Daily Film Scoring Bits

Posted on Jun 1, 2014 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 the most recent Tips, Tricks and Hints, head over to the other DAILY FILM SCORING BITS ARCHIVES!
 
 

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

 

You can also ask me questions that you might have over at my Ask.FM site

 

ask.fm


07/31/14: There are probably thousands of philosophy of how to add reverb to a recording. Especially with orchestral tracks, many people are concerned about creating a proper field of depth within the orchestra and create a proper impression of distances of the instruments. Mixing strategies go from putting an individual reverb on every track to putting a reverb on the sum and anything in between. So there doesn’t really seem to be one right way. However don’t go for the first reverb you get under your fingers. A bad reverb can ruin a perfectly fine recording. Here are a few strategies with reverbs that I observed with mixing engineers or heard about, not necessarily to use them but giving them a try and see whether you like them: 1.) Low cut the signal before you send it into the reverb to avoid low frequency mud. 2.) Use several sends of the same reverb but EQ these reverbs differently so you have a darker and a brighter version of the same reverb and can use them according to mood (and automate them). 3.) Automate the amount of reverb and/or add additional reverb just for special passages on special instruments. E.g. instrumental solos benefit from having a bit more reverb on the spot mic while they play. 4.) Combine different reverbs as sends (often an IR reverb and a processed reverb) to have flexibility on the “air”.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/30/14: One strategy of finding a plausible way to a specific chord or to a key change is to work backwards from the target chord. This works particularly well if the music that you’re writing is mainly cadential harmony as you can simply look at your target chord (let’s say C) and find a way to it by adding a dominant chord before that (G(7)), if you now look at that dominant chord, you could either place a IV(F) chord in front of that or a ii(Dm) and so on. There are of course several paths that you could use. The advantage of working backwards is that it is easier to find strong chord relations. As mentioned before, this works very good with classical cadential harmony but also works in a more filmic context by using “filmic cadences” (such as bVI bVII I etc.) while the strategy of working backwards remains the same.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/29/14: The nightmare for all composers is a new edit of the movie or scene after you’re done scoring but unfortunately, with digital editing this happens quite often these days. There are several ways to adjust a cue after things have been edited again and while none of them are really optimal, depending on the complexity of the edits, you can sometimes even get through with almost the exact version of your old cue. Here are some things to try to make it fit. 1: Try the old cue exactly and see if it maybe even still fits and you just need to make it a bit longer or shorter. 2. Try adjusting the tempos slightly (within the range of +/- 5bpm) and see if that works. 3. Don’t cut out single bars from 8 bar patterns etc as this often will feel very strange, try to keep internal forms and maybe shorten it to 4 bars and recompose 3 bars as a “new idea” 4. Shift the beginning of the cue to a slightly new point to make up for small offsets. 5. Insert single irregular bars in positions where it is not rhythmically noticeable. There are of course way more possibilities but they are depending on the specific cue. The above mentioned methods usually work an any cue if you use them elegantly.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/28/14: The life and job of a composer working in the media world needs to be quite focussed on delivering something in time and therefore self discipline is a very essential thing. Being self employed might lead quite a few people into having unstructured working days with shifting sleep patterns, irregular food intake etc. While that is sustainable for a while, eventually it will have an effect either on your health, your productivity or your psychic well being. Developing a self discipline and certain daily routines is essential in this job. Practically every successful composer in this field has quite structured and routined working patterns. That doesn’t mean you need to lead a 9 to 5 life (even though it might be better compatible with the lives of people around you) but the essence here is to maintain a consequent pattern how you structurize your day. Of course there might be the once in a while super stressful project where you need to throw your structure over board but there is a massive difference in having such a life for a few days or having it constantly.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/25/14: One of the really easy ways to create colour in an orchestral arrangement is to switch between having a brief switch between a single line melody and a chordal melody. Many learning orchestrators leave the configuration of their orchestration quite intact for most of a passage, meaning that for instance strings remain in their function as an accompaniment while the trumpets play the melody in unison on top. However switching the trumpets into a chordal melody on specific spots gives a really nice colour. One of the most prominent examples for that is the STAR WARS Main Theme. The melody on the first theme statement does exactly what I described before. The trumpets play the main theme in unison, however the final 4 notes of the A-theme (in the video above at exactly 0:25) are not the trumpets in unison but split into chords. Just this brief moment creates a very nice colour counterpoint just by switching the way how the instruments are arranged with still using the same instrumental colours and not having a too radical shift there.