What Is Music Preparation?

What is Music Preparation? Music Preparation or copying is an old art. The story goes that Handel was so under pressure with his Score for the Messiah that many copyists were running back and forth to create the parts in the days leading up to the premiere. In those days copying would even regularly involve “filling in the blanks" where a composer would assume the copyist would double things on certain instruments employing the conventions of the time. Copying or Music Preparation is most simply put as, getting the notes on the paper for the performing musicians to read and play. Since I started in the music industry (1990s) the job has changed a lot. Handwritten parts were common. In some older hand written scores for film or big band you see instructions like “con alto 1” in the second Alto Sax part on the full score, instructing the copyist to write the notes into the final parts. This is not a problem for orchestrator or arrangers these days as copy and paste is easy in modern Software like Sibelius or Dorico. Sibelius was first released in 1993 and only worked on Acorn computers and the initial outlay was considerable. Notator by C-lab had come out in 1988 and worked on the Atari computer platform this programme went on to become Emagic Logic on Mac computers eventually being acquired by Apple as it's in house music software. As with many acquisitions Apple released a cut down version of the app which comes free with the OS which, of course,is Garage Band. You can create pretty convincing scores in Logic if you know what you are doing. Parts are less easy. The first Version of Finale also came out in 1988, at time of writing I think we are up to Version 26.You can see that the push to get sheet music out of computers was pretty much a late 1980s thing. Printed music before that was, most commonly, engraved on copper or pewter plates, the lines “scored” into the metal and hammered stamps used for notes and markings. The nomenclature still exists in menus like “ engraving rules” in software today. It is said this is also why we call music scores. Watch this fascinating video if you are interested to see the tools used https://youtu.be/BvyoKdW-Big  Film studios had music departments where composers Orchestrators and copyist work side by side to produce the hand written music played by the studio orchestras.There was not time to engrave the music. Printed music was for Classical and popular music that was to be sold through music shops. I remember the first time I met Jill Streater, the Queen of the London Music Prep scene these days. She was working in Vic Fraser’s copying company and there was a whole bunch of people dealing with hand copied material, copied onto preprinted manuscript paper, the instrument name applied to the part with ink stamps ( the stamp font in Sibelius is based on these). Often the copyist was responsible for transposing the part from scores in concert. This was how I presented my compositions for my degree in music. Calligraphy pens allow for the production of the note heads and thin lines needed for the stems etc. The “Jazz” style fonts that mimic hand writing in Finale etc. are the nearest to hand copying in style. The Process in Film The copyist is the last person in the chain below. Composer    Programmer    Arranger/Orchestrator    Copyist              The copyist formats the parts ( so the layout is clear for the musician reading)   The copyist prints the parts and scores   The conductors score pages are taped together ( using masking tape usually)    The other scores are often bound into books using wire or spiral binding techniques.  The parts are collated into folders or “Pads” e.g. Viola desk 3   The music is delivered to the studio and often the copyist is also the librarian.    The copyist sometimes attends the session in case of changes. ( On larger projects) So if you are still in your seat six minutes into the end titles of a film and the music department comes up Music Preparation by : Global Music ( that's Jill Streater BTW) or Joann Kane Music Services or even Simon Whiteside Music you’ll know what it means.  Edit Post Text

The Marvel Cinematic sound

  The Marvel Cinematic Symphonic universe sound This is a response to the 2 thought provoking videos that Thomas Goss shared on Orchestration Online Facebook group. The first on the You tube Channel Every Frame a Painting  the second a response by  Dan Golding [https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqnos76uuqYRZ-zI2MRNGnA]The first video proposes a few key  ideas as far as i understand-  Temp music leads to recycling- Directors and editors fall in love with temp scores- Studios like the safety of temp music scoresThe second video deals with these points and refines them pointing out- Temp music is as old as film itself so perhaps not the issue- The marvel universe draws on a smaller pool of temps- rhythm and texture have taken over from melody- Technology has had an impact on both the film and music process I feel that these are all good points and the videos are definitely worth a watch, They are well made and illustrate the above points clearly.  