Daily Film Scoring Bits

Posted on Jul 1, 2017 in Daily Film Scoring Bits


Welcome to the Daily Film Scoring Bits section of my website!

On this page I publish on a more-or-less daily basis small hints, tricks and advices concerning the creation of music especially for film. These hints cover the fields of composition, orchestration and film scoring but also things concerning the workflow in this field, like the working relationship between composer and director etc.

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

 You can also ask me questions directly on my ASK ME A QUESTION page

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook to receive the most recent tips

 


10/20/17: While there are many jokes about the triangle and its players, it can have a fantastic effect in an orchestration. Apart from the single hits that are very often used as comedy moments, especially the roll on the triangle can add an amazing high sparkle on top of chords and notes. The triangle usually has no problem cutting even through the thickest orchestration (because it has a lot of really high frequencies) and placing such a triangle roll on a final tutti chord can give the extra sparkle and brilliance.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/19/17: Whenever you record live instruments, no matter if it is just a soloist or a whole orchestra, always go for “safety takes” if time allows. Those are takes that you do after the point where you are happy with a take. It can and will happen that you don’t spot problems in some takes, like noises or intonation problems in an instrument that is too low in the monitor mix to catch it. In such cases, safety takes to fall back to are incredibly valuable. In several instances safety takes have saved cues for me and I know from many colleagues also for them.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/18/17: Most of the time, when arranging chords, you should try to move the “inner voices” (=all voices except for bass line and potential top melody line) by the shortest possible distance from chord to chord, using inversions of chords but also trying to sustain notes that are part of consecutive chords. That procedure sounds more pleasing to our ear as opposed to chord progressions where several voices leap between notes. This is more or less the “standard procedure” for arranging chords and is most successful in homogenous sounding sections like the strings. Of course, we also often see “violations” of that guidline to achieve dramatic effects etc. but for a learning composer/orchestrator, using that technique as a reference point is a good start.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/17/17: If during the planning of your score you notice that two or more cues will be pretty close together (meaning just a few seconds of silence in between), unless that moment of silence is essential (point of a joke, strong emotional moment etc.), you should prefer to connect them and have music also in the originally planned gap as getting out and into another cue in a very short time can be quite distracting for your audience and drag more attention on itself than you might want.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/16/17: The contrast between being under extreme pressure and suddenly not having anything to do is very big in the media music world. While you’re one day doing all-nighters to hit a deadline, the next day you might not have anything to do at all. That whole issue gets even bigger when working on large scale projects that you’re working on over a long time. Especially after ending this project with a big scoring session at the end of the working process including all the adrenalin and joy that comes with it, many composers have the feeling of falling into a hole after that. Suddenly that moment you worked for for several weeks or months has passed and there’s nothing left doing. Jumping right into the next project should rather be avoided as well as there is a crucial time that you need to regenerate. While this is different for everybody and some people might enjoy going into complete not-doing-anything-mode after a stressful project, my personal experience is rather that it is very tricky to radically do that switch without having some psychological side effects. So when you see such a moment coming, be prepared for it. Plan a short vacation etc. for the days after the project is done or something else that keeps you from being completely idle and set yourself a target to look forward to.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/13/17: In a real orchestral tutti, there’s hardly any chance for the harp to be heard. The only thing that might have a chance to cut through are quite strong and expansive glissandos, but any figuration etc. gets lost already in a mezzoforte tutti. Most mockups by inexperienced composers mix the harp unrealistically loud. If you want the harp to be heard, tone down the rest of the arrangement. The harp can’t compete against more than a few woodwinds, soft strings and possibly a soft horn (section) where it sounds beautiful and justifies its use in the orchestra. But don’t try to put important and undoubled lines into the harp on louder passages.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/12/17: Quite a few composers who want to work for film reject to work on their technical skills. Very often an argument like “John Williams got to where he is by just writing short scores on paper and demoing things on the piano.” While this is true, the “romantic” idea of the film composer working away in his composing room with just a piano and piles of score sheet papers is just not valid anymore. If John Williams wanted to start his career today, he would have not a single chance competing against other composers who are technically skilled and can create convincing sample productions in no time. If you want to be succesful in that highy competetive field of film scoring, there is no way around knowing and being able to use samples and digital recording/production techniques. The good thing is that if you really hate that side of the work (what quite a few composers do) you can start to outsource that again as soon as your career has lead you to some success. But rejecting to deal with these things right at the beginning of your career will very likely not give you a single chance to enter the professional film/media scoring world.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/11/17: The concept of a “hook-line” – as it is called in the pop world – is to create one or several elements that stick in the memory of the listener and create something that is easily remembered and recognized once it appears again. As opposed to the classical leitmotif (which as the name says relies on a motivic hence melodic idea) the concept of a hook-line in general is broader. Even though the name implies it to be a (melodic) line, a hook-line can also be a specific chord progression (e.g. Goldfinger), a rhythm (e.g. Terminator 2), sound colour (Harmonica in Once upon a Time in the West) or any other musical device that can be used in order to create something that “sticks out”. Of course as also seen in the examples above, some hook-lines base on several musical factors (Goldfinger not only being the chord progression but also the melodic motif provided by the muted trumpets, Once upon a time in the west relying not only on the sound of the harmonica but also the motif). Even though this whole principle comes from the pop world, the idea of getting your audience attached to your track by using such a device in “the orchestral world” is quite important as well. Especially as a film and media composer, you’re expected to deliver music that sticks in the memory of your audience which is best achieved by a small idea that stands out.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/10/17: The ideal function of film music is to add something to a scene that isn’t already transported by the pictures. Film scores that solely focus on doubling or commenting the information that are already transported by the images feel quite flat after a while. However, in the real world, many movies don’t leave much space for adding another dimension to the scenes which will leave you to do nothing more than just writing music that doubles what we see already. So the ideal that is taught by many film scoring text books is realistically not always achievable, not even by the best composers. The important thing is to actually not miss the scenes where you actually CAN add another dimension, so always be conscious if in the scene you’re currently scoring there might not be something to be told by the music that is not being transported by the images.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/09/17: Don’t make your own career depending solely on someone else’s career. Don’t feel like you have your foot firmly on the ladder just because you have a great working relationship with one director/company who’ll definitely hire you for every project he/she does. It is a very comfortable situation not needing to aquire jobs because they keep coming in but media business careers are way too fragile and short-lived. What currently looks like a big and safe working relationship can quickly vanish into nothing when suddenly one of the movie/project of the director/company has no success or other unforseen things happen. Build up a career and a network that is based on several important working contacts that allow you to compensate if one suddenly disappears.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/06/17: The amount and intensity of vibrato as a default playing style is highly depending on the instrument and also location of the orchestra. While string players naturally add vibrato to longer notes, brass players only play with slight vibrato when they have an exposed solo but even that can vary depending on taste and style of the player. Woodwinds usually play with vibrato apart from the clarinets which don’t use vibrato unless you are in some Eastern European countries where the “Bohemian vibrato” is sometimes still part of the default playing style. Most of the time, you don’t want to take influence on that unless you have a specific need for a specific sound (e.g. request the solo trumpet player to play with lots of vibrato to get the Western trumpet style etc.). However asking players that would usually do a vibrato to play “senza vibrato” will create a fascinating, pale, lifeless and almost dead sound which can be used very effectively in thriller/horror etc. scoring.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/05/17: Even when you’re writing music that will never be performed by a real orchestra, you should always take care that it COULD be played by one. Spending time thinking about whether passages are playable, well balanced, musically pleasing and improving them accordingly will not only make the music in general more authentic to mockup but also improve your composition. Mindlessly banging notes into a DAW just looking for the quickest way to a wanted result is nothing that will make your music stand out from the rest. Actually caring about whether the 2nd clarinet player might still have fun playing his parts without breaking his fingers ultimately improves your music and will make you prepared once an opportunity to write for real orchestra arises.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/04/17: A really effective way to create interesting harmonic structures is to stack two triads on top of each other. This procedure is called polychords, bitonal chords or also upper structure triads. Depending on what chords you stack you can create either quite consonant harmonic structure but also very dissonant sounds. One of the most prominent polychords is probably the Matrix Chord, where a Cmajor triad in the trumpets gets stacked over an Em triad in the horns (starting at 0:05 in the Youtube video). The most important thing to know about these polychords is, the simpler the two chords, the easier to understand they are. In the case of Matrix, our brain can easily distinguish between the two triads because it is very used to identifying and hearing triads but gets the feeling of the interesting overall harmony. What helps to distinguish even further is the dynamic shaping of these chords as well as the two different instrumental colours. This whole concept can not just be used for a single sound but as a strategy throughout a whole piece to create a harmonic sound that is very complex but yet understandable.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/03/17: Unfortunately, there are quite often situations where you need to start writing music to an un-locked cut in order to be able to hit the deadline. While this situation is far from ideal due to picture lock dates being pushed more and more to the back in the post production schedule, you might need to decide for working on unfinished scenes before the picture lock and adjust them again once the final cut arrives which in worst case could mean a complete rewrite or losing the cue all together. Most of the times however, the adjustments will be rather small so you might be able to adjust your cue without needing to completely write it once again. Of course that means that you write it a little differently right from the start to allow for adjustments later on. It might be quite helpful to write it quite “modularly” meaning to write blocks of musical ideas (4-bar sections etc.) instead of one long musical arc which would lose its musical logic when adding or removing parts of it. Ostinatos are also great in such situations for obvious reasons. Also, write in some “expansion gaps” that you can easily adjust later on. Things like sustaining string chords work well for this as you later can extend or shorten them without interrupting the musical flow. Once you have the picture lock on a well prepared cue, adjustments shouldn’t be that tricky. Work with slight changes of tempo to adjust for new hit points, adjust musical phrases by inserting bars for example at the end of thematic ideas (e.g. it works quite well most of the time to extend a 4-bar melody (in 4/4) by adding for example a single 2/4 at the end and just let the last melody sustain over that bar). Of course, none of that is ideal from the composer’s perspective and musical quality might not be what you usually want to or can deliver but it might help you getting easier through such a job.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



