: Double or triple tonguing passages on brass instruments can sound very exciting and fanfaric and can create a great effect of forward motion. Especially quick repetitions can be very exciting. A good example is the beginning of the Star Wars Main Theme before the theme enters where you can hear a lot of repeated notes apart from the fanfaric passages also played by the brass. Also, in this piece we get to hear the fantastic effect of brass doing double tongueing at the 1:30 mark. However, use these playing technique with care. If overused they can create a fatigue for the ear as well as they can’t be played for a long time by the players as it takes quite a lot of stamina.

#orchestration

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12/22/11: Bad intonation on single notes can be fixed in the mix by a certain degree. Notes that are too sharp are too flat can be tuned on the spot mics which are relatively close to the instrument. Even though, it is not possible to tune the same note on the tree mics, adjusting the pitch on the spot mic might help the overall impression. However, especially on instruments that are very prominent (trumpets) this method might not work and it also only works for “slightly” bad intonation (anything within a quarter note too flat to too high).

#technical

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12/21/11: On some occasions, minor or major chords may just sound too traditional for scoring as well as not fulfilling a certain “modern” effect you want to achieve. In such situations, it helps to use “genderless” chords. While open fifths can sound very empty and sometimes even trivial, sus2 or sus4 chords can create nice modernistic sounding musical fields. To get an even more modern and ambiguous sound, fourth structures might be used as well, however, they hower stylistically into the modern jazz field so be careful with that.

#composition

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12/20/11: There’s just a certain range of how far you can musically push something in a movie that is not there but is supposed to be there. At a certain point of trying to push too hard, it just gets ridiculous. Especially scenes which are supposed to be scary but visually there is practically no clue for that, you can “colour” a little with the music but you can’t make the audience sit on the edge of their seats. It is important to know beforehand what might be possible to pull off with the music and what not. It is better to say “I really don’t think I can put it whith the music where you want it to be, maybe you need to find another way to make this scene work.” than telling that you can pull it off but ultimately don’t succeed. These things don’t only happen on less professional productions but also professional movies sometimes have a “weak spot” that couldn’t be fixed anymore while shooting/editing and need to be helped with the music.

#film scoring

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12/19/11: Christmas is a good time to get in touch again with old business contacts that you haven’t worked with for a while. Even though it might not land you a new gig instantly, sending some personal christmas greetings might get you back into their memory and therefore maybe help you to be considered for one of their next projects. Apart from that, it is a nice gesture to send out season greetings. Whether you choose an email or actual mail is up to you and probably also depending on the client. Most people working in the media don’t see it formally inappropriate to “just” receive an email. However, make sure to not leave the impression of sending out a mass email to “everyone you know” but send out personalized emails (or at least emails that seem like they’re personalized). Also, avoid any weird, unfunny or just annoying flash e-cards or things like that. They are good to send out to friends but feel very unprofessional for most business contacts.

#general

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12/16/11: Balancing out orchestral “forces” is a lifelong learning progress as there are dozens of factors involved that have influence on how sections in the orchestra balance. Not only does the instrument by itself but also its number, the dynamic, the register, the style, the tempo, the players, the location, the room size and other factors play a big role in that. The only way to learn this is to gain experience by ideally having ones composition played by real musicians to check how it balances or get a thorough knowledge of balances by listening to music and reading along scoresheets. There are general rule of thumbs such as 4 woodwinds balance one heavy brass (trumpets, trombones) while 2 woodwinds balance one horn etc. which are generally a good rule of thumb but don’t really cover up all possibilites. Even 10 flutes in their lowest register couldn’t compete agains a trumpet while one piccolo in its highest register could easily compete with a trumpet. These things need to be looked at with much differentiation and need to be studied thoroughly.

#orchestration

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12/15/11: When you’re preparing score sheet material for a recording session by yourself, avoid ring binding. Especially plastic ring binding creates a lot of noise which multiplies especially on string sections when 7 or 8 desks turn pages at the same time and very easily spill on the microphone. Also, avoid any sort of bindings for the conductor. As you will most likeley give him/her a score in A3, turning pages is even noisier which is not what you want anywhere near the Decca Tree. Hot glue bindings is not great as well as it tends to fold back. The best way to go is actually leaving loose sheets on short cues (where the parts fit on one page) or taping parts together on longer cues (go for single side printing on parts, double side printing again is too noisy) so the sheets belonging to each cue fit next to each other on a stand and are attached so there is no chance of sheets flying around. On even longer cues, go either to double sided printing and taping or one sided printing and taping every sheet next to each other so after reaching the amount of pages that fit next to each other on the stand you can turn over all these with one movement and have another set of as many pages as fit next to each other instead of needing to turn every page. There’s also staple binding for parts which is useful and not noisy for long cues as well. For the conductor go to taping every cue independently. The most important part: page turn noises are really annoying on a recording and you might want to take this to a minimum even though bindings might look better.

#technical

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12/14/11: Modulating spontaneously into a new key can bring a new colour into a composition and dramatically push the composition to a new level. This technique is often used in popular music but also (especially ostinato driven) film music gains a lot of its dramaturgy from modulating rather spontaneously into a new key. Usually this is a modulation upwards by a semitone or a whole tone. These upward modulations create a feeling of more energy while downward modulations usually feel very “deflating”. The main effect that needs to be noted here is the obvious transfer of the ostinato figure or general structure into another key so this procedure has the biggest effect when executed quite blatantly.

#composition

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12/13/11: It generally feels more plausible to musically accent the reaction rather than the action when people interact in a scene where there is not much visual motion. For example, we have a scene where a woman tells her boyfriend that she’s pregnant. If we want to accent this musically (which by itself might get really cheesy but it serves as an easy example) we have two options: either to accent when she finished saying that or to accent when we see his reaction. These two moments might be pretty close together in the scene but it generally works better to accent his reaction (as the audience by that time also had time to react to what she just said). This of course works only when action and reaction are pretty close together. On fight and action scenes it’s a bit different as they are visually driven by motion, so when someone starts running towards his enemy with a sword in his hand and the enemy blocks him, the more appropriate highlight would be the start of the movement, hence when the first guy starts running.

#film scoring

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12/12/11: Watch your ego! Working on a major project is a great experience and many people shaking your hands congratulating you for your work is a true ego boost which of course feels great for everybody. However, never let this get to you. Falling into an attitude of “I know it all, I’m the best.” is the worst thing that could happen to a composer or basically every artist as it will diminish your urge to improve. It is always very humbling after such an experience to listen to the great masters and realize that as long as one’s music is not as good as theirs, there is no reason to have a big ego. Also, working with someone who has a big ego can be a nightmare for directors or producers which will have a bad influence on your career as the the working experience with you as a composer is a big hire or fire factor for film executives. It is perfectly fine to be proud of what you have achieved but always keep it in a realistic perspective and never stop learning.

