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indie films

Why “MIDI” Isn’t a Bad Thing

Public understanding of the term “MIDI” hasn’t progressed as far as the technology has in the last few years, and that’s a blessing and a curse. I, for one, got heavily into composing when I realized how realistic-sounding some of these new programs were, and the illusion of having used real instruments is a very important element of my work. At the same time, though, I think a little further information on what exactly you’re hearing only makes the total package that much more spectacular. 

What most excited me about advances in MIDI technology was the ability to finally be able to get realistic sounds out of orchestral samples. Most modern libraries contain samples that are performed by some of today’s top musicians at some of the finest studios, stages, and halls in the world. The amount of recorded detail is remarkable, and the fact you can alter things like mic placement is truly astounding. Throw in some high quality reverb, and you have a set of sounds that, when used correctly, will make even the most seasoned aficionado think they’re listening to a real orchestra. While these sample libraries do come at a hefty price, the things they enable a composer to do are well worth the cost.

It doesn’t stop with orchestral samples, of course. You’d be hard pressed not to find a high quality sample library either built around or including a specific set of instruments that’s professionally recorded, and exhaustively performed to include every realism-adding detail. With this in mind, it continually pays as a composer to look outside the box, and find the smaller companies that are on the cutting edge.

So, the next time you hear “MIDI” hopefully your mind won’t go directly to Nintendo theme songs or ringtones. You’d be surprised how much music you hear, specifically on television, is MIDI derived, and the technology is only getting better. However, it is important to remember that these sounds are just tools. The art is found in knowing how to use them.

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

 

What I’ve Been Up To: Scoring “Playing It Straight”

Earlier this month, I composed a score to the short student film Playing It Straight, which was directed by Michael Kenney. The film itself deals with sexual identity and societal norms in a comedic and dramatic way, with a nod to the iconic ’80s films of John Hughes. In that respect, the music I had to compose for the film was extremely stylized, and ran the gamut of overtly sentimental, to excessively dramatic, to cartoonish, making for a lot of diversity in my compositions.

Below is the final cut of the film “Playing It Straight” (Run time is 21:53, but the film doesn’t actually start until 1:28). If you’d like to get in touch with Michael, let me know and I’ll forward you his information. Enjoy!

 

Here’s an orchestral piece I scored for the film that I particularly enjoy that didn’t end up making it in the final cut for one reason or another.

Opaque by ProgressNotes

Films I Scored: ‘Lars’


Poster for the award-winning short film LARSLars
, a short film I scored in 2010, was a unique situation for me in many ways. First of all, I got the gig through good ol’ fashioned networking, as the film’s writer and director Manuela Rossi was a colleague of the guy who directed a prior short film I scored (Boxing Will). It is also the only film I’ve ever scored where the music I provided was accepted exactly as is, with no rewrites or reworking needed. Even as someone new to the film scoring game, I knew this was a rare scenario. Lastly, it was the only film I’ve scored so far where I’ve confined the arrangements to one specific set of instruments, in this case that of a string quartet (with the exception of the solo piano theme and outro reprise).

I think I decided on the string quartet instrumentation because the film, to me, is extremely claustrophobic. The subject matter and locales seem very stifling and rigid. The versatility of the string quartet was great in that the instruments can provide such a wide range of timbres and dynamics, be it a quiet sense of helplessness, to a violently rhythmic ostinato, while adding a classic feel. A large musical inspiration for me was Schubert’s Winterreise, which I felt was congruent with the feel of the film,  and was also somewhat culturally relevant. Lars

Another great thing about Lars was that Manuela really stuck with the film, and got it in a lot of festivals, including the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in France. I’m sure everyone involved with the film appreciates her hard work, and wishes her luck in the future! She is currently back in Europe, working in the film industry, and has an excellent blog, too!

Last, but not least, you can view the film in its entirety here (English subtitles, 18:12 run time). Selections from my score can be heard here. Please let me know what you think!

 

Free Royalty Free Music: How Serious Are You About Your Project?

Get Royalty Free Music from ProgressNotes

According to Google, over 120,000 people search for “free royalty free music” A MONTH. I know, I know, everyone wants something for free, and when forced to decide between what’s free and what isn’t, they’ll normally choose the free one in many cases. While that’s perfectly understandable at times, I, however, do not understand the allure of free royalty free music for use in productions. As discussed in a prior blog entry, the value that music brings to your production, large or small, should not be overlooked or squandered. Music is unfortunately often pushed off until the end of a production when the budget is all but exhausted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be selective in what you choose. Take a step back and reexamine the situation.

To get the most out of music, your first consideration should be quality. You’re going to want the best music and the best production you can get within your means. Compare the free royalty free music you download to material found on AudioJungle, RevoStock, or other sites. Don’t be afraid to use your ears to determine what sounds better. Which songs are louder, fuller, more produced? Which pieces have more character or authenticity? Another consideration should be whether or not you’re OK with hundreds of thousands of other productions potentially using the exact same song you are, likely the case with most free royalty free music. Lastly, you need to determine if you can even use free royalty free music, as what I’ve found can only be used for personal or educational non-commercial productions.

So, that’s why I ask, “how serious are you about your project?” Music plays varying roles in different productions, and not everyone has the budget to hire a composer, so it’s important to consider your options to find what is best for you without cutting corners or accepting mediocrity. The response you get from your audience thanks to a great score or piece of royalty free music might be worth the relatively small amount you spent on it.