10/02/17: As soon as you can financially afford it, start rejecting jobs that don’t fit into your personal profile and that you wouldn’t enjoy at all and just do them for the money or jobs that are underpaid. This will have several effects: creative jobs are massively depending on enjoying the work, otherwise you might get stuck in a situation where you start to lose the joy in making music which when you need to be creative makes it almost impossible to deliver a decent end product. Also, a rule that unfortunately very often is true: once you do a job that you don’t enjoy and just do it for the money, it is very likely that the next job offer will be another of such jobs. The other effect: starting to reject jobs will gradually raise your market value. Clients noticing that you don’t do everything for peanuts might get to you with a better offer next time or the jobs that you actually accept will set the benchmark for future project offers.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/29/17: If you have a melody for example in the trumpets (it works in any melodic writing but it is most prominent on brass themes), it creates a very nice colour to harmonize the melody on key motifs or phrases. Coming from all trumpets playing the theme together in unison to splitting them up into a chord for a few notes creates a fantastic new sound colour. Once again, the Star Wars Main Theme is a great example for that. While all trumpets enter ith the theme in unison after the intro bars they split up for the last 4 notes of the theme at around 0:16, which is a perfect example of the above described concept. This also works on other instruments but is most noticeable on brass instruments.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/28/17: A slim, focused and clean working setup is always better than having too many tools to work with. There’s no point in investing into endless amounts of libraries, synthesizers and plugins because you will never have the time to master them all. The by far more successful strategy is to pick a basic system that you really know how to handle and get the best out of. Streamlining your process in that regard is more effective and will create more output than constantly needing to search for sounds or trying out how things work with that one plugin you never used before.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/27/17: Plotting a longer composition and taking it past the initial idea and developing it usually takes a bit of time and consideration. Composers approach this very differently and while some go ahead just starting at the beginning and let their intuition guide them, others write elaborate sketches and several revisions. For learning composers, it might be helpful to think about the concept. Sketching something like Intro – Theme in Horns – Theme in Strings with side lines – Secondary theme – Transition – Theme in Minor – Key Change – Theme again in major (Climax)- Ending etc. might help to sketch the overall shape of the piece. It also helps to target better for the climax and not accidentally get too big too soon.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/26/17: The start of a musical entrance in a movie should always have a reason why it starts at this particular point, which is usually a cue that is being given by the movie itself. This could be a movement, a scene change, a cut, a line that is being said, a meaningful facial expression etc. Starting music out of the blue will usually feel pretty disconnected and random, even if the purpose of the musical entrance becomes clear later on. So when you’re planning the musical entrances in your project, make sure that you place them where they actually feel like they have a reason to come in.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/25/17: Working at home by your own time schedules can in theory be a very nice way of working but can in realitiy cause quite a bit of problems. Quite a few composers suffer from a lack of concentration, being constantly distracted and not really being able to focus their mind on their work when working at home while others have no problem whatsoever with that. It is important to find out what works best for you. Some people can work even in their own living room with people around them while others need at least their own room while even others need a studio to “go to work to” away from home to be most creative and focused. In the end you should decide for the option that allows you to be most productive even if “working at home” seems more comfortable and cheaper than renting a studio space somewhere else.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/22/17: When you’re writing music, at least have a basic idea about the orchestration while doing so. Writing something completely disconnected from the orchestration will cause compromises in the orchestration process later. The problem that will arise is that when you for example try to orchestrate a melodic line later on, you will want to pick the instrument(s) for this line that “struggle” the least when playing it or you might put it in instruments that can somehow pull it off but don’t really have this line sitting in an optimal way on their instrument. Knowing what instrument you write for will also influence your writing as you might be putting more effort in staying in a proper range with the melody or in general writing more idiomatic for the instrument desired. One of the most obvious things to see that are the countless very unattractive orchestrations of pieces that have originally been written for piano. The typical left hand arpeggios which sound great on the piano are very tricky translateable to orchestra without sounding silly. Most of the time, to get a decent result you need to go one step further and not only orchestrate but re-arrange the piece, changing these figures into something more orchestra-friendly which in return will cause the structure of the original piece to start dissolving, so you start fixing this etc. etc. All these things can be very easily avoided by just thinking more in terms of orchestration when you’re writing.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/21/17: 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 wasted 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. However be warned, to not overdo this. Having a very unsteady click track will slow down  a session a lot and possibly causing you to not get everything recorded in time.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/20/17: In order to keep a composition interesting, try to rhythmically offset your motif now and then. If you’re melodic idea is based on a motivic idea being placed on every downbeat of a bar, try moving that motif to a different rhythmical point within the bar. By that procedure, you still keep the strong structural element of your motif but avoid to become too static with it.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/08/17: No book or course on orchestration can actually replace the invaluable lesson you can learn by talking to and/or observing musicians who are playing your music. Whenever you have the chance to work with musicians, try to find time to have a little chat with them in private. Most musicians are very willing to share their concerns about certain difficulties, give you ideas on how to improve by keeping the musical intention intact etc. Also, observing your musicians while they’re playing is very helpful as you can quite easily spot when they’re struggling to pull something off in the way you want it and which passages can be played without much trouble. As a cheaper option, it is also adviseable to watch videos of orchestral recordings with access to the score sheet. Viewing a well directed video of a performance of a Mahler Symphony etc. while reading along with the score sheet can also give you very good ideas about technical difficulties or things that are challenging.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/07/17: If you’re recording real instruments, most of the time it is better to let them finish a take even if it contains some errors. These errors can be later patched from another take or you can use parts of this take to patch another take and maybe even if the first half runs badly, the second half might be the best take you get. I would only stop a take if something goes really wrong like out of sync musicians not finding their way back together, or massive errors. In the end most of the time, you get more out of not stopping a slightly bad take than doing a re-take. This applies more to longer cues than short cues.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/06/17: Melodic target notes of a phrase should be avoided for as long as possible before reaching that target. For example, if your melodic phrase has a target note of a c, you should try to not use that c in the bars before that. Otherwise the target will not create that feeling of actually reaching an important point but rather feel like it has been “said” already. The same applies for chords: keep your chord progression before your target chord free of this chord or you will diminish its impact.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/05/17: Rhythmical subdivisions of the same tempo can be a great tool to dramtically shape your scene and for creating “fake” tempo changes. Staying in the same tempo while switching back and forth between a pushing eighth note structure, mid-tempo feeling quarter note structures and relaxed feeling half note structures is great for scoring brief changes of action in the scene without using very noticeable “real” tempo changes. Imagine an action scene with bits of dialogue in between. Using this technique is great to keep the pulse pumping and still gives you enough compositonal freedom to write exciting and edgy music for the action bits and tone it down to a different subdivision when the characters are talking to each other.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



