In the Mix – part 11 Soundtrack Music for Movie and Television by Jane Risdon

SSL Recording Desk
Filming Dead of Summer, Baywatch

Hello and welcome back to my little music business series. I’ve been writing about touring with bands as well as the movers and shakers in the business. This month I am chatting a little about getting music on the big and small screen. Nothing too detailed, don’t panic.
Some soundtracks to movie and television series are iconic. We can all sing along to those we grew up loving when instant memories are rekindled. Fitting the right soundtrack to a movie or TV series is quite a performance. One of the many areas of the music business I’ve worked in has been providing soundtracks for both movies and television series. We have also placed jingles for Radio and Video stations and on long-haul flights (Trans-Atlantic and domestic USA flights).
Often a production company will approach a music publisher and ask who – on their roster – might be a suitable composer for a movie soundtrack, for example, and the publisher would collate a number of pieces of music – demos – by the composers they think might be suitable for what is being sought. Or they might look at the work of a popular band or singer for the project.
Any composer would need to know if the music is for the whole movie (opening theme or song perhaps) with music playing during the production (incidental music) and if the same theme would be used for the end. The composer would need to be reasonably well known because, of course, budget could limit choices. Music on a soundtrack is always one of the last things to be considered worthy of spending money on. Too much instrumentation – such as an orchestra – might prohibit choices greatly. Often movie soundtracks are about the only real gigs for orchestras and orchestral composers.
Sometimes the production company hires a music supervisor to find and place the music on their project and often I and my husband have been contacted by such people who’ve liked the work of one of our recording artists or songwriters, and have requested they compose something to suit a ‘brief’ – often vague and often not completely decided upon – for the opening and closing themes for a TV series for example.
Sometimes they don’t have a clue what they want – until they hear it!
For one TV series filmed on a Californian beach to be shown for an hour, weekly for 10 weeks, very similar to It’s a Knock Out (if you recall that series), with gorgeous guys and gals competing in water sports and challenges, we had a brief which read something like: opening theme, upbeat, not rock music, lasts 1.25min and then ends with a bump. Closing theme to run long enough over the end credits, uplifting and youthful, sexy conjuring up sun, sand and California…
They wanted Bumps and Stings too – little musical pieces at certain points during the activities on the beach to match whatever the contestants were doing – for the climbing sequences for example – and so the music had to relate tension, effort and ultimately success, and lasted only long enough to allow someone to climb a cliff face or an obstacle.
Bumps and stings are words used by those placing music on soundtracks to get the composer to make an impact for an intro or outro for a scene. The best way I can describe a Sting is when music is played and ends with a ta-da-da-da: perhaps the hook piece for BBC News as the logo is shown. A bump is similar but it builds to something – tension – perhaps in an urgent news bulletin.
Those of you who recall TV programmes having a definite ‘end of part one- and ‘part two’ coming up on the screen just before adverts will possibly recall the pieces of music which played as part one went into the ad break and then the piece playing as part two began again…they often ended/started with a stabbing piece of music – to get your attention: Bumps and Stings.
So the music soundtrack can consist of a piece of music with or without lyrics – such as the Bodyguard – or such as the piece for Murder She Wrote – and the incidental pieces of music linking scenes, which are often shorter and sometimes, in the case of orchestral pieces, add drama to a scene or portray sadness, joy, or any number of emotions.
Next time you watch a TV series or a movie try switching off the music and comparing the effect it has upon your emotions as you watch. Perhaps consider what music you’d put in its place if you had the chance? Would it make the feel of the scene a lot different?
Try watching a love story without music – with the sound off – or a car chase or creepy murder scene without any music and see what difference music can make.
It is not easy to get inside the head of the production company or the music supervisor I can assure you. Coming up with a description of what the movie or series is about and then telling the composer or songwriter to do several demos, all at their own expense, to pitch for the job with little or vague information can be difficult. Examples are not always given. I recall one such music supervisor saying she loved the piece of music we’d presented, but ‘what happened to the ‘horns?’ Horns? We had not been told to add horns – trumpet, or what? What sort of horns? We asked. ‘I dunno, just horns, I wanted horns, I love horns.’ Back we went to re-do the demo…
I know for one particular series we were told to provide only music and after working on some demo ideas for about a month the composers sent me a pop song. I loved it, it suited the project, and so we pitched it. We never said a word about there being a vocal on the music and strangely enough the music supervisor didn’t comment and it went to the production company and was accepted. No mention of music only! Go figure as they say. Sometimes you have to wonder.
Music is important and can transport you back in seconds to a time and place and emotion. Remembering the music to a movie or television series can instantly place you back to that particular time. So getting the soundtrack right for a series or movie is very important and next time you sit down to enjoy either, think of the composers sitting with the minimum of information, slogging it out in their studios writing and demoing in the hope that their offering finds its way on to the next Bodyguard or Game of Thrones. There are many pieces of music which don’t make it. But if your piece of music makes it – think of John Williams and his success – you might be made for life, be in constant demand and name your own price. However, more often than not you will still be asked to do a demo at your own cost along with a dozen other composers all in the same boat – on spec as we call it. No guarantees of acceptance.
More next month. Thanks for being here.
Jane Risdon has spent most of her life working in the International Music Business rubbing shoulders with the powerful and famous, especially in Hollywood.
Married to a musician, and later working alongside him managing singers, musicians, songwriters, and record producers, she’s also facilitated the placement of music on successful television series and movie soundtracks.
Her experiences have provided her with a unique insight into the business and her writing often has a music related theme. She has written for 15 anthologies, various online magazines and newsletters and has written over 50 short stories and is writing 4 novels at present.
She is signed to Accent Press Ltd.
With long-term friend, award-winning, best-selling author, Christina Jones – one time fan-club secretary for Jane’s husband’s band – Jane has co-authored Only One Woman – Accent Press – which is set in the UK music scene of 1968/69.
Recently Jane completed a collection of her first short crime stories – Undercover: Crime Shorts – which will be published in both eBook and Paperback Spring 2019.
Jane is working on the sequel to Only One Woman as well as a series of crime novels – Ms Birdsong Investigates – featuring former MI5 Officer Lavinia Birdsong – which she plans to complete in 2019. Her experience of working at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in her pre-music days has given her plenty of material for her crime/thrillers.


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