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I am not an audio engineer so this question is more for those of you work with or are sound editors/audio engineers. I believe that as music volume gets lower, we tend to not be able to hear the the edges of the sound spectrum as well - the lower frequencies/bass and the higher frequencies/treble - w...Expand post
I am not an audio engineer so this question is more for those of you work with or are sound editors/audio engineers.
I believe that as music volume gets lower, we tend to not be able to hear the the edges of the sound spectrum as well - the lower frequencies/bass and the higher frequencies/treble - we hear mostly the mid-frequencies. Also a track which is well spread out on the horizontal stereo spectrum and on the vertical/depth/reverb section loses its two dimensional characteristic of breadth and depth and begins to sound like the dialog coming from a restricted area in the center. That may explain below why for one of my recently mixed films, the mix at a low volume, to me sounded like 'mono' - even though he did mix a stereo WAV file.
Now here is my question since we will eventually be remixing that film. I know for certain that I have watched many Hollywood studio films where the music was mixed very low and yet I could still pinpoint the instrumentation from a particular side or spatial location and that it retained its 'depth' and frequencies at low volume.
So I have to assume that the audio engineers work on the audio track somehow before (or after) it is mixed to give the sound back some of what was lost as the volume was reduced.
So for those of you how know what I am talking about, what process is used to achieve this sort of mix. Can it be done with VSTs (and which)? Must it be done with a sequencer like Protools, or are there add-on's that can be used, for example with Adobe Products?
There probably an infinite number of answers to this one :) And it may vary by project as well. I am sure there are pros and cons for each approach. I can say on my last project, "Turning The Hands Of Time" (www.imdb.com/title/tt3953804), I started with scoring the opening scene and then the end ti...Expand post
There probably an infinite number of answers to this one :) And it may vary by project as well. I am sure there are pros and cons for each approach.
I can say on my last project, "Turning The Hands Of Time" (www.imdb.com/title/tt3953804), I started with scoring the opening scene and then the end titles and at that point decided to go backwards through the cues in the spotting sheet until I scored the second cue. I generally do the opening scene first since it sets/defines the energy of the film (like an opening paragraph in a story or article) - I try to create a 'hook'. Then I often do the end titles to see if I want to define a 'theme' for the film which I can borrow against or play around in the cues. Though sometimes, l take the theme from a cue for the end titles and other times, I borrow music from one or more cues in the film and reiterate it in the end titles as a 'summary' for the film (sort of the reverse of an overture).
I decided to work backwards in my last film only because I never scored that way before and wanted to see how it impacted my writing style and the final product (not sure it did....).
Since my next film has not yet started shooting until this weekend and the following weekend and since I have the script, I am going to read the script (I have never tried this before), to see if it inspires me to any thematic style, allow me to jot down some ideas for cues and possibly write the end title music.
There are several good groups on facebook, so I made this page for pretty much anything to do with film score (keep it relevant) in an attempt at an idealistic facebook group. Some pages are known for "over policing", that's why the only rule is to be a decent human being! Have a lovely day all! htt...Expand post
There are several good groups on facebook, so I made this page for pretty much anything to do with film score (keep it relevant) in an attempt at an idealistic facebook group. Some pages are known for "over policing", that's why the only rule is to be a decent human being! Have a lovely day all! https://www.facebook.com/groups/FilmComposerForum/
The end comes when your score is taken to the mixing session and the film's audio track is combined (in stereo or surround 5.1/7.1) with the dialog, adr, and foley/sound effects. This is the point where what you hear is music at a level which is much lower compared to the other audio. As composers,...Expand post
The end comes when your score is taken to the mixing session and the film's audio track is combined (in stereo or surround 5.1/7.1) with the dialog, adr, and foley/sound effects. This is the point where what you hear is music at a level which is much lower compared to the other audio. As composers, we all probably have boosted our music volume during the creation process relative to the video file we received to do our work. Sometimes, we can go to the mixing session and provide input. For short films where filmmakers tend to be more 'receptive' to input, I provide them with a spreadsheet which is a modified cuesheet with recommended 'db settings' for the various 'keyframes'. It can serve as a good starting off point for the mixer/director/filmmaker. But ultimately, as composers, our job is already done - we have hit 'the end' point. If I have a good relationship with those at the mixing session (and am invited in the first place), I can provide input but ultimately, as the composer, I do not have final say in how the music is mixed in. And most of the time, the music, especially behind dialog, will be mixed in at a low volume (higher negative db keyframe value). Many composers, especially those just starting off, feel offended that they have spent much time and effort meticulously creating the music in all its detail and nuances and now the music and its detail can barely be heard. Unfortunately the first lesson to be learned is this is not a concert, it is part of the audio track of the film where the other parts are equally or more important. So the composer must 'get used to it'. Accept the feeling that somehow the filmmaker, director, producer don't like your work, brush it aside and move on. In fact, it may be just the opposite - they may love what your music contribution has made to the film and are ready to offer you more opportunities. The last thing you should do is argue/debate with them about mixing it at a higher volume.
