[/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.
My career is starting to take off, so I feel that I can actually share my thoughts on this subject with some certainty and hopefully help those who read it.
The information may not be complete yet, but please read and comment, ask questions and I will perhaps flesh this out and create a stand-alone page out of this.
Best of luck to you in this promising new year!
[heading]First is the Music[/heading]
Be a solid composer who knows his craft.
As a film composer you will need to write quickly and with facility. You must be flexible and be able to capture a wide variety of moods on a deadline, which means you must have a big palette of colours at your disposal. How do you get that? Music theory and experience both musically and with writing to picture.
There will be no time to experiment under the gun and you won’t get a second chance.
Be a Dramatist
Writing film music is really about being an actor with notes. So make sure you understand story and character and how music plays a role in all that. (“Getting the Score” often deals with that very subject.)
Is is a good business decision to work on having a unique voice in your writing. You must stand out because there is a sea of composers out there. So knowing who you are musically is just as important as being flexible. It’s ideal when you can balance both. Although many have made a living being chameleons, you never notice chameleons, they blend in too well.
So the bottom line is, study, study, study.
Build quality contacts
Work on projects for new film makers to build your reel, but be a little picky at the same time. You can waste a lot of time saying yes to every project and have them go nowhere, and you right along with them.
Contacts are built by:
- Sending a demo – done mostly digitally now: it must impress and stand out since they get a lot everyday. (See above.) It must be custom tailored to their project.
- Following up on demos a week after.
- Get a face to face meeting if possible.
- Keep the relationship going and don’t just say hello when they have a project.
“Big follows small” is a law of marketing which also applies to self-promotion in film. Start with small films, build your resum√©, and move up.
Do Good Work & Put it Out There
Being heard is important to build contacts. So put your music out there. Everywhere. The best place is in a film, but Facebook and other social media are also good. Don’t spam.
It’s About the Film
“We judge ourselves by what we believe we can do, others judge us but what we have done.”
I forget where I read this, but it’s the truth. Especially in film. Your credits will be important and filmmakers will hire you based on them.
Composers ride the wave of success and failure of a film, just like any other part of the creative team. So make sure you pick the best projects that are available to you.
If you don’t have any credits, look to the first point.
[heading]Third is the Work[/heading]
Know how to talk to film makers
You must understand everything you can about films: story, editing, directing, acting and especially story structure and screen writing. This is important in order to be a good dramatist (see first point) but also important to have meaningful discussions with the film makers.
Treat every director and his film like if it was Spielberg
Then you will get hired back.
Don’t be a Yes Man
Come prepared to spotting sessions, have opinions and ideas on how to make the score truly an asset for the film. They hire you for your expertise, so be an expert, bring something to the table and they will appreciate that, every time. Just don’t be a jerk.
Be a Good Listener
Yes, that goes right along with the point above. It’s your job to find the right balance between the two.
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So there you have it, a short primer on getting started in film music. Like I wrote above, it’s not complete so please take the time to comment, ask questions and I will fill it out further.