Just to get the excitement going a little bit.
You may recall a Kickstarter video I was involved with a while back for a film called “Bound.” Since then, The LORD provided above and beyond the stated funding goals for this project, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to contribute in a slightly more substantial way to the finished product. Over the past few months, I’ve been working with the Monitogo Studios team on nailing down exactly what “Bound” will sound like, sketching themes, setting up the instrumental soundscape, and so on. This week, scoring officially commenced- and this week we also released the first taste of this score. You can hear it below.
Stay tuned for more updates from this project, thoughts on the composition process, and more tastes of the music!
When I write music, many times I can hear in my head what I want the music to sound like. I’ll get excited, hardly able to bear the fact that before I can write the glorious conclusion that’s already ringing out in my mind I have to write all of the music that will get me from where I am now to where I want to be then. There is a gap, however temporary it may be, between my concept and the realization of that concept.
I was thinking about this yesterday, in light of all of the attempts to get computers to better understand us; maybe one day they’ll get to the point where they are installed in our brains and all we have to do is think and they will do what we are thinking. (Not saying I would want this to happen…)
So much of technology works to shorten that gap, and the shorter that gap becomes, the more powerful the person with the idea becomes; the less there is to overcome in bridging desire and reality, the more reality can be conformed to desire.
Yet, even then, the gap remains, because for our concept to be realized we still have to define it, to flesh it out, to make it realizable. I doubt that Bach had a picture in his mind of “Invention No. 1 in C Major;” he had to figure it out, come up with the melodies, construct the harmonies, analyze the counterpoint. So even if a computer could realize our thoughts instantly, we are constrained by our own finitude to work over the course of time. We cannot go directly from concept to realization; we must do some amount of construction in-between.
And this, I think, is part of the power of God; for Him, “My purposes will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure;” “For He spoke, and it came to be.”
For the Almighty King of the universe, there is no gap between desire and reality.
On my Facebook page I recently asked the question: “If you could learn one thing or have one question answered regarding film music, what would it be?”
One response that was given was this: “A checklist of things composers would love at the beginning of a project to make their lives easier. Hopefully for people who are both familiar with the inter-workings of music and those who are not so much.”
As a composer, I really appreciate this question. Composers are, after all, a mystical and unpredictable breed, hiding in the shadows of long-distance post-production, shrouded in mystery and legend.
So what can a filmmaker do to help his composer from the very beginning of a project?
1. Budget for music. Jesus asked who would start a construction project without seeing if they had the resources to complete it; the implied answer is “nobody!” Filmmakers generally follow this advice- what will the catering cost? How many locations will we need to pay for? What equipment will we need to rent? It’s important to make the same provisions for music. Even if you don’t have a composer in mind for your project, contact a few just to see what the general going rate is, and plan for enough music budget to hire a composer fit for your project. I can’t tell you how much of a blessing it is to work with someone who understands that composition is work and that “the laborer is worthy of his hire;” someone who wants to pay their people well. That’s a different paradigm than “how little will you accept for this project?”- and your composer (and anyone else on your filmmaking team) will thank you for taking that approach. Most composers would happily compose for the rest of their lives for free, except that it’s hard to eat music.
2. Clarify the legal stuff. The sooner you can nail down the legalities of the project, the sooner you can move on to the music!
3. Work with the composer to solidify the soundscape that colors the world of your story. One of the most important parts of the soundtrack-creation process is figuring out what a movie sounds like. Is this a Hans-Zimmer-Inception score or a John-Williams-E.T. score? Big brass stabs or gentle piano ostinatos? Synthesizers or soloists? Ethnic instruments? Vocals? Spending a few Skype sessions (and the ideal in-person spotting session) making sure you and your composer are on the same page will save both of you a lot of time and headaches in the future. Having a list of famous scores you like that have the right feel for your movie, some basic thoughts on what it is that you like about those particular scores, and a little collection of emotional terms that describe your movie, your story, and the music it needs will help a lot in these discussions.
