Because 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.
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.
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 →
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.
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.
First, apologies for being away for so long. I was working on a score for a feature that only seemed to get larger and more complex the closer we got to the deadline. Unfortunately in situations like that, the blog is one of the first things to go (along with free time, sleeping and going to the gym). More on that particular job soon.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of composer interviews that were broadcast this past week. The first is a two-hour retrospective of John Williams’ long and storied career from Classic FM. Williams talks about his creative process and about composing some of the most iconic film music of our time. He is his usual generous and gracious self, and he’s candid and open about his life and his work, from composing for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to playing piano on To Kill a Mockingbird and many other classic scores. Definitely worth a listen.
The other interview is with someone a bit less well-known. NPR’s Weekend Edition Sundaytalked with ad composer Keith Kenniff this past weekend about his work on spots for Apple, Prudential and Toyota. It’s a revealing look into the world of ad music, and Kenniff’s work demonstrates how to use live recordings of acoustic instruments to get a wonderfully contemporary sound.
Co.Create has a wonderful summary of John Cleese’s recent talk at the Cannes International Festival on Creativity. In it, he shares four ideas on ways to maximize and enhance your creative endeavors. He talks about giving your ideas time to “bake,” the importance of playing, making use of the two kinds of thinking, and the danger of anxiety and interruptions. All told, a very worthy read. Read the full post here.
If you’re interested in more, there’s also a great 36-minute video of another Cleese lecture here, at BrainPickings.org. Many of the ideas are the same, but it’s well worth watching to pump up your creative inspiration.
I stumbled across this blog post on Documentary.org while wandering the Web. It’s an interview with six film composers about the peculiar art of scoring documentary films. They talk about the idiosyncrasies of the music in documentaries, when they typically get brought on board, schedules and budgets, and much more.
By being involved earlier I had a longer time to conceive of the music…. You can’t speed up the process of just ruminating on something creatively.”
As a composer currently working on two docs, I found numerous bits of wisdom to take away. One of my favorite parts was the lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of temp music and how best to deal with temp scores (always a hot topic). They also talk a lot about the power of music in documentaries and what it can bring to the table—great fodder for your next negotiation with a client who’s balking at your bid.
While geared toward documentary composers, there’s plenty in the post for dramatic composers and filmmakers as well. Much of the discussion centers around the composition process and every film’s need for great music. These are universal topics, and the composers in question speak eloquently about the subject. All in all a worthy read.
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.
Here’s a great post from SCOREcast Online on the benefits of the Soundcloud online audio platform. I’ve been using Soundcloud for a couple of years and I still learned plenty. Whether you’re interested in using Soundcloud to get more work, track your online listeners or network and collaborate with other composers, the article is full of great tips. Author Oliver Sadie shares his own Soundcloud story and offers ideas from other users on how to maximize your presence, get more comments and likes, and even attract the attention of potential clients.
As Sadie says, “SoundCloud is a versatile and effective platform for composers and sound content creators of all kinds. It is arguably the next big thing in online audio….”