There are a number of books about the craft of composing music for film and television, but "The Reel World" by Jeff Rona has always stood out not only because of the composer's undoubted experience in the business but also for the breadth of his knowledge and advice. Nevertheless this is a fast moving industry where composers need to keep in touch with the latest changes in how the industry operates, and of course the huge recent changes in how technology is applied. For those who haven't previously come across this book, it is described on the cover as "A Practical Guide to the Art, Technology, and Business of Composing for Film, TV, and Video" and that is exactly what it is. Suitable for music students and composers interested in the business of writing music for picture, and others with a personal or professional interest in this fascinating and sometimes bewildering field, Rona explains all in a very practical way.
The new edition has been completely revised by Rona, and is published by Hal Leonard Books. It includes a wealth of new interviews with some of Hollywood’s top film scorers including John Williams, Carter Burwell, James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, Mark Isham, Wendy and Lisa and more. We are pleased to include below an extract from the book where Jeff Rona considers the prospect of new directions in the world of film music, and speculates on where this might lead in future. In addition we are pleased to offer visitors a discount when purchasing the book online. To benefit from this discount click here and enter promotional code NY9 when checking out to receive an additional 20% off the retail price. This discount applies to all visitors though an additional offer of free shipping is available to US residents (applies only to media mail shipping, additional charges may apply for expedited mailing services). More information about the book is available at the above link and the author's supporting information can be found at Jeff Rona's website.
Looking ForwardFilm Music for the Future
Where is film music going? Is it changing? Are we making a leap into something new and fresh? Does the future hold a key to a new style, approach, process, or technology? The answer is yes, of course, but we’re going to have to wait for it just a little bit longer.
There are always experiments with new forms of entertainment for the Web, computers, videogames, mobile devices, or hardware that does not yet exist. I’ve seen demonstrations of new platforms that have the promise of creating new interactive art forms which we cannot begin to see yet.
At the heart of people’s desire to be entertained is the insatiable appetite we all have for stories. Stories told in words, in songs, in melodies, in paintings, in films, in television, in talking, or even gossiping on the phone (or e-mail, or text messages, or instant messages, or graffiti). This is basic to human nature, and we, as creative artists, are engaged in creating works to satisfying those primary urges. Even the most emotionally repressed among us gets pleasure out of feeling things, both physically and emotionally. Those pleasures can come from a love story as well as from a bloody, violent good-guys-vs.-bad-guys story. It doesn’t matter. Those of us who have a difficult time being intimate with other real people still are interested to know about the emotions and feelings of others by way of stories told through some kind of artistic medium.
As music makers we bring something special and unique to the world. No one truly understands what it is about music that makes it the most emotional of all arts. What is it about making air vibrate (the composer’s canvas) that can make people laugh or cry, or simply feel so easily? We all know it is true, but no one yet can explain why. It plays such a pivotal role in giving films their emotional kick. Ultimately it makes little or no difference why. An empirical or scientific understanding of the power of music will not help to create a single note more beautiful than the ones we have had up until now.
The creators of new entertainment technologies have among their goals, the desire to create art forms that are more immersive than any that have existed previously—stories that people will experience by being within them, instead of merely observing them. Faster computers and Internet access allows audio-visual (and perhaps eventually tactile) worlds to be created in real-time that not only provide images and sound for us, but will respond to our actions in ways that only the real world does. When we watch a scene in a movie we cannot get up out of our seats and go into the next room of that scene, no matter how curious we are about it. With sufficient technology, we could walk around inside a movie and learn more about what is going on around the characters and plot elements. Video games come close to this in concept (especially if you want to kill the person in the next room), yet they are not as engaging as storytellers. I think this is important to remember.
Masterfully told stories, whether literary, verbal, or cinematic, must be told a very certain way. The listener, not yet aware of what will happen next, cannot improve upon the story in any way, and, in fact, shouldn’t. Stories, much like the way we experience our lives, are linear—not random. Music is the same. A song or symphony is revealed to the listener one note at a time, and at the tempo and pace the composer has chosen. Each note can be savored, and the listener is never bothered with deciding when the next note should come.
For composers interested in becoming involved in videogames and interactive entertainment, the challenges are in how to create music that can change as the listener wishes while still maintaining some amount of melodic and emotional cohesion and integrity. It takes a great deal of talent and practice to know how to write a piece of music that brings the listener a satisfying and moving experience. You learn to pace yourself just so, to start out slowly (or not) and build upon that step by step until you reach the peak moment of the music, then return back down. Frankly, good music has more in common with good sex than any other art form. It’s no wonder that people often like to have music playing when they are in bed. Music is sexy because of the way it tells its story over time.
How much of that power gets lost when listeners can decide to jump around in your music any way they want—skip one part, jump to the end, or invent a new section here and there? While there may be some enjoyment for listeners to tinker with the art (or the story) they are currently experiencing, ultimately they will probably lose out on the greatest experience they could have had, which is to listen to music as the composer intended. Actually, I believe strongly that those experiences will never go away; people will always want to experience art and music passively and appreciatively. New forms will come, but they will add to the landscape of available entertainment.
Art has always been influenced by technology, and it always will be. Change the way you compose, ands the music itself will change along with it. Computers have changed a lot. Access to sound libraries, synthesizers, good orchestral and choral simulation, drums, audio editing make the composer’s job not only easier, but more expansive as well, with far more possibilities and opportunities.
It wasn’t all that long ago that MIDI and digital audio were radical new tools for composers to use in making music. The technology has exploded since, with the power to change how composers work. There will always be developments which will improve our creative experiences all the time.
In the meantime we continue to make stories. We score films (the greatest advance in storytelling technology history, even over the invention of the printed book), write songs, jazz, musicals, operas, and symphonies. Anything we want.
We look for better technology with which to make our music, and for ways to send that music out into the world for people to hear (and hopefully pay for). As new forums for our music come along, some of us will adapt into those methods. Others will not. As someone once said, the song remains the same.