Good Film Music is Not the Same as Good Music

Posted By: ryan On:

Photo by Simon Zirkunow

I focus on writing good music with my students. We work on motivic development, form, orchestration, and the many other aspects of composition. One of the cardinal sins of composition is to let your listener become bored, so we work on different strategies for keeping the music interesting, combining logical and surprising ideas, and constantly flowing forward.

Good film music, however, needs to be approached from a different angle: that of a storyteller. What’s boring to listen to alone might be, when paired with the right picture, perfect. A single bass drum pounding out quarter notes for three minutes could be effective dramatically, even if it would get stale and boring to listen to alone. There are even times when having interesting music could be harmful to the film because it’s distracting the audience!

This difference between music and film music is one reason why simply being a musician is not enough. You also need to have a deep understanding of story and a genuine love for movies! Besides watching lots of movies, I recommend reading books on screenwriting and story structure. “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler is an outstanding practical approach to Joseph Campbell’s deep study of Mythology (a major influence on George Lucas). I also like “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby.

Ultimately the film composers job is to serve the story. If the music turns out good to listen to on it’s own, that’s just an added bonus.

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