Movie Making Manual/Music

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This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual

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Putting music in your film can be potentially very complicated. There are several ways to go about this, but each depends on your skill, experience and budget. It is important to note that most professional composers will charge a lot of money for you to have their music in your movie. Many people do not understand just how important music is so you definitely need someone with experience.

Things to consider[edit]

  • What kind of film are you making, and what kind of music would fit in best?
  • How long does the music need to play during the scene?
  • How loud should the music be? Should it drown out any dialogue, or should it be strictly in the background?
  • Should it be constant?
  • What effect are you trying to convey?

Facing The Music[edit]

The professional[edit]

Hiring a professional composer would probably be the easiest option in your array. These people know exactly what they are doing and have resources at their disposal. See the list of popular film composers in Wikipedia's Film Music. The downsides are that you must choose a composer who has experience in the genre you want. If you want orchestral music to play through your chosen scene, Trent Reznor would probably not be the best choice. It is possible that you may not be able to find a professional who will be willing to work on your movie without blowing most (or all) of your budget, however.

Doing it yourself[edit]

There are many ways for filmmakers to create a musical score on a personal computer.

1. Live Musical Instruments
One way to create a film score is to use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) with live musical instruments.
2. Midi Sound Modules.
Another method is to use MIDI with Midi sound modules (audio hardware) which is then recorded into a computer with DAW software.
3. Software Musical Instruments
Yet another ways is to do the film score totally digitally using software instruments inside the computer and controlled by a MIDI controller.

1. Old-fashion Analog = DAWs[edit]

You can create a film score with a live musician playing a real musical instrument. Recording live musical instruments is very straight forward.

Multitrack recording When a motion picture is scored by the London Philharmonic, the orchestra conductor watches the movie screen and conducts the musicians who play real musical instruments, live and in sync with the action on the screen. This music is recorded via a microphone into a computerized DAW which works like a multi-track tape recorder. Later, all the tracks are mixed down and added to the film's sound track. This is very fast but expensive. Fortunately, you can do the same thing in a very simple way using your personal computer... if you have the correct software, a quiet computer, a professional-quality microphone which is connected to your computer usually through a tiny mixing board (or microphone preamp) which connects to the computer via USB, FireWire, or analog connection.

Using almost any computer (Windows or Macintosh), you can turn your computer into a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), which is a very powerful multi-track tape recorder inside your computer. As an example, all Macintosh computers come with a free digital audio workstation program which is disguised as a music program called GarageBand. Try it!

Basically, all you need to turn your computer into a multi-track recording system for film scoring is a computer program, a professional quality microphone, and a preamp.

1. The Software
The computer program must be able to play a movie clip (usually just one scene of your movie as a QuickTime movie or a AVI movie) while the program records a single track of audio. (Most modern music program are DAW programs. Older programs only worked with MIDI but now audio recording features are included in almost all music programs.) An example of a very simple music program is Apple's GarageBand.
2. The Preamp
This can be a preamp or tiny mixer board which connects to the computer via USB, FireWire or directly to the analog audio input of your computer. A good example of preamp is M-Audio's low-cost USB device FastTrackUSB. This works with Apple's GarageBand and is sold at the Apple Store. However, the reviews of this product at the [www.apple.com/store Apple Store] are not all favorable. Similarly the M-Audio MobilePre USB Audio Interface also has unfavorable reviews at the [www.apple.com/store Apple Store]. A more expensive interface for FireWire is M-Audio's FireWire410. A typical analog mixing board is the Behringer Eurorack UB1202FX Mixing Board.
3. The Microphone
And finally you need a professional microphone with XLR connectors. See Wikipedia's Microphone. Musician's Friend has a microphone buyers guide. At the Audio Engineering Society's convention, you can listen to many different microphones. The next AES Convertion is in San Francisco in October.

One track at a time. Unlike the London Philharmonic which has a hundred musicians, you will probably have only one musician. Hopefully, that one musician can play lots of instruments, one at a time. So rather than record all the musical tracks for a scene at one time like the London Phiharmonic, you will record one track with each pass through the scene until you build up a complete musical score. Each time you record a new track, the musician listens to the previously recorded tracks plus the audio from the movie and adds one more instrument to the mix.

Side Note
If you are a filmmaker with no skill with a musical instrument, try creating a humming score. Set up your computer so you can record audio in sync with your movie. You can use programs like GarageBand, Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro to record audio in sync with a movie. iMovie also works but it can record only one track. To create a humming score, you watch your movie and make musical sounds with your mouth... including humming. If you follow the usual procedures for creating a film score via a multi-track recorder, you will be amazed how good a humming score you can create. To do this, start by recording a track with the melody. An alternative is to start by recording a rhythm track instead of a melody. Then simply watch the movie over and over again, adding more and more tracks as you make music with your mouth. I know this sounds really dorky but it actually works well for a temp track and a guide for your film composer.

2. Midi Modules = External Hardware[edit]

External midi sound modules were very popular at one time. Unfortunately, the sounds produced by these modules (such as the Proteus) were not natural and the external hardware took up a lot of space. Now e-Mu sells a replacement for the Proteus which is software.

