Daily Film Scoring Bits

Posted on Jan 1, 2016 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!

 
 

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

04/26/16: Slow motion or time lapse sequences are usually used to introduce a sense of surrealism, portraying dream like sequences. Especially on longer sequences, they usually call for music also because the sound effects etc. will often (partially) disappear leaving the complete sound track free. When scoring slow motion sequences, most of the time a slow paced “gluey” music works best unless the surrounding footage implies otherwise (e.g. short slow motion shots as part of an action sequence (Matrix etc.)) however try to become not too dragging. It should not be particularly slow music just because it’s a slow motion sequence. On time lapse sequences, it’s a little trickier. Sequences that speed up otherwise too slow movements so in the end it feels like a normal movement (the typical quick flourishing of flowers) in general tend to work with slow, glue music as well while sequences that speed up otherwise normal movements to a “perception overload” sequence (cars nervously driving along a street etc.) will tend to need music that picks up that “overload” most of the time, using fast paced, nervous tempi/elements. However, as with every sequence when trying to find the right tempo, look for visual indicators to pick up the “perceived” tempo and avoid scoring such time alterings too literal in the music.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/25/16: The media world is full of people who make a lot of empty promises or try to sell themselves and their project way above value. You need to devlop a sense for such people an generally be very sceptical. Usually, when something seems fishy, it is fishy. A few general advices in this regard: never let yourself being talked into working “this time for free, but on the next project we will have the big money” unless you are really convinced or trust the person on a personal level because you know him/her etc. Do background checks. If somebody seems to be no big deal but acts like one, be sceptical. Insist on a contract practically on every bigger project and especially on first projects and don’t invest anything (time or money) before you don’t have this contract sealed (apart from reading scripts etc. and the usual things to figure out whether you’re interested). No brainer but never sign anything before you haven’t properly read and understood it. No serious business person would want you to do this. In general a good portion of healthy scepticism is always appropriate, don’t let yourself be manipulated or just being talked into something just because the person is very eloquent and seems like a cool guy.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/22/16: Many learning composers/orchestrators have problems in distinguishing the functions of the Bass Trombone vs. Tuba in the orchestra. This might also be a result from many sample libraries nowadays offering simply a “Low Brass” patch. Even though both instruments overlap in most of their range (with the Tuba being a little more comfortable at the lowest end), their functions do differ. Due to its conical tubing and deep mouth piece, the Tuba has a quite substantial, carrying and “boomy” sound being able to provide a profound and strong enough bass to balance out a whole brass chord. Yet, the sound is rather round and without much brassy edge even at strong dynamics. With the Bass Trombone it is the other way around. It provides a great brassy and quite edgy, at times evil  low end with a quite sharp tone quality especially at strong dynamics, giving the tone a lot of definition. Yet, due to its cylindrical tubing, it doesn’t really have a lot of substance in its sound and provides way less “carrying bass” than the Tuba. So be aware how you use them in a musical context. Want an evil low brass stab? Don’t go for the Tuba alone. Want a substantial bass with long loud brass chords? Don’t let the Bass Trombone carry it all. A final word on the combination of both: it does give you the advantages of both instruments however also evens out their individual unique features a little. Also, it drags a lot of attention on itself and needs a lot to be balanced out which is not what you might necessarily want for a longer time as it feels like “orchestrating with the fat edding”.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/21/16: Consider that the understandability of dialogue or monologue gets worse when the speaker is not seen on screen. A big portion of understanding spoken word comes from watching the mouth of the speaking person so if that is missing, it gets a little trickier for us. You should take that into account when you write music for a voiceover scene and be even more careful to not overpower the speaking register of the voice with music. Handle the speaking voice as if it was an instrumental solo that you want to free up in your orchestration texture as well.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/20/16: One of the common guidelines of doing chord progressions is to keep notes ringing that are part of both chords when progressing. This is part of the standard rules for voice leading. This concept, however can be extended quite a bit and might help you to connect chords that are quite remote but still will sound connected well with these sustaining notes. Imagine you have a C that you want to ring through a chord progression. This c could start out as the root of a Cmajor chord, going to be the 3 of an Abmajor chord, going to be the maj7 of a Db and the #11 of an F#. You can theoretically build a very interesting chord progression with these few chords and even though they are a little adventurous from the tonal side, it will work just fine because you have that one connecting note of c which glues it all together.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/19/16: Main title sequences have become quite rare these days but when you have the chance to score one, use it effectively. On a main title, you can set the overall mood of the score and the movie, you can introduce your thematic material and therefore prepare the audience for what is going to happen. Don’t just write “anything” over the main titles but make them also your musical overture. It will be much easier in the score later to work with themes  and motifs once they have already been established. One very good example from recent years of brillant main title scoring ist the opening of SIGNS with the score from James Newton Howard. Not only does he establish his main motif, but he also sets a tone for the movie and creates with the music a certain feeling that pushes you to the edge of your seat. Also, note how the music syncs up with the credits and therefore also has a visual impact on that opening titles.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/18/16: The worldwide community of film composers is fairly small and especially with the internet and social networks practically “everybody knows everybody”. So always be aware of the fact that things you say or do might eventually fall back on you. Especially the believed online anonymity that makes some people more “confident” in stating their opinion does not really exist in the film music scene. Making contemptuous comments about a colleague somewhere on the internet or in a not so private conversation, ripping somebody off or simply being impolite will most likely eventually fall back at you. So if you care about a decent reputation and maybe one day might want to get help from a colleague, you should behave with decent manners no matter how anonymous you feel at the very moment.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/15/16: Changing the position where you bow the strings on string instruments will have a quite drastic effect on the sound. There are two possibilities of where you could go: either move closer to the fingerboard or move closer to the bridge. The closer you get to the bridge the more higher harmonics the sound will have so moving away from it further to the fingerboard (aka “sul tasto”) will make the sound softer and more silky which is a nice way to replace con sordino in case you don’t have enough time to put on mutes. However be aware that it is not possible to play really high up on the strings with sul tasto as you will basically need your bow to be where your left hand is or vice versa. Going closer to the bridge (sul ponticello) creates a very metallic, slightly eerie sound that is most effective in tremolo and often used on thriller/horror scoring. Here’s a nice demonstration video.