music for film and television

While The Strokes and Stripes grab the rock’n’roll headlines, there are people making innovative, exciting music away from the media glare and earning a healthy wage too. There are the writers of music for film and television. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You can do it in your own bedroom and you don’t have to write conventional tunes either, just some moody, atmospheric stuff.

You’d be surprised. The ability to write well music for film and television is rare, and one that usually takes years of practice and fine-tuning before you get to a level where you can make decent money at it.

Modern television and film production is a high-tech business and you’ll need a high quality studio to set-up before people will even consider listening to your material. Digitisers, playback machine, sequencers, recording software and video editing software are all essential, and that’s before you think about how you’re going to create the music.

Then there’s the business aspect. Working on a film and television project is collaboration all the way. There are editors to please, directors and producers to impress, and endless rounds of rewriting.

So it’s not an easy option. But it can be a rewarding one, both creatively and financially. But first you need to create a demo.

As a bare minimum you’ll need recording software, like ProTools, and digital film editing software like Final Cut. Getting film to experiment on can be tricky but if you don’t know anyone making shorts or any kind of film-makers. Alternatively you could download film clips from the net, but there are copyright issues involved and whatever you take you’ll need to get permission to edit it.

Writing for pictures requires a totally different mindset to writing for a band. You are not the star and neither is your music. Try to gauge the emotional content of the clip and create sounds accordingly, remembering that less is more, especially if there is dialogue or other important sound on the video already.

Learning how to set up cues and mix and match sounds to moods takes time. See how others do it and play attention to all the background music you hear.

Once you’ve made one, who do you send your demo to? Film and TV production companies will sometimes look at stuff sent directly to them but a better bet are advertising companies on the lookout for fresh (and cheap) talent. Not forgetting radio advertisers and video game producers.

There are a surprising number of company databases on the internet so never be afraid to phone up and work your charms on them. You’ve got to put yourself out there relentlessly if you’re going to make a name for yourself. Then maybe one day you’ll be heard by millions on the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Doug Johnstone

© NME September 13, 2003

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