Composing a Film Score (Part 2): Percussion

Composing a Film Score (Part 2): Percussion



hey it's Andrew and I am finally after a while sitting down to make this YouTube video I apologize for the absence of videos those of you who are actually looking forward to more the this this year so far has been incredibly busy for me which is great as a film composer because that means I've had lots of great musical opportunities and this is one of them actually this is for my friend Sam Likert this is my score for chalk warfare 3 i scored number 2 as well i guess a little over a year ago at this point don't remember exactly when and i enjoy writing for sam anyways this video will not necessarily be about how my music correlates to the on-screen action but it will be more about percussion and the role percussion plays and how you can approach a piece from a more percussive standpoint and achieve a connection between the percussive lines and the more orchestral melodic harmonic what-have-you lines so I will post a link to the original video in the description likewise I will post a link to this piece on my soundcloud where you can hear just the music without the video I suggest you listen to that before we get started I'm not gonna play the whole thing start to finish in this video but I am gonna play sections in isolation so you are able to or just to really illustrate points as I go so we'll jump right into that first off one of the big concepts that everyone needs to get when they sit down to compose for film especially like in computer music that's what this is is you are first and foremost a synthesis you are working with synths no matter how organic or how realistic your samples sound you are manipulating someone else's sounds you you are not the creator of those sounds necessarily so as such you have to think of writing computer music as being an Orchestrator the orchestrators in the world are able to create and capture amazing sounds out of instruments that everybody has access to you know everybody plays with the same more or less standard orchestral instruments but you can tell a experienced and amazing Orchestrator from an inexperienced average Orchestrator just almost instantly on listening how they work the orchestra and so you have to do the same thing with your samples everybody kind of has a different sample pool that they pull from so nobody's gonna sound the same but I guarantee you if you are just making your music sound realistic well that is a great thing to do with samples if that's your only goal and you're just replicating what an orchestra would normally do people would rather listen to a real Orchestra than to your samples so get out of your mind that you are just writing for the orchestra this is why I don't use templates at least 98% of the time I don't use templates I kind of built one instrument at a time and I find and kind of mold sounds as as I hear them whereas I think they need to be utilized your goal should be to create something unique something that stands out as something that gets people's attention and that could be any number of things and again all in the context of working with the film that you are scoring again you don't want to you don't want the music to stand out above the film as they are side by side but you want to enhance what's on screen and if this if the film itself has a unique look to it or unique flavor or something unique and poignant about the plot your music needs to color those sort of those sort of on-screen actions just a quick example of that is this is this is one of a lot of different things I did in the piece but this particular plug in here this in my miscellaneous section which is kind of either choir synth piano a couple different things this is a free sample I got actually from wavez Factory this is the 1850 pipe organ all the different stops here are they don't work so basically it is what it is what it is and you can't really edit it very much but it's a very dirty dark oppressive sound it it's ten it goes way beyond what I've ever heard in terms of an organ and I kind of color that in and out throughout the piece in specific sections and that's just one example even that by itself isn't necessarily being unique but once you blend it I loved the sound of these instruments being blended together let me play it for you and you'll hear what I mean it's kind of a dark creepy twisted sound the organ itself is dark the choir drone itself is a little dark and this horn cluster here is a little dark but once you put them together suddenly you've moulded and created a new soundscape that people either go hi haven't heard that before or as you bring it back throughout the piece people go okay that sounds familiar so that is a way of creating content that ties all your piece all the pieces of your music together that's not necessarily melodic harmonic or motivic it's textural it's color and it alone is another way of developing you know returning material now when we talk about percussion in the context of short film or really just film in general and but specifically this kind of action short that Chuck Warfare 3 is very often because of the fast changes in the film itself your music will lend itself to rhythmic and percussive interest and that's exactly what I saw when I watch the film for the first time I said okay there's a lot of changes a lot of direct hits there's a lot of people actually physically being hit by objects you know it just felt and looked very percussive almost metallic so oftentimes percussion maybe even if you have a dense orchestral texture but if you have that percussion in there that may be the only thing that the audience latches on to like psychologically because they see like I said they see a lot of hits and things on screen and so they're gonna latch on to that musically and so when I started sketching out the skeleton of the scenes I would find my tempo and I would start creating these percussive textures and I would line it up so it's like okay so eight bars later or however Matt yeah eight bars this line right here represents a change and at at tempo 109 these eight these eight bars here fell so I would create kind of small loops and there would be a few differences but you can see where I kind of copied and pasted the different sections and that was the skeleton upon which I built the rest of the orchestral textures I did most of the time I wrote the percussion out first and there's nothing wrong with that it doesn't lend itself to the most delicate or intricate music but it certainly gets the job done when it comes to scoring because your job is not to write delicate or intricate music your job is to score film and sometimes there are easier ways to do things so like I said the audience is probably going to hear the percussion more than any complicated orchestral textures and if you were to isolate these tracks I'm a little embarrassed like I went back to listen to a couple of the parts like oh I wonder what just the orchestra sounds like it's very sloppy is not something I'm proud of just the orchestral sequencing but once you add the percussion over it the interplay between the parts gives it a very nice sound and you don't notice the imperfections