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/14/16: Be realistic about your expectations about what is possible “in the post” and what isn’t. If you start off with a lo-fi recording with lot’s of intonation problems and bad performances, no mixing engineer on this planet could make this sound any good or edit it in a way that it sounds great. there’s just so much you can do to save bad takes/recordings. Some composers have some really wrong expectations about what can be achieved in that state. If you record one horn in your home studio, there is no way to make it into an “epic apocalyptic Air Lyndhurst horn ensemble”. So the bottom line is to always try to deliver as good as possible material for the editing/mix.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/13/16: It can be very effective to hint a new theme before its first real appearance in a few subtle ways as there will be a sense of familiarity with it already once it gets played out properly for the first time. This is not necessarily only working in film contexts but in purely musical contexts as well where the new but already somewaht familiar theme will also have a strong dramatical impact. One very prominent example of this is John Williams’ score from E.T. where the main theme gets hinted several times before the first real appearance of it during the first flying bicycle sequence. At that time the thematic idea is already so prominently in the listeners memory that the appearance of the theme just feels like “it was about time” instead of “oh, what’s that new thing?”.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/12/16: The reason why so many film score cues end and/or start with a string note/chord fade in or out is that these are probably the least noticeable ways of having a music cue. If you want to have music enter without creating a noticeable hit point when it does so (which practically every normal instrumental entrance will create) it is probably the easiest way to do that by slowly fading in strings. Also, of course from the orchestration standpoint, strings are a good choice for these things as they can naturally fade in quite well. One often done beginner’s problem is to have the end fade out too quickly which will make it quite noticeable as well, so as a rule of thumb, always make the fade out at the end a little longer than you might think and if it is really too long, it can be faded away in the mix. Also, even though this way of entering and exiting cues is super clicheéd and has been done thousands of times, it still works very effectively and is still in common use so trying to be revolutionary there and not using any of that just for the sake of “being different” is probably not the best idea.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/11/16: Besides all the obvious factors, don’t underestimate the psychological factor it has when you switch from composing as a hobby to composing as a job. Even though you might feel prepared for it and have enough clients and jobs to make the switch from a financial standpoint, it is a massive factor to suddenly “be creative to pay your bills”. The pure pressure by that has created many stories of composers who suddenly struggled writing a note even though they never had that problem before. Even though being a composer full time might seem (and is) a dream job it also means to be creative when you are not and deliver results when you don’t feel like it at all. Don’t underestimate that in case you’re planning to make the step.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/08/16: Many composers coming from the sample world love to use massively split up string sections. Things like triads in the violas alone, several different violin movements etc. are very common. While this might work in the sample world, in the real world, anything orchestrated like this will suffer from massive substance problems. The general goal (unless you have a very big line-up) is to avoid to divisi strings as much as possible. Any divisi will split the amount of players you have per note into half or worse taking away a lot of the substance of sound. The common misunderstanding is that the strings have a very rich harmonic spectrum and many of the tones you would want to split them into already ring in one pitch. Therefore they have a huge potential of melting together into a homogenous sound and don’t need to have every tone of the chord in every octave. In fact, well orchestrated strings without divisi will sound way better than even a larger string line-up with a lot of divisi when not orchestrated properly. So apart from divisi-ing the cellos (which can sustain a substance even when split into two sections) try to keep the divisis to a minimum and only when you really need it. As a side note: one of the most unneccessary divisis in strings is to split the double basses into octaves which is coming from the piano writing where playing the left hand in octaves adds substance. With basses, that doesn’t happen apart from losing substance from the lower octave and moving substance into the higher octave which automatically rings with the lower octave anyway. So unless you have a really good reason for this split, avoid it. Another side note: the effect of diminishing substance by divisi can be something you might want and there are some fantastic examples for that in the classical and film literature (e.g. Venus from the Planets by Holst), but in most cases, divisi should rather be kept to a minimum if possible.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/07/16: With internet bandwidth increasing it has become more common to send cues for feedback to a customer not as an audio file anymore but already as a video file which contains the new cue. By that you can also make sure that the cue is placed correctly and there are no problems just because of a misread number etc. It is also more convenient for your customer as he/she can simply watch it and give feedback without going through the more time consuming process of putting it against the video. However, make sure to stay within common video compression rates. There is no need to showcase every version of a cue in Full HD uncompressed as well as  it is no good to showcase it in ultra blurry  320×240.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/05/16: Don’t undererestimate the power of musical silence as a scoring device. Silence can even be used as a dramatic effect on climaxes. Especially comedic scenes as well as horror/thriller sequences work very well when you build up towards a climax musically but have their climax on sudden musical silence. Quite common is also the constant musical stop and go on so called dramedy cues where points of slapstick moments are usually highlighted with a brief moment of silence. The “scoring device” of silence also always makes a scene more real and immediate.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/04/16: More than ever before, nowadays your online representation as a composer is essential so invest some time and money into that. This doesn’t only apply to your web site but all your internet profiles. Potential customers will most likely google you in order to find out more about you so make sure that what is being found about you leaves a professional impression. Invest time and money into maintaining your online portfolio. Nobody will give out a job to someone who owns a 90’s looking website with animated gifs at http://awesomecomposer.freewebsitehosting.com. On the other hand, don’t expect to get many jobs out of the blue through your websites. Most of the time, potential customers will be using your website to find out more about you and your work after they already know about you, so keep it rather as an extended business card than a “HIRE ME NOW!” page.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


