Spoiler alert: It's me. I put the music in.
I’m going to be blunt - If it's incidental music, I put the music in.
A hardline stance, I know. I’ve turned down work over it, too. I feel pretty strongly about this.
For non-incidental music, like, say, an opening and closing theme for a podcast? That's fine! I don't have any qualms about a creator placing them.
Do you need me to export my stems to the dub stage for a final mix? Sure! No problem.
But for the initial music placement on cinematic scorings?
Music that follows scenes, characters, or ideas?
It'll have to be me.
This is not a typical stance to take, and you shouldn’t have much trouble finding composers who are willing to create custom music libraries for your film/podcast/game that will let you do all the placements. I’m just not one of them. I have a few reasons why.
A composer is the right person for the job
Something magical happens when a singer accompanies themselves on an instrument. Even if they hit a wrong note or two; even if their vowels go to a dipthong a little too soon; even if they breath too often and don’t go for a high note. Even with any number of cons, there’s a giant pro:
A person accompanying themselves will always be playing at the right time.
When there’s a second person accompanying, the singer must work hard and subtly change their interpretation sometimes, to communicate tempo changes to an accompanist. The accompanist, even if splendid, will not ever perfectly match a rubato to a singer like a singer could do for themselves if they’re playing simultaneously.
There’s a musical synergy when you have one person responsible for multiple aspects of their performance.
I believe the same is true in composing custom music.
A composer will always be best positioned to place their music.
A composer will be best positioned to come up with transitional phrases, or shortened measures, to ensure things time out perfectly. A composer will know when to change the ending of a loop to make it connect better to the beginning, without a reverb trail. A composer will be the best fit for any number of problems, because while somebody else might think of one solution, a composer can think of a hundred.
There was a scene I was scoring that involved a climax on the final line a character said in the episode. And the notes I got back were “Make it louder. It’s not loud enough.”
But then I made it loud, and you know what?
You couldn’t hear the line.
When placing music, you may think you can control volume and make things work. Sure. But what would you do in this situation?
Because I had composed the music, I was able to change the meter for three bars, reference an earlier theme, and make it so the strong beats of the music came in between the character's lines.
This is the strength of a composer.
There’s always another solution, and sometimes, the solution someone thinks of first will be more limited than the options a composer can come up with.
I am specifically the best fit for this work
I have played and accompanied many singers and instrumentalists, timing things to their breath. I have timed out vamps in musical theatre to variable dialogue perfectly. I have extensive experience in making programmatic music line up and transition well in podcasts and film.
I also have experience in middleware, and know how to incorporate music into a game intuitively, and add interactivity. This could be with vertical layering or horizontal resequencing, both of which can sound seamless…
If I do it.
It is possible that you’d have a splendid producer, or gamedev, who could do incredibly well with just a custom library of music.
But every tool in their toolbox would be an engineer’s tool. It would not necessarily be a composer’s tool.
Your audio engineer or mastering tech can fade something in or out. But can they cut the perfect three beats from the music so that it lines up and still sounds musically sensible? Your level design lead can increase the tempo of the music and pitch it up when something intense happens; but can they add in a layer of drums and a pulsing synth?
I promise, that’s not easy.
And it does make a difference.
Having years of experience in relevant fields means that this isn’t just a job that a composer is uniquely qualified to do; this is a job that I am uniquely qualified to do.
You could make me look bad
This is a short reason, and isn’t terribly polite.
But, there isn’t a single experience I’ve had where the incidental music left my hands and I didn’t place any of it that I thought “Wow, what a good job they did.”
In projects where others placed the incidental music, it…
Let’s just say they didn’t make the demo reel.
Because the work I do for projects is one of the biggest ways I can demonstrate my abilities to future clients, I can lose work if I’m credited as a composer on projects with poorly placed music and crummy transitions. It’s just not worth the risk for me, personally.
This is what scoring is.
There is a reason I do not write for stock libraries.
There is a reason I do not make custom libraries and have people place the music themselves
The reason is this:
I don’t like writing “McMusic.”
Generalized music that can be used by any production for any genre doesn’t appeal to me. I want to write music that is rooted in your story, and that furthers the goals of a specific scene or level or episode or franchise. I don’t want to write music that’s just general enough to be used ad nauseum. I don’t want to write a four chord track for a corporate start-up to use on their sales pitches as easily as a non-profit could use it to raise money for stray cats.
I don’t want to give you a McSuspense track and a McHorror track. I want to give whatever specific creepy big bad you have in your podcast an aural identity. I want people to do a quick turn around the room if they ever hear something that sounds similar to the big bad sound because it’s so specific they can’t imagine it being something else. I want to write music that is as unique as the stories it's undergirding. I want to write music that positions your creative projects and your production company's brand intentionally and specifically.
And, for me? That means placing it in the initial draft.
I always take notes afterwards. People I work with are able to tell me to move a synth’s entrance earlier, or to fade out later, or to revamp a whole portion, or to move a musical passage somewhere else. And I can do it, and am happy to. I never refuse input from a creator.
And, for a game soundtrack, if my usage of WWise or FMOD isn’t up to your standards? I’m completely open to your making changes to make the music better integrate with the gameplay experience you’re shooting for.
If after the spotting session you need me to outsource MIDI to a separate orchestrator? That's fine.
But the initial placement? The first draft? That has to be me, I’m afraid.
This is what scoring is.
At the very least? It’s what scoring is to me.
And it’s the only kind of scoring I’m looking to do.