Here are some suggestions that have been useful to me:
1. Listen to the soundtrack and the way the music has been mixed behind the dialog scenes. You may be able to suggest that the music be mixed at the same level below relative to the dialog in each of the dialog scenes. So in a couple of scenes that you believe the music is too low, if you know it was louder relative to other scenes with dialog, you may suggest the same keyframe values. Sometimes, though the director/filmmaker/mixer has reasons for mixing it that way.
2. In places with no dialog, there may still be foley/sound effects. You may suggest mixing in the music at full volume (possibly 0 db). However, the director/filmmaker/mixer may have reasons for mixing in the music lower because they feel the foley/sound effects are more important. In fact, in one film I scored, after I provided the cue, it was truncated in the middle because the director/filmmaker/mixer want the viewers to hear just a siren. So be prepared that even if you were told at a spotting session to write a cue, it may not get used. It's not your decision and don't think of it as a negative reflection on your performance. In fact, actors/actresses often have scenes they performed in that get cut when during the editing.
3. Don't spend a lot of time meticulously adding instrumentation with complex sounds and tempos if you know that it will be mixing behind dialog or foley/sound effects in such a way that the viewers will not hear it. What sounds great in your studio during your work, may not be heard at all in the film when it gets mixed in. Again you are not writing for a performance where your music is the primary focus, so why spend time on something no one will hear?
4. When sound levels are lowered, we tend to hear less of the higher frequencies and more of the lower frequencies. One of the things you may want the mixer to experiment with is to boost the higher frequencies a bit. Do it in the mixing session if permitted and not while you are composing. And as with #3, if you know certain sounds at the higher frequencies (like triangles and other percussion) won't be heard, you can add it if you plan to issue your own music separately as a soundtrack but don't expect it to be heard in the mix.
(note: this is long and provides detail analysis of a score. See the end for a link to the MP3 and PDF score) I promised when I finished scoring my most recent film, I would provide some discussion/analysis to provide 'insight' on my composition method. First, I want to digress to a 'game' I and m...Expand post
(note: this is long and provides detail analysis of a score. See the end for a link to the MP3 and PDF score)
I promised when I finished scoring my most recent film, I would provide some discussion/analysis to provide 'insight' on my composition method. First, I want to digress to a 'game' I and many other baby boomers played back in the 60s and 70s. When pop/rock band/artists had a hit song, we would try to guess what the follow up or next song would sound like. The point of that was to realize that artists/bands or the songwriters that wrote for them had certain composing styles and certain arranging styles. For example, in the early Beach Boys 'surfing songs' or surfing music in general, there were certain chord progressions, rhythms, arrangements, etc. The 4/4 tempo was fast and the drummer played 2 eighths on the second beat and one eighth on the 4th beat. When you heard a subsequent Beach Boy song, it had much in common with previous ones. There were and are many reasons for this - some of it is business marketing but it also has to do with the songwriters 'brand' or as we say in music their 'sound'. Motown music had a 'sound', Barry White had a sound, disco music had a sound, and so on....
In my opinion the same holds true for film composers, especially the A-listers. Each of them have a way of creating their music which makes them hopefully uniquely identifyable. This is one of the factors considered for hiring them to score a film. But within the scope of the film composers 'sound', they still have to find a way to create cues specific to the film and the action in the particular scenes which both support the scene, maintain their 'sound', and are not overly boring and/or repetitious.
