In some ways, a composer is like an actor.
To do his best work, the composer needs to understand the story, the structure, the characters and their motivations, and that’s how I prefer to talk to a director as well – like an actor.
However, unlike an actor, a composer can’t do multiple takes so easily.
“OK, now play it a bit sadder at the end. Great! Now do one with more hope. Perfect! Now…”
We can’t do that, at least in the minute it takes to read the lines. Composition is not interpretation.
Interpretation is when you take something that is already written (music or a script) and then give it various dynamics, inflections, tempo changes to bring out certain qualities that give it a different meaning or colour.
Interpretation is what a musician does with the notes on his page and an actor with the words in his scripts.
Composing a demo for the director to approve requires many more steps:
- Thinking of the idea and forming it.
- Writing the melody
- Writing the arrangement
- Performance and sequencing
So you can’t expect the composer to give you multiple takes of a single scene. Well, you could if you had a six month post-production schedule and a huge music budget!
But we all know such schedules don’t happen too often, if ever. So there are important things to remember to make the composition process efficient and effective.
1. Have a productive spotting session.
As a director it helps if you have an idea where the music should be and what it should do. (Not necessarily what it should sound like.) Be able to explain to the composer what purpose the music serves in a given scene, what is its goal, the structure of the scene and whatever else is dramatically relevant.
2. Have daily talks with the composer.
It’s a good idea to have a chat with the composer in the morning to discuss what music will be written that day. This can refresh what was discussed during the spotting session or bring out new insights that had not been thought of before.
3. Respond quickly to composer’s questions.
As much as we try to cover everything during the spotting session, many questions arise during the actual writing of a cue. And these questions can lead to doubt which lead to a reduced output.
Imagine this, the composer is writing, all is going well and he has his groove. Then he reaches a pivotal moment in the scene and he thinks “OK, the music could go either way here. I could go very quiet or build it up loud.”
So the composer calls the director, they talk it over really quick, come up with the decision to go really loud and dramatic and the composer falls right back into his groove and finishes the scene.
On the other hand, if the conversation does not take place when the composer calls (or shortly after), then the composer might stop writing this scene and lose the momentum he had gained on it.
If it’s your composer calling, I suggest you take the call, take a minute or a two to talk over the problem and it will save a couple of hours of work for sure.
That’s a take!
The copyist creates the final, written music to use during the recording session.
Traditionally, the composer or orchestrator would present the copyist with a music score written in pencil. From this written score the copyist would create a clean, computer-engraved copy using software such as Finale or Sibelius.
The copyist is responsible for creating a computer generated copy of the score as well as the individual parts for each instrument, making sure everything is bound and well organized to avoid wasted time during the expensive recording session.
With the advent of computer sequencing software and composers that do not write music, copyists now also must be able to create score directly from MIDI sequences without having a written score for reference.
The copyist’s job is also called music engraving and music preparation.
The conductor is the guy who waves his baton in front of the orchestra to get them all to play together and with the right musical effect.
Some composers conduct their own music, but many prefer to sit in the booth where they can focus all their attention on listening to the music as it is being recorded.
An orchestrator is called upon to take the musical notes written by the composer and assign them to available instruments, adding some notes here and there to provide the musical effect imagined by the composer.
But in film, the orchestrator’s job is much more varied than that, sometimes taking on the role of composer. Here are some variants on this job description.
Some composers write all the notes on a short score with the proper assigning of instruments. The orchestrator’s job then is to take the short score and put it on a a page for full orchestra. This saves the composer a lot of time. The orchestrator in this case can offer suggestions to enhance the desired musical effect.
Trained composers such as John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith operate in this way.
Some composers play their music into a computer sequencer software without ever writing a single note on paper. The orchestrator’s job in this case is to turn the sequenced MIDI file into notation. Sometimes these composer are not musically trained, so part of the orchestrator’s job is to make sure the music is playable by the chosen instruments.
Sometimes a composer provides an orchestrator with only a melody, written down or even sometimes simply sung. in such cases the orchestrator then has to come up with everything else – chords, rhythm, instruments, everything. This is truly more arranging, but is often credited as orchestration.
I’ve even had someone tell me that they received a call from a well known composer to do some orchestration. When he got there the composer handed him a blank piece of paper and said “orchestrate this.”
The music editor is part of the composer’s support team. The music editor will prepare notes taken during the spotting session. Based on the decisions made during the spotting session, he/she will provide detailed timing notes for each cue.
The music editor might be called on to make changes, or edit the music when last minute alterations are made to the cut which affects the musical timing.
Also part of the job might be to prepare materials for a live recording session. This includes preparing punches, streamers and any special click tracks to assist the conductor during a live recording session.
The music editor’s final job is to position all the music withing the movie timline, usually done with Protools.