Creativity, considerations and formats for film music

I have collected a couple of issues that I have regularly come accross when writing music for films and I have collected them here, so directors that haven’t worked with composers that much can get a little better idea of what is involved in creating the music for a film. I tried to keep it very short because I know we’re all very busy and don’t have time to read huge documents. If you would like to know more about this issue I recommend this book by Richard Davis, one of my teachers at Berklee.


The creative part really has to start with the director trying out a few things, developing a feel for music and how it relates to what’s going on on screen. He/she will have to develop this just as much as how to direct actors around the set. One of the biggest challenges I frequently encounter is a director that has not spent any time thinking about the music, then asks me to “just do something” which usually involves a lot of decisions that I as a composer can not and should not make, like:

what kind of music do I as a director really want in my film?

where does the music start and stop?

why is there music in a particular scene?

what effect is the music supposed to create/add/support/counterpoint?

Even before I write a single note or a motive te kind of decisions highly influence my writing because music is essentially a time based medium and you can not just change the timing of a musical phrase as it will loose its meaning and usually will have to be replaced by something else. It’s the nature of the game.

This is the reason why editors like to use so-called temp music so they can get a feel for what the music will do to the picture. Temp music is a two edged sword though because if the director and editor fall in love with the temp through sheer repetition the composer can only recreate the temp music and change a note or sound here or there. Of course this situation can result in a lawsuit for copyright infringment if the composer of the temp music should accidentally watch the film.


I’m almost always given the film on a DVD that can be played in a regular DVD player. This is not the preferred method as it involves rendering time on the editors side and conversion time on my side to get the format back into .mp4, .avi or .dv that I can then use with the software I use to compose. The biggest drawback of the conversion is usually the timing and picture quality, I can never be sure to have the same beginning as the editor and therefore it is hard for me to know, what to send him/her.

The easiest way to work is to receive a video that’s already in data format (.mp4, .avi, .dv) and that contains a timecode burn-in. That way I can send the music including a small click audio signal at a specific frame to the editor and tell him where to align the music.

It saves a lot of hassle.

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