#general

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12/9/11: Even though some sample libraries on the market might imply that it is possible to let brass instruments play a sustained note at ff for several seconds it is not. Apart from the fact that in very loud dynamics, brass players run out of air quite quickly as producing loud notes takes considerably more breathe than soft dynamics it’s also a matter of muscle stamina of the lips as well as the diaphragm for the players. It is physically very demanding to keep up that much pressure for a long period of time. So when writing for brass, consider the human factor. Your composition and recording will benefit from giving the players time to rest and not demand full power from them all the time.

#orchestration

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12/8/11: It is generally better when you demo cues to anybody (director/producer) to send out short videos that contain the cue put at the right position in the scene rather than just sending over an mp3 with a timecode. It might be easily possible that due to edits etc. after you got the working cut, people are working on a version with a different timecode than you, which means that they will most likely put the cue at the wrong position causing false feedback. However, make sure that video sizes don’t exceed “emailable” sizes. There’s no point in putting up a 300MB video file to demo a small scene just because you want the image to be in HD. Another good alternative might be platforms like Youtube or Vimeo where you can put videos on “private” and share the link only with people who are supposed to see it. I personally prefer Vimeo due to the fact that it allows to password protect videos which might give your client a more secure feeling and might not cause discussions like “Oh my god! You put our movie on Youtube, are you out of your mind?!?!” – “No, it is just a private video, don’t worry, nobody apart from you can see it!”. The big advantage of these plattforms are, that the videos can be watched even on a mobile phone and can be sized according to the current internet bandwidth which is great for directors/producers who travel a lot and might not get access to broadband internet for days.

#technical

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12/7/11: Ostinatos can be highly effective and are currently very popular in film music writing, however there are a few things that need to be taken into account when working with them. First of all do they limit the harmonic possibilites as they very often imply a certain tonality and a certain chord. Changing chords over the ostinato will be tricky unless you want to go for heavy dissonance. When you want to establish a chord progression with ostinato, you should make sure that your ostinato adapts (in the least obvious way) to the chords. Also, ostinatos sometimes tend to become very annoying, which happens especially with ostinatos which consist of one rhythmic value only. Repeating 4 16th notes over and over again might become very boring after a while. A good solution in such situations, is to extend the length of the ostinato by giving it a structure. Speaking of that 4 16th notes ostinato, a good way to extend those to a less annoying length is for example to play these 4 16th notes 3 times and have a change in the fourth time and then repeat. With this procedure, you extended it to a 4 beat-ostinato instead of a 1 beat ostinato without changing much which will be more pleasent and less annoying. Even though the difference is very small, the brain now understands that the repetition occurs now every 4 beats and not every beat and therefore has a more interesting structure to hold on to.

#composition

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12/6/11: In very busy scenes where you might need to hit the action with the music every few seconds, it actually is better to “ignore” some of these in favor of the musical flow. Even in the situation where you feel like you are “missing” a certain hit point, it usually feels less confusing to actually go for a musical idea for a while instead of “cluttering” the music into small chunks. Hitting too many visual accents will cause quite a fatigue of musical ideas causing the loss of the attention of your audience. A great example about how to handle active Scenes is the Ultimate War Sequence from Hook, scored by John Williams. Even though the action is very busy, the music ignores some of it in order to allow for musical ideas to be played out. The music changes only on really “important” moments of the action and is able to play out whole themes or at least fragments within certain passages of the action.

#film scoring

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12/5/11: It happens from time to time that you’re asked to ghost write for someone else, which means that you transfer your authorship to someone else and will not be credited for your work. While this practice officially is illegal in most European countries (where it is legally not possible to transfer authorship) it happens more commonly in the US. But also in Europe you often see this practice happening. Being asked to ghost write for someone is a tricky situation. Of course you might get decent money for it working on a big project but that’s about what you get from such projects. You won’t be able to use it as a reference, therefore nobody will ever know you did this job and unless your client wants to hire you for another (probably ghost) writing, you will not gain any benefit for your future out of it. Among many composers there is a silent understanding about not hiring anybody to ghost write as this is considered to be a bad and unethical business practice but still it happens even at the top of the game. When being in such a situation, you should at least try to persuade your client for proper crediting of your work and being able to use it as a reference. If they don’t agree, you need to consider whether you absolutely need the money or have enough other possibilities to move on. Generally, ghost writing should be a “last resort” situation to fall back to.

#general

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12/2/11: There is a wide range of mutes available for brass instruments, especially trumpets and trombones, which open up a whole new palette of wonderful sound colours to use in your composition. While until the mid 20th century, the only available mute in the orchestra was the Straight Mute by now all sorts of mutes that originally come from the jazz are also available in the orchestra, including Bucket Mutes, Harmon Mutes, Plunger and Cup Mutes. There are also a lot of other mutes but the ones mentioned are the most common ones. When you ask for a mute in a score sheet, make sure to write in which one. Just “mute” doesn’t do it.

#orchestration

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12/1/11: At latest when you’re recording a small sized orchestra, you will probably need to move out of your studio at home or at your office and record somewhere else. While you are probably perfectly used to the way things sound at your general working space, it might be quite a surprise at how different things might sound in the studio. There are monitor speakers that have a very own sound characteristic and the monitor mix you’re hearing from all mics might sound really strange and intransparent at the worst case. This is in general no need to panic, however, it can alter your judgement of things and drive you to decisions that you would take differently when you were at your normal setup. A good idea (which however is not always possible) is to get used a bit to the sound system. Maybe you can sit in in the session before you or something like that so you get an impression of how the system sounds. If that is not possible, you should have someone from the studio to ask in situation when you’re unsure (things like: “Was there a horn split? Should I take back the trumpets or are they just so loud in the mix here?) etc. This is by far not the ideal situation and really terrible when doing this the first time but it is also a good reason to come back to certain studios for following projects.

#technical

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11/30/11: You can make any chord progression plausible to the ear by connecting it through chromatic steps. The ear is so used to the “leading tone” principle (in this case it also works downwards) that as soon as at least one voice in the chord progression moves chromatically, it will connect the chords logically to the ear and therefore make the chord progression plausible even though it might be a really far stretch considering the tonality. This concept becomes even stronger when more than one voice moves chromatically. A really great example from music history is Chopin’s Etude in E minor which covers really “strange” chord changes in a very plausible way for the ear by moving voices of the chords chromatically.

#composition

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11/29/11: Using themes and motifs to identify characters or to link plot points can be very effective in film scoring, however is highly genre dependant. While scifi, fantasy and such movies are great playground for such musical links, it feels very over the top in “serious” genres. You wouldn’t want to characterize the antagonist in a drama with a Darth Vader like theme etc. Also, even in genres where this scoring technique works very well, you should not overdo it. Unless it has such epic proportions as Lord of the Rings or Star Wars it is not really suited to establish more than a handful of themes as it weakens the effectiveness of the whole principle. Rather place themes on really important characters and situations and use them as strong linking elements rather than giving every side character an own little theme which will just cause confusion or simply “non-recognition” with the audience due to the sheer amount of different melodic/thematic/motivic ideas.

