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By midlandsmovies, Sep 16 2019 08:00AM



A Day in the Life of music composer Kirby Spencer


Our fourth entry into our 'A Day in the Life" features follows Kirby Spencer. Leicestershire based Kirby is a music composer and has worked on local short films Thursday and Eve.


From mixing, sound design and composition, Kirby tells Midlands Movies about creating the perfect musical accompaniment to film projects made in the region.


07:30 - Up and at them as they say. The usual get up routine, with a little bit of breakfast possibly - but most importantly coffee.


08:30 - I turn on the most important piece of equipment I have, my computer. From here I produce all of my music and it needs plenty of time to warm up. I never start a day from scratch you see, as I am either loading up work from the previous day or far less frequently, I am loading up a template. This is a tip a few composers use in order to get over the shock of a blank page. The feeling of not knowing what to do to get yourself started. This way I always have something to look at, to point me forward. My template is simply a preset list of tracks/instruments that I use on a regular basis. For example that includes, Violins 1 and 2, viola, cellos, basses, trombones, various synths and sound fxs etc... my main template at the moment contains close to 100 tracks each ranging from a few MBs of memory all the way up to several GBs. Spread this across 100 tracks and my template can take anywhere between 10 mins and 15 mins to load for any given project. So while thats happening...


08:30 - 09:00 - Business hat on. As a freelance composer, you take on the role of a head of department (HoD) for yourself, but also everything else that needs to be done in order to run a successful business. Answering and making Email enquiries, updating social media accounts, marketing, market research, reviewing contracts, dealing with PRS etc etc. I can't get all of this done in half an hour, but I take a bit of time to wake up by reviewing a certain aspect of this side of being a Film Composer - most of the time its either answering Emails (There's a handy setting to send them out across the day) or doing a bit of market research in order to get the creative juices flowing.


09:00 - Time to review the previous days work. When we listen to music, especially the same piece of music over and over again - our ears and our mind can block out noise and frequencies that are disturbing or unwanted. Or simply an instrument might be slightly too loud or soft (most of the time its too loud..). We gradually get used to these imperfections over time as our ears adjust to them. I can get around this by listening to the previous days work with what we call 'fresh ears'. I've not been subject to the piece for several hours or even days previously, and this morning listen can highlight any problems that I may have missed through this phenomena. This can be a tip for any directors or producers out there too - you can usually tell if the music is right or wrong for the project within the first few plays. Its a bit of a balance however, you should give the music some time, but at the same time we can con ourselves into a certain piece if we dogmatically listen to it over and over looking for some profound revelation that makes it all okay. Listen, take some time away and come back to confirm - it works for me. Anything that comes up, I'll do my best to fix.


If I am starting with a new template that contains only the blank tracks that I use most frequently, then I skip to the next stage.


10:00 - Time to actually compose. If its a fresh scene or a fresh piece of music I will again try to remove the daunting aspect of having a blank slate by looking at the Film Composer's guiding light - Story. The music if decided to be present in a scene, must follow the story in some way. It must be highlighting (not adding!) something present in the scene. Through study I use an approach that was highlighted to me by Andy Hill (Walt disney Studios Music Producer) in his book, 'Scoring the Screen'. What is the point of view the music is highlighting? What is the energy level of the music? By that we mean does it work with or against the pace of the scene and the editing, and finally, does the music need to tell us something that the picture does not? Armed with these questions, and a brief from the film makers about what they would like to see (notes from a spotting session work absolute wonders), I can settle on a general direction for the music. From here its a matter of controlled experimentation, and at this point I cannot say how I might proceed as every case is different. But if I ever get stuck, its time to go back to the guiding lights.


12:00 - Lunch and break. Its important not to fatigue your ears, eyes and mind. I might go for a walk after having something to eat or something like that.


13:00 - Back on it in the same manner as the morning. It can be a solitary job this.