I would like to discuss the angle that is mentioned but not explored in much detail in the 2 videos- MoneyIt is undoubtedly true that the Marvel films are commercially very successful. it is also true to say the Hans Zimmer is a very commercially successful composer.  Commercial success leads to several things. - “if it ain’t broke why fix it?”- they must be doing something right- we should imitate their method to be successful also- the success of one brand can lead to criticism Money talks and film projects are set up as companies. In the old days the Hollywood Studios were basically film factories. They had departments in different buildings and these departments had staff like any other industry. There were production lines e.g. composers to orchestrators to copyists to scoring stage musicians to music mixers to dubbing mixers. In many cases multiple people were responsible for the music in a sequence. This was particularly obvious in musicals where a dance band expert arranger would take a tune written by, say , Irving Berlin and score it for big band around which a staff orchestrator, like Conrad Salinger, might write the string or orchestral elements and the sequences work fantastically well and seamlessly.Lots of time and money was spent on the music and box office success paid the wages. The hits paid for the misses.. People showed up to work each day and did what ever musical job was required of them. This office system also lead to a career path and an apprenticeship like training route. Not that many people worked in the industry, if you compare it to insurance or automotive production. Very few students of music went to college in the hope of working in the film music world. The Second World War, arguably, fed the studio system talent that would not have chosen the path of composing for film. Bernard Herrmann was notoriously displeased with having to write music for film to earn a living rather than as a concert hall composer and yet he is revered now as one of the seminal composers of film music as an art as well as a craft. Here is the key point Film music is a craft first and and art last. It is applied music. Richard Rodney Bennett made a very good point when he said his work for film and T.V.  was more like journalism than writing a novel. Journalism is a good comparison because the big papers used to be much like the Film Studios , where there was a clear structure from top to bottom and everything was “ in house”.  These days the freelance gig economy is very prevalent in both newspapers and media music. Technology has “democratised’ music composition and made it cheaper. The level of craft needed in the old days is not needed these days. Andre Previn, a musician of prodigious talent, worked in Hollywood for a while. He is  a concert pianist, an improving jazz pianist, composer and conductor.  Many of the mid century composers in America had conservatoire back grounds.  These days musical training is less of a requirement, not that it is missing from hollywood, there are examples of current composers who have graduated from music colleges. The difference is they may have gone to college in the first place to study film music.  The point Theodor Adorno makes in the second video that “No serious composer would write for motion pictures for any other than money reasons.” gives a pretty clear idea that, in the middle of the last century,  film composing was a considered  a type of prostitution.  Jump forward to now and the nearest thing to a Hollywood studio system music department is Remote Control. Han Zimmer’s music production company ( he also has Bleeding Fingers concentrating on TV now too)  He has a full compliment of composers and programmers to produce work of a very high level of production.  There is also a huge back catalogue of music from films of many genres from Animation to Drama. Out in the world now ,however, there are also countless thousands of freelance musicians who work in the gig economy and can produce high quality work from project studios as small as a laptop and midi keyboard with some decent storage for sample libraries.  The composers often start out working on projects in a secondary composing role. I met Steve Jablonsky ( of the transformers franchise) at Air Lyndhurst on the score of King Arthur where Rupert Gregson -Williams was dealing with the choir elements of the score .  There is a great deal of cross fertilisation. If you can get the editors on board to use music you have already written the task becomes easier technically if less rewarding artistically. The Temp score is a blessing and a curse. Blockbusters need to to bust blocks there is a lot of money tied up in them so investors want returns. This is perhaps why the lower budget films sometime produce the most original music scores. American Beauty was not expected to do as much at the box office as it eventually did. Thomas Newman has said that he was in the odd position of being so successful with that score that on one occasion a director said “ I  was hoping this cue would be a bit more Thomas Newman”,  what is the correct answer to that if you actually are Thomas Newman!  