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Key takeaways for STW 1.0 contestants

  1. One of the issues that we met quite often during the evaluation, that there is no coherence between the different parts of the music. We were sure, that connecting a calm, lightweight wildlife part with a sudden dramatic scene is a tough exercise.
    STW advice: you have to prepare yourself for situations like this. You have to make a plan! For example, by creating a piano arrangement for the whole cue, and figuring out how the transitions will work between each part, way before you start to your orchestration.
  2. Most of you created a nice, tasty intro, but there were occasions, where we did not feel that the music is serving the introduction-function very well. The buildup of the theme was too fast, or too slow, and jumped off the picture because of its pacing.
    STW advice: try to think about what the audience experiences: they just sit down to see your movie, they can be in any other mood, but you have to catch them somehow. You can do it with smaller, easy-to-process steps, or you can make bald moves in your music, but if you do so, be mindful that it might not work and the audience will feel disconnected.
  3. Mimicking the events/happenings on the scene is one good tool, to connect your music to the movie, but overdoing it (or doing it in a harsh way) can disconnect, and surprise your audience in a very bad way.
    STW advice: use this tool sophisticated, and double-check, if it works, or it should be purged, and just move along with some simple, more background harmonies.
  4. We experienced that many of you used epic symphonic orchestration, which is really trendy nowadays. Choosing the right genre of music is crucial to get the audience’s attention. Epic music is now attached to heroic, action-packed scenes (e.g. superhero movies), so using it in a more realistic, down-to-Earth movie can be contra-productive. 
    STW advice: you can use symphony sounds, and probably it will work, but there is a high possibility that many will use the same approach. Give yourself a chance to do something unusual, at least some other creative approach than putting there a cool string chord and a piano/flute melody.
  5. By many of the entries, we felt that the music or performance is really cool…but it has nothing to do with the scene(s).
    STW advice: Film scoring is a helluva job sometimes. The composer should look behind the scene, connect to the message, and accept that the role of the film score is to underline the movie, and accept that most of the time, the score should remain in the background.
  6. A lot of you sent their entries way before the deadline. We appreciate this extra excitement, however: most of the time there were mistakes even during the upload process. We had to ask for quite a few corrections from early-uploaders to send all the information we asked in the brief.
    STW advice: use all the time that you have for your job. You might feel that you are ready, but after some rest, you might find something that can work out a lot better. There is a psychology behind this: you are involved in your music way too much, and you lose your objectivity according to it. You have to clear your head, your buffer in your mind, and revisit your track a few days later, and if you feel it is still perfect, only then should you submit. 
  7. While you are not a professional producer, it could happen that your music instrumentation is great, but does not sound convincing.
    STW advice: A lot of things can cause this, but the only ultimate mirror for you is referencing. Sometimes it may feel really uncomfortable to put your music under a magnifier, which is an industry top-standard soundtrack, but if you want to do you a favor: use references, all the time, but at least at the mixing phase. 
  8. This one is connecting to the previous topic. Use high quality, and fitting VSTs for the purpose. There might be a situation, where you want to use an intimate string line, but you only have a VST that contains epic, aggressive strings without any legato option. From that one, even with perfect midi programming skills, you will not able to produce fitting sounds.
    STW advice: figure out what you want to compose and create, and parallel, figure out if you have the tools for it. If you do not have such optimal tools, then you better change the music and write music that can be done well with your tools or find better tools for the job. 
  9. A lot of you submitted great themes, but with not detailed-enough orchestration or unrealistic sound.
    STW advice: be mindful of your level of composing. Short example: you might be very comfortable to write deep, emotional piano pieces, and you can even sing, but since it is a film score, you decide to do a full symphonic orchestration. If you have minimal knowledge of how to write for woodwinds, we suggest you gather intel on them beforehand or put more focus on what you know the best.
  10. Sync points and energy flow: We have already pointed this before, but we felt that as for some of the submitted music the flow of the composition was somewhat confusing. Listening to the silent movie many times and creating a plan before starting to put down musical notes can help a lot.
    STW advice: Find sync points during the film, and catch the most characteristic changes in the picture, which can serve you as anchors for your music. Those syncing points can show you, how long each part should be, and you can divide your work into smaller tasks. One other great technique is to create a timeline that shows the energy level of the music in different parts of the cue. Also, you can make notes, where you want to use silence, which is one of the biggest weapons of a composer.

10+1. STW advice: Build in rests in the creative process. Letting yourself to rest or work on something else instantly makes your music better. Returning afterward gives you a brand new point of view. You will be able to easily revise yourself. Many composers are not doing this, because rest feels like wasted time, but sometimes having it is an effective way to proceed.