#film scoring

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11/28/11: Tight deadlines can be a major factor standing in the way of creativity and always come quicker than you think. It is up to you to develop a strategy to handle such situations as they are very common in the “media world”. Some people practically get paralyzed when being very close to a deadline while others need the pressure to actually have the best ideas. In any case, time management and discipline is crucial. Even though a deadline might seem very far away, do a calculation right at the beginning of working on this project of how much you have to do each work day to actually hit it. And when you’re calculating, work with realistic numbers as you probably don’t want to work 7 days a week 14 hours a day. As soon as you figured out what speed you need to work at, actually do it! There are no excuses of having a “chilled start” and “Yeah, once I got the material together I will work much faster.” etc. As this is true to a certain degree, it is not suitable as an excuse for not working. Also, note that balancing workload properly is much healthier than hardly working at the beginning of a project and hardly sleeping at the end of it.

#general

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11/25/11: Having the opportunity to orchestrate for a big orchestra might put you in the situation of thinking that you might want to come up with specific parts for every instrument or section, however when looking at successful orchestral score sheets from the literature, you might be surprised about how few different elements they actually consist of. For example the Star Wars Main Theme which is undoubtedly masterfully orchestrated can be reduced in its first statement to only three distinctive elements. We obviously have the theme in the trumpets. Secondly, the bassoons, horns, trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, violas, cellos and basses provide the harmony all joining in on the accented chord accompaniment and the flutes, clarinets, glockenspiel, harp, piano and violins provide shimmering harmonic sparkles by playing tremolos or quick arpeggios. The opulence and grandness of this theme doesn’t come from countless different elements that shape the score but actually from the way how only a few elements are orchestrated and spread out well. Apart from that, you should always be aware that the human ear is not able to follow at max 3 different elements at the same time so when you’re going for highly polyphonic and adding yet another voice, ask yourself whether this really adds to your composition.

#orchestration

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11/24/11: Noises on a recording can be very annoying and are easily overheard on a session (as you focus more on the music obviously). Usually the sound engineer is supposed to spot noises but they can slip by quite easily and what you could barely hear on the monitor mix in the booth suddenly will jump right in your face at the mix. You have a few options dealing with them. There are some spectral clearing tools which allow to “cut out” noises from the frequency spectrum and as long as they aren’t masked by an instrument this method works very well. However, if you can’t solve the problem with that, you might want to find the spot mic that is closest to the noise (and it hopefully isn’t a noise so loud that it spilled on every microphone). When you have isolated that mic, you might want to try muting it for a moment there. However take care that it doesn’t feel like you’re cutting a “hole” into the music. Interestingly this works also to a certain extent at short wrong notes. A horn section split might be very obvious on the spot mics but hardly noticeable on the tree mics so helping such moments with a little “cutting” might be very benefitial.

#technical

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11/23/11: Lots of music nowadays is very heavily orientated on structures that are multiples of 2 bars. Often themes are presented in an 8-bar form, which can be subdivided into two groups of 4 bars which can again be subdivided into two 2 bar groups. While this form feels very natural for the human ear and many highly popular themes and melodies are written in these structures, you should always be aware to not fall into a too uniform pattern. An 8-bar theme which keeps repeating a 2 bar phrase more or less exactly for three times is usually not a very pleasing melody. Also, such melodic structures feel very short on breath. When listening to really successful themes you will see that often even though the external form of 8 bars is kept, the internal structures are more diversified in order to have a longer breath on the melodic passage. Using structures which deliberately violate these 2/4/8/16-bar rules can have a fantastic surprise effect or can be used to confuse the listener when needed.

#composition

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11/22/11: Scoring movies is often writing music that needs to fit in a certain frequency range to actually be heard. You need to compete against sound effects and design which in many cases leaves only small possibilities for the music to come through. When you’re for example scoring a dialogue scene in a car, you will most likely have at least a little engine sound on the audio track, together with maybe other traffic noises etc. So in such cases, it’s not the greatest idea to put most of your musical information into the lower register where it collides with the engine sound. Also depending on the sound architecture of the scene, you might want to use a different focus on note lengths. A highly active action scene with lots of different and changing noises might rather call for longer notes in the music to be distinguished from the sound fx (this doesn’t mean that the music needs to be slow as well, just listen to action cues which build up a heavy rhythmic activity but the main focus lies on long notes, for example in the brass) A very constant (and possibly loud) sound atmosphere might be scored with more active elements as they build a better contrast to this atmosphere and therefore might be heard more easily.

#film scoring

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11/21/11: On projects that take quite a long time (like several months), you should make sure to negotiate payments in installments. Even though the prospect of being paid quite a lot of money after the project is exciting, it doesn’t help to pay your regular bills while you’re working on it. This is something that gets overlooked easily in the excitement over a big deal and can cause quite a lot of trouble. A standard deal would be 50% upfront and 50% upon completion of the project, however, on a project that is even longer than “regular” projects, this might not be the best choice. In such situations, even more installments are negotiated, usually fixed to either a date (less common) or a certain stage of progress of your work (like “all sketches done” or “orchestration finished” etc.). You should also make sure that every job that you want to outsource is financially covered and therefore mentioned in your money deal. If you need a certain amount of the budget at a certain stage in order to pay your orchestrator, this should be mentioned in the deal.

#general

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11/18/11: When writing for woodwinds, you have to be aware that you’re dealing with groups of instruments of highly diverse tone colour. Combining instruments in this section will never create a homogenous sound that is comparable to the one of a string sor even brass section. Especially the oboe has a very special tone colour that will stand out. This of course might become a bit tricky when you want to balance out the section and get a really homogenous sound, however it opens up endless possibilities of colour combinations. When orchestrating a chord in woodwinds, just by the placement of instruments in that chord (or switching them around) you can alter the sound of that chord from a really reedy oboe-dominanted quality to a really breathy and airy flute dominated sound and anything in between. Depending of the character of your music, this can be a great tool to “colourize” your orchestral sound.

#orchestration

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11/17/11: Adding solo instruments to a sampled mockup can indeed improve the quality and realism of the mockup. For example mixing one solo violin with string ensemble patches might help to get it more realistic. However, be aware that this will only influence the realism of phrasing between notes. If you have a cue with long sustaining notes, the additional realism gained by this method is almost neglectable as the quality of the sustained notes will not be improved much by that. Recording solo instruments that actually have a solo function (e.g. solo french horn) in the music cue will indeed make it more realistic, however be aware that the size impression of your recording will get reduced by that. It is practically impossible to record a solo instrument in a small studio and make it sound as if it was playing the solo in your orchestra consisting of samples that have been recorded in a larger space. In these cases the solo will always stand out as a “solo” also acoustically playing on top of the orchestra. On a side note, when you’re unfamiliar with recording certain instruments, plan in some time to find the best possible mic setup and position as some instruments don’t have their best sound where you might suppose it to be (e.g. french horns miced directly at the bell sound really weird).