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/24/14: This is probably one of the oldest computer advices but there still seem to be people who ignore or forgot it: never update any software or your system etc. during a project. Every update you do has a risk that something will not work afterwards which is not what you can afford during a project. There are still composers who get excited because they realize that their software now has a function they were always looking for and update in the middle of a project and suddenly need to spend several hours or even days to get it back to work. So make sure that you update only when you actually have time to fix things of something goes wrong.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/23/14: One of the trickiest things to learn when learning to compose is to gain a view and more importantly control over the big picture. It is fairly easy to learn and use all the “rules” and possibilities in small scale, having one chord and a melodic idea and finding a plausible way to a next chord with a plausible melodic idea. And while many learning composers very quickly get the hang of how this works, it takes a considerable amount of experience to also gain control over the larger structure. Many pieces by learning composers have very nice ideas in a small scale but in large scale hover over the same tonal center for minutes, have an unplausible melodic arc and lack climactic moments all together. However you can specifically practice “larger scale writing”. For example try writing a buildup that is for instance exactly 20 bars long (set a target beforehand!) and that gradually builds up for that time without taking away the climax too early or having an anticlimactic development somewhere in between. Or set a target to modulate in a plausible way within 9 bars for instance from Db major to G major. Write a symmetric melodic arc of 12 bars. etc. All these exercises will not necessarily end up with a presentable piece but they really force you to think in bigger structures.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/22/14: Using well-known musical pieces or melodies in a film score (even if they are public domain) can become quite problematic as everybody will have a personal association with that well known piece. What’s even worse will be the effect with the audience of “Wait, I know that tune, where is that from?” completely pulling them out of the story of the movie. So unless you don’t have a really plausible reason or concept to use well known pieces, you should try to avoid it as it is a high risk factor of pulling the audience out of the story.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/21/14: Many composers need a while to get “into the zone” in order to compose something and be creative and often need that time again after they have been interrupted by a phone call or something like that. The problem is that with time sensitive projects one simply cannot allow oneself to take that much of time. Things get even worse with having a studio at home where the strict separation between work and home is more problematic. However, there are a few methods how you can get your brain to get into the creative state more quickly, by doing rituals that you can actively execute. For instance, some colleagues drink a special sort of tea when they work which works a little like the Pavlov Effect which in reverse can set the brain into the composing mood when drinking that tea. This works with quite a few rituals however it is important that you exclusively connect them to “being creative”. On the other hand some people simply need a piano under their fingers in order to get into the creative mood while others even could work in a crowded subway.   So it’s highly depending on the personality but if you struggle to quickly make the switch to work, try out to connect an active ritual with it which has helped quite a few people already.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/18/14: Remember that the intonation with most instruments in the orchestra doesn’t work like a piano where you simply hit a key and the resulting pitch is perfectly in tune. Rather there is with all notes a variability in how high or low the resulting pitch is. Musicians always orientate themselves at the musicians around them to fit into their sound and intonate properly with them. For an orchestrator that means that the trickier it is for a musician to find one’s pitch in a sound, the more problematic the intonation becomes. It is much easier for musicians to intonate with consonant intervals around them (e.g. two trumpets sitting next to each other playing a third apart is way easier for them than intonating a minor second apart). Of course it is not possible to look out for everybody when orchestrating music with complex harmonic structures but it really helps a lot to keep an eye out for such things and make life easier for your musicians by giving them rather consonant intervals between neighbouring players.