Composing for a Production: You Can’t Be Specific (Tool #40)

When I write for media, especially media for popular consumption, I sometimes have a habit of tailoring the pieces I write to the specifics of the media.  I mean, it only makes sense to fit the music to a time frame, undulations of mood, and make it a memorable moment, right?

Well, most of the time, I’ve learned that’s wrong.  That may be true for a film that features music (such as Amadeus), but when music is a supportive pillar and not the focus itself, being specific isn’t good.

What do I mean?

The process of production with media seems to me longer, more involved, and more interpersonal than with musical composition itself.  From concept to post-production, there’s massive amounts of time, effort, and people involved.  So, when one composes for a production, one has to keep in mind that the music is a modifiable entity.  It will be used in unexpected places and in unexpected ways, and will be altered by the audio technician(s).  So, making music that is specific defeats the whole process of the massaging that needs to happen.  And I don’t mean that as a good thing–the music has to be flexible, adaptable, structural, and not “on the nose” (to steal one technician’s term), or else the massaging can’t happen and the music will have to be re-written.  Believe me, specificity has caused many re-writes in my experience.

This isn’t to say that being specific is always bad, but one has to be wary and keep in mind that the music is a component, not a feature, of the production.  It’s tough to write less interesting music than one would like, but it does provide a good experimenting field–one can really set limits on how interesting and specific the music can be, and experiment with all the possibilities that happen from there.

So, go out, write music for film, audio productions, etc., but bear in mind that most of the time, it’s not wholly about the music and thus can’t have specifics.

Happy composing,


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