#technical

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11/16/11: Ear training is one of the most important things for a quick composition workflow. You can’t be bothered struggling to find that starting note of the melody that you hear in your head on top of these chords that you just play on the piano when you’re just in the middle of composing. By the time you have found it on the piano, the idea might just have vanished already. A good way to practice that is to record a long series of single notes with gaps between each one into your sequencer, let it play back and try to play the same note that you just heard into the gap that you left in the series just by ear. You can make this harder by extending the range or the intervals or make it easier by narrowing down the range or sticking to a diatonic scale etc. You can also do this with chords. Another important thing that helps to train your ear is to be very conscious about musical structures that you are playing or composing. Memorize the impression a certain chord creates, memorize how a certain tension note over a chord sounds etc. Being really fluent in these things helps tremendously to speed up your composition process.

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11/14/11: Avoid too literal illustrations of movement in “serious” film genres. Unless you are scoring an animated movie, it will feel horribly dated e.g. when someone falls and you illustrate that with a glissando downwards. Sometimes illustration of movement can be a very cool thing even in quite serious genres and don’t neccessarily need to feel like a slapstick moment but it is more important in such cases to highlight the motion instead of actually “painting it as close as possible” to what is actually happening.

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11/11/11: Nowadays, even when the score is going to be recorded with a real orchestra, it is expected to deliver demos (so called mock-ups) before the recording takes place. There is a really fine line to make it “good enough” but not too good to create any doubt whether an actual orchestral recording is needed. Many musically inexperienced directors think that something sounds convincingly real even though you hear very clearly that it has been made with samples. So, when you’re producing demos to present to the director, the strategy you’re using should again be psychologically strategic. Make a decent mockup that sells your idea to the director and add in one or a few elements that obviously sound bad to later be in the position to justify a real recording. Also, be aware to not create false expectations with your mockups. A regular orchestra will never sound like a Hans Zimmer epic score so unless you can pull it off by adding additional elements on the recording, you should not let your mockups leave the impression that you can get that 16 horns sound etc.

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11/10/11: Inexperienced orchestrators often tend to overpower the middle/high register of the orchestra and therefore create a quite unbalanced overall sound. Most sonority can be achieved by putting appropriate instruments into the octave below middle c (and depending on the harmonic function of the notes even a bit lower). It works especially well to put harmonic material into this register to create a broad and filmic overall sound. Doubling just the root note of the chord in this register usually doesn’t cut it and leaves a bit of an empty impression.

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11/9/11: When delivering the music to the film mix, often a separation into so-called stems is requested, meaning that you don’t deliver a complete mix but several tracks with different instruments like one for woodwinds, one for brass etc. This gives more control in the mix to adjust volumes to the rest of the audio in the movie and when for example an oboe is too present against the dialogue, you can take it down a bit without needing to take down the rest of the orchestra. However, this is quite dangerous when you’re not present on the final mix as some mixing engineers might alter the balance of some of your cues to the extreme. Also, when you have a recording of a live orchestra, delivering in stems is less useful as you might have every instrument on every microphone anyway. However, in such cases it helps to deliver the orchestra and any prerecorded/synth elements separately. The most important thing is to make sure that you are present on the mix and can intervene in case some mix will become too different to what you had in mind.

#technical

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11/8/11: Major and minor chords set a very specific emotional mood as e.g. happy vs. sad. However in some scoring situations, you want to stay more neutral and less “emotionally focussed”. In this case, you’re better off, avoiding the third of a chord and use other structures. Open fifths as well as fourth and fifth structures as well as sus4 chords create a more open sound and help to stay musically neutral.

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11/7/11: One of the lesser popular jobs for the film composer is to “save bad acting”. In really professional productions, this shouldn’t happen but every composer has to deal with the fact from time to time, that the only thing one music cue has to do is to help actors who are a bit “challenged” on certain scenes. The main reason why this works at all is that the music can evoke and enhance emotions that aren’t brought along convincingly by the actor. If a scene is supposed to be very sad but the actor doesn’t really bring it along, you can step in with the music and push the “sadness” factor. Another issue is to “dampen” overacting which happens even more often. In this case, you have to neutralize the situation a bit by brining in music that emotionally is on the same side as what the actor is playing however on a way less intense level. This doesn’t always help and depending on the bad acting it can quickly becomelike a bad parody. So music is not the saver of everything but can do alot.

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11/4/11: In times of internet and global working relationships it often happens that music mixes etc. get outsourced to companies that are not located near you and budgets are too tight to get you there. However, be advised that you should try anything to be present when your music is being mixed. Of course you have the option of requesting changes after a mix has been done but it is a tremendous difference sitting next to the mixing engineer, knowing the music and being able to tell him/her to bring up the flute in these few bars a bit because it has a nice side line etc. Also, you can push the general soundand mixing esthetics into the direction you want which is really tricky to fix once it is done. Of course it’s a major difference when you mix your music alone but unless you are really proficient at that, I strongly advise to not do this, not only because of the possible lack of experience of how to achieve a certain sound but also due to the working blindness that you might suffer from when mixing music alone.

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11/3/11: Mixing instrumental colours can create a fantastic effect. Especially heterogenuous combinations can be very attractive to the ear while homogenous mixes can create a very warm and full bodied sound. However, be aware that every instrumental combination at pitch will create a more “covered” version of the sound of the loudest instrument in this mix, so when you’re actually after a really bright and brillant sound (e.g. trumpets), it is better to use them unmixed in order to create the most punch. Combinations in octaves however are a bit different and depending on the register and instruments involved can create almost every sound colour from very dark and covered to very bright and punchy.

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11/2/11: When you’re adding a real choir to your music, in most cases it is recorded seperate (and after) the orchestra has been recorded. There are three main reasons for this: a choir needs to rehearse and can’t really sing music prima vista. Even the best choirs need to sing through passages several times to get it right. Orchestras however are quicker on sight reading and therefore you will lose a lot of time and money rehearsing passages with the choir while the orchestra is sitting idle in the room. The second reason is, that unless you have a massive choir, it easily gets overpowered by the orchestra playing the “epic film music style” and is very hard to recover properly in the mix later which is easier when recorded separately. Also only the largest recording venues (like Abbey Road) have the space to incorporate a big orchestra and choir at the same time. Most studios are laid out to only provide enough room for one of each.

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11/1/11: In the heat and time pressure of composing for media, it happens very quickly that wrong notes sneak into your composition, forgetting accidentals etc. are the most common problems. It is enormously benefitial to listen/look through every section or even instrument before you call a cue finished (and possibly ready to be sent out to a copyist for recording or to a mixing engineer depending on what you deliver). This might be a time consuming and annoying task but it will sometimes separate a smooth recording session from chaos (as it is also psychological a very bad effect for the mood on the recording when there are constantly occurences when somebody plays wrong without it being his/her/their fault).

