The Modern Composer: Writer or Editor?

French composer Louis-Nicolas Clérambault comp...Image via Wikipedia

These days the call for music in film and television is considerable. Not only is there a big need for content but the level and variety of music must also be high. More and more composers are being asked to not only produce complete soundtracks but also be able to create music in a variety of styles and genres.

With the advent of new technologies, it’s become easier for one composer to create music in a half the time that used to take a dozen or so people. One of the technologies used more and more is the use of prerecorded loops and samples. Some composers have come to rely on the use of loops in their music instead of creating music from scratch. It allows you to create music without the knowledge of composition or music theory. In fact, it’s possible to create an entire soundtrack without playing an instrument.

The modern composer has a lot of tools at his disposal. These tools have become commonplace and it’s imperative that he/she stays on top of the technology to stay current and efficient. The composer though is only as good as his/her abilities and the tools are just an extension of that ability. Most composers, through extensive training and practice have a vast knowledge of many styles. They can write in a variety of different genres and through years of training and practice have worked at creating memorable, cohesive pieces of music. Some ‘composers’ though, have limited technical knowledge and rely on loops to create their music. In this instance are you an editor or a composer?

The problem lies not in using loops per say as it is in the abilities of the composer. When the director asks for a certain sound or idea, the composer must have the ability to convey that idea into music. This takes a lot of technical knowledge of not only music but writing for film. For example when the scene asks for a couple of different moods within a short time, how does the composer achieve that? What musical idioms does the composer use to create a certain mood and atmosphere. Another question is that of cohesion. Does the director want a reoccurring theme with variations? Does he want to play against the scene or with it? Most of all, the sound of an orchestra or a live band is still used tremendously in film. How does a composer go about composing a theme without the technical knowledge? How far can you go with using a handful of repeating loops?

There are questions you should ask when hiring a composer. Are they able to write in the style that you’re looking for. Do they write from scratch or do they use loops? Do they have examples of themes and songs in a variety of different instrumentation?  Most of all, can they make edits and changes according to your specifications at a later date? You would be surprised how many people can’t and you’re better off knowing from the start. Just ask yourself, are you hiring an composer or and editor?

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