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/17/14: Workplace ergonomics are highly essential and so many composers/producers invest a fortune into the latest gear and software but sit on a chair they bought just for a couple of bucks. However it is not just about the chair but also about reaching and seeing everything conveniently. If your master keyboard is at an awkward height or you need to hold your arms up in order to reach your mouse or anything, this is a guarantee for pain and problems. If your screens are at a strange angle and you need to look up or down to it, it will also cause a lot of problems. Invest some time and money to create the most convenient working environment. Regarding your chair you should make sure it has armrest so you can rest your elbow on it while you work with the mouse or play on the keyboard. Still, the best and most ergonomic work environment will not save you from getting up once in a while and doing at least a little bit of sports in order to stay pain free, especially when you work long hours every day.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/16/14: The melodic quality of voices within a composition is not just important for the actual melody or side melody of a piece but can have a huge influence on the general quality of a piece. For instance the melodic quality of a bass line can make the difference between a chord progression that feels random and a chord progression that feels logical. You can justify almost any strange chord progression to the ear as long as the bass line has a good voice leading. Same applies for inner voices that you don’t necessarily hear as melodic ideas in a dense piece but where you will hear their absence. So whenever you write a piece, don’t just focus on giving the main melody the best possible melodic motion but pay attention to the inner voices and bass line as well. The ideal situation would be where every single instrument in the orchestra has a melodically interesting part to play.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/15/14: Themes are not the only thing that can be used to identify characters/locations/situations musically. In fact, using too many themes especially on a genre that usually doesn’t have many themes might just become feeling strangely operatic and even worse, be more confusing due to just too many musical ideas. There are other excellent ways to identify certain things without going the way of thematic overload and which will also feel like a more modern scoring approach. For example using a specific harmonic language or chord progression, using a specific sound or a specific orchestration can create just as strong connections as a theme and works even better on things that don’t neccessarily need to have the option to be used in several musical contexts (what you could do by presenting a theme in different ways). Using such things will in general give you a clearer concept and structure on your score than overloading it with themes in most occasions.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/14/14: Keep and build good relationships with musicians. Not only when you’re working with an orchestra but also with solo musicians in your local area. There will always be this one project coming round the corner where you might need their help, maybe even to work on spec for something. Haaving a big pool of musicians  in your network will make life much easier once there comes a project around where you need that one special instrument or a good solist who can play style x to play on it even though the turnaround time is super fast. With the internet it has become much easier to hunt down special musicians or musicians in general but it still is a much more comfortable situation in times when you need every single minute to compose, when you can just call somebody you know instead of starting to hunt down somebody.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/11/14: With every brass and woodwind instrument, there is the general rule that the closer you get to the extreme ranges (low and high), the harder it becomes for the musician to control the tone. Especially dynamics get more and more limited the closer to the extreme ranges you get mostly with the low end being hard to play loud and vice versa on the top end (again with a few exceptions). So when you orchestrate be aware that you get the best control and variety of tone in the comfortable middle register of every instrument, however the extreme registers (preferably the high registers) are often used to create an edgy sound (particularly with brass). Still be aware of the difficulties in these registers and also of the fact that playing in extreme registers is particularly straining for players.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/10/14: Software emulations of hardware effects (especially reverbs like Lexicon, Bricasti etc.) usually don’t sound as good as their hardware counterpart even though it is claimed to be the same effect algorithm. The reason for that lies in the fact that to actually mimick the multiple DSPs  that are built into these hardware effects, it would need a big part of an i7 CPU power (around 50-75%) to run a single reverb instance which would be practically uselss for most customers. So many of these effects are slimmed down for use as a VST compromising the sound quality. So even with software solutions advancing tremendously these days, for some things, an outboard solution is still the better and more qualitative choice.