Does the name Hans Zimmer ring a bell? How about Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross or Jon Batiste?
If not, you’re not alone.
The televised presentation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts awards does not hand out the Oscars for Best Musical Score until the very end of the broadcast. So, unless you are sincerely interested in original music written for films, you likely missed that part of the show.
Zimmer has won two Oscars, most recently for Dune (2021). Reznor, Ross and Batiste shared the award for Soul in 2020-21. Reznor and Ross also won for The Social Network in 2011.
Still, Oscar winners — just like everybody else in the $235 billion global movie and industry — must start somewhere. Earning a Master of Music in Music Technology – Film Music Technology Emphasis degree may your first step toward achieving your career goals. Even if your name doesn’t show until the credits, there is no business like show business, so they say.
What Is Film Scoring?
It might be easier to start by saying film scoring is not music production. Music production typically refers to the activities involved in playing, recording and mixing songs. Film scoring is much more complicated.
“These two worlds are diametrically opposed,” according to Audio Aural, an audio equipment guide, noting that filmmakers produce the musical composition and the principal filming separately, often separated by months.
Composers who write the musical scores work with film directors, production teams, musicians and conductors if they do not play or direct the music themselves. When done well, the result of the collaboration is music that hits all its cues precisely, enriches the dramatic or comedic narrative and sharpens the emotional impact.
Climb, a career development website, says film composers’ responsibilities include the following:
- Understanding the characters’ personalities and motivations, scene-by-scene events and transitions and the film’s overall theme. The depth of those insights requires the composer to read the script and watch the film multiple times.
- Researching the historical, social and contemporary events relevant to the film’s content to compose and arrange a score that matches the mood of those topics.
- Working with the film’s musical production staff and vocalists to record, mix and master the score using production and editing software.
Composers often use Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology to synch recorded music to the film’s action. They also use MIDI as a synthetic virtual orchestra that can produce sequences, tones, melodies and chords, textures, expressions and intentions.
The technology routes data about musical notes through a mixing board comprising sliders, buttons and a keyboard. Because the data is not sound but signals, composers can use MIDI to convert the sound of any instrument into that of any other. MIDI can sample a piano solo, for instance, and reproduce the tune in a full orchestral version.
“You would be well suited for a career in this sphere if you’ve already got a good understanding of MIDI,” the music school Recording Connection advises.
How Do Music Professionals Prepare for a Career as Film Composers?
A Master of Music in Music Technology – Film Music Technology degree, such as the one offered online by Southern Utah University (SUU), equips graduates for careers in cinematic music composition and production through courses that explore:
- MIDI Orchestration: emphasizes the creation of electronic orchestral music and achieving realism by controlling various MIDI functionalities
- Scoring for Film, Video & TV: uses technology and techniques — including reading/scoring the dramatic arc of a scene, creating professional MIDI mock-ups, mixing audio and collaborating with directors — to compose original music
- Studio Sessions and Collaboration: involves group projects in which student teams prepare for scoring and recording sessions, including work in remote recording environments.
In addition to advancing your scoring knowledge and insights, the program can also lead to careers in music direction, production and editing, as well as studio musician and engineer.
What Are Career Prospects for Film Composers
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts demand for music directors and composers will grow by 2,700 positions annually for a growth rate of 5% through 2031.
Depending on education and experience, salaries range from a median of $60,500 to $122,000 for the top 10% of the business. Graduates of SUU’s program can pursue a number of roles, including film score composer, music producer, studio engineer or director of music or music editor for film.