Film music is a genre worth writing for, even if the pay is sometimes nonexistent, the creative license of the composer is often compromised and the sound effects consistently drown out your freshly recorded score. If you've got a score you're proud of, a score you hate or a score that you would just like some feedback on, this discussion's for you. 

I don't want to put anyone on the spot, so I'll submit my score for discussion first.

As you might know, I recently scored a clip from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Your constructive criticism, positive or negative, is much appreciated. 

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Good job matching the music to the mood. You built tension when appropriate, slow and sad when appropriate. I thought your transitions from tension to relief (ie. upon the arrival of Hermione and Ron) were effectively marked by your key changes.  However, I thought that the moment when Harry's expression turned from anguish (over Sirius's death) to anger, could have been brought out more by the music. But, overall, I really enjoyed your piece!

Thanks, Karl. Good to hear from you! The lack of proper emotional depth to convey Harry's grief in that scene was Julie's major complaint as well. Must need more strings. 

First, I must say, I listened to all the 19 entries in the Composers Challenge Entries  and I can honestly say that I thought yours was the best!   I will be voting today --  Hope everyone else in VirtualArtists will also vote!  I also liked #18 and #9.  I used to like parts of #12 until you showed exactly where my favorite selections were "lifted from", verbatim.  Gulp.

Here's my blow-by-blow critique:

0:18 - 0:59 - I would have preferred something other than complete silence at the beginning.  I know this is a low key, non-action scene, but there's plenty of tension and anticipation and I'd like to hear that outlined with some instrument, almost beyond the range of hearing.  Maybe a low pedal point of bass trombone or occasional muted timpani would work.  There are times when silence is brilliant, but to me, this isn't one of those times.  If this scene had followed an action scene, the silence would have been nice.  But for a competition, you need to catch the judge's or voter's attention as soon as possible!

1:00 - 1:31 When the music does start, it's awesome!  I particularly like the rhythmic drive, and the lack of common practice chords which heightens the mystery.  I also really like the orchestration.  The entries who gave us minor chords played by strings at this spot seemed rather predictable and somewhat boring.  I especially like the way you framed "get away from my godson" - very effective!

1:32 - 1:47 Nice first interweaving of Harry Potter theme - it's very subtle which is a great dividend!

1:48 - 1:57 Great use of silence!  This is one of those places where silence is a vital part of the action, much better than continuous music.

1:57 - 2:40  Although I do like the mournful flute, I think as Karl said you could have done more with this section emotionally.  In many ways, it's the emotional heart of the segment.  At minimum it's a chance to compose grief and shock.  I would say you're much more superb with fight scenes than with highly charged emotional scenes ... at least for now!  I don't think you necessarily need strings here.  It's not the orchestration that would express grief, it's more the harmonic and/or melodic line.  We should explore some good examples from film scores.  Who has written the best expression of grief?

2:40 - 3:04 Good use of tension and buildup

3:13 Seamless transition to Dumbledore's entrance - nice contrast of texture and tone

3:40 Good orchestration and energy

3:52 - 4:24  Good use of silence and spare musical elements to create even more tension and to allow the sound effects to take over

4:24 - 4:36 Wonderful subtle musical counterpoint to the sounds of shattering glass and destruction

4:36 - 4:49  The silence here doesn't seem to work.  It's too sudden and too stark a contrast, and it lasts too long.

4:49 - 6:10 One of the best sections!  The long pedal point leading to the various themes is very effective.  I love the high tinkling piano notes!  You've done a great idea of interweaving many fragments within the underlying tension.

6:11 - 7:06 Another of my favorite sections.  Nice change of mood, again great interweaving of themes.  The use of polytonality and contrasting textures is particularly good here.

7:06 - 7:12 Nice fadeout

7:13 - 7:26 Great use of low notes against themes

7:27 - 7:40  Fade away and silence works very well here

7:40 - end Nice ending - wraps up this segment very well

Yeah, in hindsight, the silence at the beginning of the clip really doesn't fit. In the context of the film, this is a scene that I think could work well without music (especially given the action that precedes it), but as the starting point of the clip, it could've used something. 

There could definitely be something more for the death of Sirius section, although I think I did an admirable job of "highly charged emotional scenes" on the whole, when you consider the possession/friends arrive segment later in the clip. I approached the death scene, from the beginning, as more of a dirge in the style of "Citizen Kane," which is effectively sobering but perhaps not quite the heart-wrenching style the scene required.