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/09/14: Music theory and particularly rules that are set by it are generally a good idea to follow but the most essential things to understand is that nothing of that is written into stone and breaking the rules can sometimes lead to fantastic effects. One classic example is the 11 chord in major. While under “normal” chord structuring circumstances you wouldn’t want to have a chord that has the major third and the regular 11 at the same time (for example THIS chord) as the fourth and major third would clash heavily, there are always examples of where it works absolutely fine and creates an incredibly beautiful sound. One of my favourite examples for this kind of chord is HMYN TO THE FALLEN by John Williams. After the big climax there is a passage of 2 Bassoons and 3 Clarinets playing. The chord happening as the dominant to G exactly at the 5:11 mark in THIS video is exactly THIS voicing with the rub of the 3 and 11 even on top and exposed. Before that chord there is a Cmajor with the g on top already which just keeps ringing into the D-chord and therefore isn’t reached as a surprise but has been prepared which helps alot to smoothen out the dissonance. Still, this wouldn’t work in any context. So the bottom line is to always keep an open mind about unorthodox things that still might work.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/08/14: Many inexperienced composers forget the perspective of the “first view” when scoring a film. Due to the fact that as a composer you watch the movie or scenes so many times your way of perception shifts during that time and you tend to forget the things in the movie that surprised or confused you when you saw the movie for the first time. If you don’t pay attention, you might score it in a “i know what’s going to happen” way or even worse, tip the story for the audience already. So always remind yourself that you’re scoring it for a first view and ask yourself what the audience already knows up to this point and more importantly, what they don’t already know.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/07/14: Many customers are still impressed by big studios with impressive blinking outboard gear, large mixing consoles etc. even though practically everything can be done in a computer these days. Especially in the commercial world clients often follow the assumption that impressive studio = great music. So even though you might not need it, there might be some psychological reason to invest into something that makes your studio look more like a studio especially when you often have customers coming over. Of course not all customers get impressed by that and others are actually focused on what you do rather than how your studio looks like but from own experiences and also experiences from colleagues, once in a while the composer with the bigger studio (and worse quality) might get the gig over the one with the modest studio.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/04/14: Invest time to deliver correct and good looking parts and scores to your musicians. This has not just a practical reason but just as much a psychological reason. Many errors and cluttery layout are simply not pleasant to read and have a negative effect on the mood of your players. Additionally to that, it is a really annoying psychological situation for any musician if he/she has wrong notes (accidentals missing) and plays an audibly wrong note. Even by playing everything correctly that has been written it might set the psychological pressure on him/her to have the feeling to have messed up. So even if you have a lot of time pressure on writing or have the attitude of wanting to fix things on the stage, it still is a massive mood killer if the players need to play from bad material and even if things get fixed, it will not restore the mood. On the other hand musicians really enjoy playing from well written scores and the result with them playing all the things with confidence will eventually give you better results and better performances.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/03/14: Every acoustic instrument makes noises and sometimes these noises even define the authenticity of an instrument (e.g. small (!) fret noises on guitars). This also applies for orchestral instruments. There will always be a small amount of noises on instruments, such as string players briefly hitting a string next to the one they’re just playing, breath noises on brass and wind instruments, key clicks on woodwinds. For instance in a medium tutti, you will often be hearing  the key clicks of the Contra Bassoon more than the actual tone. All these things should influence the way how you produce such music. Depending on where you’re coming from musically, some genres are “clinically” cleaned up not wanting any unplanned noises. However big parts of what makes an acoustic recording authentic are imperfections (not just noises but also intonation differences etc.). Quite a few sample libraries come even with additional noise samples (e.g. breath noises on Woodwind libraries). When you edit or clean up a real recording, consciously leave in some or all of these noises even though it might be technically possible to clean them. You will eventually get a more authentic result with these recordings.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/02/14: One of the things that learning composers unfortunately very often don’t pay a lot of attention to is voicing. The difference between a chord and a voicing is that a chord defines just which notes should sound together while voicing specifically defines where which notes are. Especially with orchestral music, voicings can be crucial. The very same chord can sound disastrous with a bad voicing and spectacular with a good one. So if your strategy of writing chords has so far been of just playing them in a standard triadic form, start experimenting with them. Displace individual tones of the chord by an octave down or up and see how the sound can change dramatically. Try what happens when you consciously double individual tones in different octaves. And then of course experiment with how it sounds to orchestrate voicings differently. The essential thing is to invest some time to find the best sounding voicings and not simply go for the standard root position of the chord.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



