The Lost Art of Music Scoring
Working in the broadcast industry in Malaysia has given me tremendous insights in what we do best and what we need to learn more of. If someone asked what our biggest drawback is, I’d say that we don’t invest enough into our musical scoring for programs, let alone feature films.
Sure, budgets don’t allow us to work with the Hans Zimmers and the John Williams of the industry. And we don’t have a 90-piece orchestra at our disposal except for the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra – but they hardly have competition to keep them on their toes. But composers often have to deal with ridiculously miniscule budgets and tight-time frames that don’t allow the use of arrangers, music supervisors, music editors and other team-members in the music department. The result is often a mish-mash of music, half-baked and often, out of theme with what one expects.
Lately, the advance in technology has allowed music libraries to come to the fore by providing a prolific amount of high-quality tracks (even separated according to genre) that allows producers to buy a database for use within a time period and – voila – access it online. No need to receive CDs and keep them on a rack. Worse, no need for even a composer. Now we have playlists, previews and the choice of downloading music in different formats.
The producer today is spoilt for choice because s/he merely has to download what s/he likes and ask an editor to ‘cut’ it for a sequence where the editor sees fit. Then the audio engineers simply mixes it down. For news and current affairs programs, hell, maybe even light-entertainment programs, I think this works well. For proper dramas where producers are pressed for time, it’s the same result: a mish-mash of music, half-baked and often, out of theme with what one expects.
I remember briefing the composer for my short film, The Seraph, where we talked about setting a mood, about creating a musical texture and using instruments that befitted this. Because the story of my film was about a priest who kept having visions about an angel bringing him a message, we agreed that a haunting female solo would be appropriate. Of course, we could have gone on forever but budget and schedules were limited. The end result though, was a score that I felt delivered the mood and underscored the theme perfectly. Watching TV, if one remembers James Newton Howard’s score for ER, one would agree that the show benefited from his contribution immensely, creating a unique sound to a (then) unique series.
Sadly, we don’t have the option today. I’m expected to make use of the online music library, otherwise it would be a waste of money. However, being the eternal optimist, I’m looking out for the ideal project where I can work with long-time friend and talented composer Rabbit, and craft something that can enhance a drama series, taking the storytelling to a higher level of craft. And I won’t stop hoping for that day to arrive.