Daily Film Scoring Bits

Posted on Jul 1, 2015 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!

 
 

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

 

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09/01/15: 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

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08/31/15: 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 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

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08/28/15: 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

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08/27/15: 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

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08/26/15: 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 uninspired feeling music. 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

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08/25/15: 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

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08/24/15: 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

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08/21/15: 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 also join the chord then).

#orchestration

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08/20/15: 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

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08/19/15: Investing time into finding inner voices in chords are a beautiful way for several reasons: firstly, it will make chord progressions sound more interesting, even if they are really simple. Secondly they help tremendously to get away from a static “change chord on every downbeat and hold for a whole note” feeling. The strategy to find such inner voices is based on understanding upper harmonic structures. One pretty simple way for example is to move one voice from root to 9th to third 8(or the other way around) while the chord is sustaining. Diatonic or chromatic movements in inner lines are the most attractive to the ear. Additionally, check if you cannot sustain a note over a chord change to help avoid downbeat-heavyness. Again, a simple way would be to check if a note that you sustain into the next bar could become a 9th there so you can resolve it later on. Technically, 9ths will always work but also altered fifths, major 7ths, #11, #9/b9 or sus4’s make for great options to use while trying to find inner lines. Also, the longer an inner line is (while it still sustains a melodical quality) the more attractive it will be, but even just short inner lines that just fill one bar will help a lot to make things more interesting and lively. As with everything, there is also a chance of overdoing this so keep it to a tasteful degree.

#composition

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08/18/15: 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

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08/17/15: Taking care of your precious business contacts and keeping the contact alive is a very important thing to do. This is espeically important when you haven’t worked with them for a while. Producers/directors often have so many things on their mind that they keep forgetting people so bringing your name back into their memory from time to time might help to keep you in the loop for future projects. Good possibilities might be birthdays, christmas, the release of projects that you are not involved in etc. This of course requires you to keep track of what’s happening, social networks like facebook might help on this. But also take care to not overdo that, an email or phone call every week might probably be too much…

#general

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08/14/15: 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

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08/13/15: 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

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08/12/15: 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

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08/11/15: 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

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08/10/15: 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

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07/31/15: 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

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07/30/15: At latest when you’re recording a small sized orchestra, you will probably need to move out of your studio at home or at your office and record somewhere else. While you are probably perfectly used to the way things sound at your general working space, it might be quite a surprise at how different things might sound in the studio. There are monitor speakers that have a very own sound characteristic and the monitor mix you’re hearing from all mics might sound really strange and intransparent at the worst case. 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

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07/29/15: Spontaneous and unprepared modulations upwards (mostly half step, whole step or minor third up) as often heard in pop music or musicals are often considered “cheap” and unmusical by many musical academics and supposedly a sign of the inability of the composer to write a proper transition. While this may be true in some cases, the dramatic effect of such a spontaneous modulation should not be underestimated and might even be diminished by transitions whose only purpose it is to “smoothen” the modulation. The power of such modulations can be transfered to film music writing as well. Especially ostinato driven music often uses even several of such modulations. Major hit points or changes of mood profit greatly from establishing a new and “fresh” key and will also help raising the dramatic intensity.

#composition

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07/28/15: 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 recently 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

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07/27/15: If you pursue a career as film composer, be aware that it is not enough to be able to write music that sounds like film music. Being a film composer is a way more multi-layered career than being “only” a composer. The most important thing is of course to be able to write music that fits dramaturgically and that needs to be practiced just as much as your writing chops. So try to get involved into scoring to picture as soon as possible. You could even just rescore scenes from existing movies to practice that. Another important thing is to work on your social skills. If you are a naturally shy person, work on this! Being able to do “small talk” and being a communicative person is something that you can practice. Especially communication skills are important when you work on such a collaborative project as film. Also things like business, coordinating a self employment etc. are important. As a film composer, you’re always someone who provides service to a customer, which comes with all the additional things that are needed for this. So remember to work on all levels on your skills and don’t just focus on one.

#general

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07/17/15: Everybody needs to find the way that works best for him/her when orchestrating. My personal approach is most of the time to orchestrate passage-wise the loudest and most prominent things first and sketch the most important things on a “first pass” and when the big structure of the piece is done, I will do another pass with detail work. Other people orchestrate everything on a bar by bar basis etc. However be warned of orchestrating the whole piece layer-wise. Meaning to just orchestrate the strings of the whole piece and then add brass/ww/percussion on another pass. There are several problems with this strategy and unless you are really proficient at orchestrating and can imagine missing parts, you will most likely orchestrate the first element more or less completely leaving hardly any space for the other sections and then struggle to give them anything meaningful to do. The other problem with this strategy is that you make it very tricky for yourself to do colour changes on the orchestration. When you for instance orchestrate the strings first and want it to sound good with them alone, you will most likely not imagine one section where brass takes over and the strings just provide high sustaining violin notes because if you orchestrate the strings on their own like that you will feel like something is missing and start adding that right away, falling back to the “standard configuration”.

#orchestration

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07/16/15: 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

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07/15/15: 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

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07/14/15: 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

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07/13/15: 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 highly simple and less challenging at first sight 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 for 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

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07/10/15: 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

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07/09/15: 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. 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 constant ones (and still hit any hit point afterwards) but still feel logical. 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

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07/08/15: 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, 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

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07/07/15: 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 pretty awkward and stylistically very old fashioned and operatic. So in most such situations, it is best to musically hold back.

#filmscoring

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07/06/15: It is never too early to start scoring movies. I often hear excuses like “I want to perfect my writing skills before I do the first film project” or “I need to buy some more sample libraries in order to create music properly.” as a justification for not actively looking for film scoring gigs. This is a pretty unhealthy attitude regarding your career for two big reasons. 1. The craft to score a movie needs to be learned as well. You need a few movies to gain experience before you actually will be able to score a movie on a professional level and get an understanding about how drama works. This is a very “learning by doing” heavy thing so the best way to get better at it is to actually do it. 2. If you want to work in that field, you need to start networking as soon as possible. There is practically no chance to be able to make a living from this job out of nowhere. It takes months and years of networking and working your way up to eventually be able to pay your bills from that job. So starting off with amateur or student movies as soon as possible is just as important as buying better samples or becoming more proficient in writing music. Even if your first few attempts will not be brilliant, you need to make them in order to become a good film composer.

#general

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07/03/15: 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. slides) but also limits them down 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 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 playe 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

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07/02/15: 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 recording 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

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07/01/15: 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

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