04/01/16: The orchestral bass drum is a very different instrument compared to the bass drum in a drum set and composers/orchestrators coming from the band world often tend to use it not quite effective. The orchestral bass drum has a much bigger diameter and when you don’t dampen it with the hand it will ring out for quite a while. It is not too effective to mimick the function of the bass drum in a drum set as the acoustic situation in an orchestra is different. It will not produce the precise percussive hit that you might expect however due to its big membrane and massive vibration it will move a lot of air which will interfere massively with the vibrations from the other instruments so constantly using it will make it tricky to hear orchestral details. Also, it is a massively loud instrument and probably the only orchestral instrument that you can feel in your stomach when it’s being played so save the use of that instrument rather for big climactic moments or really big punches as using it in a “groove” will wear off quite quickly and rather become annoying.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/31/16: Invest money in a decently silent cooling system on your computer(s) if you cannot put them into another room or somewhere away from you. Working on soft cues with a constantly loud hiss/humm in the background can be a massive distraction and become very annoying. Also, silent cooling is not expensive at all anymore today so don’t save money on the wrong end.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/30/16: The factor of having individual musicians improvise rather than writing every exact note for them should not be underestimated and is very often used in film music. This obviusly works especially well with musicians with a Jazz background as well as many ethnic instrumentalists. Besides avoiding the hassle of trying to notate things that might not even be possible to be notated properly you will most likely get a way more pleasing musical interpretation. I very often give musicians whom I know of their improvisation skills just a really basic guideline alongside with chord changes and possibly a few verbal instructions but then let them do their thing. The results are always way better than notating (even if you would notate the very same thing they are playing). However be aware that most orchestral musicians don’t feel comfortable in being asked to improvise something so you should always make it depending on which individual player you have. There are a few downsides of letting musicians improvise which would for example be the incompatibility (as a whole) of different takes but it very often works to cut together different phrases from different takes. Another one would be to not have real control over what is happening so you should make sure that you are in some form present during the recording so you can give guidelines of what you want.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/29/16: The conceptual idea behind a score will make at least 50% of the work. If you have a clear vision on what the score is going to be, writing it will be much easier as you have strong guidelines to work along. It is never a good idea to start to work on something without putting thought into the concept. So before you write a single note, you should have a very clear answer for yourself on all the questions that define a concept. For example: What sort of line-up will you use? Orchestra? Hybrid? Will you feature any solistic instruments/vocals? Who/what will get a theme? What harmonic language will you use? How prominent will the music be in general? Also, when you have a strong idea behind your score it might also be easier to sell it to your customer. So remember, it’s not just about finding themes as in “melodies” but it is also about finding themes as in colour, texture, harmony, rhythm etc. Spend a considerable amount of time to get that right and it will pay off during the actual writing.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/24/16: Some film composers develop the habit to score movies by watching the video and simply playing along hitting accents without click on free timing. While this may work as long as you exclusively work in a DAW, as soon as you need to incporate changes or need to bring in live musicians, this can become a huge nightmare. You should in general make a habit of always having a proper tempomap and clicktrack to record to, even if it takes a bit of time. This little bit of more time will save a lot more time once you need to hand it over to an orchestrator or just want to create a chart for the solo violin you want to record over it. Also, while free timing often feels more naturally flowing, it can also become very loose and unpredictable, eventually making your music feel rhythmically random.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/23/16: Even though using the variation of one or two small melodic motif(s) as building block for a longer melody is generally a musically very attractive thing to do, many learning composers tend to do this too strictly by repeating the rhythmic structure of the motif exactly several times. The result is very often a monotonous almost static melody that is massivley predictable and quite uninteresting to the ear. So when you write a melody based on a small motif, make sure you incorporate enough variety or different elements to keep the melody interesting.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/22/16: It is a common and well known way to hit hit-points that don’t lay on the downbeat of a bar by inserting one odd meter bar in order to make it fit, however it is also a quite common problem that learning film composers place that odd bar very often as the last bar before the hit point which very often creates a not very pleasing musical result and feels just as it is: an inserted strange bar. Try placing that one bar a few bars earlier into a phrase that makes it feel like that odd bar is not inserted but needs to be there as part of a plausible musical phrase. However, there is also a justification to have the odd bar right before the hit point which is when the new hit point is not expected or should not be expected as of course placing a hit point on a predictable downbeat makes it often very easy to anticipate which is not what you need for example in moments of surprise or shock.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/21/16: If you’re meeting a potential client for the first time (or even when having a skype call with him/her for the first time), be as well prepared as you can. Invest some considerable time into research, not only about the person him-/herself but also about the company, projects etc. This knowledge will not only help you to get a better idea of what/who to expect but also is very useful to impress. Of course, directors feel flattered when you say something like “Hey, I’ve seen your other movie XY the other day, I really loved it. Especially that scene at…” So these things are great to get him/her on your side as well as giving a lot of fuel for potential slow conversations. Being unprepared at a first meeting is mostly leaving a pretty unprofessional impression.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/18/16: When notating music, writing as simple as possible is the highest priority. Sometimes, music universities teach to value musical correctness over readability and might for instance favor using double flats or double sharps in order to clarify the musical function of the individual note. However in practical situations, such things are big traps for musicians and especially in sight reading situations like film scoring, if you need to make the choice it is better to choose simple over correct. This applies for practically everything and sometimes it might be quite a challenge to decide what actually looks easier but the essential thing should always be to make life as easy as possible for your musician rather than showing off that you actually know what you’re doing.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/17/16: Against what is common in current music, when doing a score for a film, try to keep as much dynamic range as possible in your music. The dynamic range of (orchestral) film music is one of the many factors why it works dramatically so well in a visual context. From the softest ppp tremolo to the loudest ff tutti hit, you can already create a quite considerable emotional effect just with that range. Compressing it to “practically equally loud everywhere” will take away this effect. Be aware that the sound systems in cinemas are capable of recreating the original dynamic range of an orchestra so you shouldn’t worry about very soft music not being audible. Also, there might be some compression being added in the final audio mix of the movie anyway.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/16/16: The phrasing of melodic lines or figures can make a huge difference in how they sound and what kind of musical impact they have. Many composers coming from the sample world don’t pay enough attention on these smalls but essential details as they simply very often loa just one articulation and play the whole melodical line with it ending up with endless mechanical staccato rows or gluey legato lines. Invest time into thinking about how a musical idea could be phrased differently, where you could throw in a short legato bit in a staccato ostinato, where there might be an accent making things more interesting. It actually helps to sing to yourself the different variations to find the one that you find most attractive and yes, invest time to use key-switches or different tracks in your sample productions to get more life into your music.