Yesterday I dug up and posted a 1997 essay I wrote about the future of film music. It was inspired by my reaction to the Fifth Element score, which I quite liked.
It was fun to get reactions on social media, but at a certain point (maybe 2pm?) it wore me out. I had posted it not only to the “fan” sites (like FSM) but to a Facebook group for composers and musicians called Perspective.
This is a really good group, by the way. I used to get emails from aspiring composers (I still get some, not nearly as many) and there wasn’t much I could do to help them, but now I send them to Perspective.
But because Perspective is full of working (and aspiring-to-be-working) musicians, they weren’t so down with my “fan” opinion that things today suck...which is, of course, understandable. So I was attacked for being Grandpa Simpson.
A lot of the criticisms were totally legitimate. I mean, I wrote that Fifth Element essay in 1997, when I was 23. Do I stand by everything in it? No, of course not.
But I should also clarify: do I think film music today sucks?
Well, not the best stuff. The best stuff by the top composers, for both TV and film, is really engaging and wonderful.
To me what sucks is a lot of the “middle stuff,” which used to be done with a traditional pencil-and-paper approach, and is now done via improvisation at digital workstations...and I just don’t like the results.
Somebody said, what’s the difference if a composer is just copying scale runs via pencil and paper compared to using the computer to cut-and-paste?
Well, nothing, I guess. And yet, everything.
If you’re making a choice to use those scale runs—then no, it doesn’t really matter. (I write screenplays on Final Draft, I have no desire to write them longhand.)
I am not a composer—but I am also not a dummy. If there’s one thing I’ve always been able to grasp really well, it’s workflows.
When a composer writes with a digital workstation, it’s a different kind of workflow. It’s laying in the sounds based on what the software can accomplish. It’s thinking, “Okay, what texture from the software has the emotional tenor I want?” It’s sound design.
Whereas when a composer writes the old fashioned way (whether at a keyboard for assistance, that doesn’t really matter), it’s more of an intellectual process.
It’s thinking, “Okay, how do I get from here to there?”—and thinking additively of the orchestral instruments, what sonorities they create, how they work together? And, god forbid, “what is the theme?”
Think about two diametrically opposed “poles” in film scoring: one classical and “written,” the other pop and “performed.”
The pop/performed pole: These are the scores today that are being done by the best guys and breaking new ground—and when done well, they’re brilliant.
I mean, Hans Zimmer’s Dune—loved it!
But the other pole is the “John Williams pole”: the traditional orchestral score.
And the traditional orchestral scores being done today by the digital workstation guys...I’m sorry, they’re just so bad.
We fans know what these are supposed to sound like. We used to hear them all the time. Sure, they’re derivative of the classical literature, but that was the point.
If you want to take a different approach, that’s great! But don’t choose the John Williams approach and then have it be so lame and tasteless.
And yes I know all the reasons for why this music is what it is, why it’s in-demand by filmmakers, how the composer has to please the client, ad nauseam.
But now I’m coming up for air and wondering...why am I even writing this? It’s reminding me of the bad experiences I had at Film Score Monthly getting into arguments, and listening to all the counterarguments...and this isn’t my fight anymore!
It really wasn’t ever my fight, really. I was just a fan with opinions.
I guess I still am, but it’s not my job to convince anybody of anything.
I will say that for my old FSM subscribers who showed up to offer words in support, thanks! It’s always nice to hear from you guys.
And for the people who attacked me—well, that’s fine. You all have a right to your opinions.
The funny thing is that all those guys at Perspective who slagged me—if they knew I was a director and I had an open project, they’d be on me like a cheap coat!