In the modern world, it is relatively speaking, easy to get the things you want. For instance, if I want to watch an obscure movie, all I need to do is get a subscription to Netflix, and within a few days, I can have a DVD that 15 years ago, either would have costed much more, or just been plain out of reach.
This concept is applicable to many other facets of life, and in particular, to a director looking to add music to his or her film, it is all too easy to find a composer who will do the job. And not just do the job, but do it cheap.
But this begs the question, why am I hiring a composer? On the surface, it is about the music. That seems pretty obvious, I mean, you are hiring a composer because they… compose.
But there is much more to the equation than just composing. Music, is the end goal, but the process is a little more nuanced. So let’s look at a few reasons why you should give a little more thought to who you are hiring, and not just hiring the cheapest composer you can find.
You Get What You Pay For
Not to be too crass, but this axiom is common for a reason. It is no secret that music budgets have gone down over the years. Certainly, part of the reason for this is the willingness of composers to lower their value in the eyes of the directors and producers that hire them. But the other side of the coin is the lowering of the value of the music by the directors and producers themselves. Music, because it is so common nowadays, has become cheap. We have a lot of it. It is always playing somewhere, from the grocery store, to the starbucks, to the TV in your living room, to your phone. We are saturated. Because of this, music has taken a back seat to the motion graphics, and special effects common in todays movies.
The effect of this cheapening of the music, is to also get cheap music for a film. Just go on the internet, and you will find many people more than willing to score a film for little to no money. But the vast majority of those people do not bring the things to the table that are really valuable – expertise, an understanding of story, and a respect for the film making process.
Expertise is more than just being able to write the notes. That is a given. The expertise to score a film goes far beyond that. A composer must understand not only the music, but how the music fits in the with dialogue, how it will be mixed into the film, and what kinds of sounds and textures will sound best in different dramatic situations. The composer must understand the technical details of the film scoring process like delivering stems for dubbing, or creating proper tempo maps for hitting the right points in a film.
An Understanding of Story
Beyond this, the composer must have an understanding of, and dare I say, an intuition about the story telling process. When you get down to it, films are about the story. The thing that has made the great film composers great – people like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner – was their sense of story. It was knowing when to bring back an idea from earlier in the film, at just the right moment. It was knowing when to bring up the music to the foreground. It was knowing when to have no music.
A Respect for the Film Making Process
Finally, the composer must have respect for what goes into the creation of a film. For us, it is easy to get out the magnifying glass and focus on the music, but when you put away the magnifying glass, and zoom out a little, you’ll see there are about a million other things going on. And the people controlling this, the director and the producer, should not have to hold the hand of the composer through the process. Having a mutual respect will go a long way to reducing stress on both sides. A composer that has the freedom to create something of value will bring a much better product to the film than one that is being dictated to every step of the way. And a director that is forced to babysit the composer because of a lack of experience will end up having to drop other important tasks. This can be avoided though, by choosing the right composer. One that has the expertise, an understanding of story, and a respect for the film making process.
Why Am I Hiring a Composer?
It all comes back to the original question – why am I hiring a composer? Is it just for the music? Or is it because you want someone to help bring your art to the next level. You can hire the lowest bidder… or you can hire the right composer for the job. Just remember, you get what you pay for.