Why Music Makes Our Brains Sing

Singing Brain RecordBecause I’m a bit of a nerd about this stuff, here’s another interesting tidbit on the psychology of music, this time from none other than the New York Times. “Why Music Makes Our Brains Sing” focuses on why it is we humans love music so much and what exactly we get out of listening to it. Turns out it’s the same thing we get from food, sex and drugs: everyone’s favorite neurotransmitter, dopamine.

The interesting part is that we get rewarded not only for the emotional highs in a piece of music, but also when we anticipate them. This is why good music needs to strike a balance between predictable patterns and moments of surprise—when the listener correctly anticipates a climactic moment, their brain gives them a reward. But too many moments of predictability and the song becomes boring. Like a good story, there need to be some clever twists to throw the listener off and make them work a bit, and that gives you more pleasure when your predictions are correct.

There’s a lot of other research out there lately saying similar things, so this isn’t exactly new information. But like it or not, we as composers are in the reward business, so the more you understand how and why music affects us, the better you’ll be at affecting your listeners. If you’re interested in reading more about music and the brain, I highly recommend Daniel J. Levitin’s excellent book, This Is Your Brain on Music.

Read the full New York Times article here.

Creating Keyswitches in LA Scoring Strings

LASS Keyswitching with the Auto ArrangerThose of you that use it know that LA Scoring Strings is an incredible tool for creating realistic string mockups and recordings. But it can be a little daunting at first, especially with the A.R.C. and all of the complexity (and power) that brings. When I first started using LASS, I didn’t know how to set up keyswitches and quickly retreated to putting different articulations of a string section in different Kontakt instruments just so I could get my piece finished.

I’ve recently been mixing a piece for a fellow composer and saw that he had used exactly the same workaround that I originally had—placing each articulation on a different track in his mix. I realized there may be a lot of you out there who haven’t yet found the excellent video tutorials on the Audiobro site, so I thought I’d share those. As you can see from the video, setting up keyswitching isn’t all that complex once you understand how it’s done, but if you don’t know how to do it you’d be hard pressed to work it out on your own. The best part is, you only have to set it up once and then save your template in Kontakt. Continue reading

Thomas Newman on Lemony Snicket

Here’s a great interview with Thomas Newman on the Lemony Snicket score (one of my personal favorites of his). The link comes courtesy of Film & Game Composers, so thanks to Emmett Cooke for the original post.

The video concentrates on the orchestral recordings, not necessarily the most interesting or unusual part of a Thomas Newman score, but still fascinating and educational. He talks about the danger of overwriting, the trouble with describing characters through music, and his technique of experimenting with small ensembles and how that effects his orchestral writing. Especially instructive are his thoughts on having the director hear the music numerous times in his studio before the recording session, which allows the director to have plenty of opportunities to reject ideas while there’s still time to change them.

Music from Pistachios

Here’s an amazing piece of music created by composer and sound designer Brendan Hogan, producer of the Fractured sample library reviewed a few months ago. This time, the only instrument Brendan used was a bowl of pistachio nuts, which he then processed in Pro Tools and Kontakt:

Brendan also guest-authored a blog post on Designing Sound in which he reveals how he did all this (thank God). It’s a fascinating look at what you can accomplish with one sample and a lot of creativity. It’s also a great advertisement for the inspirational power of limitations. The accompanying YouTube walkthrough is below: Continue reading

Bear McCreary on Scoring The Walking Dead

In this video from his blog, Bear McCreary talks about writing the music for the hit series The Walking Dead. He talks about the different stages in the process, from consulting with director Frank Darabont to working with the orchestrators and recording the cues. One of the interesting aspects of The Walking Dead in particular is that the score combines a small string section with bluegrass instruments and synths. Bear and Steve Kaplan, his engineer, talk about the difficulties of combining these sounds and making it all work together.

Bear is a master at promoting his work and sharing information with his fans, and this video is no exception. Where he finds the time in the crazy schedule of a television composer to not only write blog posts but also record videos is beyond me, but all his work has clearly paid off and his fan base just keeps growing. Check out his entire blog here.

