I’ve been writing music for films and games for many years, but always remotely. I live in Glasgow, and the people that I’ve written music for don’t.

The first film I worked on was a movie for a big Hollywood studio. It was a baptism of fire. Because of the distance and time difference, there were lots of post-midnight telephone calls to discuss the progression, to update me on edits to the film, and to provide direction on where the music should go.

The problem with this is that your director may have a certain idea of what they’d like, but they don’t have the musical experience to communicate that using terms that a musician would understand. More than once, I’ve been asked to do things like “make it go faster but keep the tempo the same”, or “can you raise the underbelly of the music?”.

It’s par for the course. If you want to score films, then part of that is learning to interpret a non-musical language and translate it into what the director is after.

For that Hollywood movie, I ended up communicating with a musical director who did know her stuff. It was immediately a much quicker process. Directions started being specific and technical. “Can you drop that by 4bpm”, or “drop the filter on the bass a little” were requests that could be met within seconds.

Not My Baby

The short film I’m working on at the moment is with a fella from Ireland. It’s the third film I’ve scored for him. There are two distinct parts to the film, and a number of ways in which the transition between the parts could be handled musically. That gets my brain going, definitely. So, there’s some idea generation on my part, and some demos sent.

Music Goals

Today, I received two pages of notes on the music from the director. The language isn’t musical or technical, but it’s clear and detailed. In other words, it’s perfect. The director has noted what he likes, what he doesn’t, further thoughts he’s had about musical content, when the transition should happen, when silence is required. From my point of view, my job just got much, much easier.

And this is the main difference for a composer who is used to producing his own music solo. This isn’t my baby. It’s the director’s. Sure, the music will be mine, and it won’t be like anyone else’s, but there’s another creative voice there that can say “no, change it”, and that’s alright. It doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate and honest with the music you’re writing. It just means you have to be open to changing it if you’re asked to.

If you’re going to write music for someone else, then you need to accept that, otherwise you’ll be an obstacle.