09/04/17: Very often, business connections are not made in places where they are supposed to be made (e.g. business meetings, trade fairs, festivals etc.) but rather in places where you normally won’t expect them. The simple reason for that is that in situations like film festivals, potential customers are in the mode of expecting people to approach them and to try to make business contacts, which makes it very difficult to stand out from the crowd. In my experience it is way more effective to create business contacts in non-related events. Having a casual chat with someone on the hallway of an event might be way more effective than trying to make a business connection on an aftershow party etc. Always be prepared for that and also attend events where at first sight it might not be the best possibility to make new contacts. And of course make sure to always have a business card with you.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/29/17: Nowadays there is hardly any film project that will not be temp-tracked before you start working on it. Depending on the level of experience and taste of the person who temp-tracks it (which could be the director or the editor or someone else), the result can be anything between helpful and confusing. Quite often, you as the composer might have the chance to do the temp tracking, either by being actually asked to do it or you specifically ask for it. Even though this might seem like some extra work, whenever you get the chance to do it, you should definitely go for it. By that you can avoid having temp tracks in the movie that don’t fit at all but the director/producer getting so used to it that they don’t want anything else for the scene. If you temp-track the movie, do it really carefully as you can use that temp track also to bring across your vision of what you think the music should do. In a later process of discussion, be open for doing changes on the temptrack to also incorporate the vision of the director etc. Doing the temp track yourself will save you from a lot of headache and frustration so even when you’re not asked to do it, try if you can actually request to do it. All that of course requires you to have an extensive library of film scores that you know to use for temp tracking. The only problem on this procedure might be you becoming too used to the temp track so you will have a hard time coming up with something else for a specific scene. If you tend to become artistically limited when listening to temp tracks several times and have a really hard time detaching your music from it, it might be a better idea to stay as far away as possible from the temp track and only listen to it for reference and to understand the vision of the filmmaker but avoid listening to/viewing anything temp tracked several times.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/28/17: Losing a project for whatever reason is in general very disappointing and depending on how much effort you already put into it financially quite damaging. However, it happens to everybody in the business from time to time. Sometimes, a financial backing of a project breaks apart, key positions of the crew get exchanged or there are creative differences that cause you to drop out from the project. There are many reasons but unfortunately none of them are really rare. It just happens and that is how you should see it. Of course, it is also a big ego killer but you should definitely not lose faith in your work and talent when that happens but simply move on. There’s no point in wasting energy grieving about something that you lost instead of putting it into something new. The only advice that might save you a little bit from spending time and effort on something that will not see the light of day is trying to avoid to let you being talked into something like “Hey, you’ll get the contract/payment next week, but could you write something for that already?”. If a project doesn’t look solid, avoid spending too much effort until you have something in your hand.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/25/17: 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 strings or 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

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/24/17: When you’re recording your music live, so-called breakdown charts are very helpful. Basically, this chart lists every cue that needs to be recorded with title, length and specific instrumentation of the cue. Also, it notes specials like when there’s a solo violin passage and things like that. In order to keep a quick overview over the instruments needed, it lists all available instruments in a row like Fl, Ob ,Cl, Bsn etc. and every row for specific cues the numbers needed for this cue (e.g. 2, -, 2, 1 meaning that 2 flutes, no oboe, 2 clarinets and 1 bassoon are needed in that specific cue). Often, your copyist service might prepare such a list but if that is not the case, it is still a very good idea to prepare one by yourself. The first advantage is, that you can plan the recording order with this breakdown much better, sending some musicians home early that are not needed for remaining cues. It is also extremely helpful just to make sure you got every cue recorded which might be an issue on larger projects with many cues and it is also very helpful for your recording engineer as he/she will know from this list exactly which microphones are needed and in case of instrumental solos can adjust the mics without needing to ask which will save a lot of time. Preparing these charts is quite a lot of work but it will save you alot of time during the session and make the session much smoother.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/23/17: As a composer working within economical boundaries and especially working in the media world, you need to be able to work at a considerable speed. Unless you are financially secured, you simply cannot afford to spend 2 weeks on a 30 second cue or something like this. If you are a learning composer and eventually want to make a living with music, don’t just work on your craft but also on your output rate. Luckily, speed most of the time comes with experience but some people tend to re-think and re-work tiny details several times getting lost  forever on small passages. Probably every composer knows and feels that a piece never is finished but you just let it go at the point where every change you could add to it would not justify the time anymore that you would invest. Learning to know when this point is reached is one of the important goals for every learning composer. And while ideally there shouldn’t be a feeling of rushing through the writing process, you should also train yourself to not get massively lost in details. Monitor your output rate and monitor your behaviour. Is that detail you’re just working on really needed for this piece to become good or are you just wasting time with it? Monitoring your work speed will also eventually give you a quite good idea of your daily delivery amount and being able to predict one’s work speed is essential on any payment consideration as well as deadline predictions. For (orchestral) film composers an average rate of 2-3 mins of WRITING a day is standard, while additionally producing/doing mockups at the same time will get you down to approx 1 minute/day or on complex cues even just 30 seconds. While this doesn’t sound like much, having a constant daily output rate like this is most of the time hard work.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/22/17: You should be aware, that music (or rather sound) will have a physiological effect on the body if it exceeds a certain volume. The – for a film composer – great thing about that is that your audience can not gain conscious control over that. Especially loud bass frequencies will set our body into an alert mode automatically which is coming from the times when loud bass frequencies automatically meant a threat to us (thunderstorm, volcano, earthquake etc.). This stimulation is also part of the reason why club music tends to be loud and bass heavy. You can consciously use that effect when writing and producing film music by using bass frequencies to raise the level of tension, e.g. in thriller/horror situations (if you don’t do it, the sound design will probably do it. Just watch more recent thrillers/horror movies where in almost every “scary” scene, you will have a bass rumbling).