07/01/14: Quite a few short movies need music wall to wall, which means to start the music at the beginning of the film and don’t interrupt it till the end of the end credits. In such situations it still makes a lot of sense to write several cues instead of one big cue for the whole thing. One reason lies more in the fact of recording it live with real musicians where a take of 2 minutes is more likely to be recorded sucessfully in one go than a 10 minute cue. Another reason which in my opinion is important and can save you a lot of time is to leave “extension gaps” between the cue in case there are minor edits in the movie or things get moved around slightly. Ending a cue on a sustaining chord while the next cue starts with a rhythmic accent that fits musically and harmonically to the previous cue gives you the option to move the entrance of the second cue around a bit so in case some minor things change, you don’t need to rewrite. This strategy is by the way also quite often used on feature films where long (especially action) cues get subdivided into smaller cues that will later be edited together again.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/30/14: In spite of what many people claim to be the right way to make a living in this field one of the biggest advices I can give and that has proven to work out quite well for me is to specialize. Become the guy who is known to be really good at x and who needs to be called for that. Many composers try to base their career on being able to write in any style for anything. However in the end they do everything a little but nothing right. I always imagine if I was  a customer who needs for instance a rock track for his video/game etc., I wouldn’t call a guy who does everything and also rock but I would call the guy who is the real expert at writing rock tracks. Of course at the beginning of your career you need to take every gig in order to make a living but as soon as you have more freedom, in my opinion it works better to shape your career into one specific way and on top gives you more joy as you focus more on the stuff that you really love.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/27/14: There is no lazy shortcut on learning orchestration. I quite often get questions like “How does one use the brass in film music?” or “What are the general rules for getting a filmic sound?”. The answer to all these questions is that it is always context depending. There are no “Top 10 orchestration tricks” or anything like that. These questions are all like “What are the top 10 words of a foreign language that I can use in order to have a conversation?” If you want to become serious about orchestration, there is no short way around studying it properly. The decision of how to handle which instrument always comes from deciding what sound or feeling you want to create. In a specific case one way of handling the instruments could be a brillant idea while in a different case handling them like that would be disastrous. Orchestration is a life long process and even seasoned orchestrators in their 60s that I’ve spoken to have said to me “You know, still every orchestral session is learning something new.”

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/26/14: A pretty common and easy way to “clean up” a mix that is still often forgotten is to low-cut recordings/samples of high and sometimes even quite low instruments. Many recordings will have rumble noises in the very low register which will be quite messy in a mix. By low-cutting them you get a cleaner mix result. It also might help to low-cut the really low frequencies on the low instruments that not really are audible but still disturb the precision of the mix.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/25/14: In a homogenous sound mixture (e.g. string section) the ear tends to hear the highest line as a melody line. While this concept is not so specific in heterogenous mixtures (e.g. Trumpets playing the melody while Violins are on top of them) there is another issue connected to this which is when you cross your main melody with another melody with similar presence. One of the classic 4 part rules forbids to cross voices in most instances which is not as problematic today anymore (e.g. crossing inner voices) but still it will confuse the ear when your melody gets crossed by another melody that after the crossing is higher (even if just for a short moment). Your ear will try to follow the highest line and will mix up the melody but at the same time become confused. So the general rule is to leave the main melody some space and when you plan on adding a counterpuntal melody to it to not have it cross. Remember that this just applies to melodies that are perceiveable as actual melodies. Crossing accompaniment figures will most often not create any problem.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/24/14: As a film composer, it is necessary to train yourself to watch movies analytically. Of course, the first impulse to score a scene should always come from your spontaneous emotions and feelings but especially when working out details or when being stuck at one point, it might help to pay attention to the things that normal viewers only perceive subconsciously. One thing that helps me a lot to define the tone of a scene is to pay attention to the colour scheme of a scene as well as the light/shadows etc. If a scene is more yellow orange and warm you might also want to give it another musical “hue” than it being green/blue. Also special perspective like close ups or bird’s eye shots etc. are always a great thing to orientate your music on. A standard work to read for every film composer should be James Monaco: How to Read a Film which is a great book to gather a basic knowledge about the technical things behind filmmaking as well as esthetical decisions.