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.
Giacchino hit a home run with “Super 8”. The John Williams flair is unmistakable, and the almost exclusively orchestral soundscape only adds to that. This is a musically deep score with plenty of lovely, tender moments interspersed with the requisite scary music and the occasional action sounds. There are a number of great melodies woven in, from the motivic “scary” theme to the deep and meaty main theme.
Altogether, a wonderful and highly recommended work.
(Content warning: briefly refers to drunkenness)
One of the most amazing, artistically perfect, masterfully miserable pieces of art I’ve seen in a long time.
I think the thing that amazes me most about this video is that it is built on a great big artistic contradiction. The music is exuberantly joyous- the animation is retro, classy, and somehow inherently American- and yet the lyrics are simply depressing.
Even more impressive? The contradiction fits. It’s perfect.
Whether the artists behind this project did it on purpose or not, I don’t know, but in three and a half minutes we are presented with a poignant and masterful lesson in the emptiness of the modern American dream- where everything is trendy and fast-paced and upbeat and fun and fake and shallow and empty.
We walk around pretending that we’re accomplishing stuff and that we have friends and are in relationships that actually matter- but it’s all a farce. The American dream is a nightmare- the kind of nightmare where everything you ever wanted is always just outside of your reach.
Because, at the end of it all, all that stuff we did adds up to a colossal zero. No meaning, no purpose, no legacy.
“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Talk about sad.
Of course, for the Christian, that isn’t the end of the story- it’s the beginning. While the godless worldview paints us as a cosmic accident, the Christian worldview gives us the opportunity to participate in eternity- to labor for a Kingdom that will never pass away. We are not left to dance through a masquerade-ball life. We have a race to run- a battle to fight- a King to serve and a Kingdom to build.
We don’t have to live a great and terrible make-believe.
The San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival is rapidly approaching (you still have time to register, though!), so the time has come for yours truly to beat out another album- one for a very specific target audience: film festival attendees.
A few people have asked me about the whole demo-reel-creating process, and one of my responses turned out rather long, so I’m turning it into a blog post. I hope some of the info is useful to you- and I hope to see you at the festival!
You only get one first impression. Usually. But when it comes to a demo reel, you get three- the impression that you make when you meet the person you gave it to, the impression that the album cover/CD art makes, and the impression that the first moments of music make when they pop it into their player. The first is not going to be covered in this post, but let’s look at the last two.
I would recommend shelling out the extra cash to really make your CD look good. Set it apart. Make it pop. Get some good pictures of yourself taken (those will come in handy anyway), get the cover designed nicely, and get it jewel-cased. You could just buy a stack of 50 Memorex CDs and scribble your info on them with permanent marker, but that will not show the same level of professionalism. Even if your music is excellent, the other guy with not-quite-as-good music but highly professional presentation has given himself a much better chance, not only because he has shown himself as a worthy storytelling partner who takes his job seriously, but also simply because a good-looking CD is much more likely to be heard. Spend a few hundred bucks and get yourself a quality set of demo CDs.
I like to list the tracks on the CD cover along with the genre that they represent- because a potential client who is making a romance might really, really like track 22, but have no idea for 21 tracks of my CD that, yes, a big ol’ love theme is coming!
And remember: put your contact information both on the CD and the CD case.
A. The pieces you choose should be pieces that you are happy with, not ones you regret, and they should be in your top 90% as far as quality is concerned.
From Richard Davis’ “Complete Guide to Film Scoring” (a book which I would highly recommend for aspiring composers):
“Remember that non-musicians might hear an out-of-tune trumpet but not know what is wrong and think it is something inherent in the music. Then it becomes your fault…”
So quality is key. One of your favorite pieces you wrote three years ago may have a lot of great musical ingenuity to it, but you may have learned a lot about sound design or purchased a great sample library since. In that case, I’d recommend either revamping the piece so it sounds good or just biting the bullet and cutting it from the album. In the independent Christian film industry, it’s highly unlikely that you will get the chance (or the budget) to record your score with a real orchestra, so your ability to write great music must be coupled with the ability to make it sound like great music, and a good demo reel must show that you can do both.
B. The pieces you choose should cover a broad range of emotions. You want your demo reel to show a potential client that that you can score their film- whether their film is the next Bourne film or a quirky comedy. So I try to keep my demo reels pretty broad, genre-wise.
Mr. Davis also recommends choosing film-esque pieces (even better if they’re actually from a film project!), not classical compositions or songs, because those aren’t usually used in film.
Since we’re using CDs, you don’t have to worry about boring the listener with long pieces or lots of the same film score- it’s easy to skip around. That said, I usually mix up the tracks so that they play nicely together (this one leaves off with a bang, the next one comes in very softly) and I don’t usually have all the tracks from one project all together. While the listener can skip around, I don’t want them to- I hope that they enjoy the music so much that they don’t skip a thing, and when the CD ends, they push “play” again. I try to arrange the pieces so that the CD will grab the listener’s attention from the moment it begins, and won’t let go until they’ve finished the whole CD. For the third time, hopefully!
As far as how many tracks to include: I had 16 tracks on last year’s reel, and I have 26 this year. Since the listener can skip around (and I have titles on the cover so they know where they’re going), I would rather err on the side of too much music than too little (so long as I’m using good music, not just throwing in bad pieces!). I like to hope that my reel is full of enough good music that it’s not just a good demo reel- it’s also just a great CD to pop in and listen to.
Now, if we were doing cassettes, it would be a different story.
Praise God! HERO is now available for download from ResoundingMusic.com! It’s been a long journey, and (largely thanks to my amazing web designer) a fun one. This album features 20 tracks, and clocks in at just over an hour.
You can learn more and download the album here, or listen to sample tracks in the playlist on the side of this page.
HERO is an album of legends; a chronicle of journeys and of those who take them; musical tales of overwhelming odds, imminent danger, stubborn courage, and final victory; a point of departure for flights of imagination set for destinations unknown.
HERO invites the listener to take a daring trip; to set forth boldly through treacherous terrain and against insurmountable odds; to fight, to die, and to conquer. It is a journey fraught with turmoil but founded on hope, knowing that the just God Who reigns over all will be victorious in the end. It is a journey which roams from the wild west to the wild oceans, from city streets to ancient citadels.
It is the journey of heroes.
And, God willing, it will be available for download right here at ResoundingMusic.com, starting December 27th!
You can hear a taste of the music below: