How Is Film Music Made?

If you enjoy watching films, you know that a powerful score can have you holding your breath, weeping uncontrollably or dancing in your seat.

Earning a Master of Music (M.M.) in Film Music can prepare you for careers in the film industry as part of a team that uses music to deliver that emotional impact. For example, the Southern Utah University (SUU) online M.M. in Music Technology – Film Music Technology Emphasis program covers all the essentials to launch a career in composing, music editing and more.

What Are Some Trends and Techniques in Film Music?

In the era of silent films, music in the theater was often live. As an author of this article explains, “Silent film was never silent: music always accompanied its screenings, filling them with sound, while the later synchronized scores echo the emotion of every movement, acting as narrators who guide our responses.”

Then came films with sound and the historic score composed by Max Steiner for “King Kong” in 1933. The score for “King Kong” was recorded with a full orchestra. For today’s composers, virtual instruments are the norm.

Does a scene call for a honky-tonk piano or a grand piano? An acoustic bass, cello or the whole string section? Trumpet, trombone or tuba? Maybe a synth pad is what you need to build suspense in an ominous scene. Today, the professionals creating and producing film scores today use digital audio workstations (DAW software for sound design and recording), MIDI controllers (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), synthesizers and virtual instruments to create film scores.

How Does SUU’s Program Prepare Grads for the Film Music Industry?

SUU’s M.M. in Music Technology – Film Music Technology online program covers technical knowledge, skills and hands-on experience to prepare graduates for film music careers.

MIDI, for example, is an essential tool in film scoring. In the MIDI Orchestration course, students create realistic, electronically produced mockups of orchestral compositions, with an in-depth study of MIDI to manipulate virtual instruments.

The course called Scoring for Film, Video & TV deepens students’ experience with MIDI techniques. In addition to creating professional MIDI mockups, students also learn how to “read” and score the dramatic arc of a scene. These skills come into play, for example, when film composers and directors collaborate in “spotting sessions” to make decisions about music placement throughout the film.

Throughout coursework in SUU’s Film Music program, students build expertise in essential areas such as:

  • Industry-specific computer technology and audio hardware, including its application to music, MIDI sequencing, digital recording and hardware
  • Advanced analysis of famous film scores, with attention to how film cues support, interact with and enhance each scene on the screen
  • The digital audio recording studio, including artistic and technical components
  • The music business, including budget management and brand promotion
  • Industry terminology

Students also build a portfolio through participation in multiple projects, including in roles they may pursue professionally.

What Careers Can You Pursue With SUU’s M.M. in Music Technology – Film Music Technology?

SUU’s program prepares graduates for a range of careers in the film industry, including:

  • Music director
  • Music producer
  • Music editor
  • Studio recording musician
  • Studio engineer
  • Composer

Salaries for careers in film music can vary widely depending on the project, budgets and previous experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, music directors and composers earn from $24,440 to more than $123,800 annually. If you reach the top levels as a film composer, for example, your salary could be much higher.

Take two of the best-known composers in the business: Hans Zimmer and John Williams. Zimmer has composed music for over 150 films, including Gladiator, Dune, Inception, Interstellar and The Lion King. Williams’ 75+ film credits include Jaws 2, Star Wars, Superman, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and the first three Harry Potter films. Chron estimates that Zimmer and Williams earn about $2 million per film.

Are you passionate about music and film? Do you aspire to compose the music that sticks in an audience’s mind long after a film’s closing credits? If the answer is yes, SUU’s M.M. in Music Technology – Film Music Technology Emphasis online program can prepare you with the professional knowledge and skills to launch an exciting career doing something you love that leaves an impression on viewers.

Learn more about Southern Utah University’s online Master of Music in Music Technology – Film Music Emphasis program.

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