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/23/14: Many composers are reluctant to outsource parts of their work to somebody else and rather prefer doing all the work themselves. However there are quite a few jobs that usually take a lot of time and that are easily outsourced to someone else. These could be things like part extraction, mockup work, proofreading, preparing sessions etc. The argument of many composers is that outsourcing that work will of course diminish their income which is of course true, especially when you actually have enough time to do it all by yourself. However, I generally outsource a few things on bigger projects to someone else, things like doing mockups for the customers, transcriptions of score sheets or part extraction, but also printing and sorting parts etc as these are parts of the job that I don’t enjoy as much as writing music. My personal reason to do this is that first of all it gives me more time to focus on the work that I really like which will make me mor productive as you’re generally way more productive on jobs that you enjoy. Of course everybody has to find his own way with these things but my personal experience is that outsourcing work in the end makes me more productive and happier in my job which is in my opinion essential in a creative job.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/20/14: A quote from an older orchestration book I once read said “The strings are the only instruments the ear doesn’t get tired of after a while.” While I don’t think that is entirely accurate and depending  on context it actually contains another important orchestration advice. The change of instrumental colours is a vital aspect of keeping a piece interesting. Besides of it being a physical strain for most players to play without break, any colour will eventually become boring and uninteresting. Especially with the “standard layout” of these day’s “epic” tracks and trailer stuff with horns playing a theme for minutes it is essential to find something that keeps the track interesting on top of that. With traditional orchestration you would switch sooner or later to another instrument or group. Still there might be a need to change something on your track if you realize that basically the functions of the instruments involved haven’t changed for several minutes.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/19/14: Transparency in the mix is a big issue for many pop and radioplay productions and while a general sense of transparency is also important in orchestral music, it is by far not as crucial as in the “pop world”. The orchestra works partially in a way that sounds melt together and create a new texture as well of some instruments just playing to massage the sound but not really being heard distinctively. Especially the woodwinds very often play a role of “augmenting” the sound but not being heard as an individual instrument. People coming to orchestral music from a pop background often try to mix an orchestra in a way that you get to hear practically every detail and every instrument which is not the way an orchestra works and therefore these mixes feel quite unnatural and overly clean. So while it is of course important to not drown everything in mud when mixing orchestral, try keeping an amount of “unspecific substance” in the mix.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/18/14: The whole tone scale (a scale consisting only of whole tones) has a quite open and unfocussed sound that as a film scoring cliché has been used quite a lot to portray weird dreams, drug fantasies and other unreal situations and actually works quite effectively for that. However, the whole tone scale can be used in  mainly two different ways. First of all, you can use it as an actual source of melodic and harmonic ideas writing a piece or a passage in a “whole tone sound” as it is done in THIS PIECE by Claude Debussy. However as the whole tone scale also has a dominant7 chord with a #5 included, it can theoretically be used in any dominant situation, inserting that “whole toney” sound just briefly in an otherwise “normal” composition. A very prominent example is the intro of Stevie Wonder’s YOU ARE THE SUNSHINE OF MY LIFE, where there is the whole tone scale used twice on the dominant chord.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/17/14: When you’re communicating with a client about the music for his/her project, be aware that most often there’s no point in using musical terms and even if musical terms are used they might be meant in a different way and therefore misleading. Of course it is important to find a common ground for communication with a client. In my experience, one of the best ways to communicate and still to get a very clear and precise idea for both sides is to ask the question “How do you want this scene/sequence to feel like?”  Asking questions in this way will give you a very precise idea of what your clients expects from the scene and leaves you all the freedom for how to interpret that. Some directors/clients feel the need to try to communicate on a musical basis with you even though they don’t really have a deep knowledge about music. In this case, the communication can become very problematic and misleading while a simple talk about how a scene should feel like, what should be transported emotionally through the music leaves a way clearer impression for both parties.