Music For Independent Films – Why Your Film Score Shouldn’t Fall Short

With tight budgets and very limited resources, the independent film maker often falls short when working to bring their vision to the big screen. With hundreds of film festivals taking place annually in the United States, the platform is in place for budding producers and directors to find their place in the ‘reel’ world. But between hiring cast and crew while ensuring that equipment is up to par when it comes to lighting and photography, the film score often becomes an afterthought. Writers devote much time and effort not only to developing their stories but in searching for the perfect cast and crew to transform their visions into a tangible reality.

As the words on paper transition to the big screen, the final production should appeal to our emotions, stimulate our thoughts, challenge or support our beliefs and excite all 5 of our senses. Through actors, lighting, photography and even special effects imagery, the audience can not only see, but can also imagine the smell, taste and even touch of the various scenes. But without a relevant, suitable film score to accompany the work, what we usually ‘hear’ may end up lacking, leaving us uninterested and unimpressed.

The background music and sounds that comprise your film score are integral to the success of bringing that film to life by helping to define and add additional insight to your scenes, situations and characters. Who can forget the eerie, orchestrated sound of “JAWS”. We always knew when that shark was about to take a bite. It was also no surprise when Freddie Kruger was lurking, because of the familiar creepy composition that made our hearts beat frantically as we cautiously looked over our shoulder, waiting to scream. These two instances confirm how the film score was used to establish the actual presence of these characters, even before they were visible in the scene. You just knew they were there.

Additionally, the film score is used to create an emotional response from the audience and draw them into the situation. Characters in a film will laugh, cry, live and some die, and the audience should literally feel that they are part of what is happening. Music sets the tone, mood, energy level and intensity of the various scenes and scenarios. It helps to define the time period in which the film is taking place, the location, atmosphere, environment, and the various emotions the characters are experiencing. So why is it that the film score is often times one of the lowest priorities on the production budget? Mistakenly, many believe that high quality, original film scores are reserved for big budget films produced by major Hollywood studios. But that is definitely not the case.

For every struggling writer/director, there is a music composer who is also trying to make a name for themselves in the business. They are often described as ‘free-lance’ composers. This simply means that they do not have a contract or agreement with any of the major production companies or they are not part of the preferred music vendor network that services the film industry big boys. But, many of these free-lancers are extremely talented, creative and, most importantly, available to dedicate the time and effort needed to provide you with a unique film score that captures and enhances the true meaning of your film.

So, how do you find one of these accomplished free-lancers, and better yet, convince them to collaborate with you on your project even if your budget is limited?

1) Search the internet for Film and TV music producers/composer or production studios.

2) Join local Film Meet-Up Groups or Film/TV related organizations in your area. There are likely a few composers on the membership roster and memberships are generally free.

3) Look for someone who has a complete music library available that provides multiple genres and various track lengths, stingers, bumpers and theme music. They should also have an affordable down-load option.

4) Listen to samples of their music and ask for additional samples if they don’t have what you are looking for. By doing this, you can test their capabilities and speed of delivery.

5) Make sure that their music is original, copyrighted, royalty-free and 100% owned by the Composer. This helps to avoid nasty disputes and legal issues such as copyright infringements and violations of any pre-existing contracts or agreements.

Once you’ve identified a potential candidate, call or send an email to discuss your project and talk about your plans. If you are going to be entering multiple film festivals or submitting your works for review by major film companies, that composer’s work will be exposed as well. Having their name in the credits and their film score published as part of your overall project is a means for them to rack up some credentials for their own portfolio. You can use this advantage as a price negotiation tactic. Most importantly, avoid being cheap! Don’t try to record or re-create samples using low quality equipment, bad sound and cheesy sound effects. Your film deserves broadcast quality sound and a composer with the skill, experience and talent to underscore your film, giving it the life and personality it deserves.