How to Communicate with your Composer
As a composer for film, videogames or any kind of media, you will be working with a director that doesn’t know as much music and audio craftsmanship as you do, and she is going to ask for specific sound assets. You will find yourself in a situation where the director of the project tries to explain an idea he has in her head, but cannot communicate it properly due a lack of music and sound terminology or just a lack of knowledge on the field. This will put you in a situation where you have to develop techniques and methodologies to break through this communication gap and come up with something that the director is happy with. I found myself producing tracks I knew were not going to make it to the project, only to dig deeper on what the director meant by “heavy beat”, for example.
You need to make sure you ask the right questions.
(And make sure the director understands why you ask them.)
It depends on the project’s development structure, but what you will normally get is a nice chat with the director, and maybe one or two reference tracks.
Knowing all of this, you need to make sure you ask the right questions and make sure the director understands why you ask them. Most directors won’t be used to work with a composer (and even less with you!).
Let’s have a quick look into a hypothetical scenario you could find yourself in:
- The director asks you to make the first track for a social / farming video game like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon. She only shows you a screenshot of the game, and tells you she wants something simple, clean and catchy.
You ask her how she imagines the music, if she has any reference track she likes. You may ask why she means by clean (it could mean simple, without any distortion or artifacts, even without reverb…)
She says she likes Animal Crossing; New Leaf’s soundtrack in general. You find out by clean she meant simple, without many elements.
You find the soundtrack, you listen to it to get inspired, and ask her if she likes any specific song, if she likes the melody, the harmony, the instruments, the sound…
She says she likes the melody of X song and the instrumentation and arrangement of Y song.
You realise both songs use mainly the lydian mode, use a banjo, have short reverb, use an AABA structure and have a tempo around 60-70 bpm. At this point you make a song with this characteristics, and when you send it to the director you state all of this points you realised about what she meant (so you educate her and she can communicate better in the future).
So basically we have gone from “Simple, clean and catchy” to “Lydian, with Banjo, Short Reverb, 60-70bpm and AABA structure (plus simple, clean and catchy!)”. This proves that spending some time trying to communicate with the director will potentially save you (both) a lot of time (and money!).
Be aware of two things:
- Sometimes you won’t have as much access to the director as you want, mainly in big projects, so you would have to work blindly and make more tracks until you find common ground.
- Sometimes the director won’t be used to work with a composer and won’t know of the communication gap there is between you, so you better make her understand that if she wants the best music you can give her, you both better spend some time trying to understand each other properly.
You’ll notice every project is going to be a trip inside your director’s mindset, and by the end of it you will know much better how to give her music she likes (and you will trust each other more).
Never give up on trying to understand the director’s vision: remember the quality of your music in the project is at stake.