Technology has evolved rapidly over the last 20+ years, affecting how all types of media production professionals do their work.
The traditional processes for music composers and creators to collaborate no longer serve the more immediate post-production workflows these changes have brought.
As a result, creators often turn to quicker (and less expensive) solutions for their music needs, such as stock music libraries, which lack the nuance and a unifying style that can give the entire production a cohesive and professional feel.
Composers of course also have new technologies at their disposal, letting them write, produce and make changes to music much quicker than before. So how can media creators and composers work together efficiently in this new paradigm, without costing as much time at the end of the process while retaining the nuances of a custom score?
Here is an iterative workflow I’ve used that brings the composer on board earlier in the project than a traditional approach. I’ve found it particularly effective and efficient for short, well-defined projects such as advertisements.
1. Don’t wait for post-production – bring the music composer in early
Bring the composer into the process as early as possible. Have a conversation where you dig deep into the intention and narrative of the ad so that the they can become quickly immersed in the concept and start working sooner rather than later. If the media creator has strong ideas or instincts about the music, this is the time to get all that on the table too.
2. Spot the ad
How will music be used and where will it go? Should it provide a steady beat under the entire advertisement or will there be multiple cues? If there is a work print for the team to review together, that’s the best way to spot, but if not, use the script to identify individual cues and approximate the timings.
3. Determine the pacing
If there is a working print, the editing will often have already implied the pacing of the music, particularly if it’s been edited against a temp track. If not, it can be helpful for the composer to start by creating a ‘skeleton track’ (see below), against which the editor can cut.
4. Create a skeleton track
Once the purpose, placement and pacing of the music have been defined, the composer can create a skeleton track. A skeleton track is a first draft of the music, usually with fewer elements and detail than a finished track. This allows for an iterative process with quick turn arounds for early notes and changes. It likely will have rhythm and percussion components to provide tempo and introduce other important elements of the score. As the direction of the music is solidified, the skeleton will develop into the full soundtrack.
Keep in mind, even with this iterative approach, it’s helpful to leave the composer an opportunity to finalize their work against the locked print to account for late edits and VO/dialog placement. If there is live recording, that may also need to take place after the music has been finalized. So it’s still good planning to allow some time in the schedule, before the final sound mix, for the composer to complete their work.
A couple of considerations for the creative team when working this way. It’s useful for the composer to be more involved in creative discussions than in a traditional workflow, where they would typically just exchange notes and revisions with the team. This keeps them informed of changes and allows them to chime in on decisions that may affect the music.
Although the traditional way of composing to a locked cut may seem more efficient, leading to fewer revisions than the iterative development this approach suggests, this process has some distinct advantages for both the media creator and composer. It saves the media creator time at the end of their workflow, and it gives the composer something they rarely have – some time for ideas to evolve and develop, leading to a more effective and cohesive overall ad.