Richard Williams Richard W.
Posted January 6th
I never knew that I could compose music (let alone film music) until I had the necessary software to record my thoughts.
Step 1) Find the right recording software to use
I once tried to compose a piano piece on paper in junior high but got so frustrated about losing track of my thoughts that I gave up. It was only until my early 20’s that I learned about the program Logic Pro and was motivated to try again.
Logic allows you to record what you play in real time, and then go back and edit all the notes that you recorded. This includes everything from the timing of the notes to their length, their pitch (if you played one or two incorrectly), and even how hard you played each note. Best of all, you can add multiple layers of various instruments on top of what you play. This was the key factor which enabled me to start composing.
At first, I knew relatively little about music theory, or how it applied to composition. I just wanted to jot down my musical thoughts and see if I could make something that sounded good through trial and error. I spent hours upon hours working on any good project I could get my hands on in college, and this eventually gave me enough experience to know how to use the software effectively. Logic is my favorite program, although there are plenty of other great DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) such as Pro Tools, Cubase, and Digital Performer.
I fully recommend Logic above the rest because of its simplicity, ease of use, and greatness that comes right out of the box. One of the most important factors in learning such a complicated and time-intensive skill such as film scoring is having the patience to work on this craft for many years. It really does require a long-term commitment and a lot of hard work.
Step 2) Learn to watch movies differently
While watching movies, I began to notice the power and influence that music had on the effectiveness of the film. I also paid attention to what you might call the “musical grammar.” These rules and patterns allowed me to sometimes "predict" what the next note or chord would be. I noticed that certain chords were "familiar" to me as if I had heard them before. I wouldn't be able to name them, I just knew how they felt, like knowing the taste of a type of food. As with any other language, the more you immerse yourself in it, the easier it will be to speak it yourself.
So just like that, I started creating music with this approach - listening to notes I could hear in my head, and then trying to find those notes on the keyboard. Eventually, as I learned more about music theory in college, I would pay attention to the types of chords that I (or others) used, and that became very helpful.
Step 3) Start putting all the pieces together
The most important things to pay attention to when writing your own film score are:
1) The genre, or palette of instruments and sounds that would be appropriate to the film
2) The chords, rhythms, or patterns that are effective (within that genre) at bringing out the various emotions that appear in the film. Figure out what mood is most applicable for each scene.
The tempo can affect whether something is more intense or not. Major, minor, augmented, or diminished chords all have their own inherent effects and emotions to them. For example, I did a Dixieland, ragtime sort of animation, and diminished chords worked very well in that genre for any kind of danger or "uh oh" moments. I also used live instruments consisting of trombone, clarinet, piano, bass, drums, and banjo which fit the 1920s silent movie genre very well.
In other cases, I've used orchestral sounds. Sometimes I'll use lush, long notes with the strings to evoke a beautiful, serene emotion. Other times, the strings will be loud, short, and fast to enhance an action scene. These are all things that a film composer must study from as many of their favorite movies as possible. Then they need to be able to replicate it on their own. Comparing your own music closely to what you hear professionally will always give you an honest comparison in terms of how you need to get better to be professionally competitive.
Once you have a solid demo and website, you can be start pitching to directors and media makers to potentially use your music in their work. It's an ongoing process of improving your skills, networking with filmmakers, and finding more opportunities to compose for film. I went on to win two Student Emmys in Hollywood for my film score compositions so it's definitely possible if you're willing to put in the work!