Thanks to New Film Scores for the post.

Hack update

greencomputercodeThe story continues….

Late last week I got a number of emails from people around the ’webs complaining that I was spamming their blogs, which gave me the horrified, sinking feeling that I hadn’t actually eradicated all the hacked files. So once again I backed everything up and performed a complete reinstall of WordPress, my theme, and all my plugins. By now I’m a pro at that, so it actually didn’t take too long. But when threatening messages kept coming in telling me to stop spamming, I realized it was time to call in the professionals.

I remembered that one of the 7,000 pages I’d read recently on cleaning up a hacked WordPress site offered to help if your site cleanup was beyond your abilities. I scoured through my browser history and found Michael VanDeMar’s Smackdown blog. For a modest fee and 1–2 hours of work, he will go through your WordPress site and remove anything suspicious, restoring it to the natural, pristine site that God intended it to be in. Continue reading

Another free SoundToys plugin

Little MicroShiftFollowing up on their release of the excellent Little Radiator (exactly a year ago), SoundToys once again are pre-releasing a free version of what will soon be a paid plugin. The Little MicroShift promises to add “massive width, enormous depth, and huge thickness” to whatever you put it on. Basically, it makes mono stuff stereo, using three different algorithms emulating two classic pieces of kit.

I have yet to try this baby out, but I’ve gotten my free copy, and you can get yours here until March 29th (that’s this coming Friday). Go get some free stereo!


Photo by Emily Webber
Photo by Emily Webber

If you’ve visited in the last few days, you would have noticed a sad-looking maintenance page and little else. And for a couple of weeks prior to that, a Google search of FilmScoring.info made it appear we had begun selling Accutane as a side business (it still does, until the Google bots return). Alas, both were the result of a common WordPress hack.

We’re back up and running, and I’m fairly certain all traces of malicious code have been removed. In the process, I’ve learned a good bit about common WordPress attacks and why WordPress security is necessary, even on a fairly obscure site like this one. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of WordPress and the naivete of some of its users (myself included), it’s not unusual for new bloggers to get attacked. The upside is that it’s also not hard to protect your site and make it significantly more difficult for hackers to get in. Here are a few tips.

And now that the site is back up, I’m working on a number of cool posts, including an in-depth analysis of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and numerous tips on melody, harmony, mixing, spotting, and working with directors. Stay tuned, and stay secure!

Forget Tech, It’s About the Notes

Photo by John McNicholas

I’m a little slow on the uptake this week, but my latest SCOREcast Online post went up on Monday. This month’s theme over at SCOREcast is technology, but I always like to stir up trouble, so I went in the opposite direction. Here’s an excerpt:

I know this month’s theme is about technology and all the hot new gear out there, but I wanted to step back from all that and share a bit of wisdom I’ve learned the hard way: when you’re composing, compose.

Don’t orchestrate, arrange, record or mix at the same time. Writing, orchestrating, recording and mixing are four independent processes which use different skills and different parts of your brain. Trying to do even two of them at the same time is distracting and counter-productive. It takes you out of the moment and diverts you down numerous paths that beckon seductively but will ultimately waste your time and weaken your finished product.

Read the full article here, and step away from your DAW.

Vir2 Fractured Review

I got my hands on Vir2’s Fractured: Prepared Acoustic Guitar sample library a while back and I’ve since been loving its strange and beautiful sounds. Fractured takes a much more esoteric, avant-garde approach to acoustic guitar sampling than you’ll typically find. Instead of trying to recreate a gorgeous-sounding guitar, Fractured’s creator hit the instrument with chopsticks and erasers, placed bobby pins and shoelaces in the strings, and completely destroyed the sounds with effects and post-processing. Many of the pads, drum kits and sound effects make you quickly forget that the samples were made by an acoustic instrument of any kind, let alone a guitar.

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the creator, Brendan Hogan, and I wrote one of the demo tracks on the Vir2 site in exchange for an NFR copy of the library. That being said, I’ve tried to be completely honest here and point out any flaws I found alongside the positive features. Continue reading