3. Midi with Software Instruments inside your Computer[edit]

Thanks to the advancement of technology, it is entirely possible to simply create a digital musical score yourself using musical instruments that exist only inside your computer. The cost of this method depends on what instruments you want to have in the music. As and example, GarageBand is free with all new Macintosh computers.

Digital vs. Analog vs. MIDI
Remember that while digital music is very easy to accomplish (using a midi keyboard and a guitar software instrument), if you wanted to have 'real' guitars or good-quality singing in your song, for example, you would have to purchase a USB interface, which would allow you to link up your guitar to the computer through it. You would then require some recording software such as Cubase. But also realize that another alternative is connecting a midi guitar to the computer via a midi interface (not analog) and use a software instrument which has the sound of guitar inside your computer. You have lots of choices.

If you wanted to mix digital elements in with this, or even create an entirely digital song, you would need a program such as Reason and a Midi Keyboard. This method, while much cheaper than the previous, will still cost a fair amount of money - for a copy of Reason, Cubase, a USB Interface and a Midi Keyboard you could expect to pay around £580/£1097, Apple computers are costly as well. Like most things, however, a lot of money could be saved by not using things such as Logic Pro (which is the industry standard). There is no use having brilliant music if your film is terrible, as it is most likely to be after spending your budget. (Note: Apple's Logic is designed for musicians... which is great but filmmakers who are not musicians will find it awkward to use. Robert Purser in Digital Puppet magazine (Winter 2006) found Logic Express (the lit version of Logic) to be extremely poor for anyone who is not an experienced musician with electronic gear.

Fortunately, all Apple Macintosh computers come with iLife software which has good resources, too, for digital music making and also for video editing. With GarageBand in iLife 06, you can create digital music using the built-in software instruments and your music will be in sync with your movie which you watch on the screen as you create your film score. One advantage of GarageBand is you do not need a MIDI interface or a MIDI keyboard. With the feature called "Musical Typing", you can use the Macintosh computer's keyboard (which is not velocity sensitive) as you play and record the music, one track at a time, and then later go back and adjust the velocity of each note (still in GarageBand). While this seems extremely awkward for musician, computer nerds who are filmmakers will find it rather easy.

Note: Robert Elliott of Wikiversity's free course in film scoring for filmmakers recommends getting the optional Jam Pack: Symphony Orchestra for GarageBand from Apple Computer. The natural musical instruments of the symphony orchestra are great for making musical sound effects which sound like a real film score. (There are similar packages from other manufacturers such as Mark Of the Unicorn.)

Film Scoring Theory[edit]

The purpose of adding music to a scene is to create a mood. That is the purpose of music in a film -- to create the moods that the director wants the audience to feel. Without the audience realizing it, your job is to get the audience to react to the movie as the director wants.

Special Note - Music from Speaking Voices
Every dramatic scene has music in it, long before you add a musical film score. The actors' spoken words have music in them. If you do not believe me, try reading a script in a monotone voice. Gifted actors will have a three octave range in their speaking voices. Therefore, for many scenes with dialog, you do not need any music, as long as the actors create the proper mood with their speaking voices.
Look at very old classic movies which have no musical score such as Angels with Dirty Faces. When you hear James Cagney and Pat O'Brien speak, their voices are very musical... almost like stage voices - both beautiful and melodic. Listen to how many octaves their voices range in a single sentence. Then look at more modern motion pictures which have a more natural style of speaking. With the old classics, they do not need any additional music. But with modern movies with more natural speaking voices, much of the music of the speaking voice is missing... so much of the necessary mood is missing. The mood can be added only by having a film score.

Correcting the Mood Also be aware that sometimes, the actors' dialog creates a mood... but it is the wrong mood. As an example, an actor might pretend to be happy but, in reality, he is crying inside. The words of the actors are the opposite of the mood the director wants in the scene. You must add music (or musical sound effects) to correct this and to create the proper mood. Your music tells the audience what the real mood is. Without your music in this scene, the audience can be confused.

Music Can Be Just Sounds[edit]

The most important thing to understand about film scoring is the music can be just sounds that create the mood. That is Musical Sound Effects. Music does not need a melody, a rhythm, or anything special. Since the music's only purpose is to create the proper mood, just one, two, or three notes is all you need most of the time. Try creating the mood with musical sound effects which has the same impact but a whole lot cheaper.

Try using GarageBand and Apple's Jam Pack: Symphony Orchestra to create moods. As an example, you can add a violin trill to a scary scene which give the feeling of danger, doom, and dread. Just one note played expressively creates all the mood you need.

Music Must Follow The Mood[edit]

The second most important thing to understand about film scoring is the mood in a scene changes from sentence to sentence. When two people are talking and new information is being introduced rapidly, the mood is continually changing. When the mood changes, the music must change to match the mood. Songs cannot do this because a song has only one mood.

Songs = One Continual Mood
When there is a conversation, you cannot use a song for film score. Songs have only one mood. When the mood of the scene changes, a song cannot follow the mood changes.