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/21/17: In today’s time, when working in the field of media, not having a website is practically a no-go. Suprisingly, many composers who pursue a career in film scoring still don’t have a web page. Even though, web pages don’t neccessarily help getting new jobs, they DO help people and potential customers who are interested in your work to find more information about you. In any case, a good looking, professional web site always leaves a better impression than having only a Youtube or Soundcloud profile. Put some time and effort into your web presence and don’t only rely on your work’s quality. Even if you are the best film composer out there, if nobody has a chance to find decent info and contact data, you’ll not have much of a chance of getting heard.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/18/17: Just because you write orchestral music does not mean that you can orchestrate when it comes to working with a real ensemble. I’ve come across many composers who write excellent music in DAW with virtual instruments and really do a good job there balancing everything, who think once they get to work with a real ensemble they are prepared for this because they know how to handle the sounds of the instruments etc. This assumption however is wrong. Orchestration is not just “transfering the midi events into score sheets” but actually much more than this and takes a lot of experience. Besides all the things that work great on virtual instruments but are very tricky or impossible on real instruments, the plain question of how to notate something for real musicians so you get the result you want might differ from what you think it needs to look like. The decision by many composers to orchestrate on their own because “How hard can it be?” has brought many orchestral sessions close or beyond being a complete disaster. If you are going to work with a real orchestra without ever having done that before, get an orchestrator. Even financially it might be better than you might think. Delaying a session by wrong or problematic notation will cost way more than what an orchestrator would charge. If you still want or need to do it yourself, invest a lot of time at least learning the basics of orchestrating on *Score Sheets*, not in a DAW, not in your head or anywhere else. Eventually you need to deliver score sheets and parts and especially for sight reading sessions, they need to be as flawless as possible.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/17/17: Being present on the music mix is obviously the best situation but sometimes due to budget or location issues, it is not possible to be there. Unless you’re mixing the music yourself, you need to have quite a bit of trust in your mixing engineer. In such cases, you should write very precise notes about how you want the music mix to sound. Best would be to include recordings that for example illustrate the amount of ambience and general estehtics of how you want the music to sound. Additionally, you should provide detailed notes regarding specific mix wishes, ideally with timings and/or bar numbers. Things like “3M4, bar 34 – please make sure this flute solo is present and sounds very airy” are a good indicator for your mixing engineer. Doing this very detailed will prevent you from several back-and-forth mixing correction emails/telephone calls and ultimately save you a lot of time.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/16/17: When harmonizing melodies, it can sound musically more interesting to place key notes of the melody higher up in the chord structure (like 7th, 9th etc.) than playing around root, third or fifth. Eg. you have a melody sequence of D-B-G: underlaying a straight Gmaj chord (D=5th, B=3rd, G=root) will sound pretty basic. What would be more interesting would for example be Cmaj9 (D=9th, B=maj7, G=fifth) or even more fancy Fmaj7(#11/13) (D=13, B=#11, G=9). You set the melody in more interesting relation to the chord and even quite simple melodic sequences can sound very sophisticated like this. In this way, a huge palette of harmonization possibilities open up. However, you should be aware that writing like this implies a certain musical colour palette and you should remain in there for a while. Jumping around between the above mentioned and some “basic” harmonization during the same melody will make your musical section lose musical integrity and sound random.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/15/17: Finding the right thematic material and having both parties (you and your customer/director) agree on it can take quite some time. When you present possible themes, it is common today to present them in their best shape as directors very rarely have the ability to abstract from sketches. So even if your theme is perfectly fine, presenting it only in a piano version might result in an “That’s not epic enough” etc. reaction. So take some time to flesh out your ideas in a presentable way before showing them to your client. When dealing with reactions, try being very analytical about the critizism. Sometimes, directors don’t know exactly what bothers them about a certain idea but also take into account to change the instrumental colours (to make sure it’s not the instrumentation that bothers him/her). Quite often, directors like portions of a theme but don’t like single notes or phrases. Before you write something completely new, try isolating them together with the director.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/14/17: The feeling of needing to be available for customers all the time and at any hour can be really health damaging. The fear of missing a carreer boosting opportunity or something like this because of taking a day off or being on vacation for a few days can be really strong but is something that will destroy you overtime. At latest when you start to plan important events of your private life around your work and not the other way around, you should stop and think again. Yes, there is a chance of missing a job opportunity but you should value the recreational effect that you get from a vacation or other social events as an investment in your future and career as well. And on a side note, I never heard from any composer friend or experienced myself the loss of a really important project just because of being “off duty” for a few days. If you plan cleverly and maybe check once a day your emails while you’re not working replying to important emails to let people know that you’re not ignoring them, chances are quite high that you get through just fine with getting your deserved days off and still being able to work on that cool project you got asked for once you get back.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/11/17: In a situation where you want to spread out a triad over both violin sections, usually the better choice is to divide the second violins into two voices and leave the top voice to the first violins alone. Even though this might seem against logic (with the 1st violin section usually being bigger than the seconds) but there are two reasons for doing so. The first one is to highlight the top note by putting the whole first violins on it as usually this line has a melodic quality that should not be underbalanced. The second and more important reason is, that, especially when you’re going high up in the register, you wouldn’t want to split the first violins into two parts and possibly having only 4 violins on the top line when you have a fairly small line-upwith 8 first violins at hand. The higher you get with violins the more instruments you need to sustain a substantial string sound that doesn’t become thin. So the preference is always to get as many violins as possible on the top line to ensure enough substance of sound.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/10/17: Keep track of your versions. Some programmes by now offer to save versions of your project to be able to later revert to them. It is extremely helpful to actually write comments on these versions (about what is different etc). If you later on need to go back to a version of a track because something has changed, it is a nightmare to load version 2 to 46 just to find the right one. If you need to save new versions of a project in separate files, it actually helps alot to keep a log of the versions with notes on where the differences are. When big changes happens and you need to go back for whatever reason, that will be a huge time saver.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/09/17: Many composers, especially coming from an academic background, develop the idea that they need to show their craftmanship by coming up with advanced, complex or unusual musical ideas to prove their value as composer. While this approach is definitely valuable in avantgarde music, it is usually not the best idea for media music. The strategy here should rather be to appeal on several levels meaning that you have elements in your music that can be liked by people from many different levels of musical “literacy”. Most of John Williams’ works for film is a great example for this composition strategy. He appeals to the less musically educated people by coming up with really easy, simple musical hook lines and themes (e.g. Indiana Jones) but also all of his pieces incorporate harmonic progressions, orchestration, colours, counterpoints etc. that appeal to musically more educated people. This strategy of giving all different kinds of audience something to like is especially clever in the world of film music where it is essential to reach as many people as possible but also proves true to many commercially successful musicians that stood the test of time. So the bottom line here is that it probably will be more successful to start with a simple idea and develop that into something that has some complex or challenging twists than to start with a complex concept right away that essentially only musically educated people will understand.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/08/17: Avoid anything that draws too much attention on itself when you’re scoring dialogue. This applies especially for instrumental solos but also for uncommon playing techniques or strange registers. Dialogue score usually needs to be as un-obtrusive as possible or it will quickly feel like overscoring. Also be aware of not writing too rhythmically dense. Every rhythmical attack in a cue draws attention on itself so having a chord change every second is also not the most ideal choice. Dialogue scenes are usually not the scenes to show off your skills so try giving them the right tone with simple yet effictive compositions.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/07/17: For customers, even more important than how good you are as a composer is how easy you are to work with. Reliability and professionalism are two very important words when working on a project together. And both words are not simply answered with hitting the deadline and knowing what you’re doing but it involves a whole lot more. Your customer wants to have the feeling that she/he doesn’t need to worry about your end of the work, that you respond in a flexible way to changing circumstances, that you are communicative, open, creative and hit or exceed your customer’s expectation. So whenever you’re dealing with potential customers, don’t just rely on your qualities as a composer but make sure to make your customer feel comfortable. And even if you are confronted with something where you have no idea how to pull this off, act professional, don’t let your customer have doubts about your professionalism and find a way to figure it out later. No customer wants to hear “I have practically no experience in that field and umm… I don’t really know what to do… by chance I might be lucky and figure it out but.. umm.” Even highly experienced composers from time to time stand in front of a seemingly unsolveable problem but their ability is to still appear confident and find a way to make it work.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/04/17: When constructing chords, try the difference of leaving out the perfect fifth of the chord and having it in. Due to the fact that the fifth will be quite a strong overtone of the root (=usually the bass note) anyway, it will be present in the chord quite strongly without actually having it in there. This is especially true with string chords that do have a very rich harmonic structure. In some cases, having the fifth in the chord actually makes the chord thicker and less transparent (due to the additional overtones that will be created by it).

