The Scoring Session
Depending on the budget and size of the production, there will be a scoring session.
This could be from having a soloist for an hour in the composer’s studio up to a full symphony orchestra for several days in a big recording studio. Depending on the size of the recording, there will be quite a few people in the studio apart from the musicians which you as a director/producer haven’t probably dealt with directly before but who are and were part of the music department that usually is lead by the composer.
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Those people will most likely be present on the scoring session:
obviously. She/He’s the head of the music department and usually the only person to give feedback to regarding music.
sometimes, the composer outsources parts of the score writing to another composer, often due to time pressure etc.
sometimes even several orchestrators. Responsible for bringing the music that the composer has written into a proper shape so that the orchestra can play from it.
if your composer doesn’t conduct him/herself, there will be a conductor whose job is to conduct the orchestra, giving all the entrances, keeping the tempo, rehearsing tricky parts etc.
common in the US and UK, rarely in continental Europe. A very diverse job from taking care that the sync between music and picture fits, being the “bridge” between the technical and musical side of the film scoring process and often assistant to the composer as well
usually one person being in charge of the proper set-up of the microphones in the room, taking care of all the details from the recording side. Often part of the studio staff unless on bigger productions, where composers tend to bring in their own engineers.
usually a helping hand for the engineer, often the same person as the
person in charge of dealing with Protools, which is the most commonly used software for recording an orchestra.
sometimes several of them, being in charge of printing/binding/sorting the score sheets for every musician and the conductor as well
in charge of booking all musicians, keeping track of their individual payment and in general making sure that you have the right amount of musicians at the right time present in the studio. Also trying to get the composer his personally wished for musicians on key positions in the orchestra
Depending on the situation, there might also be a translator (when recording in a foreign country), other assistants etc. It is also possible, especially in smaller budget situations, that some of these positions are taken over by the same person (e.g. orchestrator doing also the copyist’s job, or recording engineer also handling protools).
A professional recording usually workes like a well-oiled system. Everybody knows their job and when being present as a director/producer on such a session, you need to consider a few things:
Usually, the music will be recorded in sessions. One session means either a 3 or a 4 hour term, interrupted by usually 2 15-minute breaks. Usually, you don’t record more than two sessions a day, mostly one being in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The orchestra usually sees the music for the first time the day it’s being recorded. There is usually no rehearsal beforehand. The usual procedure how things are recorded is on a cue-by-cue basis. There will be a first sight-read run-through where the musicians play the cue for the first time, which depending on the complexity of the music could sound quite desastrous to quite okay. After that there will often be a few corrections that the composer (and orchestrator) communicate. Things like “French horns in bar 25 a little softer please” and such things, adjusting the balance, fixing possible wrong notes etc. In some cases, very tricky sections will be rehearsed individually, sometimes even with a solistic player or group of players.
After all these things have been addressed (usually taking only a few minutes), there will be a first take. You will notice that after the musicians have played such a cue once, they start understanding what their role is, how everything works in the cue and most likely, the first take will sound much better than the run through before. There will probably be more complete takes which theoretically should become better sounding every time. On short cues, when everybody is happy and agrees that there is a good complete take, the whole thing will move on to the next cue.
On longer and more complex cues, there will probably be a few more things happening. You will probably notice that longer cues get often split up into different smaller sections that will later be edited together again. Also, the composer might want to decide after several complete takes to only record small portions of the cue. This is helpful to address especially tricky spots in the music. It happens sometimes that the players will play a very good whole take of a cue but one bar just doesn’t sit right. In these situations, it is possible to start recording a little bit before that bar and end a little bit after that bar once again and edit this “patch” into the final cue later on. That saves a lot of time because instead of recording the whole cue again, there only needs to be a small bit recorded again. This might be happening on several spots or sections of the cue until there is a good take of every part of the piece recorded.
Most of the time, you will be able to see the picture of the movie (without sound) in sync to the recording where you can check how the music sits on the scene. However be warned about judging the sound that you’re hearing in the booth. There will be sometimes more than 50 microphones in the recording room which all get fed straight into what you’re hearing in the booth, which sometimes results in very strange and instransparent sounds. There will be an additional process of mixing that music after the recording so only take what you’re hearing as guide reference and not as final product.
You will also notice that cues might not be recorded in chronological order which has to do with several reasons:
1. The composer might save important cues (main theme etc.) for the end of the first third of the session, as by then all musicians will be warmed up and at their highest concentration
2. The composer might want to give the players some rest. Especially when there are many brass heavy cues to record, he might be recording a softer cue between them just so that the brass players can get a bit of rest, as especially playing their instruments is physically quite exhausting.
3. There might be cues that don’t require all instruments of the orchestra which will get moved to the back of the session so that the instruments not used can leave early, which is a good thing as you’re leaving a few possible sources of noise that could spoil takes.
As a director/producer being present on such a recording session, giving feedback and being active in the recording process, giving input etc. is of course possible and composers are happy about your feedback but bear in mind that this will always slow down the recording process and the more often you do it, the more problematic it becomes. Usually the composer calculates the amount of needed sessions with the music that needs to be recorded. Depending on the complexity, you might get a 10-20 minutes of music recorded a session. Especially on smaller production these sessions are usually calculated rather tight, which will create time pressure on the recording. If you’re slowing down the recording process by giving a lot of feedback, requesting on the stand changes (which are possible if it is something tiny as “I don’t like the traingle there”), the whole recording process will run into problems. There is usually no “overtime” recording possible and often the musicians will leave immediately when the session time is over. So running into danger of not getting every music recorded is a big issue.
Also most of the time, the composer needs to pay the session from a package deal so even if he could theoretically order an overtime recording, it will eat away his own payment.
So giving feedback and being involved in the process of recording is great, but try to be reasonable regarding the mass of input. If you don’t like anything at all, speak out about it, but also be prepared to make compromises on things that are bothering you slightly but that you can possibly live with. As a side note: avoid that by very closely listening to mockups that you might be getting from your composer during the composition process. Be aware of the fact that every minute that goes by while the orchestra sits there and doesn’t play, a possible 3-figured number of money just vanishes into air.
Many studios nowadays also allow to take part in the recording session by systems like Source Connect, which will allow you to listen to the session in HQ from anywhere and giving feedback as well. Sometimes even composers rely on that, especially when the recording takes place quite far away (due to financial reasons mostly) so this might also be a good way for you to take part in a session when you can’t make it to the actual session.
So as a bottom line, being present as a director or producer at a recording session is always great and your composer will be happy about it, but be reasonable about what sort of input and feedback is appropriate in such a situation. Also, make sure to not bring along the complete production team. Being in a recording booth an recording music requires a lot of concentration from everybody involved. Any additional and person in the room is a source of distaction and noise, so it is in the interest of the project to keep that to a minimum.
And by the way: sitting outside in the recording room together with the orchestra when they’re playing is usually perfectly fine for everybody as long as you’re silent while the red light is on. In the end that will be the best spot to sit in during the session anyway.