People often ask: ‘how do you start with a film composition?’. A question can understand too well, as I asked it myself over again before I started writing for film. Most of the time a project starts with spotting. Just to find out which of the scenes are in need of music. Whenever these places are established, the editor and composer sometimes work with a temporary as a guideline for the score that has to be written.
A temptrack is an existing music track that is temporary synced with the film for guideline purpose only.
Easy right? Yes, but no. The first major pitfall is copying. During the editing, directors sometimes hear the temptrack so many times, it is almost impossible for them to adapt to anything the composer comes up with. They reject the original score, in search for something else, but what they want they are really looking for is actually the temptrack itself. This is a dangerous situation for composers as they are not really composing anymore. You can’t blame the director for this, as they have to watch the edit a thousand times. No wonder the temptrack gets stuck in their head. A demo [quickly composed piece mostly in low productional quality] is often used to prevent this appearance. It takes more time to create, but it might save you time that would otherwise have been spent copying. Clearly it is more fruitful to work on the basis of an idea, then of an existing piece. On the other hand, it is always fun having a temptrack in a style that is way out of your comfort zone. By doing a style research, it gives you the possibility master a certain style. It gives you the opportunity to go way out of your comfort zone.
I’d advise both director as composer to work as soon as possible with a composed demo, and leave the temptrack out in an early stage already.
So how close do the final music score sound like the temptrack? In this video you can see clear examples of what might have been the temptrack of a view blockbusters. Unfortunately some of them are almost identically. Is this a wrong way of film scoring? The creators of this video essay say it is the cause that nobody remembers a theme of any ‘Marvel’-movie these days.
I think the key is to get as close to the feeling as possible by:
1.) Listen the temptrack maybe once or twice.
2.) In an early phase, switch the temptrack with your own demos
3.) Don’t get used to the temptracks.
This month I produced the music for a commercial, where the director and the editor asked if I had any temptracks in mind. For a long time I wanted to write a mandolin/banjo/ukelele track, and this video gave me the cause to do so! In my temptrack library I saved the ‘Casual Soundtrack’ written by mateo Messina and Rolfe Kent, and delivered it as temp. The result is comparable in the final video, and the temptrack (‘Casual’ starting at 2:00).29 oktober 2016
Deadlines in the film industry. Working together in a crew makes deadlines inescapable. For the two commercials at the bottom of this page, there was one week to compose, produce and record the scores. I was able to finish the job with these goals:
1.) Set your goals, but don’t set them long-term!
Before and in the edit-phase, things can change fast. The ideas of directors often changes a lot. When time is of the essence, it is not fruitful to write full scores, just to find out that the director is skipping the scene in the next edit anyway. Work with temp tracks (already composed music, that will work as guide in the edit), or write demo’s! Contact your crew!
2.) Find out what works for you.
Composing music is a sport. You have to be fit to do the job. You can’t spend your weekend in the club, only to find out the next day that your deadline is due the day after tomorrow. You should get enough sleep to keep your brain creative. Of course an 8-hour sleep and an early wake-up to start your day writing sounds ideal, but might not always be the right thing to do. It is also possible to change shift and work through the night, to stay in the flow. These shifts work for me, but find out what works for you!
3.) Be honest.
Some things might not work. Whenever the director picks Bernard Herman as temptrack, you might need more budget or time to get the job done. Tell the producers about it, be honest, and come up with alternatives.
If you stay true to these goals, it might save you some tears.8 september 2016
Over the last two years I was asked to compose music for some amazing projects. One of them however, stood out amongst others for its emotional story. The Origin of Trouble tells the story of a broken family; director Tessa Pope looks for answers to find out why the relationship with her father has been so troubled.
Late August 2015 I was asked to compose the music for this project. Straight away, the teaser of the movie was shot. The director gave notes that it should be quick, light and most of all funny. I choose to write for a small chamber orchestra, produced with ‘bad’ samples and a few accents played on small percussion instruments. It appeared that it worked out very well and it gave exactely the mood that it needed. Even though it was different from the strategy I used later on in the movie, this theme was recycled and made it to the screen eventually.
