After watching a bunch of videos of Hans Zimmer talking about the all the blockbuster hits he has composed music for, and a bit of research, I think I have a fairly good idea about some of the key aspects of film scoring. In terms of composition and engineering.
Luckily for your average producer, technology these days has created an infinite amount of samples and plug-ins and techniques that means you don’t need a full string and brass orchestra to get a fairly good quality sound. Many composers these days will integrate some plug-in or sample sounds. Native Instruments “Battery 4” is a popular plug-in for percussion and drums samples.
Composing music for film definitely requires a firm knowledge of musical theory, things like intervals, scales, harmonies are the obvious things to know. Above that is knowing how to use them to seamlessly team with the visuals and evoke an emotional response fitting to the feel of the film. George Lucas once said, “the sound is half the experience”, and he was absolutely right in this statement, it’s nearly impossible to picture any opening Star Wars film without the theme track playing through my head.
A critical part of composing for film is establishing a motif or theme of what the music is going to be from the start, and using it to guide the music for the entire film. Take the Dark Knight for example, the sound of the Joker, throughout the duration of the theme track it doesn’t take a huge amount of layers to create a sound to fit the character, the feeling and impression of the sound is of utter disturbance, anxiety and tension. One of the main sounds or the “motif” of the track is the shrieking sound that’s going up in pitch, whilst it’s a very disturbing and uneasy sound, it represents the madness and anarchy that is the Joker, perfectly. And throughout it includes many ugly and cringe worthy sounds, all of which play a role in immersing viewers in the character.
A major point with mixing and recording is working to the genre and style of film, and considering the audience’s expectation. The composition for a TV sitcom and a Warner Brothers blockbuster film are no way similar from any perspective. Most of those films, especially the large scale, high budget films, use layers upon layers of orchestral and percussive sounds, a TV sitcom rarely even requires much music throughout a scene. Record, edit and mix to the film scenario.
Being one element among others, the music has to be balanced with the sound effects and dialogue. Music will always be second place to dialogue, so it’s important not to take up too much space in the mix, leaving some of the upper mid and treble frequencies alone can create solid space for dialogue and general space, space that doesn’t necessarily need to be filled. Sometimes a mix requires room to breathe and can create atmosphere. It’s fairly common that when there is dialogue, the instruments creating melody will be cut out or dialed down to direct the attention more towards the actors and less towards that music. Which leads me to mixing and processing.
Mixing film scores obviously brings a lot of similarities to any sort of music, making the audio sound as good as possible is the goal, however it is a slightly different aim and motivation that one might approach a film score mix with. Automation is a highly valuable tool, particularly panning and volume, it can add a great deal of vibrancy and life to the sound as well as leaving room in the centre of the mix for dialogue and the specifically mono sounds. Similarly spatial effects can create a very tasteful aesthetic to the sound, especially the dryer sampled sounds. Jake Jackson in his tutorial below runs through a mix of the BBC crime drama, Silent Witness, he talks about his processing and how he uses multiple reverbs, sometimes even up to 4 different reverbs. They smooth out sounds and create a tasteful new environment.
How To Write a Film Score (Behind the Scenes). (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 29 June 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kK-Z-hCOow
Jake Jackson: Mixing Soundtracks. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 29 June 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqqUXsuq1ew
Scoring, M. (2015). MIDI Orchestration Techniques: Continuous Controllers | Midi Film Scoring. Midi Film Scoring. Retrieved 29 June 2016, from http://www.midifilmscoring.com/midi-orchestration-techniques-continuous-controllers/
The quick guide to creating a soundtrack. (2008). MusicRadar. Retrieved 29 June 2016, from http://www.musicradar.com/tuition/tech/the-quick-guide-to-creating-a-soundtrack-156113