[/frame]I have heard this many times “you are so lucky to have your music played by live musicians. That is my dream.”
During the recording of the score for “Primary”, my friend Brian Campbell ( recording engineer) said he understood why composers use samples rather than live players: perfect intonation, no microphone bleed, no noises from chairs, clothes, breathing, papers or noisy instruments etc…I will tell you now, luck has nothing to do with it.
Using live musicians is a lot more work. And costs money. And takes more time.
Low budget productions don’t even consider live players these days. When I offered it for “Primary” the answer was “really? We would love to but there is no money.” I explained the costs and options and it became a possibility. The director was on board and we made it happen we what we had. Same exact scenario on “Comforting Skin.”
But it wasn’t luck.
- I found viable options to make it happen in terms of players, engineer and studio space. I have built some great contacts here over the years, so it’s possible.
- I sold the idea to the producer and he found a bit of extra money that I could budget with. The point is that most film makers want live music, it adds to the film; live is production value that goes on the screen.
- It was low budget so I did all writing, orchestrating, part and score prep. So that was a ton of work that meant I had to work twice as much.
- Using live musicians on a low budget means a lot of careful planning because of fewer options. More things to keep track and more can go wrong.
- The reality is that using live musicians I sacrificed time and money. I could have kept more of the money and had less work.
The other argument against live musician is a tight post production schedule, which happens a lot. I had to deliver an entire feature film score in a month, which is not the shortest schedule ever, but pretty short when doing it on your own. It broke down like this.
- Week 1: sketches and concepts for the score. Discuss with ¬†director and find direction. Choose instrumentation and start making phone calls.
- Week 2-3: Write the score. Send mockups and get approved.
- Week 4: Orchestrate. Score and part prep. Send MIDI/tempo map and time stamped pre-records to mixer to prep ProTools. (Note: I also had some orchestration work on a major feature during this time, so it was very busy and I had to pace myself ¬†well to make it all fit.)
- Record score.
- Week 5: edit and mix. Deliver.
The bottom line is: You want live musicians? I know I do. So do it.
For me, having been writing for real musicians for so long, I can’t stand being limited by samples. I don’t want to¬†write down¬†to samples. ¬†There are many moments while recording “Primary” that it was clear why live was vastly superior to samples.
While I was in the studio, listening to my expressive cello lines and tender clarinet tunes coming¬†to life through great players, all the hard work was worth it. I did feel lucky then.
PS: A side benefit of stubbornly using live musicians on my own scores is that it led directly to my gig orchestrating on “Elysium” and “Ender’s Game”.
The video below is an oldie but a goodie. But first…
Writing music is not just about money, we all know this. If it is your motivation, then you are in the wrong business. We first work on low budget productions to build our reel, hone our chops and build relationships, and in those circumstances our fee will match the production’s budget. It is part of paying your dues.
But obviously at some point we must decide what we are worth, how low we can go and still have a roof over our heads.
Because there are essentially two reasons to work on a film:
- Career Building
Ideally both can happen at once, and that’s the best situation of course.¬†The question is though, by accepting a very low fee, or giving away some of your services for free, are you devaluing yourself, your music and film music in general?
It is a thorny question and the subject of much debate. I think it’s important to give a high value to what we do, but watching the video, something came to my mind…
We should be the full price CD, the highlights and the filet, NOT the discount bin, the simple trim or taco stand and expect a high fee.
The landscape of film is constantly changing, with the global recession and the state of pirating, this is true now more than ever.
I have been told more than once that mid-budget films are on the way out and it will either be very low budget or high budget. I don’t know if it’s true or not, I am no economic prognosticator. Others have told me that there needs to be a new model for making films, a more streamlined approach that brings the cost down and the quality up.
So either way this hints at a growing pool of films with low music budgets but high aspirations.
A great soundtrack can dramatically increase the production value of a film, and there is no better way to get a great score than with live musicians. The filmmakers might believe that they can only afford a score with samples and synths, but that is not the case.
Gone will be the army of orchestrators, assistants, mock-up artists and engravers. If the composer is trained (and has solid time-management skills) he can do his own orchestrations and score preparation as I have done many times. Some many even mix their music but I prefer hiring someone for that myself.
This is what I did for “Comforting Skin”, a film where the filmmakers thought they would only get a synth score, but I put together a group of 7 musicians, found a studio and engineer, did all the orchestrations and score preparation myself and ended up with a score that does not need to hide.
Budgets get higher with a full orchestra, but it does not need to be full orchestra all the time, just like you don’t need to see the full set all the time to know you are there, and this way costs go down.
But don’t forget, you can only pick two: cheap, fast or good.