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/15/16: Music can alter the perception of time. While most of the time when scoring a scene it is important to hit the right tempo, you can use the discrepancy of obviously wrong tempi for dramaturgical effects. Obviously too fast tempi will make the scene feel like it is “too slow” and lagging behind the music, which is great to highlight nerve wrecking waiting situations while too slow tempi can make the scenery feel too quick. However, make sure that the discrepancy is obvious when you want to use that effect. Slightly too slow tempi will rather make a scene feel dragging while slightly too fast tempi can “push the adrenaline”. Another word of caution: of course the intensity of pulse is important here. If you have a fast tempo without any rhythmical activity the effect gets lost. Also, it is highly depending on the scene. Some scenes feel different with “wrong” tempo than others. Sometimes actually quite contrary. E.g. a too fast tempo might make one scene feel totally overpaced while on another scene it makes it feel like slow motion. So never just “apply” any of these tips here blindly without checking it against your specific filmic situation. There are just too many factors involved in such things like filmic tempo to make a general statement.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/14/16: In some cases especially at the beginning of your career you might be asked to sign on agreements that make your payment partially or completely depending on the financial success of the project and obviously will not pay you that amount before the project makes money. This procedure is for smaller production companies often the only way to finish a project with low budgets. However it is always a risky thing to agree on such things especially as it often will be very tricky to monitor the financial success of the project. For a clever bookkeeper it is no big deal to calculate the income down so it seems like the project didn’t make a lot of money even though it did and you will not get a chance to prove otherwise unless you invest time/money again. So basically it is about trust in these cases and hoping that there is no foul play involved. So when being asked to agree on such a deal, rather don’t expect any or a lot of income. If you need it for the reference, you might want to go for it. If not, it might be a clever thing to reject such a project. From my experience, I have never heard about any composer getting unexpectedly rich from such a deal because the project became a big success.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/11/16: The dynamic range of orchestra musicians spans more or less between pp and ff. Triple dynamics, even though used pretty often especially by unexperienced orchestrators will result in not sounding any different than the double dynamics. Only in some rare cases it might be appropriate to use triple dynamics (e.g. triple forte for the crescendo in the final chord of a piece etc.). In all other cases, triple dynamics rather look “desperate” to the musicians.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/10/16: When recording real musicians, always plan in some set-up time at the beginning of the session. Even in big studios you will need to spend some time when everybody is in the room to adjust some things. I usually tend to start with a medium tricky, loud but not massively important cue so that practically everybody plays, gets a chance to warm up and the engineer gets a chance to adjust levels, fix microphones etc. This will always happen and inexperienced composers get nervous in these first few minutes quite often because you don’t really get a lot of music recorded in that time but once everything is set (and your musicians have warmed up) the recording speed will increase. It also helps to start with a loud tutti cue because if you start with something soft, there will need to be some adjusting done in the later cues when more instruments join in. I prefer to have that done in one go and then be able to record without many more interruptions.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/09/16: Melody writing has a lot to do with melodic tension and proper resolution. Usually, the degree of tension is determined by the underlaying chord. An f in the melody over a C major chord has a strong tension and wants to resolve stepwise upwards to the g or downwards to the e, of which both are chord tones. Jumping away from this f to another tension note will feel melodically weak, also if that happens over a chord change and you jump from there into a new tension note over the new chord. Jumping away from a tension note to a chord tone that is not a step away is melodically possible but usually weaker. When you’re writing melodies, you should always have an eye at the degree of tension certain notes have with the underlaying chord and whether they should resolve.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/08/16: It is well known that sometimes directors or customers fall in love with temp tracks and want you to practically replicate it which is always a nightmare for any composer especially when the temp track doesn’t fit that well. But a more overlooked problem is actually YOU as a composer falling for the temp track even when you have more freedom. This happens especially when the only work edit of the movie you get is one with temp track (which unfortunately happens quite regularly) and you constantly listen to it or watch the movie with it. So as a general advice, you should always make sure you get a work copy without any temp track on it and watch the movie maybe once or twice with the temp track but after that go to the “silent” version to make sure you dont explicitely remember how a scene with the temp track “sounded like”.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/07/16: Working for a friend is always a slightly tricky situation and especially when the friendship existed before doing the first job together, it can become quite problematic. Besides the fact that you should never make a habit of working for free as a “friendship service” even when the job is regularly paid, there are some potential problems. Switching into business/contract negotiation mode is probably the most problematic thing in such a work relationship. Negotiating payment, licenses etc. needs you to be a tough business person most of the time and both sides should know that such phases can become quite rough. With a friend that you normally are very relaxed and friendly with, this can become quite a tricky situation. Also, you might be surprised about your friend turning into a rough business person as well. In most cases, this feels very weird and uncomfortable. Fortunately it gets better the more often you do it as both parties will by then be used to this just being the ugly business part of the relationship. Also, while working on a project, there might be times of disagreement and arguments and and establishing hierarchy of you working for your friend (or vice versa) might become a social challenge. So while at first it might seem like a real fun thing to work on a project with a friend, it might become a pretty strong challenge for the friendship. Be aware of this and of course, there’s no job paid well enough to sacrifice a good friendship for it, so if you feel like the project starts or could start to damage your friendship, you might even want to reconsider doing it.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/04/16: Changing the position where you bow the strings on string instruments will have a quite drastic effect on the sound. There are two possibilities of where you could go: either move closer to the fingerboard or move closer to the bridge. The closer you get to the bridge the more higher harmonics the sound will have so moving away from it further to the fingerboard (aka “sul tasto”) will make the sound softer and more silky which is a nice way to replace con sordino in case you don’t have enough time to put on mutes. However be aware that it is not possible to play really high up on the strings with sul tasto as you will basically need your bow to be where your left hand is or vice versa. Going closer to the bridge (sul ponticello) creates a very metallic, slightly eerie sound that is most effective in tremolo and often used on thriller/horror scoring. Here’s a nice demonstration video.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/03/16: With sound design being a massively important factor on movies for the last 10-20 years, the way to handle this from the music side has also changed quite a bit. While in earlier times, audio tracks of movies were way less occupied and composers didn’t need to worry most of the time how their music is going to cut through, by now it has become on most film genres more or less a constant battle about how much space will be left for the music, especially on action sequences. If possible get in touch with the sound designer of the movie and have constant dialogue with him/her to make sure both elements work together in problematic sequences. The important part here is to not start a dialogue with the attitude of him/her being your enemy and you need to fight for your right to get space but rather try to work in the mutual interest of making the sound track as good as possible, which also means to make compromises.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/02/16: Remember that dissonance is not just “pressing random notes on they keyboard until it sounds dissonant”. Creating musically attractive dissonances is just as tricky as creating well sounding chord voicings. Many learning composers consider dissonant passages in music just as something that is “chaotic” and “non structured” and therefore write these passages in a similar way, for example using the whole palm to create an uncoordinated cluster etc. Remember that dissonance doesn’t mean intransparency. If you simply press random notes, you will get a random (quite dissonant) but not very attractive sound. The secret with great dissonances lies in using just a few well picked notes to create the dissonance. Creating a bone-chilling dissonance with just 3 or 4 notes is quite a challenge but when you succeed it will be very transparent and “comprehendable”. Also, considering your playability, your musicians will find their role much better in the sound you’re after when the dissonance is well structured and has musical quality. So next time you need to score a horror passage, really invest time in getting the dissonances right there and train your ear to pick up on the subtle differences in dissonant harmonies.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