and the quote mistakes in the other parts yes so complexity speaking which can be distracting and you need to think of in your percussive parts you need to think what's in the foreground and what's in the background there's always going to be a part in the percussive section usually the lower parts but not always the part that is more felt and perceived and then the part that is directly heard that our ears lock onto anything really fast or really complex our ears are gonna hear but not really process if it's more droning like I have a lot of a lot of sixteen running sixteenth notes people will fall into those sort of patterns more easily but you of course you're not limited you're never limited by what you can do but just keep in mind that any complexity you add may be lost especially when they're watching the film and hearing the music if they're listening to the music by itself complex you know who is fine but just just remember that a lot of things will be lost so don't clutter your mix too much by having all your parts being really complex even the best orchestrations in the world the complexity is the sum total of the parts it is not necessarily the complexity of any one part a lot of contemporary modern music is very complicated very dense but let's be honest not everybody can really listen to that music and in one in one pass and the music really understand everything that's going on so so keep it simple don't get too locked down in details and don't clutter your mix with complexity because your listeners aren't even going to hear it anyways in terms of approaching the writing I as I said I sketched out a lot of these or cached the percussive parts it's a blend of synth it's a blend of organic orchestral percussion and because I had a lot of the running sixteenth let me let me play you this percussion part so you can get an idea and that goes on and on for at least those eight measures upon getting into that groove and realizing okay this really fits what's going on on screen at least I think it did I said what can the orchestra be doing that blends with that I said well if I have percussive textures that stand out so much in terms of the score why don't I have the orchestral parts also doing similar and like like-minded percussion percussive textures and that's exactly what I did it's basically the melodic and harmonic content of the orchestra of the orchestra orchestral parts was mimicking the percussion section and it sounds sort of like this so the harmony of these kind of long suspended chords is the rhythm of those chords was defined by how I sequenced the percussion that's just how it ended up it could be done any number of ways some some notes are sustained if you think about it Austin autos are a type of sustained it's a repetition of notes that to our ears we hear the rhythm but we also think of it as a sustained it's like almost like a pedal tone so I have some notes sustaining and some notes playing faster Takato notes so in terms of actually sequencing and recording your percussion I would suggest highly suggest that you quantize all of your percussion and here's why percussion serves as the rhythmic backbone of the piece and when you break out of predictable patterns that unpredictability creates it creates a change of a kind of an excitement in the audience and they immediately recognizing go okay well you know what's going on what do I need to be on the lookout for this is all psychological of course there's no there's no inner monologue it's just very spur-of-the-moment very very quick and so the more predictable your percussion is the more tight it is the more reliable it is the more impactful the changes are secondly it's just easier to program in a lot of ways and everyone's different but just just for me the the programming so much easier when things are quantized some people have told me you know it's like well then if you quantize everything then you're gonna end up with kind of a fake sound and artificial sound almost the machine gun effect sometimes and I I beg to differ here's why every sample just like in real life orchestra if the conductor brings his hand down for beat one and he wants everybody to come in and place something every musician is good enough that they are going to get very close to the beat and the audience is going to hear everybody coming in more or less together samples are the same way when we when we aren't used samples we are triggering audio files pre-recorded performances these WAV files and every WAV file has a unique speak speaking time let me show you what that is if I take this bass drum bounce in place and we're gonna look at the wav file okay this MIDI the MIDI for this is quantized exactly to be 1 ok no mystery there but look at the wav file itself in terms of how it was programmed and recorded and cut whatever even though the wav file starts here or sorry the MIDI file starts exactly here it isn't until about here where we see the wav file at its highest which the initial sound happens here but doesn't really grow because there's always kind of a grow point it takes a while for the sound to fully get inside the microphone head you know sound travels and every single sample is slightly different so any extra quantizing hurt any time you if you have distance from the MIDI and all the MIDI slightly different you're just going to accentuate something that's already there something that's always already natural something that really all happens without thinking in live orchestral music so I I'm just I'm an advocate of quantizing everything and then tweaking as needed from there something that helps remove the the feeling of artificial miss when you're quantizing everything is messing with the tempo grid if you go into tracks global tracks show tempo track you'll see I have a lot of different tempo marks here this is to create movement to create a little motion and I mean it's more or less the same for good fifty measures but once this starts happening you really notice a retard on though and you know all the different changes so that that can help break up the monotony even if you do quantize also Logic Pro has a function where you can highlight a bunch of MIDI fields and under function MIDI transform if you click humanize this randomizes the velocity some of the duration and some of the note starts of different notes so it basically very subtly and you can change the parameters and whatnot but really often times if you just select something you know select and operate not just operate only a bit like select and operate it'll take everything down and under here and move it all minuscule and it adds a little bit of a human element to it so if you've quantize everything add a little bit of human eyes and mess with the tempo you've completely eliminated any sense of artificiality in terms of note start and end points so again I I think you should be quantizing percussion just to give your audience something to work with your orchestra or whatever you have on top of the percussion can be an absolute mess but really because the percussion stands out and it's the bed you're only really adding to realism if you have solid percussion and then slightly sloppy Orchestra which is really