4 reasons to hire a composer
4 reasons to hire a composer by James Wedlock.
Square peg, round hole. This timeless adage applies frequently in the post-production process, where exacting editors click through track after track, trawl through library after library in a quest to find that elusive piece of music which promises to evoke a certain mood or emotion.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic pieces of library music out there written by some extremely talented composers and plenty of occasions where they have met and exceeded briefs. Heck, I was at a film festival recently where the opening short was a 7-minute Samurai dance, choreographed beautifully to a piece of stock library music. They can overcome tight deadlines, manage budgets, and provide instant preview ability to see what type of music works well with the picture.
So, music libraries certainly have their place. But often, that elusive track is sat on one of the thousands of virtual shelves where its gathering dust, lacking accurate metadata, or probably just doesn’t exist.
Enter the composer.
For there are a whole heap of benefits in going direct to source. Below are some of the most important things to consider if you do.
1. Richer storytelling
A good composer can offer sensibility to a scene, character, or event, and often take a film on an unexpected (but hopefully not unwanted) emotional journey which music plucked from a library simply can’t.
In the spotting session, a composer can respond candidly to a cue, and discuss the ways in music can complement the visuals with respect to the narrative intents. Is it suitable for the protagonist to be assigned a theme? Should this be heroic with a hint of vengeance? All questions which can be asked and answered when in the same room as a composer.
If onboarded early enough in the process, a composer can come up with said themes, motifs, or just a general sound palette which can then influence the script writing for the better. These musical suggestions can be constantly morphed and sculpted into bigger or smaller ideas depending on how the story is being told.
2. Stronger continuity
Any editor worth their weight will know that achieving and retaining visual continuity in the film is more than just desirable. It’s essential. To a trained eye, identifying and fixing those shots which seek to compromise continuity can be second nature. However, to an untrained ear, new instances of music which are not in keeping with those that have come before can have the same adverse effects.
Whilst most reputable libraries attempt to counter this by publishing complete albums instead of single tracks, finding musical diversity which still retains continuity just isn’t possible. So, if the scene moves quickly from comedy to suspense, chances are you’ll need to pick from two different albums.
And therein lies the problem. A different album means a different sound. On the flip side, a hired composer can offer wide musical diversity but remain within the same musical landscape. Once the basic sound palette has been established, you can drift wildly through styles whilst still maintaining aural continuity.
3. Truer editing
If you went down the bespoke route, you will be editing to the music of a composer who owns the rights to the tracks. Also, providing the composer still has an exclusive licence over the music, you can ask them to amend the piece is whatever way you see fit.
Better yet, if you can onboard a composer before you’ve even started editing, they can often provide a handpicked library of their own compositions which may work straight out of the box, or only require subtle adjustments. With library music, you must work within the confines of the track, which might mean comprising on edits or transitions. Having to linger a few frames longer on a shot because the music didn’t quite synchronise quickly enough…
With a composer, it’s the other way around. Editors have a lot more control over what the music needs to do, and the composer will then have to revise bring the track in line so that it meets timings or hit points.
James’ Showreel: https://vimeo.com/385793834
4. Looking ahead
The filmmaking process is a collaborative one. One where it can be difficult to find people you trust enough to give ownership of a crucial area of postproduction. If your usual editor who’s a dab hand at patching together a various library tracks is unavailable for your new project, there’s no guarantee another editor will have those same skills. Working with a composer once means you will have established a two-way understanding of how to communicate musical ideas which will best serve the picture. You will share a common language to describe the emotions which the audience should be feeling at any given moment.
Last, and certainly not least, people like to work with people. Especially people that will ultimately share the same final vision as you. Relationships grow over time, so it’s best to keep these relationships up.
James Wedlock: https://www.jameswedlock.com/