03/01/16: When making musical decisions on how to score a scene, always look at the big picture. Sometimes a scene might suggest a very different way of scoring in connection with the plot than the actual scene might indicate. A very good example is the opening sequence from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS where we see Jodie Foster’s character doing a training run through the woods. While from a microscopical level this scene indicates a rather energetic “work out” score, composer Howard Shore wrote a quite dark and ominous score on top of it indicating the general mood of the movie as well as setting the tone for what’s about to follow. While the images only slightly imply what this movie is about (foggy, darkish atmosphere while she does the course), the music very clearly tells us where this movie is going to and enters this unsettling feeling right at the opening credits.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/29/16: Rejecting a project due to lack of time is always a two sided thing, especially when you would want to do it if you had the time. On the one hand it is a luxurious situation to actually be able to pick projects but on the other hand you don’t want to annoy potential loyal customers or let a project go that might open up doors for other and new projects. My personal approach to such situations is to try to get help from somebody assisting me to share the workload and still giving me the chance to supervise the project to keep it at the standards that I expect it to be. If that is not possible, it helps to be aware that rejecting a project also leaves the impression with the customer that you are a sought after person so they need to ask earlier for any future projects. The interesting thing is, that when you reject a project for time reasons, sometimes the client suddenly makes some more time available for you to work on it.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/26/16: Studying score sheets can be quite overwhelming when you’re doing it for the first time and the effort to understand them seems enormous especially when the score is transposing. Everybody needs to find his/her own strategy to make sense of what is written but here are a few hints that might help you to not lose the overview: 1. Have a printed version of it. Having scores available as PDF is great but unless you have a screen with huge resolution it is tricky to see one or even several pages entirely which will make it even harder to follow along. 2. Use colored text markers. Highlight voices in the same color that do more or less the same thing. Vln1 doubled by the Flutes? Same colour! Trombones doing chords with the cellos and bassoons? Same colour! etc. 3. Write in chord symbols. Making sense of all these notes is easier when you know what chord is currently ringing. Of course it is very exhausting going through an entire score finding out the chords but if you do a chord analysis just on a few passages that you really find interesting, you will get through quite quickly. Hopefully. 4. Listen in several passes. Don’t try to read along a recording and understand everything at once. Pick out instruments that you focus on and follow them in the recording as well as in the score sheet. Do that several times with different groups. 5. Rather spend time analyzing a very short passage in detail than looking over an entire score and not understanding a whole lot. You want to know what is going on exactly so you need to find it out! Just reading along an entire score with the result that you figure out that the horns play the melody most of the time is nothing that you will get any value from as you probably also knew that beforehand. Try to really dig deep into the score, even if it is just 2 bars. 6. Ask someone who knows. Sometimes, it is practically impossible to figure out some things on your own so ask someone who could help you there. There is no shame in asking at all and if a passage keeps bugging you because you have no idea why it works the way it works, it might be tremendously helpful to have somebody else open your eyes.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/25/16: Buying and deciding for a sample library can be a very frustrating process especially when the budget ist tight and you need to make a conscious choice. The biggest problem is that official demos are usually written exactly in the way to not show the weaknesses of the library and due to the fact that there is usually no money-back and a no-resale policy for libraries, you basically have no chance to really test a library before you buy it. What helps to make decisions is of course to read reviews  but also to read forums about other user’s experiences. What is also a very good way to get a better idea of what you’re going to expect is to talk with someone who owns the library about potential weaknesses etc. Be aware that there is no perfect it-can-do-everything library out there so if you’re looking for that, you will never find something. Also, don’t trust what you read on forums blindly. In the recent years there has been a group of people developing who could be defined as “sample collectors” who usually have a non-musical well paid day job and buy practically every library that is being released and enjoy talking about that but have practically no real-world relation and no pressure to write a certain amount of music in a given time or even don’t write music regularly at all. This combined with the occasional esotheric attitude regarding sound and music will not give you a really good idea of what you can expect. So my personal first go-to way when I want to know something more about a library is to talk to colleagues whose judgement I trust who own it.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/24/16: Cadential harmony (aka using a lot of V(7)-I and other standard chord progressions) is something that has two sides to it. While it is musically very convincing and everybody understands this harmonic language, it is also something that due to being used for so many centuries already, can sound very old fashioned and “classical”. While for example Jazz music tries to compensate the simplicity of these progressions by spicing up the individual chords with added tension notes, most of today’s film music tries to avoid overly cadential harmony as much as possible (with a few exceptions that are mostly stylistic decisions). In case you get a comment by a customer of “sounding too old fashioned”, this might be one of the first things to look at. Besides that, these things show once again  that a sharp stylistic understanding and ability to switch between harmonic languages is essential for any composer working for the media. As a side note: Of course is for instance a V-I an incredibly strong force to create formal structures in music and is also used regularly in film music but most of the time in a more modern sounding way (e.g. sus4/b9 etc.) in order to avoid a straight forward dominant Seventh sound which in most cases feels “dated”.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/23/16: Sometimes, when you have the feeling that no matter what you try to score a certain scene or sequence and it seems like nothing really fits or does anything benefitial for the scene, it might be the best choice to leave that scene or moment silent. As a composer, once the spotting session is through, you hardly ever question the choices that have been made there but some musical decisions will need you to rethink the approach of other scenes or simply will not work anymore as intended. Keep an open mind about possible and radical changes in the way the score works.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/22/16: The idea as a young and not established composer to contact and try to get a job with established directors or customers is in 99% of the cases something that doesn’t work. Directors who have been in the game for a while have established working relationships that they will most likely not give up for a newcomer so your chances of replacing an existing composer is practically zero. If you follow the careers of the big composers, in most cases they established a working relationship with a by then unknown director quite early on and grew with the success of their career. So, the more effective (yet also more time consuming) way would be to establish a good working relationship with one or several newcomers with promising talent and try to use their career steps as your own career ladder. However, be aware that even very talented directors will not necessarily make it big in the market, so a big portion of luck is involved as well.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/19/16: While they are really popular in current scoring, ostinatos are not the most ideal things to write for an orchestra and only few instruments really can sustain an ostinato over a certain length. You should be aware that ostinatos that last very long are always quite straining for the players. If you look at well orchestrated ostinato pieces that really work with an orchestra (e.g. Duel of the Fates by John Williams) you will find that the ostinato is quite often switched between sections and especially the sections that have bigger problems with sustaining an ostinato (especially Brass) are treated with a lot of care and are given rests to regain energy as well as really joining in on the ostinato only on the climax moments (follow the trumpets especially). Mostly, this piece is driven by the strings who can sustain an ostinato with the least effort (not meaning that it is possible forever). In spite of all the care that went into orchestrating that piece, it is still a massive challenge for every orchestra and by far nothing that can be played easily. So keep that in mind when you start copy-pasting your ostinato for 5 minutes the next time.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/17/16: One of the common rules of doing chord progressions is to keep notes playing that are common in both chords when progressing. This is part of the standard rules for voice leading. This concept, however can be extended quite a bit and might help you to connect chords that are quite remote but still will sound connected well with these sustaining notes. Imagine you have a C that you want to ring through a chord progression. This c could start out as the root of a Cmajor chord, going to be the 3 of an Abmajor chord, going to be the maj7 of a Db and the #11 of an F#. You can theoretically build a very interesting chord progression with these few chords and even though they are a little adventurous from the tonal side, it will work just fine because you have that one connecting note of c which glues it all together.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/16/16: When writing a film score and being in doubt about what to write and how to approach that scene, it very often helps to consider all possible perspectives. Do you score it from the point of view of the character, or rather the POV of the audience or maybe from another POV. Just consciously weighing these possibilities against each other might help you to find the best solution. Another important factor to consider in such moments of doubt is, that there is never just one right way to score a scene. It always is possible to score it in several ways and even most of them will feel right in the context of the movie. So don’t get overwhelmed by the “blank canvas” syndrome but when your gut feeling doesn’t tell you anything, fall back to a scientific approach or simply let it rest until you come up with an idea.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/15/16: While it should actually go without saying, many professionals and composers working in the music field actually don’t listen to music anymore besides doing their own. This might even happen by accident and just because of lack of time etc. But you should always remind yourself that it is essential to listen to music. Especially for film composers who need to stay on top of current development etc. Set some time aside to consciously listen to music, listen to things that you really enjoy but also listen to things that are outside of your comfort zone. See the development of your taste and your stylistic understanding as just as important than learning the craft. Knowing what you can theoretically do and having a profound knowledge of musical concepts will not make you into a composer who actually has an understanding of which of these concepts are appropriate in which occasion and will not give you a sense of their tasteful use which is one of the most overlooked and ignored problems of many composers who try to start out but even professionals who get stuck in their development at one point and begin to sound dated from there on.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/12/16: Many people coming from a band background who start to write for orchestra mistake it for a band replacement which is not that idiomatic for an orchestra. The orchestra is not the most ideal ensemble to play constant grooves etc. and also pattern-like writing (as with bands) usually tends to feel very flat in the orchestra. In general, when you’re coming from such a background, be aware that in the orchestra any instrument can theoretically take any function, so there’s no such thing as for instance an analogy to a rhythm guitar. The orchestration will become very boring if you orchestrate in a way that your high strings end up just playing “staccato chords” because you simply gave them the job you would normally give to a rhythm guitar. For orchestra, you need to throw many of the things you know from band arrangement over board.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/11/16: Overdubbing the same instruments to create a bigger and more epic sound only works to a certain extent. While it is possible to overdub a quite large string section to give it a little bit more substance and power against the brass/percussion, trying to create an ensemble sound from a solo string instrument by layering it several times will not work convincingly as the vibrations and resonance in an acoustic space behave very differently between the individual instruments than with digital addition. The bottom line is, that overdubs will never sound as big as if you had the same amount of instruments in real life. Still of course, in situations where there is not enough budget it might be a wise decision to try to get the sound a little bigger with overdubs (and/or adding samples).