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/03/17: Not only your musical concept and style is part of making a score homogenous but also the mix. If you record a live ensemble for your score, you will most likely have a quite homogenous mix throughout the score as the room/mics etc. don’t change but if you produce a sampled score, make sure to not divert too heavily from the mix esthetics between the tracks. One cue sounding like a symphonic recording from John Williams and the next one sounding like a heavily produced track from Hans Zimmer will feel quite strange in the context of a project that should not only have a homogenous music structure but a homogenous sound. Using different sample/sound libraries can make this issue quite problematic if you need to use a sound in one track that sounds completely different than the rest in regards of room and overall sound than the rest of your score. In these cases, it is really important to spend some time to fit that sound into the rest of your score to create a homogenous overall sound.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/02/17: A very common musical concept to keep music interesting is to use complimentary rhythm. This means, when for example your main melody comes to a rest (e.g. holding for a whole note), you bring in another side line/figure/motif somewhere else. Having a look at the very popular film themes, you will very often find a woodwind run, a horn motiv etc. as soon as the melody holds a long note. This is very helpful to keep the energy of the music up as a simple held note for several counts will just create a massive drop in energy and rhythmical momentum which you can counteract with a complimentary rhythm somewhere else.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



08/01/17: While ambitous film scoring is definitely something that can be very attractive and thought provoking, especially young composers tend to push this a little too far in their search to reinvent the wheel.  The essential difference between writing for film and writing for the concert stage is that your music needs to “work” in a certain way in the movie, while on the concert stage this is not the most important thing (or where ambiguosity is desired). Therefore you need to make sure that your musical choices actually work with your audience which means you need to go musical paths that are essentially established already. It is great to try and give them a new spin but writing music because it works for you or a small circle of other people is nothing that will generally work in the medium of film unless you’re working for experimental films which have a small audience as well.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/31/17: A career as a media composer is incredibly unlikely to launch like a rocket out of nowhere. And yet there are many composers who (secretly) wait for the call from a blockbuster director offering them a job that is several levels beyond the league of their current projects. Building up a career as a composer usually comes with no shortcuts. You will need to work your way up step by step which takes a lot of time. Reports of composers being hired for a blockbuster from their social profiles or suddenly having a lucky shot are extremely rare and usually non-sustaining. A lack of experience and professionalism can not be compensated just with luck if you want to sustain such a career. So take active measures to push your career forward bit by bit. Maybe it might even seem like you’re not getting any forward for months. It simply takes the long breath to get where you want. Remember that John Williams scored the first Star Wars at the age of 45. And this wasn’t a lucky punch either. He built up a remarkable career before that, getting his name around, working on many projects, even winning two Oscars before.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/28/17: Having the sound of a full symphony orchestra at your fingertips to play with is always exciting and opens up endless possibilities for interesting soundscapes. However, orchestration should never be a tool to compensate for bad composition. Of course it is quite easy to cover up uninspired music with exciting orchestration and working actively as an orchestrator often means to try and save music from being banal with orchestration. But your music should never hide behind the orchestration. Always try to imagine if the music that you’re currently writing would also be interesting if it was just a piano reduction. Writing music that works mostly based on impressive symphonic soundscapes might do the trick but it will not be truly good music. A good way to practice is to use really limited line-ups, a string quartet or even a more odd choice. You will be forced much more to write an interesting composition when you cannot hide behind a colour change of the orchestration once it becomes boring.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/27/17: 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 usual 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. Many composers doing that for the first time are massively overwhelmed, expecting a transparent and more ideal sound in the booth. However, this is in general no need to panic, but the unideal acoustic situation might alter your judgement of things and drive you to decisions that you would make 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 on the session before you or maybe bring a recording you know really well to just listen to before your session 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 situations 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 for the first time but after getting used to the sound it is also a good reason to come back to certain studios for following projects.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/26/17: In composition, chance can be a strong creative force. Accidentally hitting a few interesting notes on the keyboard or stumbling across an inspiring sound, even getting melodic ideas from a bird tweeting etc. can all be very good sources for compositions. Even the most accomplished and educated composers rely on chance on a regular basis. This whole concept is not at all something to feel bad about or rather not tell when being asked how one gets inspiration but is a absolutely valid procedure. The art starts when to separate the bad from the good ideas and to develop them into a real composition. Only trying to fall back on academic strategies on the other hand will quite quickly result in music that feels uninspired. So don’t be afraid of inviting chaos and chance into your creative process as you might end up with a bunch of fairly cool ideas.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/25/17: Try to avoid having too many musical accents exactly on cuts. A cut is something that doesn’t match with the way how we perceive things in reality so a cut automatically interrupts a visual or even a dramatic flow. This interruption is nothing that you normally would want to make even stronger by accenting it with the music. If it accidentally happens to have an accent on a cut, it’s not a problem but with several of these highlights in close proximity, the sequence will start to feel very chunky. However as a stylistic device, you can use it for a specific contrasting effect as seen so brilliantly in GRAVITY, where huge musical buildups end several times on clean cuts (visually and acoustically) into the absolute silence of space which is a fantastic effect there.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/24/17: Taking care of your important business contacts and keeping the contact alive is a very important thing to do. This is especially 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…