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10/31/11: Really strong visual and/or emotional accents in a movie, especially in a non-fantasy genre, often have already enough impact without music doing additional highlighting. In such cases, it is better for the music to be less intrigueing. For example it can create a fantastic effect on really intense visual/emotional highlights for the music to take over a kind of surreal, unfocussed and paralyzed scoring style almost like being stunned by the action that just happened which will intesify the percption of that moment.

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10/28/11: Budget constraints are usually the problems that create the most headache to composers. When needing/wanting a full symphonic score but the budget is only enough to hardly pay a fraction of the players, it gets very frustrating and requires a lot of creativity to deal with it. While working with additional samples might be a solution for some of the problems, especially in 5.1 situations, samples still sound very “plastic”, no matter how good they are. Great orchestrations can also help to make a “small” line-up sound like a big one. In some situations, it will help to reconsider the scoring concept and actually rethink whether the score really NEEDS the big sound. No matter how badly you want to write the next full symphonic Star Wars like score, sometimes a filmmusic consisting of only a handful of players will do just as fine or even better. And it always leaves a better impression to do a convincing well crafted “small” score than a not really dead on “big” score. When doing good on the small side, eventually the scores where you can have your full orchestra will come your way.

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10/27/11: When writing a score sheet, practically every note should have an articulation, especially when they appear in more than one instrument. The worst note of all is the quarter note, which without articulation could be interpreted from staccatissimo to the widest possible tenuto, with or without accent or anything in between. When you have a quarter note in a section without articulation and every player adds his/her “own” interpretation to it, it will very likely become a chaos. Longer notes like half or whole notes are quite obvious to be held while notes shorter than an eight note can’t be articulated much different than “short” concerning length. Another story starts with articulations regarding legato, portato, detaché etc. There are just so many possibilities to interpret notes that in order to avoid any confusion and delay when working with actual musicians always take care to write as precise as possible. It will save you a lot of time!

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10/26/11: Before you go on a recording session with an orchestra, you should ideally prepare all clicktracks that will be needed not only as audio file but also as session to be used with their recording programme. Most orchestral recordings are done in ProTools, however you should double check with your recording company. The big advantage when having a session laid with all tempo/time signature changes is that you can very easily record drop-ins. When there is a bad note in bar 45, you can tell your recording engineer and musicians to start recording again in bar 43 to cover that passage and your engineer will be able to jump in the recording session to this position with correct click etc. If you only provide audio clicks, this makes the whole thing a lot more tricky and difficult to do, especially when there are a lot of tempo and time signature changes. It will be possible eventually as your engineer will probably try to create some markers for orientation but it slows down the whole process considerably.

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10/25/11: Using non-chord tones as bass note can create a fantastic effect of “coordinated dissonance”. As opposed to writing dissonance by the “chaos principle”, this kind of dissonance still allows for very punchy and shining sounds as you can still put clear triads in one orchestral register and use another register to provide the “dissonant bass note”. This principle works great in action scoring, however, you always need to keep an eye on the dissonance and possibly unwanted conflicts with other voices as very quickly certain dissonances might be too strong so they cover up the rest of the structure.

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10/24/11: It sometimes will occur that the ending of a score cue is very close to the beginning of the next score cue which is not the most elegant thing to do unless it serves a certain purpose (e.g. comedy moments that need that “stopping” effect or big deliberate scene changes). You should try to avoid this “scattered” score effect as entrances and exits of cues always highlight these moments which gets annoying after a while. The most elegant way is to merging these two cues into one, bridging that passage between them with additional score music. Even if that passage in between doesn’t need any score and adding music there seems like not an optimal choice, it is still better than having a way more noticeable short gap. Sometimes it already helps to let the first cue ring out longer so the next one follows right on it without a larger intermission (check for a smooth transition e.g. fitting key signatures between the cues, though). However, on some occasions, it also works very well to have a small interruption between score cues which is highly depending on the movie so it is as in most cases: follow your instincts.

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10/21/11: At certain points, for example when a project becomes just too big to be pulled off only by yourself in the time given, you will not get around outsourcing certain parts of the work to someone else. Usually things like score/part preparation for sessions etc. is outsourced as the first option as it is a highly time consuming task which can be outsourced at quite resonable rates. The next option would be (depending on your workflow) either outsourcing the mock-ups (when you’re more of the score writer) or the orchestrations (when you feel more comfortable with working in a DAW). Rates for these jobs vary greatly. As the last resort you might want to outsource even parts of the composition which of course is a very tricky situation as in such cases you also need to take the responsibility of bringing everything together. The important thing is to be prepared for such cases. You can’t just go ahead and get an orchestrator while you’re in the middle of a project so it is important to network with people who work in the position that you might need to outsource at one day when you’re not neck-deep in a project and see whether they can pull off the quality that you want.

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10/20/11: The reason why some chord voicings sound muddy and unfocussed often lies in the fact that they violate the so-called low interval limits. These limits are guidelines for every interval structure and the lowest possible position they can be played together without sounding muddy. They are NOT definitive rules but a good guide to avoid muddyness. Depending on the level of consonance, certain intervals like the perfect fifth can be put lower than for example the minor second. THIS CHART shows the low interval limits for each interval up to the major tenth. So to check whether THIS voicing will sound muddy or not as a C7 voicing (C1 being middle C), you simply check all the intervals within the structure and see whether they fit into the chart or not. In this case, the voicing is not muddy. It’s a different matter with THIS voicing that contains a “muddy” major third between the F and the A which is actually a perfect fourth lower than the low interval limit for the major third allows, however note that the minor third between C and Eb would be within the limit. THIS case of a voicing for Am7 is a special case. By the looks of it, it seems like it fulfills the low interval limit, however in a case where the lowest note of the voicing is not the root note (for example this voicing could be a trombone voicing while the tuba plays the root), when checking for low interval limits, you have to assume that the root is present, so basically virtually adding it to the voicing, it would look like THIS which shows the violation of the low interval limits.

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10/19/11: It is quite common for composer’s working copies of movies to come separated into reels, which means 10-15 minute sections which is the time which fits on a movie reel of a cinema projector. Even in times of digital projection this convention persists as it is also more comfortable to handle 15 minute video files rather than 100. Usually all reels start with a time code of 0X:00:00:00 (first 2 digits is the reel number, then minutes, seconds and frames) so you don’t get a consecutive time code throughout the movie. So of course, you should use lots of care with the time codes in your system in order to not mix up cues. Another traditional way of avoiding confusion is the naming of score cues in the system of XMY while X being the reel number, M standing for “music” and Y being the cue on that reel. So naming something 4M6 means unmistakeably that this is the 6th cue on the 4th reel. This naming system is quite widely established and you should stick to it.

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10/18/11: The chromatic scale, from a “tonal” viewpoint of composition is quite tricky to handle and not really useful to building melodic phrases out of it. Even though it occurs from time to time in movies (for example comedy scores) its use usually is musically not really pleasing. Reasons for that is its strict symmetry which makes it ambiguous at any moment (which might be an effect you want) and that it is pracitcally impossible to harmonize it. It is a very forseeable scale which works fine as an effect but quickly feels very stupid and dull. Scales that have a compareable symmetry and therefore ambiguousity, however have more musical “content” like a whole tone scale or diminished scales usually work better and when listening to really great comedy/animation scores you’ll hear those way more often in use.

