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IN SESSION : MUSIC IN TELEVISION

"Music In Television" is about as broad a topic as "Guns In Warfare" (and I'm not so sure there aren't more similarities than we'd care to admit). Even as some generals are sure to tell you that you can wage better warfare with more guns, some producers and post-production supervisors will tell you TV is better with more music. For the sake of this article, we will be discussing TV series, not mini-series, not specials, not documentaries or any other format now is use, or yet to be devised, just series. The information, theories and opinions quoted below are drawn from the many series that we (my partner in crime, Maribeth Solomon and I) have had the good fortune on which to work. These include Adderley, Mount Royal, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone and Struggle for Democracy.

How much? What type? Where? These are questions determined by the TV Collective Bargaining Committee which is usually some combination of the composer, the producer, the executive producer, the director, the
post-production supervisor and the cab driver who took you to work that day.
The reason this may seem a bit vague is because the hierarchy in the TV business can, and does, vary dramatically from show to show. However, as the composer, you have a responsibility to try to achieve the most artistic solution
to all of these questions while still delivering the kind of commercial impact that the powers that be have in mind.

How much time do I have? (or, "They don't want it good, they want it Thursday"). On "Adderley" our four-day turnaround took seven days. Let me explain:
Friday morning our week started with a trip to the production offices for a look at that week's episode, and a spotting session which always includes the post-production supervisor sometimes augmented by the executive producer, producer, writers and principal cast members. The artistic and technical considerations about where to put music and why are always interesting.
Artistic considerations include things like drama, emotion, suspense, and action, whereas technical considerations can be anything from an act break to
creating a background ambiance to help cover-up faulty location sound. The spotting was usually finished by lunchtime, so the rest of the day was spent on mechanics (breaking down each cue into its cue sheet format) and thematic material needed for this specific episode. All of the cue sheet breakdowns included beginning and end cue as well as dialogue and action highlights listed
by time code (SMPTE) numbers. These numbers are used later to determine the corresponding bar and beat of each cue point.

Saturday through Monday was spent leisurely composing, arranging and orchestrating about seven minutes of music per day, thus totaling our average 20 minutes of music per episode. (This may sound like a lot of music, but I swear that never once did we play through the commercials.)

Tuesday was the day to finish any last minute charts, send all music to the copyist, and to Rob Yale, who did the Fairlight programming for us.

Wednesday was studio day. Starting in the morning with downloading the preprogrammed Fairlight tracks, continuing with live musicians (often including Lou Pomanti, Bob Mann, Verne Dorge and Guido Luciani) and finishing very early the next morning with fully-mixed music tracks, always checking with picture and sound. Mind you, there was usually an hour break at 11:30 p.m. to watch the airing of last week's episode.

Thursday was spent at Master's Workshop attending the music lay-in where it's positioned on a 24-track along with all dialogue, sound effects and so on, making it ready for the final film mix. This is the time to make sure you are absolutely happy with the position of the music in relation to the film because advancing or retarding music at this point is quite easy. (I admit this only takes a few hours, but usually I found myself craving a bit of sleep and a civilized meal by this time). After this, shifting the music means interrupting the flow of the final film mix, something to be avoided if at all possible.

So, what's in it for the composer?
Well, first let me say that not everyone draws the same conclusion from a given situation, but I found it to be both regarding and educating. What better way to learn about "chase music" than to write some every week and see how it works. Just the opportunity to see your music with a picture in such an immediate and frequent environment gives you a chance to evaluate and re-evaluate your fundamental picture scoring criteria.

It's necessary to identify the differences between T.V. and the big screen before you start to write. The time frame (one or half-hour shows with commercial interruptions) and the structure of the show (Adderley and Mount Royal were basically one hour programs in five acts, whereas Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone were more like two act plays) will have tremendous impact on the type of score you can provide. The two other biggest differences between movie scores and T.V. scores are the two things we never seem to have enough of, time and money.

Is it art? I leave that to others to decide for themselves. For me, it's always the same - the page was blank when I started, I filled it with notes that I chose to support and enhance the picture, and I worked to my own standards. All things considered, I'd say it had it's moments.

Written by Mickey Erbe - composer/musician in Toronto.

 

 

   
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