Interestingly, the transition to Dumbledore's arrival around 3:13 is one of my "wince" moments, because two audio files briefly overlap and the transition is not what I intended. I guess without that knowledge it works fine.

I should point out that the sounds at 4:24-4:36 are not my doing--I don't think I have the knowledge or equipment to pull that kind of sound editing off! That's just from the clip.

It's true, you did do an admirable job of highly charged emotional scenes elsewhere.  I should have limited that discussion to just the death of Sirius.  I think your music for the moment after Sirius was killed worked better than any of the other entries at that point.  There is something I personally wanted there that no one did ...  I'm not even sure what that elusive something might be.  I understood your setting better when you told me he was struggling for his very soul there .... that's definitely a highly charged emotion which you captured exceedingly well. 

Oh wow - that section at 4:24-4:36 was built-in sound!  Shows what I (don't) know. 

Noah, I know you divided your score up into sections, and worked on each one separately.  Could you tell us the names of each of your sections, the cue minute:second for each section, and the musical and technical steps you went through to combine all these into one?   What method did you use to coordinate times in film and music?   Each of us has done this differently, so it's helpful to compare notes!


1:00-1:52 Part I: Arrival of Sirius, Arrival of Order of the Phoenix, Death Eaters vs. Order

The gap between these parts is several seconds of silence.

1:57-3:12 Part II: Death of Sirius, Harry Chases Bellatrix, Arrival of Lord Voldemort

There is no pause between these two sections; in fact, they overlap by a second or two.

3:13-3:51 Part III: Arrival of Dumbledore, Dumbledore vs. Voldemort

Part III ends where the sound effects really begin; the music stops when the snake rears its ugly head. Eventually, the audio of the clip is cut and we are left with some awkward silence as Julie mentioned earlier.

4:49-7:29 Part IV: The Possession Scene and Voldemort's Final Remarks

Just a little bit of silence between these two parts.

7:40-8:11 Part V: The Headlines

I wrote all these scores with the Youtube window pulled up next to the Sibelius file. When I'd written all five parts, I put the five audio files into garage band, pulled the Youtube window up again, and played around with the audio files until they were all the right distance from each other to play in sync with the clip. Not the most high tech or efficient method of scoring, but it did the trick.

Thanks Noah - that is really helpful to all of those who are enjoying your setting of the film.   As you said, it did the trick - and exceedingly well!   When Grace and Gabe get back, and Kevin finishes his June Crunch, it will be interesting to hear from them regarding the methods and software packages they used to do their scoring and their film coordination. 

We're lucky to have so many tools at our disposable, and it's a worthwhile goal to determine which methods work best!

Noah, I confess that I've never seen a Harry Potter film except for snippets and trailers, but I can imagine the music as dark and evocative as yours was. There is a lot of variety here in mood and tempo and orchestral color, flirting around the edges of the minor key tonality. Good job!

I've done some collaborative work with other musicians on the internet and it always surprises me how they handle their setup, doing things I would never have dreamed of. You seem fully confident with Sibelius as a composing tool. But if film composing is your goal, you may want to look into Digital Performer, a software solution that allows easy and precise sync between sound and picture without using any fancy expensive hardware. You can play and record in synch with the picture with the cues organized separately. It has several input methods, some rivaling Sibelius, which I also use, but only as an export of the finished work. 

It also has precise functions and tempo maps to guarantee hit points. No guessing! Just thought I'd let you know about it. Feel free to contact me further.

Thank you for the feedback and software advice! I'll be sure to look into Digital Performer. Syncing the video to the music using Sibelius was one of the most time consuming parts of making the score, so a more suited scoring program would make my life a lot easier.

I would have expected more people to upload music here, so allow me to share something I've been working on. I've been reading Tchaikovsky's biography and I think a little bit rubbed off on me.

"The Path"


Hi Ken - what an intriguing piece!  What's the significance of "The Path" - title and video - in connection with Tchaikovsky and his biography?   Forgive me if everyone else but me knows the connection.  I know Tchaikovsky was a great orchestrator, and your orchestration is wonderful.  I especially like the section beginning around 2:30 or so where the woodwinds come in.  My favorite section, even though it is short, is the Leggiero section with the woodwind solos.   Your woodwinds are luscious.

What software did you use to create the piece?   What sound libraries do you use?

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