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/16/14: There is a probably no answer to the question how a perfect demo reel should be constructed and I see a lot of discussion about that going on. The two most common options are several small tracks labled individually according to genre/mood etc. or one longer track edited together from such passages. While probably both options work equally well one of the more important things is to get to the point quickly. So it’s probably not the best idea to put a 6 min dialogue underscore into a demo reel. However it is usually a good idea to tailor a demo reel specifically for a project. If you’re trying to get a job on an apocalyptic movie, you can definitely get rid of the dramedy tracks from your demo reel. Another important thing is to not overload your demo reel, even if you feel like you have done so many tracks worth showing, make sure to put only the very best into your demo reel. Another question constantly arising is whether to showcase the music with visual context (eg the original scene it came from or just a video that supports the emotion of it). From my personal experience, it doesn’t make much of a difference but there might be other people claiming the opposite thing.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/13/14: For everybody coming from a piano background, a trill usually feels quite noisy and dragging a lot of attention on itself due to the many audible attacks of the notes that you get when you do a trill on a piano. This makes many composers coming from this instrument shy away from using trills in their orchestral music. However there are some instruments where a trill can be an extremely subtle and just a little shimmering effect which will give a very effective sound when trying to create shimmering and “boiling” effect. On all string instruments, a soft trill will be very smooth and silky not having any of the noise that you might be used to from the piano. But also woodwinds like the flute and particularly the clarinets (all of them) are capable of creating an incredibly subtle trill which can be used in many ways without being intrusive or attention dragging at all.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/12/14: If you’re coming from a classical notation background into the field of scoring for media, you need to adjust your actual way of notating things a little bit to this world. The most important thing is to notate as readable as possible as most of the players will need to do sight reading on your sessions. In spite of some music universities teaching to always write scores “grammatically correct” (e.g. if there’s a chord of D major there shouldn’t be  a Gb anywhere in the score) in the “real world”, if for whatever reason the Gb will be easier to read (e.g. chromatically descending line), go for that Gb. Another more technical issue is to write for the click. Unless you do the quite rare streamers and punches method, you need to go away from musically unprecise notations. Most problematic are fermatas and other “musical breaths” as they can be interpreted differently. In the scoring world, you would avoid such things as much as possible and rather write them out into actual length (e.g. a 4/4 with a fermata on count 4 should rather be notated for instance as a 6/4 with count 4 holding exactly for 3 beats) depending how long you actually want it to hold). So anything that cannot be timed and calculated exactly should not be used in the notation for film scoring. Exceptions are of course aleatoric passages with just vague timing that of course will need way more time to record and get it right.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/11/14: A very often seen problem in learning composer’s music is the staticness of rhythmical ideas. Very often they fall into one rhythmical pattern and keep repeating that over and over again without any or just very few variation. But also melodic ideas are very often put into a repeating rhythmical shape. Another problem that usually comes on top of that is especially with melodies a strong tendency to rhythmically hit every downbeat making the overall musical feeling very static and heavy. So when you write music, don’t just pay attention whether your melodic shape and harmonic progression is interesting but also whether your rhythmical idea keeps being interesting and with melodies try leaving free downbeats of bars once in a while.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/10/14: A film music cue should never start out of the blue. There should always be a “cue” from the movie to start it. This could be of course something visual (scene change, movement, something coming into frame etc.)  but also an important sentence in a dialogue, an emotional shift or just the change of a facial expression. The entrance of the music should usually happen right on that filmic cue or a little after that depending on whether it needs a bit of time to settle in. However it should be clearly in connection with the cue. If music starts without any indication it will not really have any justification and feel quite random.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/09/14: Once in a while there comes a project along that is emotionally so straining that it becomes very difficult to work on it. This could be for example due to a topic of a movie that is hard to digest (especially when you work in the field of documentaries) or it could just be a scene that reminds you just a little too much of an emotionally painful situation in your own life. While these strong emotions of course can be used to draw inspiration and ideas from, in the end it still might leave emotional impacts beyond the work. From talks with colleagues, everybody has an own way to deal with these situations. While some can simply shake it off and see it entirely professional others fall in a really bad mood over the time of the working process on it. The essence is to have a clear idea of whether you will be able to handle it or not right at the beginning. You shouldn’t agree on a project to later admit that you can’t do a scene or the whole project because the emotional response you have from it just makes you unable to write music.