Those 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 →
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.
I am happy to announce that I’m now an official writer for SCOREcast. My first post went up today, talking about how to make a cue small. I’ve attached an excerpt below. Enjoy!
When it comes to film scoring, size definitely does matter. The trend in big-budget Hollywood films has been toward a bigger and bigger sound—enormous string and brass sections and 20-person percussion ensembles, all backed by massive beds of synths and samples. But often, especially with indie projects, what’s required is a much smaller, more intimate sound. Even a modestly sized orchestra might be far too large for a quiet drama about a family, a couple or a child.
It’s important for a film composer to know how to match what’s happening onscreen not just musically, but also in terms of size, feel and scope. Scoring The Avengers with just acoustic guitar and flute would clearly be wrong, just as using the orchestra from Pirates of the Carribean to score Juno would have also been a mistake. In this set of posts I’ll explore various ways to get your cues to sound really huge or really tiny. I’ll start this week with making things small.
In the TV series Classic Albums (now available on DVD), Roger Waters talks about the Pink Floyd song “Us and Them.” He says, “I find myself very very often, in my capacity as a producer, having to say to people, ‘No, leave a hole. Just play for half a bar and leave a bar-and-a-half empty.'” I love this quote, and think of it often while I’m writing. It reminds me that I don’t need to fill up every moment with notes. Sometimes music needs space to breathe, silence to give form and beauty to the sound.
As Daniel Levitin wrote in his book This Is Your Brain on Music, Miles Davis “described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between notes, the ‘air’ that he placed between one note and the next. Knowing precisely when to hit the next note, and allowing the listener the time to anticipate it, is a hallmark of Davis’s genius.”
I’m finishing up a job which was temped with an Explosions in the Sky song. My instructions were simple: create a score with the same vibe—mellow electric guitar escalating gradually to a euphoric climax. Explosions in the Sky are not terribly hard to mimic since their songs often follow a fairly specific formula, but the process got me thinking about the most efficient ways to make use of reference tracks. Basically it comes down to this: the more methodical you are with studying your reference tracks the easier it is to create a final cue that’s original and yet captures exactly what the client wants.
When I first started composing for media, my approach was a bit random. I’d create a playlist of appropriate reference tracks, listen to it for a while, and then try to duplicate what I’d heard without violating any copyright rules. Sometimes this worked well, but other times I felt like I was fumbling around in a dark room looking for the light switch. By taking a more measured approach, you can work more quickly and nail the cue more easily.
Film music tends to be sectional. A cue will be happy for a bit, then turn sad, then anxious. It’s the nature of the beast. Sometimes we want the changes to be abrupt, but sometimes the movie calls for a more invisible transition. I like to call this dovetailing. Just like in woodworking, dovetailing requires a carefully constructed overlap of two sections. Following is a quick tip for smoothly moving from one segment of a piece to the next.
Rather than allowing one section to end before beginning the next, start introducing elements of the later part into the first or vice versa. If your first bit has an eighth-note feel and your second is mostly whole notes, begin softly bringing in whole notes under the end of the first section. You can also fade the eighth notes at the end of the first part or carry them softly into the second to create more of a bridge and smooth the transition.
In my experience, dovetailing mostly involves the accompaniment. If one section uses arpeggiated figures in the background, carry those over into the other segment. If both parts use arpeggiation but of different types, change the arpeggiation before or after the section change. It’s really just a matter of gradually altering the accompaniment rather than changing it suddenly. It’s also easiest at first to focus on the rhythm. A triplet feel can slowly give way to a quarter-note pulse by gradually replacing triplets with quarter notes until you arrive at your destination.
I assume many of you out there use either Finale or Sibelius for your notation needs. If you’re not aware of fellow Seattleite Robert Puff’s blog, Of Note, you should be. It’s a treasure trove of tips and tutorials for both programs.
Recent posts include quickly deleting unison notes in Finale, two methods for creating Grand Pauses in Sibelius, and techniques for creating both boxed and free-floating aleatoric notation in Finale. If you’re like me, mastering your notation program can be a difficult path. Robert is a tremendous resource for anyone needing more out of their software!
This just in: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have made the stems from five Girl With the Dragon Tattoo cues available at Tunecore. They’re up until March 31st, 2012, so download and enjoy.
Aslo, if you like these two, the L.A. Times interviewed Reznor back in December.
Incidentally, I haven’t seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
yet, but I plan to sometime this week. I’m rapidly getting caught up on my list of possible best scores of 2011, and I’ll fill you all in soon. (For the record, I’m not anticipating GWDT will make the list, but Trent and Atticus did win the Oscar last year, so I feel obliged to consider it.)
Writing music for a dialog-heavy scene is one of the trickier aspects of film scoring. It’s not too difficult if you’re just writing a simple pad or drone, but often the music needs to be more detailed than that.
As we all know, in a movie dialog is king. Rightfully so, since that’s where most of the story lies. It may be a pain, but as film composers it’s our job to stay out of the way. Writing a melody on top of dialog usually means your music will be mixed so low you can barely hear it. Keeping the music in the gaps between lines is still the safest approach, but here’s a little trick for those times when that’s impossible:
I recently discovered this wonderful set of ebooks by Montreal composer and professor Alan Belkin. He’s got books on musical form, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration, as well as several other articles and essays. I’ve spent the most time with the orchestration book (since I’m currently orchestrating a symphonic piece for a March performance), and it’s excellent. I found it to be simple, straightforward, and full of great advice. Some of it is fairly common-sense and basic, but I never mind being reminded of the fundamentals, especially for something as complex as orchestration. The other books seem similarly well-written and instructional.
Incidentally, Belkin also authored the annotations to the online version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration, available at NorthernSounds.com.