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/10/16: The most successful music on a commercial level is very often music that pleases listeners from several levels of musical literacy, which is a concept that is followed in most fields of “commercial art”. John Williams’ success probably bases a lot on the fact that he has probably written some of the most simple and catchy film themes that are practically not far away from child tunes (e.g. Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones) which please the musically uneducated audience by being easy for them to capture yet still he at the same time attracts musically educated people and academics by incorporating interesting harmonic shifts, melodic sidelines and complex orchestration. So when writing music, in my opinion one of the most effective strategies to write compelling music is to keep it simple from it’s basic structure, mainly the core melodic ideas and add sophistication in the execution of these ideas. The approach followed by some composers of starting off with complex material is of course valid as well, but it limits the audience who will be attracted by that music. Of course, the decision of whether you want to appeal to as many people as possible or whether you want to position yourself more in a niche is completely up to you but keep in mind that especially writing for the media means to reach the broadest audience possible.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/09/16: When watching scenes over and over again to write music for them, there is always a big danger of wanting to overscore them as the emotional impact of the scene as well as the general feeling of the context wear off pretty dramatically after seeing it that often. Try to be conscious about the fact that the scene might need less than you feel it needs and try to remember your initial instincts. When totally in doubt ask somebody with a bit of understanding of film music to give a bit of feedback on whether you’re overscoring already.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/08/16: On some projects, for example jingles, audio brandings, commercial scores etc. it might be a good idea to limit the rounds of included revisions in the agreement or otherwise your money to work ratio might shrink to really small numbers. A sensible agreement would normally be something like two rounds of revisions included and any further round will cost extra. This might save you a lot of headache especially in these “just small amount of music” projects but it might also be a good thing to protect yourself from getting stuck in a revision loop on larger projects.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/05/16: Snap pizzicato and fingernail pizzicato on string instruments are quite regularly described as being the same thing (for example in Adler), however they are not. Both techniques cause a percussive pizzicato sound but the cause for that is different. With the snap pizzicato, the string is being held between two fingers and pulled away from the fingerboard so that it snaps back on the fingerboard when released. On fingernail pizzicato, the strings are plucked with the fingernail rather than the pad of the finger as on normal pizzicato. The reason for the mix-up might be that some snap pizzicatos are not executable, mainly the ones on high strings and high registers. The tension of the strings there is so high that you can not make it snap back on the fingerboard without damaging the instrument so that players automatically fall back on fingernail pizzicato. The sound difference between both pizzicatos is however noticeable. Especially on instruments and in registers where both are executeable (e.g. low cellos and basses), the snap pizzicato has a more violent and percussive sound than the fingernail pizz.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/04/16: Always mix cues roughly at the volume level that they will later have in the movie. In soft cues, our ears need more bass in order to have a balanced listening impression, so when you mix these cues too loud they might sound rather unbalanced and lacking bass later in the movie when they are very soft in the background.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/03/16: Do not underestimate the power of voice leading and invest sufficient time in trying to get that right. Sometimes, a chord progression just works because of good voice leading and doesn’t at all with bad voice leading. It really pays off investing time into finding inner lines that move along in steps and have an inside dramaturgy. Even if you don’t neccessarily hear these inner lines later in the final recording, it still adds to the overall musical impression of your piece.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