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10/17/11: Musical shock effects get old and annoying very quickly and are rather a “cheap” scoring device. However, when the movie obviously plays with such effects, you hardly can’t do anything about it but also accent it with music. However, be prepared that the more you use that device the less impact it gets. Also, when you’re really going for that device, make sure that the “shock” is sitting on an unexpected count in the music so it is not forseeable and hence more effective.

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10/14/11: It happens quite often recently, that you’re involved in pitches for a project which means that you create a music for a project as an “appetizer” and compete against other composers who do the same and the one who is liked most by the clients gets the job. There are a few very nasty sides on these kind of things that you should be aware of. Of course it is safer for the client to check out certain composers and see who does the music they think fits best, however often there is no budget for pitches which means that for example 5 people do work for free and don’t get hired while one does. So when you’re participating in a pitch, you should try to find out whether there is a budget for the pitch and if not you should clearly think about whether you want to take the risk to spend a lot of time and work for possibly nothing or rather want to move on. In any case, you should manage your ressources cleverly when participating in a pitch and by any means avoid any additional costs for you like recording musicians unless you are really sure that you want to do everything possible to get the project.

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10/12/11: Film orchestration often is about substance and mass of sound. Inexperienced orchestrators often tend to only outline the score like for example “horns doing the theme with a string staccato ostinato below” which results in a rather less convincing and weak sound when actually recording this with orchestra. A main concept to have an edgy and big sounding orchestra is to include and double with instruments that can’t be heard as an isolated sound in the recording but tremendously add to the “mass of sound”. In the example from above, you might want to double the string staccatos in the woodwinds (probably in different octaves), you might want to double the horns with trombones or give the trombones heavy downbeats as chords or in octave unison etc. The most important thing is to remember that even when you can’t hear certain instruments distinctively, they add to the overall sound impression.

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10/8/11: On an orchestral session – unless you record it in sections – it is very tricky to adjust volume levels of single instruments in the mix. You have a slight chance to pull up the spot mic of the instrument/section a notch, however this only works to a very small degree. When you pull it up too much you will get too much direct signal and the room spacing of the orchestra will sound strange. It is ALWAYS best to adjust the volumes on the stage, tellingthe instrumentalists to play louder or softer. However, this of course only works with a decent orchestration. You bassoon player can play as loud as possible and still have no chance competing against the whole brass section playing forte.

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10/7/11: Major7 chords (e.g. Cmaj7) are a bit tricky to handle and should be written with care. They are often used as tonic chords, however function very nicely on the subdominant position as well. Stylistically they sound a bit outdated (John Williams used them a lot in the 80s) but can still be very attractive when used appropriately. The actually very dissonant major7 in this chord gets stabilized by the third with which it creates a very consonant perfect 5th, however it is still a very “dangerous” interval. The actual danger is a potential minor ninth which could happen at a “unfortune” inversion of the chord which has such a high grade of dissonance that it will disturb your whole remaining chord structure. Even worse is when your melody hits the root note during that chord which is a lose-lose-situation: either it is a minor second on top of the major second of the chord which will heavily obscure the melody and make it very ambivalent or it creates a minor 9th (+octave(s)) with the maj7 of the chord. None of this situations is something you really want. The common resolution is to swap the maj7 with a 6 chord which has a compareable sound impression without creating dangerous intervals.

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10/6/11: Writing film music is a lot playing with certain scoring clichés. You have to be aware that you need to write music that works with most people and can’t write elitist music that might be understood by a handful of people but the rest will scratch their head. Certain clichés are expected by the audience and you should not be ashamed of using them. And there is always the chance of writing something that fulfills the clichés (and therefore works with the majority of people) and still has a new, personal twist to it.

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10/5/11: Taking care of your precious business contacts and keeping the contact alive is a very important thing to do. This is espeically important when you haven’t worked with them for a while. Producers/directors often have so many things on their mind that they keep forgetting people so bringing your name back into their memory from time to time might help to keep you in the loop for future projects. Good possibilities might be birthdays, christmas, the release of projects that you are not involved in etc. This of course requires you to keep track of what’s happening, social networks like facebook might help on this. But also take care to not overdo that, an email or phone call every week might probably be too much…

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10/4/11: Due to the rich harmonic structure of the sound of bowed string instruments, chord structures that sound quite “open” on a piano will sound way more dense on strings. There usually is no need to divide several string sections in order to fill up a chord densely. A sonorous dense chord sound will usually already be achieved by good structured open chord voicings. Splitting up several string sections is only wise when you have a fairly large string section (in order to not lose to much substance on each note) and will result (depending on register) in a very intense and thick string sound like in THIS part from the Star Wars Main Theme, where both violin sections and the viola section are each split into two notes joined by the cello section in its high register resulting in this very dense and strong string sound.

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10/3/11: Click track bleed is some of the most annoying things that can happen in a scoring session when it only gets discovered in the mix. It results from the click on the headphones of the musicians spilling over to the microphones. Usually, an experienced recording engineer will have a master volume for all the clicks which he/she can adjust according to the loudness of the cue that is just being recorded and additionally every musician has his/her own headphone with an individual volume knob. So if you have a good engineer he/she will keep on listening whether the click is audible on the mics. In very soft cues where not all instruments of the orchestra are involved, it should be communicated to the musicians not involved to un-plug or turn off their headphones beforehand. There are also some engineers who set up a clever click-track that automatically adjusts its volume according to the overall volume in the room. A slight click track bleed in the mix usually is nothing to worry about too much as the base-level of “noise” of a movie is usually high enough to cover-up these clicks. However, on the session especially on very soft part have a thorough listen to whether there are any clicks audible on the recording. And the calming thing to know: you hear click track bleeds even on some of the biggest score productions.

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9/30/11: One of the most achievable qualities when writing for orchestra or any ensemble is to not only have a good sounding vertical structure (good chord voicings) but have as many instruments as possible (ideally all) playing a melodically pleasing line within that structure. Of course, the ear is not able to hear all these well written inner lines but the overall impression gets better as also the instrumentalists feel more comofortable when playing these lines. In practic terms however, achieving the “every line is great melodically” is incredibly tricky. Usually you’ll end up with one or two voices that need to fill still missing chord tones and can’t be connected in a really pleasing melodic phrase.

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9/28/11: Thematic references need to be quite on the nose in movies. As the attention of the audience is only partially focussed on the music, thematic references like “There in this scene I brought in the main theme but in minor, played reverse on the basses with new chords” might be musically cool but nobody will get it and therefore nobody will get the dramatic reference. Such musical “gimmicks” should only be done when the thematic reference is not neccessary to understand the dramaturgy. A great example for this is the end of Star Wars Episode 1 where John Williams uses the Emperors Theme in a major, fanfaric version. Practically nobody will get this reference when seeing the movie for the first time but it is not absolutely neccessary to get it is not needed to understand the movie. However people who get the reference will understand the hint that the victory that is shown there actually is a victory for the emperor which will be revealed in the next episodes.

