Posts tagged ‘music score’

March 2, 2014


Tonight is Oscar night and people all over the world will be glued to their TV screens to see what the movie stars are wearing and who’ll take home the coveted Academy Awards.  But is anyone dying to know what Thomas Newman will wear?

Newman is one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Original Score, for the film “Saving Mr. Banks.”  Also nominated for Best Original Score are John Williams (“The Book Thief”), Steven Price (“Gravity”) Alexandre Desplat (“Philomena”), and William Butler and Owen Pallett (“Her”).

Film composers aren’t the most glamorous or visible celebrities at the Oscars.   Yet they play a critical role in setting and sustaining the mood of a great film.

In a completely unscientific survey, my wife asked some friends and family members to name movies that were especially memorable because of their original scores.  What famous film music excited or moved them and stuck in their minds after they finished watching these movies?

Not surprisingly, “Home Alone” was mentioned by more than one person.
The legendary John Williams composed the original score for “Home Alone” and I’ll speak more about this music in a moment.

“Ben-Hur” (with an original score by Miklos Rozsa) also received multiple mentions.

A few additional movies and composers named in this informal survey were “Braveheart” (James Horner), “Rob Roy” (Carter Burwell), “Rudy” (Jerry Goldsmith), “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (Ennio Morricone), “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Danny Elfman), “Somewhere In Time” (John Barry), “Amelie” (Yann Tierson), “Polar Express” (Alan Silvestri), Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Nino Rota), “The Last of The Mohicans” (Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman), “King of Kings” (the aforementioned Miklos Rosza) and “Vertigo” (Bernard Herrmann).

Each of the people who responded to this question obviously had his or her own reasons for loving certain films and the music from those films.  But their enjoyment of these movies — and the lasting impressions that these movies made upon them — were undoubtedly influenced by the music that propelled the action and/or captured the emotions within the story.

Getting back to the subject of “Home Alone,” my wife’s niece found this quote from Wikipedia to go along with her nomination:

Home Alone is the soundtrack of the 1990 film of the same name. The score was composed by John Williams and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score; the film’s signature tune “Somewhere in my Memory” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
“Somewhere in my Memory” was actually written to “run alongside the film” by Williams.[citation needed] It can be heard in numerous sections of the film, either in full length or fragments, forming the backbone for the film’s soundtrack. “Somewhere in my Memory” is performed in many Christmas concerts in schools or professional orchestras and choirs alike across the globe.[citation needed]

It is common for successful film composers to use a main theme as the backbone for a film’s soundtrack, slightly altering the tempo, key or arrangement to coincide with what is happening in a particular scene.  That theme is what often runs through your mind, long after the movie had ended.

One of the strongest impressions that instrumental music can make on a person is when it is heard while watching a story unfold on the screen. Our minds process the visual presentation and events in the story, while our hearts react to the emotions that the music score imparts. When a great story, acting, cinematography and music score combine, it is long remembered in our hearts and minds and worthy of an Oscar.

Now let’s find out who the Academy has chosen for its highest musical honors.


September 8, 2012


Does the name Bernard Herrmann ring a bell? If you’ve watched the classic Hitchcock movies “Psycho,” “Vertigo” or “North by Northwest” or the TV series “The Twilight Zone,” you’ll recognize his music.

I recently watched another film with a score by Bernard Herrmann, “Fahrenheit 451.” It was based on a best-selling novel by Ray Bradbury, about a society where all books are banned. In a special feature on the DVD, “The Music of Fahrenheit 451,” it was revealed that the director considered inserting a pop song into the final climactic scene, where people were overcome with emotion as they quoted aloud from their favorite books. It was shocking, to me, that anyone would consider ruining such a moment in the film with a song that would trivialize or distract from the importance of the scene.

But in my work as a composer, I’ve also run into situations where I had to argue with producers about the value of music that would represent or sustain the mood, as opposed to a pop song that not only wasn’t relevant at the time, but would date the piece of work later on. Would my “Civilization Revolution” soundtrack have been better if you heard “Hey-Ya” by Outkast when you win the game? Silly example and Sid Meier never asked me to do this, but you get my point.

An original score is written to perfectly match the mood and support the story being told. It provides a unique sound that can always be associated with that story. The director and/or producer have the freedom to develop the story line with complete control of the pacing. In great story telling, that pacing includes peaks and valleys of emotion. The music immerses you in the story being told and takes you to another place outside of your own life.

