What can I do to insure that I get the best music possible and in the shortest amount of time?    
           
 

Number 1, think about the music.

I know that may sound like common sense, but it can't be stressed enough. If you could have any kind of music for your film, what would it be? What scenes in your film do you absolutely need music for in order for it to be effective? What scenes do you not want music? What scenes are you not sure about, but would like to see what a composer would be able to bring to it? These are all questions that you should answer for you yourself before sitting down with a composer in order to expedite the process better. Bear in mind, and keep an open mind at the same time, that the composer may see something slightly differently and in ways that you may not have considered but could greatly add to your vision.

Number 2, budget for the music.

Among film composers it is a given that it seems as if most film-makers don't set aside money for the score until the very end, and yet they always approach the composers by saying things like, "I believe that music is one of the most important parts of the film," or "I believe that I really need the music to bring out that part of the film that we haven't been able to convey with the visual." Most of us understand why this happens. As a film-maker you've had a lot of other things to consider along the way before you even get to us, like equipment rental, editing, sound, not to mention parking tickets for that truck carrying all that equipment to the set. Undoubtedly, there are some costs across the board that you didn't count on in the beginning. However, if you are able to set aside a small portion of your budget for music, it goes a long way. What should you set aside? Well, that isn't the easiest question to answer, and you should probably refer to my "How much are your rates and how do you determine them?" page, but if you can aim for setting aside around $2000, then there is a good chance that you'll have at least some of that left to spend on getting a good film-score. In a perfect world I'd love for you to set aside $3000, but this isn't a perfect world.

Number 3, prepare a cue sheet and/or lock the film with a temp score and maybe even have the time code burned on the footage.

These three things are almost antiquated nowadays, and most people don't do them anymore, but if you can do them, they go a long way. What's a cue sheet? It is simply a list of where you want the music to come in and drop out on any given scene organized from hours, minutes, seconds and frames. Hours, minutes, seconds, and frames is the time code. If you don't know what that is, it is the digits that you see running when your editor is cutting your film. Example 01:23:07;12. If you can let the composer know exactly where you want the music according to these coordinates then he doesn't have to guess and can get a lot closer to what you are envisioning. At the very least, if you can, just put in some thought on each scene about when and where you want the music to come in and stop, even if it isn't with time code. For instance "when so and so does this, I would like the music to do this and when the camera does this, I would like the music to do something like this." And use your own words instead of trying to use musical terminology that I might have a different definition for. I can usually figure out what you are talking about if you just use common speech rather than trying to use musical language that you may end up using incorrectly and thus giving me the wrong idea.

If you can prepare a cue sheet with time code, then have your editor "burn" it (the time code) into the footage that you are giving me to work with. He'll know what you mean if you ask this of him. Also, since most of us composers these days are working with sequencers like ProTools or Logic, giving us an mov. file of your film is usually the best format.

What is a temp score? This is a score made up of other music that is similar to what you eventually want in the film. It is the closest thing that you could find to matching your idea of what the music would sound like without hiring someone to write music for you. You can use John Williams or Danny Elfman music to fit it just so long as you don't release it, then you will get sued or you have to drop a ton of cash for licensing. But, in the meantime, you can cut the film with it and just give it to the composer. What this does is it let's the composer know what's in your head in terms of sound and the type of music that you want. Again, the less that I have to guess about what kind of music that you want, the quicker I can write it, and by default, the cheaper that I can write it.

Keep in mind, the above are just suggestions. If this is your first film, you may not even know how to think of these things yet. That's ok. I have worked with many film-makers who haven't taken any of these steps. However, I have noticed, in my experience, that the scores that were the most successfully completed in the shortest amount of time and the films that turned out best, all had at least one or two of the above components.

 

P.S.- I've collaborated with many first-time film-makers. While in your search for a composer, you are likely to come across many who will go on tirades about how much they hate it when film-makers don't budget for music and expect it to be free. While I am in agreement with those composers, I will spare you the third degree. I understand your budgetary issues. Let's talk. Perhaps we can work something out that is mutually beneficial.

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matt@mattlavon.com