02/02/16: While from a purely musical standpoint, static drones are quite unattractive, as a scoring device they can have a very strong impact. Scoring a dialogue or monologue with a low drone will automatically raise the attention of the audience and give it that “something important is being said”. In movies, drones work over quite a long time without the need to change. Some scenes might even just need exactly that one drone while anything else might feel overscored. So while this device has been extensively used and doesn’t really show off your composing chops, in some circumstances, it might be the best choice to score a scene.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook

spacer

02/01/16: For clients, one of the most important considerations to hire a composer is (sometimes maybe even before musical quality) how easy he/she is to work with. The way how you handle communication, how you deal with feedback and customer requests and how you react on your customer’s considerations are some of the most essential things that are put into consideration when hiring a composer. Even the word of mouth recommendation between your customers very often works the way: “Hey, if you need a composer, ask this guy, he’s really great to work with.” So besides working on your craft, also work on your skills in these regards. You are offering a service and that also includes customer care.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/29/16: When orchestrating a piece or rather a section of a piece, it is quite effective to work your way from the loudest to the softest instruments. When heavy brass/perc are involved, orchestrate them first in order to make sure that the acoustically most prominent “backbone” of the passage sits right and creates the desired effect. From there on work your way to the strings and then woodwinds. Especially when you rely on playback rather than imagination this might help you to not accidentally put important lines into weak instruments and cover them up with loud instruments afterwards.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/28/16: Know at least basic things about file formats and compressed/uncompressed files. It always leaves a quite unprofessional impression when you send over huge uncompressed audio files to your client to get a feedback or deliver massively compressed mp3 files as a final product. This also applies for video formats. Some video formats like wmv are practically not used (due to platform problems between MAC/PC) in the professional world and sending anything in that format will also feel a little unprofessional to your customer. So get a rough understanding about video containers, codecs etc. There are some good reads on the internet about that.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/27/16: In the media music world, being very aware of musical style is massively essential. You need to be able to deliver “something that sounds like Elfman” or “something that sounds very modern” or “something that brings back good old memories” etc. Such things are constantly being asked for and you need to know quickly and precisely how to create that style. So apart from working on your craft and absorb everything musical, you should also start to sort it in your memory into boxes. Spend some time figuring out what makes the sound of Elfman etc., try analyzing how golden age music works, figure out what chord progressions “modern scores” have. It is not just about knowing what musical solutions are possible in general, but what musical solutions to gravitate for in certain circumstances. Train your ear and your stylistic sense by listening to and analyzing a lot of different music. There is hardly a worse situation when you need to deliver something very quickly and have no idea how to pull it off.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/26/16: Always be aware that when scoring a movie or actually any audio visual content, the attention of your audience lies mainly on the visuals and only a small fraction on the music. With this in mind, subtlety with thematic/motivic references is very often not the best solution. If you’re trying to hint a character’s presence with a theme, it will not really work to do that in a very subtle, reharmonized, re-rhythmizised etc. version but you rather need to state it very prominently, especially when it has an important role for the storytelling and you need to make sure that everybody in the audience gets it. Even with the great masters of film scoring, most of the time, thematic references in scores are done very clearly. Even though you might have the ability and desire to reference a theme with musically more advanced techniques, in such situations it is usually the better idea to hit the audience on the nose.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/25/16: Everybody has to do the occasional gig that just pays the bills, even if you don’t like it at all. The problem is when it becomes a permanent situation. Especially in creative jobs, doing only things that you don’t enjoy and you do just to pay the bills will eventually lead to massive frustration. And while money is of course important, it is not all about it. Doing a badly paid but really enjoyable project from time to time can be very benefitial for your creative health and is something that many composers (even high profile ones) do. The creative joy you get from doing music for a project that you thoroughly enjoy is way greater and will give you way more motivation for the less enjoyable projects than any money could buy.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/22/16: On string instruments, doing large skips from low to high notes very often involve to cross one or even two strings (e.g. playing on a violin a low passage on the low G string and moving from there to a high passage on the high E string). These skips can not be done seamlessly and instantly but always will have a little gap as the bow needs to be consciously lifted and carried over two strings. Even though on first sight it might seem quite rare for these huge skips to happen, they actually might occur way more often than you might think. Most often they are overlooked between sections on texture changes. For instance, you’re playing a 16th note string ostinato in one of the sections and instantly switch to playing the theme in a high register without any gap in between. What is most likely to happen in the “real world” is that your players will drop the last 16th note from the ostinato in order to have time to move the bow to the other string and to hit the downbeat with decent timing on the melody. So as a consequence, it is always better to plan in these movements. A more elegant way to solve that problem would be to either write them in a little rest before the theme entrance or build them a “bridge” to the high register by doing for example an arpeggion on the last few 16th notes that moves them gradually upwards to the new high register.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/21/16: When you’re working on a project where there’s a chance that you might need to revisit it for whatever reason in the future (e.g. library tracks that need to be adjusted according to the wishes of the client), always make sure to bounce all sections to individual audio tracks before you leave that project. There’s a good chance that due to software and sample library updates that project might in the worst case not open up anymore but more commonly sound differently than it used to when you worked on it. Re-adjusting everything to get back to the original sound might become a nightmare. If you’re lucky, everything will work and sound as it originally did but chances are quite high it doesn’t. In these case, the bounced audio tracks might not just come in handy but be  a huge time saver.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/20/16: When listening to a melody, our ear doesn’t just follow the structure on a note-by-note basis but also follows longer developments in the melodies. One thing that our ears pays special attention to is the development of the top notes of a melody. If your melody in general (as most melodies) have a wavy conture, the ear will follow the peaks of the waves and set them into relation with each other. When analyzing musically attractive melodies, you will very often find an own melodic quality in these peak notes. If you strip the melodies down to just these notes you will very often find an ascending motion, an arc or a melodic idea that feels musically attractive while melodies that keep going back to the same peak note over and over again (in spite of all other melodic qualities) will always feel static and as if they have a weak development. So when writing melodies, try to consciously keep an eye on the development of the top notes.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/19/16: The timing of sync points (moments where the music accents the action on screen) might vary and not always will it be the best thing to place them exactly on the action. Always look out for the hit points that need a moment until the audience has realized the consequences of that hit point. If the main role confesses to her husband “I’m pregnant.” and it has a strong influence on the path the story goes, you will most likely not accent that right away but give it a moment to sink in so the music reacts according to the audience’s reaction. How long this will be always needs to be determined individually and trusting your feeling might be the wisest thing to do there. The most important thing is to not simply go for placing all the accents exactly.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/18/16: Criticism on one’s own work is always hard to swallow, especially due to art being very often something highly subjective with people just not liking it without plausible reason. The most important thing, no matter who’s criticising, is to react professionally. Even though you disagree on possible arguments, never react like a diva or insulting. Always think about who’s criticising, whether he/she has some reasons for why not liking your work (if it’s just a “I don’t like it”, there’s nothing you can really do about it) and whether you might agree on that. Of course, when being young and just starting out, you might react even more sensitively on any criticism, but this is also a path for ending up in total chaos. The best way is always to be your own biggest critic, trust your instincts but also question whether you could have improved on your work. If you are confident and happy about what you’ve done, you shouldn’t let yourself bring down by somebody who says “I don’t like it”. However, you will get a lot of criticism in your career, mainly from your clients, so learn to handle that professionally as soon as possible.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/15/16: It very often creates a quite hard contrast when you introduce new instrumental textures right on downbeats or the beginning of a section. Unless you deliberately want to create that contrast, it is usually a more fluent and more pleasing musical result to introduce with a smooth transition. For example if you want to switch from a string section passage to a woodwind section passage, don’t switch them with a cold contrast “on a barline” but rather introduce the woodwind sound with a few pickup notes in the bar before or have a small crescendo chord in the woodwinds before the new section starts. That applies for radical textural changes like in the example mentioned but also helps to make small textural changes (e.g. introduction of an instrumental solo) more fluent and musical (unless you want a harsh contrast of course).