4. Give your composer time. While you probably can’t mail your composer a box of this valuable resource, you can help them immensely by giving them advance warning of a project coming down the pipeline in their direction. By contacting them in the early stages of your project, you provide them with a chance to plan their schedule ahead of time, to begin formulating ideas before those ideas are facing a deadline, and to be involved in the creative process of your film. That scene in The Dark Knight Rises where the little boy sings the national anthem (as opposed to some big-name A-list singer)- that was Hans Zimmer’s idea. Give your composer a chance to really become a part of your filmmaking team, and his involvement with your story will be that much deeper and more intimate. That, in turn, may well shine through in the music.
5. Be careful with your musical affections. Don’t fall in love with a piece of music unless there’s a chance you can actually marry it to your film. Remember, the composer’s job is to make your film better than it was before by contributing music that tells your story. His job is to master the language of music, and you are hiring him to lend that expertise in the telling of your story. If you fall in love with a temp-track (“this piece from Newman’s Cinderella Man score just works so perfectly here!”) or with an idea (“I want the music for this film to use lots of trombones and no piano”), you might end up tying the composer’s hands and preventing him from doing his job well. It’s your movie, so you are the boss; the composer’s creativity will be as free as you allow it to be. If you encourage him to share his thoughts, to experiment, if you let him make the call where you aren’t sure whether your way or his way is better, you will build trust; he will know that you genuinely appreciate his abilities as a composer, and when the time comes for you to put your foot down (“sorry, I really just don’t like that kazoo solo in the middle of the battle scene”) your composer will know it’s not because you don’t care what he thinks.
6. Be ready to answer these questions:
- What is your music budget?
- When do you need the music to be done by?
- When will a locked cut of the movie be ready?
- What is the general style that you’re envisioning for this soundtrack?
7. Be there to provide feedback. This is important throughout the whole filmmaking process, but at the beginning, those initial sketches and questions are setting the tone for the entire score to follow. If you are involved, interested, and careful in giving your thoughts, encouragements, critiques and questions in a timely manner to your composer, you will help him settle comfortably into the musical world of your film that much sooner.
8. Be clear about your level of commitment. Are you just asking around and getting quotes from some composers? Is this project one that you’re still praying through, and your just doing your research? Or are you confident that this is the composer you want working on your project?
So much of this has to do simply with communication. That’s one of the things I love about filmmaking; it’s such a collaborative art. Really, it all boils down to the first and second great commandments; if you approach your composer with love, humility, openness, excitement about your project and a desire to glorify God, you could break every rule above and still make your composer happy.
Over the past month-and-a-half or so, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with friend and fellow composer Bradley Jamrozik on the score to the upcoming Border Watch Films documentary Refracted Glory. Below is a video peek behind the scenes of the scoring process.
Today we released the first official tastes of the soundtrack- including the first piece I’ve ever written with live violin.
The LORD blessed me with the opportunity to work with a dear friend, Matthew Duran, on this track; he is a very gifted violinist, and I’m thrilled with the end result of our collaboration.
Also check out Bradley’s excellent track, and stay tuned for more updates from the Refracted Glory team!
Music from the Founding Fathers Project- which blends the stereotypical fife-and-drum sounds of colonial America with the heart-on-sleeve passion and orchestral grandeur of modern film music- is now available for download from the Resounding Music store! Below is a taste of the album:
I had the immense pleasure of working with seven other composers on an album of music celebrating the birth of The Lord Jesus Christ in a cinematic style. This album presents a musical take on Christmas not quite like anything you’ve ever heard before- and I think that’s a good thing. You can hear a bit of one of my contributions to this project below, and check out the album on iTunes, find it on Spotify, and look for it in the near future on many other online music stores like AmazonMp3.
“Is rock music evil?”
This question, or variations on its theme, comes up often in conservative Christian circles (within which I am proud to swim).
