chameleons (film scoring 2007)

Jul 5, 07 • 4 Comments

I scored my first short film, This Modern Love, in 2000. It was written and directed by Andrew Koenig (who played “Boner” on Growing Pains, and whose father, Walter Koenig, was the legendary “Ensign Pavel Chekov” on Star Trek), and you can screen it online. Andrew had posted an ad on the Hollywood Creative Directory, and I was the first to answer. Despite the distance (Andrew lived in Los Angeles, and I in New York), and my lack of experience, we committed to working together. That year, I posted some flyers at NYU, and scored several more shorts. A few months later, an ad I posted on led to my first feature film score for Michael DiPaolo, which in turn led to two more feature scores, both of which offered much creative freedom and a great education. That year, I also made my 3-minute demo, showcasing a multitude of styles, which you can hear (along with other oldies), here.

For better or worse, the student-film angle of getting into film scoring now seems to be drying up. At best, major film-production sites like Mandy, Film Music Network and the local sections of Craigslist offer 2 to 3 postings a week that are seeking music, and each othese is answered by 300+ applicants. None of these postings (regardless of short film or feature) offer any particular budget for composing/producing/arranging/recording, and many offer none or deferred pay.

Elsewhere, I see many a music supervisor’s notice, seeking “upbeat indie-rock and hip-hop”, generally with a fee around $1,000 for an all-in all-territories license. Filmmakers have realized that instead of collaborating with a composer, they can simply pad their films with temp music of their dreams, and then license something similar if/when the film gets distribution, or is screened at a festival where music clearances are a pre-requisite. In an era of sluggish CD sales, even a major record label may easily be persuaded to license for a bargain, as any film with distribution is potential exposure and record sales.

Rather than dwell on the negative any longer, I’d like to list a few really great positive items which stem from this:

1) If you’re a composer who loves to produce indie-rock or hip-hop, this is the era for you to thrive and change the world of music forever.

2) If you’re not into indie-rock or hip-hop, then discover and learn to promote your creative vision. Don’t cave into becoming a “chameleon”, an all-around immitator, unless of course that is what you like to do best. To be a “chameleon” means that you’ll be copying everyone’s temp music, and your fee will decrease daily, as there is no shortage of fans and immitators. Your competition will become the big-time music library, with thousands of easily-licenseable and affordable tracks in any genre and tempo.

3) Now is the best time in film-music history to start a band, a record label, and create music you’re actually excited about! Your excitement and authenticity will carry far higher than any temp-music replacement.

Have fun.

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4 Responses to chameleons (film scoring 2007)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ljova, good thoughts! I’d say that anyone who defends “chameleonism” (which I have happened to dig myself into as well, having done tons of such and other work in the heart of Hollywood film and TV scoring), has to remember that whatever you call it, it still comes to only one thing in the end: what you do either reflects and expresses WHO YOU ARE, or it DOES NOT. When you copy, imitate – whatever it’s called nowdays or ever – someone else’s music for the living, you’re doing just that. Yes, you learn how THEY (original creators, if you copy from an original piece of music… rare today!) did it. But, after 10 years of doing this in and for Hollywood (some big productions as well as small), one thing is for certain: if you are developing yourself as an Artist with your own unique voice, artistry, then for you (as I’ve found out it is for me) there is little – and most often NO learning, as we know it, involved when you copy a temp while scoring a movie or a TV show (or any other production for that matter). Especially when the temp has been put together from bits and pieces of another film score, which has been composed by copying … altogether now! – another temp, which has been composed by copying yet another and another temp. This is what actually happens in 90% of the temps, which chameleon “composers” have to score.

    If there’s anything to learn from, that would be studying the way certain music is or was written. But doing that for the living… maybe that feels like studying in the initial stages (like anything new we go through), but then one way or another you (anyone does, trust me!) begins to realize, that you got yourself into a swamp of a sort.

    It may seem more risky to do the kind of music that you feel is YOU, but that’s way more fun, and if you’re persistent enough with creating it and getting it out there with live performances, licensing and anything else that has to do with making your living by doing what you actually love without letting fear drive what you do, then your life becomes more fulfilling and you as a person and an artist become happier. I haven’t seen ONE composer who told me that re-composing temp tracks made them happy. It may have made their pockets happier, but as musicians and especially as persons, all composers that I know who do this actually said to me that they never felt good about it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    an alternative

    There is another side to that coin. Opening your mind and heart to different kinds of music and learning how your creative vision and voice can work within those styles is a wonderful way to keep your chops fresh, to keep learning, and ultimately to be considered for more film scoring work.

    I would say that there is a difference betweena a chameleon and an immitator. Adapting and adjusting to the needs of a project, and finding that magical point in space-time where your creative vision and a director’s creative vision can speak with one voice ultimately makes you a better collaborator. That doesn’t mean you should find the best way to rip off the temp without infringing on the copyright– it just means that it is creatively rewarding to allow different sounds to influence your own.

    Whether the ability to create lots of different kinds of music lowers your fees or not, I’m not so sure. Generally the reason a film composer is able to raise his/her fees is because of the success a previous film and its score, so I think being available to work on more projects gives one the best chance for a successful film scoring career.

    And sometimes the result of having a successful score is stylistic pigeonholing, where you’re essentially asked to “do that thing you did for the other guy” over and over and over again. (See: Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, John Williams, and the list goes on… all enormously talented and diverse composers who too rarely have the opportunity to create any music stylistically different than the music that really put them on the map. John Williams has recently branched out with Catch Me if You Can and Muninch, and Thomas Newman had the retro Good German… I love experiencing their diversity!)

    -Ronen

    • admin says:

      Re: an alternative

      Ronen, thank you!

      I agree with your reasoning, but for me this kind of thought is (now) limited to commercials only, not feature films. A commercial may be short, but the gestation process (between revisions and re-revisions and etc.) is long enough to get acquainted with another composer’s style, and see how it connects (or reflects) in your own.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Could you please give exact directions for the way in which you reprogram the top keys on your keypad by going to preferences then to Menus & Shortcuts?

    I have been trying to make this work for a long time and I guess I just don’t know enough about this process.

    Thanks,

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LJOVA (Lev Zhurbin) - film composer, arranger, violist | music for film, Ljova and the Kontraband, and other projects

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