From Academia To Media
Posted on 2016-09-23
I have been writing for various media projects for years now and I admit without a doubt that my writing isn’t anywhere near what it used to be. I had no idea of the artistic transformation I was to endure as I jumped into this world of film and video game scoring. This is simply my own personal experience to serve as insight for those of you who are coming from academic writing.
I was one of those college kids that identified themselves as a “classical” composer. All of my writing employed proper technique and form that all came from times long ago (this is the part where I push up my glasses). Of course, it goes without saying that having roots in this field is a superb asset – once you’re fine with breaking a few rules. That’s right ladies and gentlemen; parallel fifths are fair game! Now don’t go writing everything your theory teacher told you not to write just to make them mad. Like everything else, there’s a time and place for certain sounds and techniques.
So how did I get started? Well like any student facing the impending doom of adulthood, I began to think of how I was going to make a living as a composer. During this time, a friend of mind was taking a psychology course in which she had to make a short video explaining some psychological concept. She wanted her video to be different and asked me if I could possibly write a simple track to accompany her project. Let’s just say that there was an obscene amount of Mickey Mousing and that video will never see the light of day… However, it was the start of a new career path.
If you walk away with anything from this blog, let it be that you have to LISTEN to a TON of music. I had always been a fan of movie music but after having scored to picture, I began to listen in a totally new way. Classical music is written with the spotlight in mind, and so themes have to be truly captivating. Soundtracks need to be captivating as well, but after critical listening you’ll begin to notice the ever-present transparency of film and game music. As one of the most crucial elements, this is also the hardest to understand and can only be comprehended by constant attentive listening. Start by analyzing the structure of thematic material and how the composer handles its development.
Try this, take a scene from anything and listen to the music only. If you get sucked in to the scene and then remember afterwards that you were supposed to be listening to the music, study that score. A cue that seamlessly assists the screen is ideal.
Begin working your craft by trying to capture descriptions. Classical music has a lot of emotional roller coasters in its repertoire, but the majority of it is just that – emotion. Film and video game music tries to capture the bigger picture. Try composing something that gives the sense of magic, heroism, suspense, or fate. Use your idols and favorite works as models!
Compose out of your comfort zone! I don’t mean alla John Cage or really bizarre ideas. The best way to do this I think is to sit down at the piano (I’m a pianist but no I’m not biased) and just improvise. Improvise in the sense of sound exploration. Try different chord options and harmonic changes that you may not ever use outside of classical music. This is important to discover specific “sounds” that may convey certain ideas and concepts. For example, if I’m writing something set in space, I’ve learned that the use of the chromatic mediant is highly effective.
Improvising not only expands your compositional tool kit, but it’ll get your mind out of thinking in restricted tonality. What I mean by this is that you can’t write film and game music with the same harmonic expectations as classical repertoire. Feel free to wander off into distant key areas and don’t feel guilty when your piece doesn’t end in the same key that you started in. This also means that you shouldn’t fear abrasive modulations or edgy tones.
The compositional aspect is only one side of the coin. Variables such as orchestration, hybrid composition, and sample libraries are the other factors, but I will write more on how I handle those puzzles in another blog.
These may all be overwhelming ideas in the beginning and certainly your first works will be primitive. Remember that your goal is not to re-invent the wheel in the beginning, but to simply develop good taste.