Industry leaders who have a stake in the business of producing music for film and television have gathered in Hollywood at the Renaissance Hotel adjacent to the Hollywood/Highland Center for the Billboard/Hollywood Film & TV Music Conference. The two-day conference offers various panels with experts who discuss a wide variety of topics that are relevant to musicians, technicians, talent managers, engineers, entertainment lawyers, producers and others involved in producing music for television and film. While some panels were specifically directed toward newer artists with valuable advice on how to get your work noticed, one panel focused on issues faced by more established musicians who face unique challenges when making the transition from producing music that is intended for their fans toward producing music that is specifically created for film and television.
The panel entitled, “Out of the Band and Onto the Screen” included insights from some of the top talent at the conference. Robert Kraft, President–Music, 20th Century Fox moderated the panel and offered questions to people like Mervyn Warren, five time Grammy Award winning composer who contributed to scoring Sister Act 2, The Wedding Planner, and The Preacher’s Wife; Curt Smith, co-founder of the band Tears for Fears who with his longtime collaborator Charlton Pettus composed the music for the film Meth Head; J. Ralph who has created music for commercials including Chrysler, Nike, Porsche, Volkswagen and Volvo; Cliff Martinez who composed the soundtrack for Sex, Lies and Video Tape with film and television credits too numerous to list here; Peter Himmelman, Grammy nominated composer whose film and TV credits include Judging Amy and Bones; Joe Trapanese whose composing credits include Tron Legacy; Mike Shinoda, multitalented artist, songwriter, musician, and producer perhaps best known as the co-front man for the uber-band, Linkin Park who made the transition from band to screen with the New Divide that was specifically created for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. More recently Mike has been working with Joe Trapanese on scoring The Raid.
After introducing the panel members one of the first questions Robert Kraft asked about was, “how is composing for film different than writing a song for your band or yourself?” Joe Trapanese answered, “you don’t want anything that is too overwhelming or too impressionistic because you’re handling the truth…I’m always trying to convince the editors and directors to pull it back. The music should only be used to move the story along—it’s not really supposed to be a character…I’ve found (working on Indi films) that the budget is a lot smaller and you can get so much more out of less—fewer pieces and being surprised that a piano and cello can almost sound as big as a seven piece orchestra in its infinite space” and on the heals of that perceptive remark Robert Kraft mentioned that “sometimes silence is the biggest noise you could make.”
Another question had to do with the editing process: How do you decide which pieces to keep and which ones to cut? Mike Shinoda answered that question with an anecdote from when he was in school at the Art Center in Pasadena. He stated, “Our experience at the school was we would go in with say a painting and the class which was about thirty of us would each put our pieces up on the board and basically tell each other why our paintings were horrible for hours and over the course of years of doing that you get good at it. You get really good at being able to take criticism and give criticism and leaving your ego at the door and being productive. If you’re working with people who are just not interested I guess it’s a much bigger issue but as long as you’re all on the same team you can have those kinds of conversations where you can say to somebody; ‘look, I’m going to let these other things go—I really believe in this one’ then people will be a little more receptive” to which Robert Kraft replied, “you have a big future as a film composer with that attitude because that is the essence of it.” Mike responded, “that’s how our band works. We’ve got six guys doing that. Every Monday we get together with our records. That’s the reason why it takes us over a year to make a record is that we’re killing ideas, one right after the other and building up new ones… even if one guy in our group doesn’t like it for some reason or another we’re going to get in there and figure out what is it about it that he’s not into and we’re going to respect that even if he can’t write the piece that we’re talking about—even if he can’t write the vocal or he can’t write whatever–his opinion is potentially one sixth of our fan base so we’re going to respect that and try and make it work.”
Curt Smith discussed the difference between composing for himself as a solo artist and composing for Tears for Fears: “the difference between what we do as solo artists and what we do as Tears for Fears is this is the stuff we can agree on and that is basically we have to agree on everything we do so it’s the same as working for a film director or producer where you have to come to some agreement and consensus as to what you all like and I think it is the same as working with a band.
There were many other topics discussed but one of the things that the audience came away with is that when you hear music in a film or on TV those sounds represent sometimes-painstaking effort on the part of the artists to get it just right. They have a great deal of respect for the other artists and collaborators and they venerate the music.