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9/27/11: When you need to go to meetings/scoring sessions or other business relevant events by plane quite often, you should create a habit of never claiming anything as baggage that is to be needed urgently after your arrival. You don’t want your laptop with demos that you want to showcase to get lost by the airline. An even worse scenario might be score sheets that are needed for a scoring session etc. There are quite a few stories of nerve wrecking overnight “stunts” so always make sure to take everything you really need as hand luggage with you.

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9/26/11: To get a homogenuous sound in chords or passages, you should make sure that every instrument involved is roughly in the same register. It will sound very strange when everybody is in a relaxed middle range but one trombone is on its highest register. This one note will stand out very much and create an imbalance, as well as an unfocussed chord voicing. Same goes for the other way around: if you want a very edgy sound (e.g. in an action sequence) you should make sure that every instrument is in a register where it can create an edgy sound to get the most out of the orchestra and maximize the impact of your orchestration.

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8/25/11: Gradual speed changes like ritardandos can add a tremendous amount of expression to music, as – for example – before big climaxes a small slow-down will make the impact even stronger etc. However in film music with clicked sessions, this needs to be carefully planned. Usually the “standard” ritardandos/accelerandos that you get with sequencers and notation programmes feel quite unnatural as they are too “mechanical” (like a linear increase of bpm which you would normally never get with real musicians) and you’re often better off programming a tempo track by hand which reacts better on the music. When you’re recording it with orchestra later on a click track, these things might take a while to get right (especially your conducter needs to get a feeling for the music and the rits etc.) and a few takes might get spoiled due to not everybody being together but it is definitely worth the while to help your music get more life and break out of the boundaries of the otherwise very mechanical click which by itself is killing enough of natural phrasing already.

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8/17/11: You should keep a certain consistency in your harmonic language throughout a piece. A really complex chord feels really strange in a series of plain triads as well as the other way around. If you want to switch your harmonic language it is best to be done gradually, meaning that you for example go stepwise from simple chords to complex chords. In this way you automatically also raise the tension which is great for build ups or any moments where there is supposed to be increasing tension. Of course, certain stylistic require a certain harmonic language – you will hardly be able to write a convincing piece of jazz music by using triads only.

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8/11/11: One of the most important things when scoring a scene is to get the tempo right. This especially applies for scenes that are very action driven. It feels very awkward when the music for such scenes feels like it’s dragging the whole action. Rather, in order to have a more edgy, on-your-toes feeling it is better to be slightly faster than what the cutting frequency and action on the screen implies. There is no rule or scientific way to determine the best speed for a scene unless there are “pulsating” things on screen (like running feet etc.), you need to trust your gut feeling and intuition in order to get the speed right. However, before you start composing, you should have a look at the sequence and clap or snap the tempo for you and try out different tempi in order to determine what feels best. This is very important as a tempo change on an action sequence after you’ve written it already is very close to doing a complete rewrite regarding the amount of time you need to spend on it to fix the timings and hit points.

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8/8/11: Declining certain projects that are badly paid or don’t have a good production value might feel like a bad idea when you’re just starting off and unless you have at least a small reputation you should be thankful for any project that comes along to build one up but as soon as you have a few references, declining projects that you don’t feel comfortable with might raise your market value. It often happens that production companies try to get a deal with a composer at the lowest possible rate and when he declines in the first place they might raise their offer. Also, projects that don’t have a decent production value won’t bring you forward in your career much so you might as well just leave them out. There is that old rule in the business that in order to bring your career forward (or start it) you have to take EVERY project that comes along. While at the very early stage of your career, this might be true, as soon as you have a certain reputation your career might actually benefit from NOT taking every project.

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8/4/11: In it’s highest register, the piccolo flute can be very piercing and shrill. This can be a great effect when you want a really edgy soundfor example in action or horror music but can be too much when you’re for instance doubling a melody line in the woodwinds and include the piccolo. The safest way to get a decent balance and not overpower everything with that piercing sound is to write the piccolo one dynamic degree softer than the rest of the woodwinds in such cases.

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8/1/11: You should always make sure to have long enough last chords in music cues that are supposed to “vanish” into nothing as the fade-out time needed might be longer than you think. If you end too early, the fade-out might be too quick and too obvious for the situation as the purpose of fade-outs is to be un-noticed. Therefore, make sure to have at least 2-3 bars of the last chord/sound/note sustaining to give options for the final mix and leave the exact position when to get out to the mix.

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7/29/11: When writing a melody, many inexperienced composers tend to overuse certain pitches, their melody kind of gets stuck at a pitch and keeps on using it over and over again. For a certain length it is okay to hover around one pitch but it gets quite annoying after a while. When you are not quite happy with your melody and you don’t know exactly why, try looking for pitches that keep on reoccuring all the time and try to fix them by leading them to new pitches. The lack of new musical information when repeating or coming back to a note several times within a short period of time lowers the melodic tension and therefore results in a boring, if not even annoying melody.

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7/25/11: Ethnic references should only be done when they are relevant to the story, for example when lots of remembrances of a certain ethnic heritage are part of the movie or the ethnic location the story or scene is set in actually has an influence on it. If it is just a story about someone who happens to be from a different ethnic heritage which however doesn’t play a role at all, ethnic references are quite inappropriate and you should focus on scoring from another point of view (emotion, motivation etc.) as inappropriate ethnic scoring also quickly feels like a racist musical remarks.

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7/22/11: You should be very disciplined regarding backups when you work on a project. Losing precious project data close to a deadline can be the worst thing that can happen to you. Make a habit of backing up every project data every evening before you finish your daily work. In times of cheap and large external HDDs and file synchronization programs nobody should ever be as careless to not backup. Also, most programs you work in nowadays have an autosave option every few minutes which you should definitely leave turned on in case the program crashes. Also, it is wise to make a habit of saving your work every now and then. Most programs allow for a shortcut to save which you should know and use regularly. Disciplining yourself regarding such issues can save you a lot of trouble in case you have an actual data loss and the extra time you spend on backing up pays off exponentially when you actually need a backup.

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7/20/11: In order to get a nice sonority in your chords, you should try to put the third of the chord in the octave below middle C. In this register, the third creates a lovely sonority which gets lost when you put it one or even two octave(s) higher. However, you need to be aware to not put it too low as it starts to become muddy at the very low end. The lowest not muddy sounding major third is the D below middle C (of a Bmaj chord) and minor third the Eb below middle C (of a C minor chord). In special cases you may want it to sound a bit muddy (for example when you want to orchestrate a really dark sound) but the rule of thumb are the limits mentioned above.