So this is what I want to discuss here from my most recent film project. I would like to provide some 'ideas' and how I took two very similar scenes and created cues that simultaneously had my 'sound', had some commonality (since the scenes and actions were), but were also different and individual to a certain extent.
The film in question is "Turning The Hands Of Time" ( www.imdb.com/title/tt3953804 ). In a nutshell, this is a film about a detective whose wife is murdered and he has his father who invented a time machine send him back to prevent the murder. I will only be able to discuss a scene and not show it since the film is still in 'post production' mode and not yet viewable. The scene in question was the 'highlight scene' where the killer is seen enterring the warehouse where he kills the detective's wife. Needless to say, just like in the "back to the future" films, this scene is played out twice. What is in common is the killer in both scenes enters the warehouse. In the first scene, he goes off camera, you hear the wife scream and you hear the shot killing her and he exits. In the second scene, you see the killer enter followed by the detective and then you see him approaching her and the killer is shot by the detective first.
Now I scored the film 'backwards', so I scored the final scene first. If you want to follow along listening to the cue, listen to http://www.icompositions.com/music/song.php?sid=220239 starting at 4m41s. Let me break down this cue (follow along in the score if you want). First this is a scene with a building suspense culminating in a gunshot. So it is a 4/4 140 bpm tempo. A shaker with two sounds, each a beat keeping the tempo. The melody is carried by the horn section (3 trumpets and a trombone) along with the left hand of the piano. No strings at this point. Then there is a 'call and answer'. The 'call' by a flute & marimba (together or separately) and the 'answer' by a bassoon twice. This first part lasts for 10 bars and since the tension needs to build, no other instrumentation was used. One of the things composers learn and understand is there are many ways to build tension. "Dynamics' (volume) is one way but layering instruments and instrument sections is another way. So for the first 17 seconds, the tension is maintained at a constant level until you see the killer enterring followed by the detective at 4m58s. Then there is a distinct 'second' part which leads up to the gunshot. First there is a simple 4 quarter note melody played by the strings and backed by percusive hits. Then a percusive only bar of nnrnrnnr where 'n' is an eighth note hit and 'r' is a rest/nothing. This is repeated twice. The 'tension' is heightened but notice the 'tempo' of 140 bpm stays the same. Then one more 'bridging bar' which uses the same rhythm but with horns in the background and eighth notes on the strings. Finally the 'crescendo' leads to the final three bars where the whole orchestra plays the melody (but again the tempo stays constant). The final bar has every instrument play 3 sixteenth notes and then silence as the gunshot rings out at 5m11s. So the whole cue is 30 seconds building to the gunshot.
After scoring the final scene with the gunshot, I came backwards/in reverse to the first gunshot scene. While it was slightly different it still included the same action of the killer seen walking into the warehouse, 6 seconds later you hear the gunshot, and then you see him leave with the 'suspicious package'. This scene contained action that was repeated in the final scene. So I wanted similar music that (1) included my 'sound', (2) included two part/sections before the shot as did the final scene, (3) had a similar 'feel', but also (4) was artistically different from the final scene cue that gave it its own individuality.
(1) ahead of the shooting cue, is a cue supporting the scene where the killer drives into the parking lot of the warehouse. Technically, it would roughly correspond to the beginning of the final scene where we see the detective drive into the parking lot. It covers roughly 14 seconds. However, no one enters the warehouse in this part and since the killer is driving up to wait until everyone leaves, I decided it was not yet the place to begin increasing the tension but rather just create unique music to define what is going to happen - so I created 'ominous music'. The tempo was 4/4 about 71 bps. The relatively slow speed was there to provide the feeling of waiting. Three instruments were used - Bassoon which supported a dark low melody, a piano which played dissonant chords mostly in 2 beats, and a guiro for percussion. I won't go into more detail since that cue is not represented in the MP3 "selection" cue you will be listening to. But if you want to listen to it, you can click on the final link below which includes the whole score.
