Video game Film Score PArt 6: Identifying the Music

Hello from hyperspace! While you may not have heard us talk about this subject in a while, we’ve been busy busy busy. It just… takes a long time to score a cartoon, especially in 2020. At least, if you’re us and you’re fending off Algorithm and have a day job.

Last time we spoke we were doing research. Research… research… research. Research is important, even Alien hyperspace technomusicians need some basis for heir work. We were digging hard into how videogame music worked on some old gaming machines. The intention for all this research was to, of course, write some sweet tunes for the videogame film score.

We’ve been working, for a long time now, on a process of identification. Rather, we’re composing music looking for those sounds that will come to define Stuck. We call it identification because we’re looking for those core sounds, and once we i.d. them, then things transition to a more engineering space.

Identifying music for Stuck

Stuck (the name of our film) has just these scenes requiring music:

  1. Opening sequence: music from the main characters videogame
  2. Nightmare sequence: our main character has a nightmare and we need to get creepy
  3. Drunk techno — The boy has a videogame stuck to his hand and the director wants some annoying spelling machine techno.
  4. Despair – There’s a low point where the boy feels all hope is lost and the game will be stuck to his hand forever. The director wants ‘real’ music hear – real instruments, intense synths, and really sad music.
  5. Reconciliation – this is the victory where our main character learns their lesson and rekindles the relationship with his father.

All we have to do is write five pieces of music for five scenes. That’s it! That’s not too much to ask right?

The musician and the filmmaker

Working out what we presented above seems simple enough, all you have to do is talk to your director several times. Not due to anyone’s fault, when two different artists come together, they must develop a language; they need a mechanism to understand each other. It’s kind of an interesting phenomena, so we thought we’d talk about it.

Musicians and film makers have much in common, yet they’re like the same profession from completely different cultures. Film makers and musicians alike understand drama and story, but they present things in quite different ways. And with quite differing vocabularies. Learning to speak filmmaker, to us, is about as difficult as learning to speak earthling. Sure, you can take your lessons and even use fancy hand gestures, but there necessary understanding takes time to develop.

This is a fun process for us, much like visiting your planet has been and learning of your food.

Explorations

The simplest way to communicate is to show and develop our vocabulary around examples. This mean a lot of composing and presenting a lot of options to our director. We used an exploratory process where we’d write up to 10 ‘video game snippets’ looking for sounds to inspire.

Imagine getting emails like this every few weeks:

Hey director, we’ve been up writing music from hyperspace for your movie. We’ve got ten ideas to show you for scene one where the boy plays a game. Please listen to everything and tell me what you like or don’t like.

So, for all these scenes, 1, 2, 3, 4… and 5 – we write snippets and shoot them over. Then, we start to learn how the director describes sounds. You do this enough times and suddenly you are speaking a language together (or, in technical terms, you create a cross-dialog mapping in your internal memories subsystems).

The other fun take away is, to get 5 little songs that aren’t even a minute, we might write.. 50.

First find, then spit shine

First rule of your music identification process is – don’t write perfect songs; write quick songs. At least, until you are confident. Every piece of music is a void waiting to be filled by your blood, sweat, and tears. Identifying the director likes a piece of music is just the first step, and then… and then… you make it awesome. This is usually things like timing and instrument tweaks, sound design, and other things to make it really cool.

You don’t wanna take too long in the beginning because, truly, you’ll be throwing most of your ‘work’ out.

Not until the final cut

Film scoring means the music is timed to the way a film is made. A lot has to wait until the final cut of the film is ready. Keep this in mind, we’re just looking for all the music… once the movie is ready, then we’ll go ahead and make the music *perfect* for this film.

Results thus far

We have one project where we just explore… explore… explore. That’s not showing you all the tracks we’ve hidden from pieces that didn’t work out.

Okay, enough technical details – how are things going? Well, they are going well.

  1. Sequence 1 Videogame music – this one just needs to go into recording. Remember all that research we did? Well, we wrote some banging video game tunes. Check it out.
  2. Nightmare – still working on this one, but we’re getting close. These ten little seconds are being difficult.
  3. Drunk techno – we’ve identified the music… and are doing some sound design. The music needs to slow down and glitch out with our main character. Now that we’ve got the main theme worked out, time to do cool shit in post.
  4. Sadness and despair – We should probably make part 7 about this. This is the only music in this movie that’s not video game themed. We’ve identified this one and are doing sound design here. The director wanted to explore some ‘boards of canada’ – and well, YES PLEASE.
  5. Reconcile – we pitched our first idea to the director yesterday and well, he likes it. That means we’ve identified this too, and now are tweaking it to make it fit this sequence better. We should write about this one some more too, it’s got some cool Peter and the Wolf ideas in it. Click here for the sneak peak.

This is after months of exploratory work. Months! Granted, we have to slide this project in with everything else, but we also had that moment where we’re quite thankful we’re not scoring a feature film. Ha!

We’re almost there though! Just a little further and we’ll be at the recording process. But not yet, just a little bit more composing to do…