Last week I posted the first part of my 5 Ways to Become a Better Film Composer, which focused more on the non-musical side of the profession. This week is part two, and I'll be focusing more on the musical aspects. Today's film composer is very interesting, it's not at all the same as the classically trained composer of the pre-1970s or 80s eras. Because of this, there have been some drastic changes in musical styles and aesthetics in film, so today I'll try to be broad about the genres, but will include some things I think are still very necessary.
Nowadays, this isn't always a deal breaker. More and more directors are opting for more "radio" genres with their scores, from electronica to indie acoustic rock. Personally, I think it can be very effective, but if all you can do is record guitars and some keyboard sounds, you're really limiting your opportunities. This will be especially detrimental to your career when the fad of using today's pop-genres is over and we're on to the next thing - which will happen, it happens to everything.
So, study orchestration or arranging in one form or another. The more you understand about other instruments, the more versatile you'll be. Samuel Adler's "The Study of Orchestration" is a great book to get you started; there are also lots of great online courses in arranging and orchestration for film offered through Berklee Online.
Practice Writing Longer Melodies
Another somewhat negative side affect from today's popular music is the overuse of short, looping melodies. Again, I find these to be very effective at times, and in today's industry they work very well. But you should be using these techniques because that's what people want, not because that's all you can do. So write your 2-4 measure phrases when you need to, but practice writing 16-32 measure phrases. Make a game of it, see how many measures of new material you can write without repeating anything.
Learn How to Make Believable Mockups
Pick a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and master it, it really doesn't matter which one. There's an age old argument of which DAW is the best for film scoring, and I'm going to tell you that it really doesn't matter - the best DAW is the one that you can understand and get the job done. These days, Pro Tools, Logic and Digital Performer are the most popular in the film scoring world, although I have heard of people also using Cubase and Ableton as well.
Figure out which sample libraries and samplers have professional quality sounds, do not use cheap sounding samples. There's plenty of debate about which are the best here as well, and to some degree it's personal preference. Vienna Symphonic Library, Audiobro, Cinesamples, 8dio, East West and Native Instruments are all pretty standard tools for many composers and they all sound great. Do your homework, experiment and find what works for you.
Want to broaden your harmonic vocabulary? Transcribe scores. Listen to everything! Transcribe classical music from the Classical, Romantic and 20th Century eras (20th century music gets weird, might want to pick up some scores for those...). Transcribe the earlier film composers like John Williams, Maurice Jarre, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Dimitri Tiomkin, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklós Rózsa, Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone. While you're at it, listen to the melodies.
Master One Style, But Study All Styles
There's this idea that if you focus all of your energy on one thing and master it that that will be enough to make you hugely successful. Although I think there's at least some truth to this, it's just not realistic for today's music industry. You're just not going to get very far if someone asks you to do something and you always respond with "oh, no, I don't do that, I do this." It's ok to master a style, and you should try to find your own "voice" in your music, but you're going to need to be somewhat of a chameleon if you want to make a living with music. Experimenting with different genres can also help you create your signature sound as well.
Film | Music
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