(2) Then comes the scene where the killer is in the parking lot waiting for everyone in the warehouse to go home. This is where I wanted to tie the musical cue in the scene to the final scene cue. So again I went for two 'sections' and used a shaker to define the tempo - a single shake tone for each beat. But this time instead of 4/4 140 bpm, I decided a slightly slower 130 bpm with a 5/4 tempo. You can hear this at 2m41s. There is a repeating cello pattern of a "D" eighth note on the downbeats of 1 & 4 and the up beat of 2 - nothing for beat 5 (in other words nrrnrrnrnn where 'n' is an eighth note hit and 'r' is a rest/nothing). The melody is played by the strings instead of the horns using an initial 3 note dissonant chord D-Eb-Ab (which utilizes a minor 2nd and a 'tritone'/flatted 5th). I continue to tie the two scenes together by utilizing the 'call' and 'response' approach I used in the final scene. The violins do the 'call' and the marimba does the 'response'. Four sets of a call bar, a rhythm bar and a response bar.
(3) Then comes the part of the scene where the killer gets out of the car, enters the warehouse, shoots/kills the detective's wife, and exits. This starts at 3m4s and continues to the shooting at 3m27s. In the final scene the tension is increased through repeating the melody and modulating and by increasing the number the instruments. In this scene the rhythmic pattern is maintained by the strings with the horns playing the melodic component (a switch of the final scene roles). This part of the scene is scored using the previous 5/4 tempo. The cellos play a repetitive pattern of D-A-A D-A-A D-A-G#-E (that's 10 eighth notes). As the pattern repeats, the violas begin the same pattern in a higher harmony and in the final bar, both violin sections come in with a third harmonic harmony in the same pattern. Part of the way through the string section modulates a major 2nd to increase the tension. The horns play one group at a time until the final bar when they all play. There is no percussion in the second section until the final two eighth notes of the final bar. Percussion was not deemed necessary for tension retention in the second section. The final bar in this scene before the gunshot is scored similarly to the final scene except here it was two eighth notes to end and in the final scene it was three. Then silence for the gunshot just as there was silence in the final scene.
(4) In the final scene, the tension is removed after the gunshot. However in this scene, the tension continues as the killer leaves the warehouse and exits in a car. However, the tension after the gunshot needs to be less, so we start again with just the initial section 2 cello pattern in 5/4 but this time with a shaker one beat at a time and then the horns are added for a few bars. To reduce the tension as the car leaves, we reduce to just strings and finally the pattern with just violas. This takes place after the shot from 3m29s to 3m47s.
So from the above, you can read, listen, and analyze the music cues from two similar scenes and get an idea of how I decided what would be the same and what would be different.
If you want to listen to the selection from the score which is described above and/or follow along/read the actual score, then click www.joelirwin.us/Music.html. If you look at the score keep in mind it is a 'hybrid' - designed to both generate an electronic version with hidden "midi" commands (like the MP3 you will be listening to) and to generate charts for a live performance. Certain notations for live performances have be removed to generate the electronic version. The first shooting scene described above starts at Rehearsal Mark F, bar 200. The final scene shooting sequence starts at rehearsal Mark O, bar 414.
If you want to look at the full score to follow 'everything', you will need to listen to a different MP3, www.icompositions.com/music/song.php?sid=220238.
As a composer, one of the things I have learned to 'go by' is that I score when there is no dialog and selectively score under dialog (often based on the 'wishes' of the filmmaker/director or based on the outcome of the spotting session). But I have rarely if ever seen a part of a scene where there...Expand post
As a composer, one of the things I have learned to 'go by' is that I score when there is no dialog and selectively score under dialog (often based on the 'wishes' of the filmmaker/director or based on the outcome of the spotting session). But I have rarely if ever seen a part of a scene where there is no dialog and no music. And most of those scenes without dialog and music generally have sound effects/foley or focus on ambient sounds like a scene of a person walking along the beach along with the ambient ocean sounds.
But what do you do as a composer when given a scene or part of a scene with no dialog and absolutely no other sound. The audio track is totally silent (except perhaps a small ambient background sound from shooting indoors). Must you score?
Many composers will be inclined to put music in the background to support the action of the actors/actresses. I am here to say, "not necessarily". As composers, our job is not just to recommend when to add music, but when to recommend when not to add music and when the audio should remain totally silent.
