Film Music Insider Secrets: 10 Tips When Writing Music for a Film or Movie

10 Tips When Writing Music for a Film or Video Film Music 101  

Writing music for an amateur B horror flick or composing music for the next movie blockbuster? Then follow these 10 music tips to make a good movie soundtrack great. 

With thousands of movies being made every day, from You Tube melodramas to edgy student films to the next sleeper hit, there are an unlimited number of opportunities for musicians to gain exposure, and even a little bit of money, by creating music for up and coming, or even just wannabe, filmmakers. And who knows? Maybe the director of that horror flick about the vampires and killer hamburgers will remember you when she goes to Hollywood a decade from now.

1 Network, communicate, and keep up with contacts
Keep your eyes and ears open for new music opportunities. Whether you are a songwriter, composer, starving band musician, or a DJ, if you have the talent, you can collaborate with emerging movie directors. Copyright costs to use popular bands can go through the roof, leaving many movie directors scrambling when it comes to adding music to their film. Even if the project will not take off for another year, let the film director know that you are available. Not only will this give your music exposure, you will learn some valuable tools that will make you much more marketable in our tanked economy. And don't look down on the indie director making the zombie love story. She may just be the next big thing in Hollywood or the next viral sensation.

2 Know what the film director wants
Listen to what the director is saying when s/he is talking about the music. Nine times out of ten the movie director does not know much about music and will talk in terms of moods. For example, the movie director might talk about how they need a tense moment in the music when the slasher is creeping up on the unsuspecting victim, or how the music needs to be light and cheerful when boy finally meets girl.

3 Ask for reference materials
Let the director of the project give you a list of artists or genres to listen to. That way, you can see get a better feel for what the movie director wants for the flick. However, use this as a music guideline, not a reason to copy exactly what is on the file. Many times, the director is looking for the general mood of these pieces, and not so much an exact music replication.

4 Make sure you have the right gear
If the movie needs a live band and you only have a small set-up with a laptop and a USB mic, be honest about your limitations. Unfortunately, you might lose this gig, but at least you don't waste yours, and the movie director's, time. Generally, you will need higher end software that allows for MIDI composing directly to the movie, a heavy sampling library, and even access to live musicians. Talk to the director. Maybe s/he only needs a copy of your band's latest album and can have the editor cut and splice in post and you can work out a licensing deal instead.

5 Be original
It can get frustrating when a film director limits you, just like any project where creative minds, and egos, collaborate. Swallow your artistic pride and strive to be original within the constraints given. There are hundreds of tracks available for use for a one-time fee. Make sure your music reminds the director why s/he opted for working with a live composer instead of paying for cheesy can music.

6 Experiment

When creating the film score, especially if you are composing directly to the film, be sure to experiment. Without affecting the deadline, sit there at your music keyboard and start playing around with different music styles. Sometimes it is the less obvious music choices that are the most effective. One of my favorite movies to watch, in regard to music choice, is Stanley Kubrick's"2001: A Space Odyssey". His musical choices, especially the use of Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube and Richard Strauss's Thus Sprach Zarathustra, is so embedded within the film that the music's overall impact cannot be extracted from the movie's success.

7 Avoid music cliche's
Unfortunately, once a music lick works, there are hundreds of imitators ready to make their own rendition of Bernard Hermann's Psycho shower scene or John William's Imperial March. Unfortunately, to pay the bills, sometimes you have to compromise and imitate a film composing great. I knew one composer that got the gig for writing for a Universal Studios theme park because all of his music sounded exactly like John William's music.

8 Avoid stepwise motion when creating a movie theme
Melodies in the 21st century are much more interesting if they avoid stepwise motion (ex. D-E-F#-E-F#---G). That is great for nursery rhymes, but the mark of a green musician. The same goes for rhythm. Add a little bit of funk and syncopation, throw in a whacked out chord or an accordion sample. Shake things up some and avoid the mundane.

9 Keep the director in the loop
Be sure to keep in contact with the movie director. You don't want to end up creating the most amazing grinding rock score ever and only find out that the director was expecting a Baroque string quartet.

10 Know what format the director needs
Finally, be sure to know exactly what format your movie director needs. Whatever you do, do NOT make the end score into an MP3. Though that is the popular file sharing sound file type, the music is so compressed that it is entirely sub-par for any film project.


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