I’ve been asked to adjust the timing or mood of cues in many of my projects. This is often a very complex thing to do, not only from a musical standpoint, but these changes often come at the very last minute before deadline. Recreating the cue in my digital audio workstation is not that hard, if the same exact workstation is used. But even then, there are elements in the performance, mixing and mastering that can be problematic. If live session musicians were recorded for the cue, a whole new recording session would need to be done, which is a very costly proposition.

Pop songs are crafted in a very different way and have a very different effect on how we perceive the music. The typical three-minute pop song is written and produced to tell a story or simply to create a mood within the time allotted without any visual reference. The result is a musical experience that people relate to differently than a music score. When you hear an older pop song, it takes you back to a different time in your own life. That time may or may not have been good. If you were happy when the song was always playing on the radio, you probably like the song. If your life was not so good at that time, the song may bring back some painful emotions that you’d rather not think about.

Music videos are produced in the opposite way of film, television or game scores. The song is created first and has all of the positive attributes of the pop song format. It stands alone and does not need visual representation of the story being told. So, instead of the music supporting the visual story, the visuals are created to support the music. The phenomenal success of MTV is a testament to how well that idea has worked.

And yes, there are projects that combine visuals and pop music very successfully. Who can forget the countless Elvis movies where he would break out into song when there were no singers, musicians or instruments in sight?

I have been both a songwriter and a score composer in my career and I appreciate what each form has to offer. The decision to use pop music is one that will continue to be argued. Will the project benefit from licensing a pop tune or will it derail the immersion and story it’s trying to tell? Every project is different.

August 2, 2012


You would think it would be inevitable. You work really hard all your life to get to a point when you can finally grab the brass ring. You land a project with a huge budget to create a 95-minute score using one of the best orchestras in the TV, film and game world. Well, any seasoned composer can tell you, that’s not always what people remember about you.

I left Microsoft in 2003 and formed my own music production company, DDMusic LLC. It was shortly after the release of “Rise Of Nations” and pretty unexpected considering my contribution to Microsoft Game Studios (MGS). But I had faith that a full-fledged sequel wouldn’t be far behind, so I pressed on. While business isn’t my strong suit, I managed to score the expansion pack “Rise Of Nations: Thrones And Patriots” (developed by Big Huge Games and published by MGS), get involved in a few small projects, and expanded my TV and film production music catalog worldwide.

Then along comes the project of a lifetime. “Rise Of Nations” had made a big impression as a first-time-out intellectual property. It was holding its own against some very successful and well-established real-time strategy games of the day. Partially because of the release of my soundtrack on Nile Rodgers’ Sumthing Else Records, I was on the short list to score the sequel.

Bottom line, I was contracted to score “Rise Of Nations: Rise Of Legends.” I could now afford a composer’s dream team to accomplish a truly world-class music score. Stan LePard – orchestrator, Guy Whitmore – audio director, Simon James – music contractor, Northwest Sinfonia – 34 piece orchestra, Reed Ruddy – lead recording engineer, Studio X (Seattle) – recording studio. The list goes on.

From inception to final delivery, I spent almost a year on the project. The 60-to-70 hour weeks were filled with pure adrenalin and a creative outpouring that yielded, what I felt, was my best work ever. I was proud to have accomplished something on the scale that would sit alongside any AAA game title or major film release of the day.

But right before the project was to be released, MGS decided to pour its marketing dollars into other projects. The game probably didn’t even recoup the cost of development and never reached the level that we were all hoping for.

In the big picture, what a lot of people remember about my video game soundtracks, is the little game that started this whole scenario – “Rise Of Nations.” A gathering of very creative, motivated people who had the drive and common goal of creating a piece of pop culture. I am more remembered for the original, low budget, “Rise Of Nations” soundtrack, where I recorded a few players at a time, than the big budget, epic soundtrack from “Rise Of Legends.” But I am still very proud of this soundtrack.

Always remember that it is not the size of the budget or the scope of the project. It is the heart you pour into it.

You can not succeed, unless you accept the fact that you will fail every once in a while. Think positive, be confident and always move forward.

Here is the opening movie from “Rise Of Legends.”