There are only two times when songs are appropriate for a film score. If you have an action scene (with no conversation) or a montage scene, the film score will need only one mood for the entire scene. In this case, a song is ideal. So if you wish, you can hire a local band or you can use pre-recorded songs... if you can afford it.

Scoring for Background and Dialog[edit]

There are basically two kinds of music in a scene which has dialog -- background music and narrative music. Background music enhances the mood of the scene. Background music must be very soft and thin. It is heard faintly in the background. Warning: If you write loud music for a scene with people talking, when it comes time to mix all the audio together, someone (usually the director) will turn down the volume of your music and no one will hear it clearly. So when you write background music, make sure it is very simple (i.e., a single melody which is simple with no counter melodies and no strong rhythm such as drums). For background music, it must be just a simple melody played by only one or two instruments.

Narrative music is music which tells a story (think "Peter and the Wolf"). Therefore, narrative music must be inserted between the dialog of the actors. Normally, the only way you can do this is to add gaps between the dialog when you edit the scene.

When people are talking, your music must NEVER step on the dialog. The dialog is the most important part of the movie so when there is dialog, the music must be in the background. So if you want to add music which helps tell the story, there must be gaps between the dialog for you to add the narrative music. These gaps are usually only one to three seconds long. Once they are filled with music or musical sound effects, the audience does not notice the pause in the actor's dialog. It all seems natural. The music seems to become part of the conversation.

Therefore, it is best if the editor and the composer are the same person. With personal movies, this is not a problem. The same computer which edits the movie can help create the film score for the movie just by using different software.

Practical Experience in Film Scoring[edit]

Currently, there is no easy way to practice film scoring. You cannot go to a website and download a scenes which needs a film score so you can practice film scoring.

Today, many motion pictures are edited with Final Cut Pro or other editing software for personal computers. It would take only ten minutes to render a scene without music for people around the world to practice creating film scores with computer programs such as GarageBand.

This has never been done, even though it would be terrific publicity for a motion picture. There could be a dozen scenes on a DVD-Video disk. When budding film composers have completed a film score, they can post it on a website for other people to listen to and compare with all the other film scores for the same scene.

Creating your Demo Reel[edit]

If you want a job in film scoring, you need examples of your film scores to show film producers just how good you are. That makes perfect sense. How can you get hired doing film scoring of movies if you do not have any great scenes for your demo reel?

Currently, there are no websites where you can order scenes from television dramas and motion pictures that are all ready for you to score and then to put on a DVD-Video disk for your demo reel. There should be dozens of film distributors who offer this service. And since you are promoting their motion picture, they should offer this service for free.

Film Editing vs. Film Scoring[edit]

The editing of a scene and the scoring of the scene should go hand in hand. If you are curious about doing film scoring and film editing together, Star Movie Shop also sells a disk called "Blindman's Bluff" which shows how two scenes where edited and scored using just musical sound effects. The second scene on this disk is extremely short. By adding gaps between the dialog and adding narrative music, the entire mood of the scene changes and the scene becomes twice as long, yet all the dialog remains the same.

Local Bands[edit]

This is more of a sub-method than anything else. If you have no real musical talent, many local bands would be more than happy to write, record and perform music for your film in exchange for credit and a small amount of money.

Public Domain[edit]

Finally, it is possible to, like Ed Wood, use music that is in the public domain. This includes music from films or songs that were copyrighted before 1923. This site is a good read.

Spotting Session[edit]

When you are hired as a composer on a motion picture, you will probably sit down with the director and/or the producer who will tell you what emotions they want in the movie. This is called the spotting session. Never rely on what the actors say in the movie. The underlying mood is usually something different from the dialog. Only the director can tell you what moods you need to create.

The biggest problem that a composer has with the director (and vise versa) is the lack of communication. You need to ask the director what mood the audience is supposed to feel. Don't be surprised if you get a blank stare and the comment, "Isn't it obvious?". Directors have been working with their vision for the movie for the last three to five years. They assume that you automatically understand. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Take a few minutes to find out EXACTLY what the director wants the audience to feel for each piece of dialog in the movie.

Usage of music[edit]

Okay, so you have your materials, your band is waiting and ready, your fingers are poised on your midi keyboard. What now? Well, before putting music into a scene it is important to think about what you want the audience to feel. Do you want them to be scared? Excited? If, for example, you have an action scene in which a juggernaut is speeding down a highway towards a roadblock, you would not usually wish to accompany this with soft classical music. A good idea when planning the inclusion of music into a movie is:

  • Watch the movie all the way through.
  • Stop the movie when you see parts that require music.
  • Note down the number of the starting frame.
  • Plan how long you would like the music to last.
  • Note down the number of the frame where the music stops.
  • Plan what kind of music you would like and how you would like it to behave - should it be low and constant, swirling in and out of earshot? Should it be loud, aggressive, constant?
  • If you get stuck on how the music should behave, go rent out some critically acclaimed movies and study how music is used.

Further Reading[edit]