Decoding What a Director is Telling You
Decoding What a Director is Telling You
by David Green
Green Mountain Music
I was warned early on in music production school that upon entering the world of writing music for media that I would very quickly encounter a new and alien language. A language that would require a redefinition of many of the words I thought I already knew the meanings to. A language that would be full of colours and onomatopoeia. Shwoosing and chunka-chunka sounds. References to obscure fleeting film scenes that most people daydream through. This is the language of the director.
Music composers, indeed most people in all aspects of the music world, speak a language common to us all: Music-speak. It’s kind of like our own version of Australian or Middle English. For the most part, outsiders can understand the words we are using to communicate to each other but the overall meaning of the conversation begins to get lost to the outside listener. Kind of like this article. Problem is, directors (of films, commercials, TV shows) need music and modern composers need moving pictures to write music to. Why is this a problem? Because directors talk in visuals and emotions and scenes and characters. But music IS emotional, you say. This is true, but usually this means that the already existing music is evoking a certain emotion. With a director, you are talking about an emotion that does not have any sounds or music attached to it yet. And it is my job to figure out what that music is going to be.
On the first short film I wrote music for, I remember very clearly the spotting session between myself and the director. He started referencing all these different scenes in movies I had vaguely remembered seeing previews for ten years earlier. “Remember the scene when so and so had this happen to them and that music was playing and it was like BAM? It was so good!” Um… no, no I don’t. But that’s because I’m the music guy, and he’s the film guy. This would be roadblock #1. Roadblock #2 came shortly after when he was talking about emotions, in particular, happy versus sad. Along comes newbie music guy lingo and off I go into a diatribe about major chords and minor chords and how each can evoke mood in a different manner. Um… no.
So here we are; one guy talking in pictures and one guy talking in chords, not getting anywhere fast. Luckily I had some straight up, shovel-no-bull music instructors and the ghosts of music class past came back to me. It’s not my job to enter into long discussions on educating others about the rich history of music theory as it relates to the conjuring of human emotion. It’s my job to pick through the (seemingly) random song examples and emotional trigger words that a director puts forth. Reading between the lines? Why yes, young Padawan. While this project turned into an overwhelmingly positive experience, it also taught me something that I think a lot of aspiring composers forget about. You are not writing music for you. You are writing music for THEM. And the second you forget that, you’re sunk. You need to figure out how your skills can audibly bring the director’s vision to completion. And you need to figure out how to do this solely based on the information put forth by the director.
Particularly with today’s modern music production software: with its chord sequencing programs, auto this and auto that, it is almost more important to be a stealthy human relater than a stodgy sophisticated composer. If your client isn’t picking up on the vibe that you are laying down based on the vibe that HE was laying down, you ain’t getting anywhere. And thus you are back to composing for yourself in your pajamas. Which is different of course, from composing for others in your pajamas.
So, after working on numerous different media projects since that first short film, I have developed my own system for decoding what a director is telling me, showing me, and providing me YouTube links to. Now, am I going to tell you what this system of mine is? Of course not, because it’s my secret. Alright, so maybe that’s a topic for another post but let me tell you this – when somebody tells you the music needs to be more yellow, you better know what that means.
Be sure to visit David’s website at http://www.greenmountainmusic.ca as well as leave us a comment below and tell us what your thoughts on this are. Did you find it helpful? Maybe you don’t understand a single word of it. Australian-Middle-Earth-English can be difficult to interpret.