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Film Scoring: A Sound Design for Visual Media Guide

Interested in learning how film scoring works? In an introduction class to music scoring for visual media, students learn the theory and practice of spotting music to picture, composing music in different styles, arranging and orchestration for live and electronic music, and the business and practice of film scoring.

After receiving your degree in sound design for visual media, you will be able to start a career in film scoring as an assistant to the composer, or composer in film, television, video games, live performance. Also available are copyist positions that proofread scores and prepare parts for performances and recording sessions. Further, a career as a music editor allows you to edit and sync the music used in film with the action on screen. Careers in film scoring and sound design allow you to be creative and please audiences of movie goers.

What is Film Scoring?

In film score the director and composer work to write music in sync with visuals. It involves writing music for films, short films, TV shows, commercials, corporate videos, and video games.

In film scoring the director and composer get together to watch the film and decide what music goes where before the composer begins writing the music. This way a composer is able to match the director’s vision for the film.

The Tools of the Trade

Many films use a complex surround playback format, music scores and special effects production. Film viewers have grown to expect quality sound design in their movie going experience. Film scoring involves MIDI, hard-disk recording, timecode and synchronization and advanced effects to meet the needs of the growing population of movie goers and their demand for high level audio quality.

MIDI – Musical Instrument Digital Interface is a language that allows computers, musical instruments and audio hardware to communicate. Most common MIDI setups use sequencers to record, edit, send and playback the MIDI data. The sequencer acts as the hub for the track by sending instructions to setup, record, and keep track of the overall arrangement. MIDI events include pitches, notes, velocity, aftertouch, tempo, panning, modulation and volume.

  • Pitches – the quality that allows the classification of sound as high or low. Pitch is determined by the frequency of sound wave vibration.
  • Notes – the pitch and duration of a sound. A note can also represent a pitch class.
  • Velocity – the force that a note is played with.
  • Aftertouch – MIDI data sent when pressure is applied to a keyboard after the key has been struck, and while held down. Aftertouch can control vibrato, volume and other parameters.
  • Tempo – the pulse or beat of a piece of music. The speed of the underlying beat measured in BPM or Beats Per Minute.
  • Panning – the spread of a monaural signal in a stereo that adds space in a mix by panning instruments left or right.
  • Modulation – the changing from one key to another. Modulation incorporates at least one cadence in a new key. Cadence is a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of resolution. The three different cadences include Perfect Authentic Cadence (PAC), Imperfect Authentic Cadence (IAC), and Half Cadence (HC)
  • Volume – the loudness of a sound either high or low.

Hard-Disk Recording – a high-quality digital direct-to-disk recorder system. Directly transfers the live streaming data from the source to the memory.

Timecode – a coded signal on film giving information about the frame rate, time of recording and exposure.

Synchronization – the ability to associate the film and sound as one source. Making the audio sound like it is coming directly from the screen.

Advanced Effects – any imagery created, altered or enhanced for a film. Some specific effects created by using MIDI include adding definition to string repetition to increase the feeling of speed and urgency. The ability to play a recording backwards to create ambiance. Creating backmasking to enhance the color of a track by playing long, sustained chords in reverse. Another advanced effect is to increase the sounds fidelity by removing background noise.

Why Use Music in Film

Most importantly, music in film scores help tell a story. The music composer must have an ability to tell a story with music. The composer will also need to understand the story being told in the film. Music is also a way to set the scene whether 80s rock or electronic music in Sci-Fi movies. Music helps the film move from one scene to the next and set the mood of the scene. Music in film scoring can also set the tone for a character whether hero or villain. Finally, music can be used to keep a slow scene from dragging on.

Well Known Composers of Film Scores

Most every film score needs a composer whether they are sitting in their home studio or conducting an orchestra. Some of the more well know composers of film scores include James Horner, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Daft Punk and Danny Elfman.

James Horner – composer of the Titanic film score. Attended the Royal College of Music in London and received a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UCLA.

Hans Zimmer – The artful composer of Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight and The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star He is recognized as an innovative musical composer and composer of the first video to be played on MTV.

John Williams – worked with famed directors including George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg composing many of the Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, ET, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter film scores. Attended both UCLA and Los Angeles City College studying orchestration.

Daft Punk – well known for electronic and dance music. The duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter were composers of orchestral electronic music used in the Tron Legacy film score, the sequel to the original Tron movie from 1982.

Danny Elfman – well known film composer for movies including Spider Man, Batman, Planet of the Apes and TV show The Simpsons.

Did learning about film scoring interest you? Inspired by the well-known composers of film scoring? The Institute of Production and Recording (IPR) offers a program in sound design for visual media that teaches students about film scoring.

The Sound Design for Visual Media program is an occupational degree program that immerses the student in the world and industry of sound design for visual media. Students in class learn key skills and concepts necessary to meet the demands of a large-scale audio/visual media project. These skills and concepts include advanced sound design, synchronization, sound effects creation, field and location audio recording, boom operation, ADR recording and editing, Foley recording and editing, the creation and recording of music for visual media programs, and the audible mixing of these elements together. At a higher level, students will also learn how to make the correct aesthetic decisions for the project they are working on, gain important organizational skills that include logging and archiving of media materials, and achieve the skills necessary to advertise and market the final product.

From small-scale, low-budget independent documentaries to multimillion dollar feature films, graduates will be well prepared for this exciting and rewarding industry.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.

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