Composing for Film 101

Composing_for_film_pitstop_musicians.jpgYou've been home for weeks now and have really entered the final ring of all that streaming platforms have to offer. You swear that you've seen every show, comedy special and cartoon that the world wide web has to offer when it strikes you one day while a tear drips down your cheek while watching that last tear jerker on your viewing to-watch list. What pushed you to tears? Was it the stress in your life, the next level acting skills or perhaps that symphony that accompanied the highly crafted moment?

This is where film scoring enters the picture. "A film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film. The score forms part of the film's soundtrack, which also usually includes pre-existing music, dialogue and sound effects, and comprises a number of orchestral, instrumental, or choral pieces called cues, which are timed to begin and end at specific points during the film in order to enhance the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of the scene in question."

Film scoring is a gorgeous way to paint more colors onto a piece of art that is already in action. The score is usually done at the very last stage, so it's important to realize that your contribution is the cherry on top. Financially, this can become problematic if a project runs over budget as they often do. Due to the fact that you're last in line, your wages can be cut rather quick, so it's important to get things in writing, receive portions or advances ahead of time so you don't put too much work into a failed effort, and to expect that there will be changes and delays. 

If you've got a bit of time on your hands and you really want to get your chops up, we suggest taking up a local and somewhat small film scoring project. Despite the fact that a short film being only twenty minutes may sound like it's totally doable to score on your next long weekend, you'd be shocked to find out that twenty minutes of music can actually take months to write. 

Perhaps a perfect way to dip your toes into this world that can become quite cumbersome, quite fast, is to offer to be a guest composer for an episode. This can be your friend's podcast, maybe you'd just like to test your hand at writing their 15 second theme song. It's a great way to see the depth and layers that go into just a tiny piece of music. This will prepare you for the full orchestrations and instrumentations that will come with larger full length film scores. 

One tricky element when it comes to film scoring can be the back and forth with the rest of the team, be it the writer, director, or a multitude of others, depending on the scale of the project. This aspect of film scoring is where the composer must be able to seperate themselves from their work. This is where your people skills will come in handy. Quite often, many of the film's team are not musicians, so they simply do not speak the language you speak. This will be one of the largest hurdles that you will have to find a balance within. The flipside of this downside is that it can be quite a beautiful thing to work together and create a masterpiece that many people were able to come together to bring to life.

Within other aspects of the lives of a musician, if you're an engineer, a songwriter, a keyboardist, you're typically very lucky to be around others who speak the same language as you do. This streamlines the process of creation. If you're a songwriter, you're usually the one in charge with the final say of the artistic vision, depending on whether you're tied into a deal and where your creative rights lie within that contract.

There is much to discuss within this world, as you can focus on being a conductor, an orchestrator, a composer - this could range from commercials, advertisements on radio and online, short films, feature full lengths - to even composing the cues for the next Oscars awards ceremony. When you start breaking it down, you realize how much the support of sound really ties together so many moments in our lives. Stay tuned for future blogs when we dig deeper into how to craft your cues.