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Film and TV composer Jim Hustwit draws on his years of experience to break down the top five tips for getting the film score right.

Music is a critical part of a film. Everyone knows it but knowing something and doing something are not the same.

I know that I should stop watching anything with Tom Cruise in, but I do it anyway.

And whilst most filmmakers know that music is a critical part of the film making process, in my experience it can be relegated to an after thought.

It’s unsurprising given that sight is our primary sense and filmmaking is a massively visual endeavour. Film is an incredibly powerful medium but so too is music. And I believe that the correct combination of the two is even more powerful still.

So below I’ve crafted a quick musical guide for what I believe will help you take your film’s music to the next level, and maybe even secure an award.

5 Steps To Getting The Music Right

  1. Plan your music from the outset – don’t leave it until last

The composer’s job begins before a single note is written. If you can enrol them in your vision from the outset they will be more immersed in it and be able to grow and change as the film develops. The earlier you’re able to work with a composer, the better your music will be. Include them early on, share your dream for the film and let them get under the skin of your creative vision. The results will elevate the music and with it, your film.

  1. Work closely with your composer

It follows that you need to work closely with your composer. You’re asking them to tell your story with music. Keep them at a distance and they’ll struggle to interpret your concepts accurately. Invite them in, be honest and vulnerable – a composer will never expect you to have all the answers and will welcome the opportunity to problem solve with you.

  1. Allocate around 10% of the total budget to music

If sound is 50% of the cinematic experience, why should music get 0% of the budget? It’s misguided to leave your film’s music without a penny in the pot.

If you pay peanuts you might still be able to get a musical monkey but don’t short-change your film. Every element of the filmmaking process is critical to its success. Just because the music comes last, doesn’t mean it has less value.

  1. Upgrade to real musicians whenever possible

Just as an actor’s delivery of a line changes the impact of a scene, the way an instrument is played affects the delivery of the music. Music, like filmmaking, is about telling a story and conveying emotion and this can be done much more effectively using real instruments.

Think of sampled or synthetic sounds like CGI. As good as it gets you know it’s fake and it will never replace actors. In fact, in my experience this is one ‘upgrade’ your film certainly deserves. Check out this Real vs. Fake article for a listen to the difference.

  1. Ensure there’s a good vibe

As a fellow creative, they’ll be instant synergies between yourself and your composer but there could be untold differences further down the line. Look for a composer who’s self-aware, their own toughest critic, has a good few years’ experience under their belt and understands your genre. Do they listen to understand, or listen to reply? That can reveal a lot about ego, confidence and capability. Above all, trust your judgement.

Jim Hustwit writes music to Move, Motivate and Inspire. He is a TV and Film composer, producer and musical director. To find out more visit www.larpmusic.co.uk or follow him on Twitter.

Posted on May 11, 2017

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