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/21/17: One of the most common problems of inexperienced orchestrators is the “organ-effect”, which happens when you double too many instruments in a middle register with relatively long notes. At a certain point, the transparency gets lost and the whole sound sounds more like a organ than an orchestra. To avoid that, don’t overdo the doubling in general, some colours sound better unmixed. Also, use the higher and lower registers evenly, try to balance out chords over the whole range of the orchestra and make sure to not concentrate all forces in the middle register. Avoid writing extensive legato passages in all voices. Especially on a big tutti, everybody playing legato will quite quickly create the organ effect. Also, leaving certain instruments out for the sake of bringing them in on peaks is generally a better idea. For example, the organ effect gets highly increased by constant use of trumpets in legato lines. Transparency is key here and when you are not sure why you’re doubling certain things, rather avoid doing that instead of having the fear of “the score sheet looking so empty”.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/20/17: 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.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/19/17: Breaking musical rules can be great to create musical structures that sound fresh and interesting and basically every rule in music can be broken. The essential part is to be confident and consequent when you break them. For example in a two voice setting bringing up a fifth parallel only once might feel like a mistake but if you have several parallel fifths in there it becomes a concept and therefore interesting. Everything that sounds “strange” if it appears only once needs to be repeated in order to make clear that doing that is part of your musical idea. Of course that requires you to actually know what rule you are breaking and the argument often heard by people not willing to actually deal with “traditional” music that “I don’t need rules, I just write music as I like.” is obviously not valid. So be confident when you deliberately break rules and let your audience know that this is intended by repeating it.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/18/17: Try to avoid having too many musical accents exactly on cuts. A cut is something that doesn’t match with the way how we perceive things in reality so a cut automatically interrupts a visual or even a dramatic flow. This interruption is nothing that you normally would want to make even stronger by accenting it with the music. If it accidentally happens to have an accent on a cut, it’s not a problem but with several of these highlights in close proximity, the sequence will start to feel very chunky. However as a stylistic device, you can use it for a specific contrasting effect as ra few years seen so brilliantly in GRAVITY, where huge musical buildups end several times clean cut (visually and acoustically) into the absolute silence of space which is a fantastic effect there.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/17/17: Learn to say no. The entertainment business unfortunately is a field where price dumping is everyday’s business. Unfortunately, even among composers there is often a lack of decency regarding such issues. Some composers will fight to the fullest extend to get jobs even if they ruin the complete market in the long run by doing so. Sustaining a professional career as a composer needs an understanding of your value. Don’t join in on the “I do it for less” fight that some composers start. If you do quality work and establish a reputation of “Yeah, that guy costs a bit but it’s worth it”, you will be able to sustain a career and potentially also feed a family from that. But that only will happen if you neglect offers that pay below your value. It is very hard to say no when you are in a financial situation that rather doesn’t allow you to neglect any job but experience from many colleagues shows that eventually your customers will start to value your work. And  I would always chose selectively. There’s always this one project by a great young director who keeps on apologizing that he asks you for doing the project for the money he has to offer but he already cut down other departments to be able to pay at least something for the music where you can break your rules because it is obvious that he values your work but simply can’t pay more. On any project where you have the feeling that your work doesn’t get valued in spite of the fact that there should be possibilities to pay you decently, think really hard about whether you need to accept that. If you’re doing good work and people want you, they will find a way to pay you.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/14/17: Balancing out orchestral “forces” is a lifelong learning process 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 20 flutes in their lowest register couldn’t compete with a trumpet while one piccolo in its highest register could easily balance out a trumpet. These things need to be looked at with much differentiation and need to be studied thoroughly.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/13/17: Ritardandos and accelerandos are very tricky to do with a click track that live players need to record with later. Especially the standard tempo changes that DAW’s offer with a constant slowdown or speedup usually feel very unnatural in “real life situations”. Invest some time to program these speed changes by hand to give them a logical and musical feel. Most of the time you can even program them in a way that from the absolute length they don’t differ from the “steady artificial rit/accel” (and still hit any hit point afterwards) but still feel more musical. On the recording, give the musicians a few run throughs of the click track so they get to know what’s happening where. A good idea would also to talk through these things with your conductor beforehand.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/12/17: One of the strongest factors in music is the duality between tension and resolution, which can be found in the smallest musical units (e.g. V-I cadence) to the largest extents (big structure of symphonies etc.). However the ear of the 21st century listener is way more tolerant to dissonance than just a few decades ago which also reflects in the literature on composition. This can be a source for confusion for learning composers. Traditional literature on composition has a very different understanding of dissonance than what we actually have nowadays (and what is used in film music). For our ear, it is no problem to accept a chord with a major seventh (e.g. Cmaj7) as a stable chord that doesn’t neccessarily want to resolve while for traditional understanding, the maj7 is a massively dissonant interval that can hardly be left alone without a proper resolution. In this regard following the rules learned from books versus what can actually be observed in current music can be quite contrary. The only interval that we still find massively dissonant is the minor ninth (which create a stronger dissonance than the minor second which consists of the same notes). All other intervals can be part of chords that don’t neccessarily need a resolution. A quite extreme example for our tolerance for dissonance is a lydian chord (e.g. Cmaj7/9/#11) where we find major7, major 9 and a tritone as part of the chord structure and yet, it doesn’t have the massive urgency to resolve for most of today’s listeners ears. Keep that in mind when you study composition and when you once again are confused by classical music theory versus current reality.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/11/17: To have a thorough knowledge of classical counterpoint writing is definitley benefitial to sharpen your musical understanding but the strict classic rules hardly have any application in modern (film) writing. The term “contrapuntal” now rather refers to a more side-line orientated, horizontal writing style and while many of the classical rules are a good general guideline (e.g. parallel movements etc.) they are by far no strict rules anymore that make musical quality. Also, strict forms of contrapuntal writing like the fugue etc. have rarely any practical use in film writing anymore. One of these very rare cases where a fugal episode appears in film scoring is the SETTING THE TRAP sequence from HOME ALONE by John Williams (starting at 2:50), probably as an emotional reference to baroque christmas music. The pure forms of actual several horizontal lines standing “punctum contra punctum” is also rarely seen in film scoring. One example is the CYBERTRONICS sequence from AI -ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, again by John Williams. Note the free tonal approach where both lines keep forming small “islands of tonality” for a few moments just to move away from them again. Nevertheless, I can not recommend enough to study classical contrapuntal writing and try some exercises following the rules strictly to sharpen your own musical understanding and level of control.