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7/17/11: You should be aware that it is practically impossible to change the panning of an orchestral recording in the mix. As you use the signal from the decca tree in the room as your main mix signal, you can place the spot microphone signals somewhere else in the stereo field, however it will sound quite awkward when the spot mic signal of the oboe comes from somewhere else in the stereo field than from where it sounds on the decca tree signal. If you’re going to mix the session yourself or hand it over to a mixing engineer who isn’t present at the recordings you should make a small sketch of the seating order of the orchestra as you might need to re-pan the mic signals when you work in a different software than the one where it has been recorded.

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7/13/11: From the days of strict counterpoint, there are quite a few “guides” that are helpful for writing music also in a more modern style. One of those rules is that in a melody a leap in one direction should be followed by a step into the other direction. So when your melody for example leaps upwards a fifth, it sounds natural for the ear if this leap is being followed by a step downwards. The same applies vice versa. Of course, these rules are not to be followed strictly anymore and are more useful as guidelines – there are quite a lot of melodies which don’t follow this rule and still are great but having a look at your melodies with this “guide” in the back of your mind might be helpful to fix “unmelodic” sounding movements of your melody.

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7/11/11: Nowadays, you often need to weave your score around several songs that will be placed in the movie. Usually, these songs are just licensed from other artists anare not written by the composer. Unfortunately the decision to incorporate songs into the movie often is a purely commercial decision sometimes changing the whole music dramaturgy for the worse. The problem is that you need to write your score so the songs fit in and don’t stick out like a sore thumb. So it is wise to have a thorough listen to the songs that are used before starting to score a movie. For example it is not the greatest idea to write a full symphonic neo-romantic love scene score which is followed by a rock song in the movie. In such cases, you need to stylistically prepare a bit for the song that is coming and tone your romanticizm down a bit and exchange it for something that leads a bit better into a rock song. Also, when there are songs quickly followed by a score or vice versa (maybe even without a break) you need to make sure that you create a transition that works harmonically and key wise. Exiting a song with an awkward key change might create quite a nasty sounding moment (when the song fades out on a chord and you fade in your score with a chord that doesn’t fit at all).

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7/9/11: It happens quite regularly nowadays that you need or want to work on one project together with another composer, a songwriter etc. This is especially helpful when you have a very tough deadline and can share the workload and can also help tremendously when you have a writer’s block to have someone to give you a hint for a new idea. However, it is very important to make certain things clear before you start a project this way. First of all, the percentages of the writer’s share should be agreed on. The second important issue is the crediting: Should it be done together or separated etc.? All these issues should be agreed on in a small little contract. Also, the working relationship needs to be cleared with the production as well. Will one composer be the main composer who hires possible other composers or will all be hired by the production company. If the first is the case, the main composer needs to be very clear about financial agreements etc. When these issues aren’t dealt with thoroughly it can become quite nasty.

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7/8/11: When writing string runs that you actually want to sound as a run, you should take care with the speed of the notes to be played. At a certain speed, runs will rather sound like glissandos as the speed of the fingers is limited. This might not be an issue when they’re covered by other orchestra sections but when those runs are exposed, too fast runs will sound a bit strange and blurry. A good example of good exposed string runs that are still audible as runs is Hedwig’s Theme by John Williams.

#orchestration

 

 

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7/7/11: Depending on the editing system that is used, there might be differences to what the first frame is. Some systems have 00:00:00:00 as first frame while others have 00:00:00:01 as first frame. This might seem like a small detail but when you deliver your music with a timecode where to start it and suddenly all dead on hit points are one frame off, it might get quite confusing. Therefore it is important to agree one what is the first frame with whoever puts the music files to the film at the end.

#technical

 

 

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7/6/11: Changing the octave register in a composition can create a very dramatic effect and help alot to push your composition forward. Take for example Bernard Herrman’s score for Psycho which works alot with little motifs. If you follow closely to the composition you will notice that much of the dramatic effect happens by repeating certain motifs at different octaves which also gives it this edgyness. If all the motifs were played on the same octave, it would lose much of its dramatic impact. Of course, this doesn’t work for every composition but is a great device to keep certain (especially repetetive) musical ideas alive.

#composition

 

 

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7/5/11: When you’re scoring a scene, the best thing the music can do is add a dimension to what is not visible on the screen. Film music, that keeps on commenting on what is already visible quickly feels dull and unneccessary. It helps to ask yourself, what the scene is really about. Is it just a simple dialogue or are two people plotting against someone else? Another good way to add more depth is to get into the characters and score their emotions, even if they might not be visible. Is that girl just acting friendly but actually she’s close to crying? Such are great possibilities for the music to add to the storytelling. Of course there might be quite a few scenes (also depending on the movie and the genre) where you actually can only comment with the music and double what’s already there as everything this scene is about might be visible on the screen but you should really avoid going for that all the time.

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7/5/11: When you’re working in the field of media music, once in a while, you will be in the situation when a friend asks you to work on some of his project “maybe for free or a very small fee”. You need to develop a proper understanding of such situations. When you make a living out of writing music, it is plain unethical by your friend to ask you to work for free or a very low fee. You should, in such situations, clearly seperate from private and business. You need to make a living out of your work and nobody would ever ask a car salesman to give away a car for free just because he’s a friend and neither should he/she ask you to work for free. If your friend does not understand this or keeps on argueing, he/she’s not really a good friend and you should rethink this friendship.

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7/3/11: Tremolos on the double basses are not very useful to create climaxes. While tremolos on the higher strings create a great feeling of added tension, tremolos on the double basses cause a lot of noise and a very unfocussed bass register. Actually, you will lose “punch” rather than gain more tension. Bass tremolos are more useful as effect to create a rumbling low noise, however when you need a focussed bass note that is supposed to be punchy, I would rather go for regular bowed notes. The same problem occurs in the cellos on the low register, however it is not as unfocussed as with the basses. However, in the middle and high register, cello tremolos are as effective and strong as with the higher string instruments.

#orchestration

 

 

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7/1/11: Recording action passages and music that demands a lot from your players is best to be split into approx. two minute chunks and later edit them together again. With this procedure, the musicians can focus on certain passages and pull them off properly as the amount of music they need to play in two mins can be better prepared for, before the take they can rehearse for themselves certain tricky passages. If you just rush through a 5 min cue over and over again, there will hardly be any satisfying take as such a long time of music feels more or less like “sight reading” for the players every time. With smaller chunks, you’ll get a improvement as the players might remember what’s coming and therefore can better prepare for it.

#technical

 

 

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If you want to read the most recent Tips, Tricks and Hints, head over to the other DAILY FILM SCORING BITS ARCHIVES!

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  1. Daily Film Scoring Bits - Hints, Tips and Tricks regarding Film Music | Robin Hoffmann - [...] of your chord in the way that you state it quite low without violating the low interval limits (See…
  2. Daily Film Scoring Bits – Archive Jan – May 2013 | Robin Hoffmann - [...] of your chord in the way that you state it quite low without violating the low interval limits (See…
  3. Daily Film Scoring Bits – Archive Jul – Dec 2015 | Robin Hoffmann - […] of your chord in the way that you state it quite low without violating the low interval limits (See…

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