Here are a few tips you can use when scoring a movie, short film, video, etc.

 

The first thing you have to decide when scoring a film: what genre and sub genre is the film using? Is it a Comedy? If so, what kind of comedy? Is it deadpan, slapstick, a romantic comedy, dark comedy, etc? Once you have that decided, another good thing to figure out is what instruments are going to be prominent in the film. Is it mainly using brass, strings, percussion, a mixture? If you are limited with instruments to use, that’s okay.

Quick Tip:

When working in Pro Tools (The industry-standard audio production platform) you should add a bit of consistency throughout your film by selecting one instrument to feature in most songs throughout the project. Example: The old carousel organ featured throughout Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. We used a simple sounding clarinet for our upcoming film: The Tale of The Sparrow.

 

One thing a composer working in scoring has to be aware of is this fact: Your music will not be the center of attention! In many cases, the score is the last thing the viewer should notice in a film. When watching a scene, what is more important? Is it the music underscoring the scene or the conversation that is struggling to be heard because the music is so loud!? The conversation always takes precedence in a scene unless directed otherwise.. That means when you’re scoring the film, the music you’re writing will probably be much quieter than the level you’re listening to it now.

 

You have to be very careful with the dynamics. Let’s say you’re listening to your score at the volume of 50, but the score has a broader dynamic range with some instruments playing at the volume 30 and some instruments playing at 75. Now 50 might be fine for that particular section of the film, but what if 75 is too loud? So then when the score is rendered into the film, the editor lowers the volume by 30 overall because 75 is too loud? But guess what? You’re not going to be able to hear the little quiet nuances that were at 30 because they’re now at 0. And the normal volume range of 50 is now at 20, which not how you imagined it.

The moral of the story is it’s better to level the score to a moderate volume than to indulge yourself and not get the result you wanted.

 

Another hard part about scoring is finding places to start the score without making it awkward. A pretty decent place to start music is with a physical queue or sound made on screen. Example: Someone is roaming silently in a room for a while and maybe the director doesn’t want music playing during that part because he really likes how quiet the scene is. But later in the scene, after the lights are on, the director might want there to be some underscoring music playing.

A good place to start the music may be right in the instant the man flips the light switch on. There is already a mood switch in the scene because the lights are turned on, why not change the mood a little more with some music? Always look for queues like this in the films you’re scoring. It can be a queue of someone entering a room, someone dropping something, the opening of a door, a wink of the eye, etc. This tactic also works with ending music as well.

Another place that sometimes proves itself to be difficult is the transitions between scenes. A good way to help the change is to start the music in the previous scene a few seconds before the transition actually occurs. And if both scenes have practically the same mood, why not continue the previous scene’s music into the next scene? It’s a good trick that can tie the movie together better.

 

Use these tips correctly and you’ll have a more naturally occurring score that won’t feel out of place like other indie films. If you have any questions, contact us.

Thanks for reading!

 

Written by Andrew Kotlar