But how is nothing better than something? Here was the situation I was faced with during the scoring of the film I had last week. The father is a scientist who has a time travel device. The son is trying to convince his father to transport him back in time to prevent the murder of his wife and unborn child. The father needs to decide what to do. He has only worked with bananas and never tried a human. Most of his attempts have failed. There is silence. The camera shows the son for about 3 seconds and then we watch the father make up his mind over 12 seconds. I watched the segment many times. I came to the conclusion that this was perhaps one of the most significant parts of the film and the action was all in the facial expressions / body language of the father. I didn't want anything to distract the audience from concentrating on the father's facial expressions. So I recommended to the director that those 15 seconds remain totally silent. I believe that made everything even more 'powerful' and the director agreed.
We all know the importance of body language in a film and how when acted properly and supported by the crew (not just music, but among others the cinematography, directing, wardrobe, etc. - to name a few), can evoke significant emotion in the audience. It's a team effort and everything has to be 'ju...Expand post
We all know the importance of body language in a film and how when acted properly and supported by the crew (not just music, but among others the cinematography, directing, wardrobe, etc. - to name a few), can evoke significant emotion in the audience. It's a team effort and everything has to be 'just right' to get the intended result. As we know, the music has to support the action of the film and if we do our scoring with that in mind, the audience may not even remember the music. Interestingly I was just reminded of that with one of my own scores. Now I am not 'tooting' my horn here and the link below is given to demonstrate my comments and points (and not promote). I wrote a commissioned 'waltz' for an adult dance studio in 2013. Later on in the year, I used it in a '48 hour music video competition'. The way it works was that a film maker would pick the video and have 48 hours to create a 'music video' about it. The only instruction I gave him Friday night was that the film needs to 'have a plot' and 'reek from emotion'. I had some plots in mind but I didn't tell him anything more. What David Nguyen did was totally different from what I had in mind and blew me away. The film was shot Sat afternoon and finished by 9 AM Sunday morning. Now technically this was a music video but there was no band and the genre was not rock, pop, country, or any other genre typically used for music videos. I personally consider it more of a film short without dialog than a music video (though the two may actually mean the same thing). The point here is that since the action of the film was written to the music instead of the other way around, one would think its all about the music. In fact, when you watch the film, two things typically happen: (1) the viewer almost always forgets about the music and concentrates on the action and the story and (2) certain scenes evoke strong emotions. The body language from the excellent acting, the storyline (remember there was no dialog), the cinematography and the other components all blend and support the actors. Anyone that watches it walks away with something. I tear up every time I watch it at a certain spot. That is what makes a film powerful and a score supportive. Even though the music was written first, it really made no difference - it could have been written last. That is our goal as composers. We are part of a larger team which has among other things a goal to impact the viewer in some way. Elegantia competed against 8 other teams (all with bands in the video as the normal convention is). It won the competition in Houston and then went on to compete at "Filmapalooza", the international competition representing Houston. It placed second in awards to Paris. It's success is due to (1) high quality of all the components and (2) no matter how many times you watch it, you will 'get moved'/have a reaction. If you choose, watch it for yourself and judge. (1) did it evoke any emotions? and (2) after the film is over, did you remember the specific music or did it manage to stay out of the way of the action even though the action was based on the music? BTW - you don't have to have a full orchestra to get the job done. The ensemble in this film was much smaller - piano, violin, viola, cello, standup bass and percussion. https://youtu.be/jXfajMVeT54
This is a 1st-of-its-kind Concert Extravaganza!! Live orchestra, choir, soloists playing top soundtracks by women. This FREE concert will celebrate powerful music, promote greater visibility for women artists and take audiences on a musical adventure: "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm," "Bones," "Justic...Expand post
This is a 1st-of-its-kind Concert Extravaganza!! Live orchestra, choir, soloists playing top soundtracks by women. This FREE concert will celebrate powerful music, promote greater visibility for women artists and take audiences on a musical adventure: "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm," "Bones," "Justice League," "Cider House Rules," "Heroes," "Underground" and more. (Kid- and teen-friendly.) Friday August 19, 8 PM, Grand Performances - California Plaza in downtown LA. (350 S Grand Ave) Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/222038861502183/ Presented by The Alliance of Women Film Composers. www.theawfc.com Billboard article: WOMEN WHO SCORE: SOUNDTRACKS LIVE -- http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7401442/the-women-who-score-concert