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/14/16: Mixing and mastering has a lot of placebo effect potential and considering all the esotheric advices and approaches that some people advocate for on the internet regarding the improvement of their mixes, it is also a field to get incredibly lost in. Try to remain objective when you’re mixing/mastering. It is great to experiment with a few things to see whether they have an objective influence on the music but if you just “feel” that there’s something different, it is most likely a placebo effect. If you are unsure, try to get a second opinion from someone with trained ears. But working in the media world with the financial and time constraints, focus on getting the job done and applying the things that obviously have an effect.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/13/16: Parallel movement of many voices in general sounds quite unattractive. Try to avoid for example to move all string voices into the same direction on a chord change which can happen quite quickly especially when you’re recording several voices at once by playing them in on a piano. In general, the ideal situation would be to have an even spread of voices that move down, up and sustain. As this ideal situation is not always possible in the situation described above you should try to have at least one voice move in the opposite direction to compensate for the motion of the other voices. As a side note: there are some arrangement techniques (e.g. big band block voicings) where it is part of the style to have a lot of parallel movement and some composers define their style by also writing a lot of parallel moving structures, but trying to avoid that is in general a good starting point for a learning composer/orchestrator.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/12/16: One of the biggest arguments for hiring a composer instead of using library music for a project is a general musical concept. Choosing library music will always feel like a patched together score due to different musical styles, thematic ideas etc. Use that advantage as strongly as possible when being hired for a project by giving the music a strong uniform language. Most important in this regard is always to not just score the movie scene by scene but always keep your musical language uniform. Especially on scenes that stand out from the rest of the movie and may imply a very clichéd scoring approach (e.g. kissing scenes, scenes where people sneak through houses etc.) you should take special care to mold them into the rest of your score. In the end the score and the film will feel more uniform and leave a stronger impact than a score without a strong unifying concept.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/11/16: Many composers who just start out in the field are often unsure about how much money to ask for a job before they are hired fearing that if they ask for too much they will lose the job. Also, the insecurity often comes from simply not knowing what “one normally asks for this kind of work”. When I do a calculation for my fee, I usually break it down internally to hourly rates. Trying to estimate how many hours of work I might need for a certain job multiplied by a decent hourly rate might give me a rough estimate about where I should be heading with  the fee I’m asking for. This technique has proven to be quite effective to figure out how much money to ask for. When you estimate an hourly rate, however don’t take regular 9 to 5 jobs and their hourly rate as baseline. Usually, rates should be considerably higher as you also cannot simply write music and be creative 8 hours a day but also have a lot of unpaid things to do around that (phone calls, negotiations, meetings etc.), as well as costs for your gear etc.

#general

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/08/16: Using mutes on string instruments has some important things to consider and remember. Mutes as seen on this picture have no influence on the vibration of the strings but simply alter the way how the vibration of the strings is transmitted over the bridge (the wood “blade” where the mute sits on) into the body. Therefore, string mutes have only a very small influence on the volume of the instruments. The essential effect of a mute is to give the instruments a more covered, less bright sound. There are a lot of different types of mutes (metal, rubber, wood etc.) though you should leave it to the musician to pick his/her favourite mute. Important to know is that when you need to rush to put the mute on or off, it will be quite noisy, so it is always a better to leave enough time to change to or from mutes to do this silently. The sound of string mutes is constantly being used in emotional warm string pieces in scores or similar passages for example this theme from CAST AWAY, but also the very agressive main theme from PSYCHO uses the whole string sections under mutes for sound texture reasons. Unfortunately, most sampled muted strings don’t transport the warmth and texture that real muted strings can create so they’re often underused in sampled music.

#orchestration

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/07/16: Learn and understand the basic technical principles and terms of filmmaking. While it is nothing that you might need directly for your own work, it helps tremendously to communicate with people involved in the film project that you’re working on (most importantly the director of course) and even more importantly understand work processes and also get a feeling of how complex certain processes are during the filmmaking.  It might be very embarassing if your director talks to you using technical terminology from film and you have to constantly ask what it is. In general, it leaves a better impression when you are informed about the things that you’re working on. Also, developing a more analytical view on the project that you’re working for might also help you to consciously see things that you wouldn’t have noticed normally and highlight them a little more with the music etc. One of the standard overview works of film theory is HOW TO READ A FILM by James Monaco which has also been published in several languages, but there are also a lot of other books on that topic as well.

#technical

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/06/16: It is very convenient and easy to copy-paste complete sections of a piece and have them repeat exactly but most of the time, this feels very redundant. There are a lot of pieces in classical music where parts are being repeated exactly due to “formal balance” reasons but in general, it feels more musical to give repetitions some new musical information. Three of the most common things that could be added when you repeat a part (for example restate a theme) is to introduce a secondary melody line that goes well with the primary theme, change the orchestration and to reharmonize the passage (or combinations). These things can be observed in practically every John Williams Main Theme. If you listen for example to the Star Wars Main Theme, there is not a single identical repetition of the main theme fanfare in that cue. Even though it takes more work to work like this, it keeps the piece way more interesting than just repeating the very same thing exactly as it is.

#composition

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/05/16: Spend a considerable amount of time finding the right tempo for a scene/sequence. Very often, this step is rushed and a more or less random tempo is picked just to get started. But realizing that the tempo to a scene is wrong after you already scored it is probably one of the worst things that can happen, as adjusting the tempo will move all your sync points and you practically will need to score the whole thing again. So watch the sequence several times, try clicking different tempos to it, try playing several musical rhythmical models in your head to make really sure that you got it right. A wrong music tempo can make a scene feel very awkward and draggy.

#filmscoring

Join the discussion about this post on Facebook


01/04/16: Many creative people need to “disappear” communication wise in order to work concentrated. Unplugging phones, turning off mobiles and being offline might be really helpful to work without interruption and losing the “red thread” but unfortunately, in the media world, it is nothing that you should really do. Most importantly because there might be last minute changes on the cue/project that you are working on which might force you to completely rethink or scrap the cue that you are working on. Secondly, and also very important: customers get very very nervous when they can not reach the people who are working for them. If you disappear from the radar comunication wise, it will very likely leave a negative feeling with your customer and even if you deliver everything on time in good quality, you don’t want your client to have a feeling of discomfort when working with you. So the bottom line is, to at least stay connected on one channel while you are working and learn to deal with interruptions during your work.

#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