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/10/17: Learn to say no. The entertainment business unfortunately is a field where price dumping is everyday’s business. Unfortunately, even among composers there is often a lack of decency regarding such issues. Some composers will fight to the fullest extent to get jobs even if they ruin the complete market in the long run by doing so. Sustaining a professional career as a composer needs an understanding of your value. Don’t join in on the “I do it for less” fight that some composers start. If you do quality work and establish a reputation of “Yeah, that guy costs a bit but it’s worth it”, you will be able to sustain a career and potentially also feed a family from that. But that only will happen if you neglect offers that pay below your value. It is very hard to say no when you are in a financial situation that rather doesn’t allow you to neglect any job but experience from myself and many colleagues shows that eventually your customers will start to value your work. And  I would always chose selectively. There’s always this one project by a great young director who keeps on apologizing that he asks you for doing the project for the money he has to offer but he already cut down other departments to be able to pay at least something for the music where you can break your rules because it is obvious that he values your work but simply can’t pay more. On any project where you have the feeling that your work doesn’t get valued in spite of the fact that there should be possibilities to pay you decently, think really hard about whether you need to accept that. If you’re doing good work and people want you, they will find a way to pay you.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/07/17: The unique construction of the trombones with their slides gives them a possibility to do certain things that other brass instruments can’t do (e.g. seamless glissandi) but also limits them in certain situations. Especially in the lower register where there are not several different possibilities available to play a specific note the agility of the trombone is considerably lower than on instruments with valves. The reason lies in the pure physicalities of pushing a valve down with a small finger movement vs. moving the slide with an elbow movement and in some cases needing to move the slide from completely in to completely out, which can also happen on notes very close together. The most problematic one for a tenor trombone being between Bb a major 10th below middle C and B a semitone higher. While on a real tenor trombone (usually played by the first trombone player which doesn’t come with a fourth and/or fifth valve as other trombones), the Bb can only be produced with the slide completely in while the B only with the slide completely out. So a nightmare passage for a player would be a quick staccato passages between these two notes. The higher you get the more options to play the same note are available on the trombones so the slide movement can be reduced but down there, there’s no option. So when  you’re writing for brass, keep an eye on the speed factor for your (low) trombones.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/06/17: When recording or overseeing the recording of a small ensemble of musicians, pay attention to a few seating issues. If you’re not depending on a specific seating of the musicians for other reasons, you might want to go for the following option: place the highest instrument in the center of the stereo field and place the lower instrument to the outsides from there. This is a strategy for instance also used with trumpets in Bigbands, where the seating rather is something like 3124 instead of 1234. This also works with larger groups: 531246 etc. This will give you a more homogenous sound and give a more balanced stereo field on the main mics. This strategy is also used more or less on most orchestral seatings where the  first players of each group usually sit closest to the middle axis of the orchestra with the higher chair numbers spreading out to the outsides.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/05/17: As a composer working within economical boundaries and especially working in the media world, you need to be able to work at a considerable speed. Unless you are financially secured, you simply cannot afford to spend 2 weeks on a 30 second cue or something like this. If you are a learning composer and eventually want to make a living with music, don’t just work on your craft but also on your output rate. Luckily, speed most of the time comes with experience but some people tend to re-think and re-work tiny details several times getting lost  forever on small passages. Probably every composer knows and feels that a piece never is finished but you just let it go at the point where every change you could add to it would not justify the time anymore that you would invest. Learning to know when this point is reached is one of the important goals for every learning composer. And while ideally there shouldn’t be a feeling of rushing through the writing process, you should also train yourself to not get massively lost in details. Monitor your output rate and monitor your behaviour. Is that detail you’re just working on really needed for this piece to become good or are you just wasting time with it? Monitoring your work speed will also eventually give you a quite good idea of your daily delivery amount and being able to predict one’s work speed is essential on any payment consideration as well as deadline predictions. For (orchestral) film composers an average rate of 2-3 mins of WRITING a day is standard, while additionally producing/doing mockups at the same time will get you down to approx 1 minute/day or on complex cues even just 30 seconds. While this doesn’t sound like much, having a constant daily output rate like this is most of the time hard work.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/04/17: Strong emotions that are portrayed visually in the movie (e.g. someone crying desperately) feel rather awkward when they get doubled by the music. You are usually better off scoring such moments rather sparsely or possibly even leave them in silence. Scoring them musically in the same intensity will very quickly feel stylistically very old fashioned and operatic. So in most such situations, it is best to musically hold back.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/03/17: On some projects you might be requested or may want to write music that is outside of your usual comfort zone. In such cases, research is essential to first of all be able to deliver a believable version of the style you want to write in but also to properly use this style. Research in general does not mean to listen to a few tunes but depending how deep you want to dive into it, it requires reading, visiting libraries, watching movies that use the style successfully. Understanding the background and intention of a musical style is just as important as to know how it works musically. It is also essential to never underestimate any style. Even music that seems very simple and less challenging at first might have so many stylistic details and things to take care of that you might easily be overwhelmed or in the worst case deliver music that sounds believable to yourself with less listening experience on that style but is highly ridiculous for people who know that style. You should also be very self aware about what kind of stylistic stretch is whithin your reach and what not. If you are a classically trained composer with next to none listening experience in any sort of rock music, it will probably not be possible for you to deliver a believable rock score even with weeks of research. In such cases, there is no shame in asking someone who can handle this style for help. Even if you lose money by that, it will be way better for your career if your client is happy because you delivered something that works well on all levels. If you can’t afford to ask for help and a project is way out of your comfort zone, it might be better to not do the project than to deliver something that is bad and might damage your career because you couldn’t pull it off properly.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook

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

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This