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/06/14: Don’t underestimate the nobility of the brass section in low dynamics. With film music very often these days pushing the brass to double forte and really going for the brassy sound, it is quite rare to hear this section as a section used in soft dynamics even though it can create a really fantastic effect. One great example from recent times is the cue Mother from SKYFALL by Thomas Newman (starting at 0:42). The homophonic writing of the brass in their lower registers and low dynamic has a really intense emotional impact here which gets enhanced by the joining of the strings later on. So when writing soft passages, don’t forget the brass section.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/05/14: It is technically not possible to push a signal that has been recorded with very close micing believably further back into the room. When you record any acoustic musical instrument with close mics, you will get sounds that will not be heard anymore just a few meters away from it. On orchestral string instruments you will get the noise of the bow dragging across the strings, on brass and woodwind instruments you will get more air noise etc. Even when you try to put these signals further back in the room by adding reverb or using complex IR’s, you will not get rid of these close-mic effects so it will always sound like a close-mic signal with reverb. Acoustic and especially orchestral instruments need room around them to sound good, for instance the carrying power of a Tuba will only develop in a room, with a close mic signal it will hardly carry. So whenever you record instruments (even in your home studio), make sure you have room around them that you actually record with it. There are also some sample libraries that follow the strategy of recording  instruments very dry and very close miced which of course gives you more freedom on the way how to use them but you will never get a “big” sound out of them.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/04/14: When listening to a melody, our ear doesn’t just follow the path of the actual melody but also tries to make sense out of the larger structure of it, mainly following the top notes of melodic phrases. A melody always sounds more interesting when these top notes in itself create a melodically pleasing line as well, very often they ascend by steps (e.g. a wavy melody line where the peaks of the wave keep going higher). A good example for that would be the flying theme from E.T. which keeps moving higher and higher. So when you write a melody, always keep track of these peak notes and particularly avoid having stationary peak notes (constantly hitting the same high note every phrase) or making the peak notes form an unmelodic gesture.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/03/14: Dialogue scoring is not necessarily the most inspiring thing to do when scoring a film and many inexperienced composers see it as something that you can quickly rush through as there’s not much musical activity going on anyway. However doing dialogue scoring properly is quite a challenge. You should see and treat the voice(s) as an instrumental solo meaning that you neither would want to put anything else into it’s frequency range but also avoid having too much stuff going on while it is “soloing” and rather carefully weave musical movement into pauses of the dialogue. However this is quite a challenge when you still want the music to make some musical sense with that. Also, try to capture the emotional hues that happen in a dialogue with the music and never just stay emotionally static unless of course it is dramaturgically needed.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook



06/02/14: One of the things that is intimidating for many young and starting out composers are the constant talks of seasoned composers saying that you need to get used to 14+h of work a day or doing all nighters when you want to be a film composer or work in the media. It somehow has become a habit of composers trying t impress each other by saying such things to appear hard working. The truth is, there are only a very few guys in the industry who work like that and this is neither a particularly healthy nor usually successful way of working. Most great film composers have or had a healthy workload of around 8 hours a day and from personal talks with friends and colleagues it seems like nobody is really working such long hours. Apart from that, you will probably not even get more work done in 14 hours than you can do in 8 or even less as your effectivity just will drop tremendously. From my personal experience I can say that I have only twice done an all nighter and never worked for more than three days in a row 14+hours/day. My regular work day has a max of 8 hours just like any regular job with actual creative work hardly ever more than 5 hours/day. Only when there is a really tough deadline just around the corner I would extend that and usually it extends at the cost of quality. If you still feel like you need to work 20 hours a day to be a really good composer, HERE’s a brillant chart showing working hours of some of the most creative people who have ever lived.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


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