what this piece is the orchestra is pretty pretty sloppy and isolation but between the orchestra and percussion working together it creates a nice sound so finally the last kind of basic important thing to remember when you're programming percussion like any section of the orchestra really when this is more about voicing and spacing than anything else but specifically with percussion you need to remember that there needs to be a foreground a mid-ground and a background not everything can be not not everything can fill one of those sonic spaces our ears are really listening for maybe one or two things and the rest just fills in and supports whatever's in the foreground so for example this this little section I'm going to play you here I have emphasis on the one two three one two three one two where one is louder than the three and then I have some rhythmic color building up to and accentuating the one and the accentuating the space between the one and the three but really ultimately in the foreground we have the anvil like some kind of synth drum that I have and then I have some Tom's kind of in the mid and then I have lower hits and kind of a droning sixteenth bassy sound lowering and bringing in the the background it's kind of on the lower end so remember the higher the frequency the more it's going to stick out in the foreground so you have to be careful what sort of instruments you have playing mid and background material and it's really up to taste and really just kind of what your experience is with percussion or with the sample library in general so I'm gonna go ahead and play this there's nothing special about this at all but it it just kind of accentuates it so when you listen to it listen for what's in the front listen to what's in the back and listen to where your ears are drawn and you know that goes on in a similar fashion let's see here's another section where there's a clear foreground background and again nothing special but just listen to where your ears are drawn and then I will play it with the orchestra and listen to how the orchestra goes with what's going on so every single section and every single part you can break it down between percussion and non percussion you can break it up between wins breasts strings all the different elements everything has a foreground everything has a background and then together those individual foregrounds backgrounds need to interact with the other one so that there's always something for God regardless of what's the foreground in the percussion whatever the foreground is in the entire piece is needs to be the important thing and again that just comes with kind of experimenting and it just experience overall with the sample libraries or with whatever techniques you happen to use when you're writing your music so so that kind of had a little bit of a lifted kind of triplet 'add sound to it had a little bit of a swing and the orchestra plays into that swing pattern as well again there's a sustained chord but there's also rhythmic activity in different parts so listen to what it all sounds like together again just distinguishing in your mind what needs to be in the front what needs to be in the back and then orchestrating it based on that is so crucial they're not crowding up your space or even getting bogged down in like ok I need my orchestration to be more dense or I need it to be just don't think of it that way think of I really only have like three or four different elements going on but it's all just in different sections it's doubled it's it's broken up slightly different in each section but really there's only a few musical ideas going on there but it still gets a big nice full sound out of it so one last final thing I want to talk about is when you are dealing with percussion you're probably gonna have a lot of big low frequencies building up those are gonna kill you they're gonna kill your dynamics they're gonna kill your mix once you try and kind of give your overall track some extra volume if you mix your music yourself don't do any of the mixing except for a little volume balancing just don't start with any of that while you're sequencing get the sequencing out get it down get it tight get it clean and then you know give it a couple days where you just kind of almost don't even listen to it again deadlines don't always allow for this but you know I mean give it a couple days just to let it kind of sit in your ears and figure out what is getting too heavy what what frequencies are building up where and just just remember that if you have a bunch of low frequencies I I only have let's see I have a bass drum which has nice low frequency I have these rumbles which I only use occasionally to color a few things I have some low hits and my Armageddon kit from damage from from complete yeah damage and I have a couple synth tracks with low kind of more bass than percussion but it's definitely percussive I try to avoid a lot of low frequencies just because they aren't gonna be heard they're gonna be felt so keep that in mind just it's almost like a premix of sorts as you're sequencing just think of the overall mix and what you're going for but those low frequencies and that build up will just kill any sound it lets get too too much too big if you don't mix your own music do the same thing make it easy on your engineer by not just flooding your music with a bunch of low frequencies and then expect them to know what to do with them where you want them so the more obvious you are like I was talking about foreground and background the more obvious you are about what's going and we're in the sonic space the easier it is gonna be in the mixing process if you are I've mentioned it before my friend Mark Somerville of the wave shop put a link in the description to his new website if you really want your music to stand out I really suggest you check him out see if he's right for you he offers a free mix and that'd be a great way to test out the services I I don't like putting things out in public without them being mixed by mark anymore that's just once you've kind of set a standard you don't want to drop below that and I'm not great on the mixing end I'd rather just compose and have somebody else worry about the mix I'm not too picky when it comes to the mix but mark does such a great job you know we are kind of we're kind of in sync and I trust his musical opinions and his musical here so to speak so anyways kind of a short video didn't do a lot of musical stuff but just wanted to talk about these concepts hopefully I'll be doing some more videos in the near future got a lot of great projects coming up soon that I can't wait to share with you I don't always have permissions sure you all know how that goes you know publishing rights and non-disclosure and whatnot so as those become available I will let you all know I appreciate it if you follow me on my facebook if you'd like to stay updated on things and ruger like your music is my facebook page so to speak hit me up on there if you have any questions you can always email me check out my website all that stuff is out there on the web so appreciate it thanks for stopping by and happy composing

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