The fact that the Hans Zimmer system produces reliable financially successful results is why studios go back to him again and again as a safe pair of hands. He really is a safe pair of hands and I think he is   a very intelligent, insightful musician and businessman.  I remember when he got Harry Gregson-Williams  to score Kingdom of Heaven so he could concentrate on scoring Madagascar. This was basically the next Ridley Scott sword and sandals film after Gladiator but Hans saw the market moving more towards animation and he was correct. Not only was he correct but one of “his” composers scored the period piece while at the same time another of his guys John Powell was scoring the animation Robots. If you take into account how many films Hans Zimmer’s team have had a hand in in the last 20 years you will start to understand they are the Ford Motors of the film music world. Trends picked up from the HZ approach can be widely heard in the current motion picture musical world but we must also remember that the musical taste of the directors has much to do with what is heard. There are some directors, such as Tom Hooper, who have a good knowledge of music beyond the mainstream of pop and associated genres. Some of the most successful composers of recent times have been members of pop bands in previous lives. Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman are two obvious choices.  Dan Golding rightly points out that much of modern scoring is orchestrated rock music driven from the drums.  The ostinato and the drone are much in evidence too.  this plays well with directors whose musical tastes are often in that area of music. I would say that Hans Zimmer himself is often very inventive, especially with Christopher Nolan. Hans simmers’s collaborations with other musicians is well documented,  although the most surprising to me of late was with Cathedral Organist Roger Sayer, who, coincidently, was my choir master when I was 14 ; he was only 16 and played the organ fantastically well even then! It is often the imitators who are churning out the ostinato based sound carpet by the yard for a price. Value for money is key and focus groups are asked to fill in questionnaires,  including for the music!When it comes to judging the work of a composer we have to be fair and understand that it is a job with many pressures and the real risk of being fired!. 2001 was mentioned with regards to how George Lucas wanted to score Star Wars: A new Hope. I’m sure many of you will know that a score was written for 2001 by Alex North which Kubrick rejected.  You want to keep the job if you can because it pays well and you get to use your skills as a musician and apply them to helping tell the story.  People get sacked all the time. Dan Golding uses the example of Troy in his video essay to point out the same approach James Horner used in several films for a certain emotion. James Horner was the second composer on that film and had to write the score very quickly. I know this because a session brass playerI I know had remarked on how good the music was for the score that got rejected and that they had recorded many sessions worth of  great musical material.  So money is still spent on failed attempts. I have recently spoken to a composer colleague who was asked to score an original production for one of the streaming companies. The film was sent to him with a temp score which had a coherent sound world. He started writing and sending his music to the production and they came back saying “ this is not what we are looking for”  So after spending a long time cutting with a certain type of music they decided they actually didn’t want that type of music after all. Sadly he lost the confidence of the director and left the project but you have to wonder what the point of a temp score that is irrelevant is. No doubt the situation was more complex but the lesson my colleague took from this is make sure you get in the room with people who you are working for.Perhaps music with melody will comeback into fashion. Christian Henson made a good point in one of his vlogs , that directors often approach the score with trepidation. He said “ We are like musical Dentists”  I get his point. I have always thought of media composers as similar to car mechanics, which has a similar fear on the customer end. Directors are nearly always creative and gifted people. Directors are often visually highly literate and well read people that understand  the skills of art department, Lighting, Camera, and editing first hand. Some can draw their own story boards, shoot, light and edit their own films if needed. Not very many can write the score. That may be why they feel at a disadvantage with a composer and why the temp gives them back some artistic control. I must say I would rather a director sent me some music they like than try to explain it in words. We speak music, read music and write music like a language, although I don’t recommend ordering  a pizza using the language of music! ( I might try ringing Papa Johns and playing Hawain guitar down the phone1) At film school the voice over was considered a last resort when the story was not being told in pictures but cheaper than a reshoot. Ridley Scott is reported to have reluctantly given in to adding a voice over to the opening of Blade Runner  and if you watch the original cut without the voice over but with the score it is a very different experience. Technology is constantly evolving and there are already programs out there which allow non musicians to score there own films by using sliders to vary tension levels. The methods of Marvel film scoring can be mechanised because there is a lot of material to analyse and A.I. is a tool that can do that quickly and easily and most importantly cheaply. I have loved music and film my entire life and have worked in the industry for a long time now. I have seen much change over time and it appears to be quickening.  