15:00 - Mini break usually about halfway through the afternoon - at this point I might go back to doing some of the business side of things, in particular, looking for new projects and productions that I feel I might be able to benefit, and those that might benefit me. Or anything else that might need to be done adhoc.


16:00 Back into the nitty gritty of scoring to a scene. At this point, my ears are pretty fatigued, and the creative juices are going to be running low. This late in the day, I usually focus on the technical aspects of making the cues sound realistic rather than anything creative or experiemental. There are times where I might save the thing I am working on and move back to a previous piece, something fresh in order to again get out of getting too used to hearing the same thing over and over. I would not mix at this time of the day, it always ends up sounding off.


18:00 - Pack up, save - Relax. When it gets close to deadlines, I will work on into the night as late as I feel I can.


That is just an example of a 'Day in the life of a Film Composer' and I know that it can vary from composer to composer quite drastically, and even for each composer themselves. Some days will be spent more on production (Mixing, Sound design etc) than composition. Some days will be spent on simply upskilling - learning more about the craft of writing music to picture. Some days may be spent on the business side of things, travelling to networking events, meeting clients, attending spotting sessions etc. But this is the general outline I like to follow when creating music for a media project. "


By midlandsmovies, Mar 16 2018 04:19PM



Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) Dir. Matt Schrader


If music be the food of love play on! This fantastic documentary has a who’s who roster of infamous film music composers and the sheer range of the talent on offer is worth a watch even to a passing fan of the medium.


But if you enjoy film then you must certainly be a fan. Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Trent Reznor, Tom Holkenborg, Randy Newman, Alexandre Desplat are just some of the stars interviewed in the amazing story of movie music.


Throughout, every aspect of the process is covered, as well as the historical context, and some of the pure joy is simply listening to the interviewees talking about their influences and contemporaries.


From James Cameron explaining a spotting session (where a director and composer get together to decide where music is going to be) to Hans Zimmer talking about the fear of the first meeting (“I think you better phone John Williams, I have no idea how to do this”) the trials of composing and the enjoyment of the challenges comes across in each talking-head segment.


The documentary shows Rachel Portman working on the film RACE with a screen next to her piano which a fantastic insight into her particular process whilst the film discusses motifs (such as those in Close Encounters & Lord of the Rings) and other music theory in simple but passionate terms.


Historically we see Alex North’s A Streetcar Named Desire revolutionary music as well as John Barry’s swinging big band scores (James Bond). Giving further context, current Bond composer David Arnold adds no spy film would feel like one without similar style which is the same for Morricone’s iconic sounds of Spaghetti Westerns.


From the toy piano in the intro music to the TV show Rugrats to orchestral pieces, no style is left uncovered and there’s fun to be had as the composers run through their strangest instruments in a montage of the weird and wonderful.


We are told “There’s no such thing as the wrong way to do something” as the diversity of music styles and the iconic films they are from are interrogated. Drums of Mad Max: Fury Road give way to segments about the science behind music. One of the most interesting parts describes the physiological response within the brain, followed by Moby’s “air molecules” analogy.


As Randy Newman fawns over Gerry Goldsmith we get the arrival of John Williams and his incredible splash of Star Wars and Jaws in the 70s. His rediscovery of classic orchestral scores (e.g. Superman, Indiana Jones) saw a revival of the medium leading all the way to his Duel of the Fates choir at Abbey Road.


If there was one flaw it would be that we only briefly get a piece of the history/composer before we move on to the next. Many of the explorations of genres, individual composers, music history and instrumentation go by so quickly, it can be a little frustrating. Each one alone could have entire documentaries of their own dedicated to their part but it’s a small gripe in a mostly fascinating piece.


Taking us from the need for music to cover up noisy projectors at the turn of the 20th century to Trent Reznor’s experimentations in his Oscar-winning The Social Network sound design, SCORE is a comprehensive documentary covering all the major players in over 100 years of movie music. Although brief at times, it barely misses a beat and if you’re not reaching for your LPs, CD shelf or Spotify account after watching this then I’m not sure you have any right to call yourself a film fan.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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