Like every other movie, the score starts with a plan. A good plan is half of all the work there is to be done. Really, this sounds cliche but its so true. So before filming, I started to plan my strategy. The director explained the feeling she wanted to create, and I instantly felt it. As I knew by reading the synopsis and the history of her family, I knew that things could get emotional. On the other side, by knowing the happy and light style the whole picture would get (titles, shots, quick editing ect.), I suspected that I needed to write music that would touch the space between those two contradicted emotions. I never had to change this strategy but I had to change the orchestration though.
The orchestral score, that wasn’t able to touch the emotional side of the story, made space for guitars. Choosing guitars gave the freedom to cover all the emotions I wanted to give to the story. I don’t know exactly how I started to pick guitars but I know that it was inspired by Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith and Bon Iver. They all give their music a sort of oblivious and eternal feeling. Their sound is sober, but the emotional weight their songs bring is huge.
I threw overboard the orchestral part, and started writing interludes for the 8mm footage inspired on Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Should Have Known Better’. Silvan de Smit played the classical guitar, and I played the Ukelele during the studio session. Because the story gets darker, I wrote the second and third theme in a lower key, and left out some instruments to make it more sober. Mind the synthesizer (korg 800ex) giving the pad sound and adding to this ‘longing back to those days’ feeling. Luckily It wasn’t removed in the mix (director joked: what does this sound tell us? an incoming alien invasion?).
I was able to buy a second hand bad tuned mandolin of ebay, bought a Höfner Ukelele and wrote ‘You and Me’, to enforce the romantic line in the beginning of the movie. This mandolin was also used in the main title called ‘Our Home’. Because sudden changes in the production, the movie got on hold during the second week of the editing process. Because the studio was already booked, I was still writing the theme for a movie that wasn’t edited yet, the night before recording! Luckily this worked out well (fix it in the mix), and I was able to record the title song on a resonator guitar in open E. Mind that the credit theme at the end of the movie is also the same theme used in the opening sequence. This is part of the same strategy; to connect the beginning and the ending. The extended theme of the Origin of Trouble – ‘Our Home’, that I recorded with Selle Sellink (artwork by Roel Meijering) is now on Spotify and iTunes!15 juli 2016
A few months ago I expressed my enthusiasm about ZeGame. Especially the virtual reality experience was amazing! The joy of scoring for this game was that indie feeling we had while creating it. Just with the three of us (Jesper, Selle and me) doing Skype sessions, talking hours about glitches and improvements. No major studio sessions, but exploring the limits of the FM8, Massive, Slim Phatty and Korg EX-800). There was no hard deadline so we had all the time to involve both sound design and music in one audible creation. By bouncing our creations towards each other the sound became much more than sound and music separated from each other. A good example is the third world, where you can hear the sounds of the ocean and the sound of the whales being part of the score.
Last week, the game has finally been released on all major platforms. Tomorrow the score will be released on band camp, and eventually the theme will be released as single on Spotify. Hopefully it will get some extra bonus worlds or an expansion pack. If not, I sincerely hope to be part of this team in the future to work together on a new game.14 juni 2016
Phil Spector (1939) had a enormous influence on pop music in the second half of the twentieth century. While working in the Gold Star studios in the 1960s, he developed a special recording technique called the wall of sound. It was basically a formula that made use of harmony and music technology in a way to mask definition in the whole. By doing so, it became difficult to distinguish instruments from one another as they form a certain density. In Walking in the Rain (1963) and Be my Baby (1964) by The Ronettes one can clearly hear this effect.
Over the last year and a half, New Hansen tried to reconstruct the wall. What will happen when we look beyond the wall of sound? It will be explained how Spector built his wall, but more interestingly, it will show how to create a wall of sound yourself. Recording instruments exactly the way Spector did more than fifty years ago, we now have all the bricks to rebuild the wall, and to control each part separately to define the instruments and see it become a whole. With this valuable information, we can answer the question whether it is still possible to recreate Spector’s wall of sound with today’s technology.
Tuesday March 15 10:30-11:15 in the Blue Note room at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. Entrance is free.11 maart 2016