Supply and demand will always be a driving factor and success breads sequels,  but let us hope that art, craft and human emotion are always at the centre of telling stories with film.  Stan Lee said that he if he had managed to bring the Comic from a simple teenage entertainment product to a more literary, artistic and human level he could be proud of that.  He certainly made more rounded characters and emphasised the human in “Super Human”Technology has brought those characters to life on the screen and in abundance in the last 10 years but musically they may have missed a trick. Not having a more memorable bank of themes may have been an oversight. After all we all k now what Daredevil looks like or the colours of Spiderman’s suit we just don’t have a musical identity that we can say the same thing about. The films have made money and the producers can point to that and say “ you can’t argue with the figures”  We know from history that the popular does not always make it’s way into the hall of fame. Film makers of today will be judged by the historians of tomorrow as will film composers. They will decide if Hans Zimmer is the new Bernard Herman. Being a great craftsman is something to be proud of and i am reminded of the story of Gershwin meeting Maurice Ravel. He asked if he could have some lessons, Ravel enquired how much he earned from music and on hearing the figure suggested it was he who needed lessons from Gershwin.   In conclusion I would say, for many reasons, one of which is financial, temp music is here to stay;  so how can we use it to our advantage and to the service of the story? One way I think it is possible to make things work better is for composers to be there at the assembly stage of the film, to offer their temp choices  to demonstrate and discuss the options a director might have. I do wish that editors would work mute more often. The best editors have always had a sense of what music can bring to scene without having to have actual music to cut to. The student editor will often rush cuts in the absence of music as the pace feels slow and awkward . When music is added to this slow scene it suddenly seems to go by more quickly and have much more depth of meaning with a good score behind it. The Bottom line and the Bass line are both important  

What is an orchestrator anyway?

Orchestration is part of the compositional process for concert hall composers and there are some who are known to have exceptional skill in this area, Maurice Ravel for example.  Sometimes, as we know, a composer has enough on their plate under pressure to deliver to a deadline and hands over responsibility for getting the music onto paper and ready to be recorded or performed to a professional orchestrator. In the past these people, like me, have composition degrees and are composers themselves. These days , in commercial music such as film and T.V . the use of samples means that quite a lot of the work is already done. A "mock up" can sound pretty close to an orchestra and once combined with the dialogue and sound design  persuades most people into thinking that it is a real orchestra. An orchestrator working for a composer with good mock ups still has to make choices. It is almost certain that the project does not have the budget for the same number of instruments  that the samples represent , so it is a question of choosing which bits to replace and which to keep.  The best orchestrators make a full rich sound that integrates  with the samples to create a score that has life,  emotion and  clarity.  This is not always, indeed rarely, about replicating the exact voicing of strings etc. in the composer's version . The most rewarding collaboration for an orchestrator is when the composer works with the orchestrator to achieve a distinctive sound for that piece or film. A good example of this is the fact that there are no violas in John Lunn's score for  Jamestown but more cellos than usual and a solo folksy fiddle  on top.   In the end Orchestration comes down to "colouring in" the music , giving it  foreground, middle-ground and background; bringing clarity to melodies  and  textures to support the music or the drama , if it is for theatre or film. It can also mean adding a new dimension to the sound in the case of vocal music  of, say, a band comprising  guitars, bass, drums and  keyboards.  The best orchestrators add value to the projects they are involved in. The truly great orchestrators can create sounds from an orchestra that reach people emotionally and realise the composer's vision and sometimes even exceed it.