Film music composition is a diverse craft that is equal parts technical and artistic.
However, It can often be confusing for newcomers looking to get started in film music.
This article is contains 5 tips that will help take your compositions to the next level.
1. Find the heart of the story
Every story contains themes and ideas that are communicated through the characters and their actions. For example, Harry Potter is filled with magic, suspense and action sequences, but ultimatley it is a film about friendship and family. When composing for a particular scene, always ask yourself how it realtes back to the central themes of the story.
If you know what the core themes of the story are, then you can use them to guide your composition. This will help to get ideas down quickly, and establish motifs that you can use throughout the film.
2. Use your down time for experimentation & research
Make time in your schedule to experiment and explore new ideas. This can be anything from creating your own sounds, trying out new musical styles/instruments, or researching a new topic. This is not only loads of fun, but is a great way to use down-time in your calender. Keep learning and seeking out new musical avenues. Make an effort to approach things from new and unique perspectives. This will keep your creative muscles in good shape for when a new project comes along.
Ask yourself - what do I bring to the table that cant be found anywhere else? By taking time to research and experiment, you are shaping your individual voice and perspective as a composer.
Here are a few research/experimentation ideas to try during your down-time.
- Research the music from another culture and create a composition
- Record household objects and create your own sounds from them
- Compose a peice using atonal instruments
- Research an obscure musical style/genre
- Create a composition only using sound produced by your mouth
3. Listen to lots of music
As a film composer, it is essential to be familiar with a wide range of musical styles and instrumentation. You never know what the next project may require, so make an effort to listen to a diverse selection of music. You should aim to build up a database in your head of what types of sounds align with certain emotions. A director may say something like "I want it to sound gloomy/sombre". If you already know what kind of instruments and sounds are associated with a particular feeling, then you are able to deliver what they are asking for much quicker.
Study the music from classic films so that you can draw upon what other composers have done before you. Listen with an analytical mindset and think about the musical and sonic devices that are being used. Identify what techniques are most effective and intergrate them into your own compositions.
We are living in an age where the entire history of recorded music is only a few clicks away. This is an incredible resource that film composers of yesteryear didn't have access to, so use it wisely! Listen to classical, jazz, world music, electronic, folk etc. Basically anything that will expand your horizons and provide you with new musical ideas.
4. Involve live musicians at every opportunity
Even with all of the digital instruments we have available, There's nothing quite like recording with real musicians.
Recording with live musicians will bring your music to life, and give your tracks a level of expression that just cant be achieved when working in the box. Not only will your music sound much better, but the process of arranging all of your parts and hearing them performed is extremely satisfying, and will give you a deeper appriciation of your music. Planning and carrying out a recording session is also a great way to practice your people management skills, and will give you a glimpse of what is to come when you are working with larger ensembles and orchestras.
If you are working with small budgets, don't be afraid to reach out to students at music colleges. They generally play to a very high standard, and will cost a lot less than a professional ensemble. Even if its just a violin or cello, record your parts with live musicians. It will take your music to the next level!
5. Understand the post production process
You don't need to know every little detail inside-out, but having general sense of the post production process will make your life easier when working on a film.