Getting the Most from Production Music
By Sally House, Founder and Executive Producer, The Hit House
Someone — it’s been attributed to Steve Martin, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Thelonious Monk, and even Frank Zappa — once said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” So, let’s dance!
Music is powerful because it generates human emotion. It can move you from intensity and drama, into quiet contemplation, and on to triumphant celebration, with just a beat, a few notes and a melody. So how do you get the perfect piece for your film?
Broadly, there are three ways a music company like The Hit House can help you: music supervision, production music, and original music composition. Let’s look at each.
Great music supervisors have an incredible knowledge of music and the instincts to know where to search for it. They can find you tracks by all kinds of bands, from global megastars to indie bands you haven’t even heard of yet. Working with one of them will expose you to sounds you never knew existed, and equally important, music that will blow you away. A great brief for these guys is to ask them to surprise you and take your film/concept to places you never imagined.
Consider how filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Baz Luhrmann, and Stanley Kubrick use music in such unexpected yet brilliantly inspiring ways. Sometimes the most inappropriate track is the one that is most appropriate. Sometimes a cover of a famous track creates the perfect mood and fits within your spectrum.
This universe of happy surprises is what a music supervisor can give you. Just make sure your brief inspires them.
The best music companies have thoughtfully created, high production-value tracks that could be perfect for your project. I’m not talking about needle drop/jingle tracks. I’m talking about composed tracks, in many genres, which when done correctly, can sound as cinematic as anything you would have scored to picture. It’s also worth noting that if you work with the right partners, they will have these tracks with all the splits, so it is possible to customize the track to your needs. Love the melody but find the drums overpowering? No problem, we’ll lose the drums.
The best way to use this kind of resource is to start by finding a company whose work you admire, then asking them to help you with suggestions from their library. They know their libraries and tracks better than you ever will, and it will make finding the needle (drop) in the haystack that much easier.
A great brief for these guys is to tell them what you want to feel, rather than simply what you want to hear. These people are into music, in the same way you are into filmmaking. Partner with the right people and everyone will shine.
Original Music Composition
Done well, this approach allows you to tailor the music to your narrative perfectly. If a scene has highpoint you want to punctuate, original music can do that. If you need to complement an emotional transformation in a character, original music can do that. If you need to shift the energy of the story dramatically, original music can do that.
So in many ways, original music will give you the most flexibility. It’s also worth saying that the observations made above about Music Supervision and Production Music are also valid in the conversation of Original Composition. A great brief is to explain what you want to feel, and when you want to feel it, and then be open to surprises in genres you may not have considered.
I hope this has inspired a clearer understanding of our world of music and how best to unleash it for your films.