Before presenting the answer to this question, a few things must be established:
1. Music is not neutral; it is both an art and a science, and both elements of music must be submitted to Christ.
2. The Bible is the Standard by which all things are to be judged. (2 Tim. 3:16)
3. There are some areas of life which Scripture does not explicitly address; this does not remove those areas from the purview of Christ’s Lordship, but it does make diligent searching necessary. (Proverbs 8)
I believe that music is one of those areas; while there are Scriptural principles that apply, there is no dissertation on musical theory between “in the beginning” and “amen”.
I also believe that unless we seek God wholeheartedly on this issue He will allow us to be swayed by our own prejudices and lusts.
One other note; throughout this post I will be generalizing with glib impunity. I trust my readers to give me the benefit of the doubt; I know that not all rock music is head-banging and backbeat-heavy; I know that not all classical is melodious and intelligently complex; I’m using the terms to connote the broad idea behind the genre or style without having to launch into a detailed explanation on every point.
Now, back to the original question.
“Is rock music evil?”
No. I don’t believe that rock music is evil. I believe that rock music says evil.
Is there ever a time for something that says evil? Absolutely. Throughout the pages of Scripture we see many tales told of evil deeds; rebellious sons, abusive men, seductive women- God’s Word doesn’t hide us from our own depravity.
Even so, in the stories that we tell, there is a place for evil. It must be handled in a God-honoring and lawful way, but it must be present in our stories, because it is present in God’s Story.
So if there is a movie which honors God and which lawfully presents the struggle between good and evil, there may be a need for music which says evil.
However, to make a steady diet of music that says evil is a decision not to be taken lightly. There may be a time for a Christian to act the role of a murderer, but to take that role on as a way of life is opening a door to dangerous consequences.
And so with every form and style of music. The Pride and Prejudice soundtrack is beautiful and calming, but it certainly doesn’t say the right thing to motivate me during an intense workout. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos have a level of technical excellence buried within that warrants years of study, but they would not make a fitting backdrop for the bullet-dodging escapades of Jason Bourne. A Chopin Nocturne would fit a gentle goodbye scene far better than scenes from the apocalypse- unless, as a storytelling tool, the calmness of the music is intentionally contrasted with the chaos and destruction.
To scream “Jesus loves you!” over a distorted power chord and a heavy backbeat is to tell two different stories simultaneously- and the result is chaos, which is contrary to God’s nature. This could be used appropriately as a storytelling tool, but it must be recognized for what it is; it may be appropriate, but it isn’t beautiful, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is.
Those power chords might exactly match the message of someone reveling in the pleasures of sin- and that would be a lawful and skillful and fitting use of that music, provided that the story is resolved in a God-honoring way.
So instead of asking whether the music is good or bad, let’s ask what the music says- and how well it says it- and whether what it says is being used in a proper and God-honoring way.
The communicative power of music is obvious; there is a reason that directors pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a John Williams score instead of knocking on their neighbor’s door to inquire about their teenage son’s garage-band. There’s a reason that a country singer wears a cowboy hat, a rocker wears a mohawk, and an orchestra looks like a gathering of penguins. Flames and neon lights don’t fit the story of Handel’s Messiah, but AC/DC is right at home in that setting.
Why? Because music says something. So does lighting. So does color.
When we depart from the binary “good/bad” approach to analyzing aesthetics, things become more difficult. Life is easy when we have a list of legalisms to check ourselves against- “Don’t watch R-rated movies, don’t ever drink alcohol, don’t listen to rock music, don’t play card games.”
Scripture calls us, however, to press beyond the milk and into the meat- to seek wisdom. (Hebrews 5:14)
May God guide us in this search.
Recommended listening: Some excellent talks on music by Ken Myers
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of working with Monitogo Studios on a Kickstarter promo video for their mind-blowing stop-motion film project, Bound. Praise God, in the interim, that project has been funded above and beyond even the stated overflow goal. Check out the Kickstarter video below, and hear the composer’s cut score here.