How to write music for your web series
One very important element in any film, TV or web series is MUSIC. Sound and sound design is itself a very difficult and incredibly important element but that’s for another article. I just wanted to give a few hints as to how to create your own music for your web series.
When we were creating “What Do Men Want?” it was done under incredible time duress! We had approximately one month to write a 65 x 5 minute episode web series (that later turned into 13 half hour episodes). Nevertheless, we were writing as well as doing pre-production which includes casting, sourcing for locations, scheduling, finding costumes etc. When you consider that we ended up with 25 actors, 800 scenes and over 100 locations you’ll start to understand how daunting it all became. So the last thing on our minds was post-production which is a whole other beast altogether.
However, when we finally did get to post-production we realized after watching the first cut that we needed music and the search was on!
This is where most people will find their answer and to be honest we were going down this track too. However, when we saw the first rough cut with stock (corporate sounding) music inserted we knew right there and then we had to find another solution. Stock music is exactly that – STOCK – it rarely fits well. It’s hard to match one theme to another – which works for corporate videos but not well for narrative stories. Often it takes so much time to listen to all the music out there and find the perfect piece for each section of your web series that it can take so much less time to actually write and record it. Stock music can also be expensive depending on how many tracks you want to use. It wasn’t a good solution for us at all so we decided on the very daunting task of composing our own music from scratch. Daunting at first – but actually not too bad in the end.
Music as Story
My approach with music is that it is yet another character or voice within the story. It sometimes adds to a scene, deepens a scene or takes you on an emotional flight – somewhere that just speaking cannot necessarily take you. It can have many functions and if you’re clear about what a scene needs to achieve then you’ll start to know what sort of music needs to help you with that scene. Unless you have someone who knows STOCK music inside out I found that it was just easier to compose it. If you’re not a composer try and find someone who is and who is willing to help score your web series. It really does open up another dimension to your story telling.
You can get a sense of the various themes and music used throughout our series by just playing through all our trailers for “What Do Men Want?”
How to Record Music to your Series
I won’t go into how to write music per se as this will be like any art form – full of subjectivity. But if you’re on track to write your own music or have someone else write it for you – you may want to use Apple’s free GARAGE BAND which has a movie import function allowing you to just bring in your locked off edit and then literally play along with every scene that needs music. As you play you record. You can score the entire series this way with multiple tracks (multiple instruments). If you want to get a sense of an orchestral score check out PERFECT GIRL SERIES where I used all sorts of genres of music but finished with a full orchestral piece at the last episode.
The great thing is it’s all totally FREE. It even has a great DRUMMER feature that allows you to score using a drum rhythm that’ll change as you move your mouse or track pad. It’s as organic as conducting the drummer live! I used this a lot in Perfect Girl Series.
Incidentally apart from Garage Band you may need a keyboard with MIDI inputs – just about any keyboard will work. I prefer one that has the full set of keys (88 keys) because I used to play the piano and I just can’t get used to little keyboards. This is the Yamaha keyboard I use – it’s quite old and there are many new updated ones.
As far as microphones – I use an Apogee ONE (which you can see below in the videos). It is both a sound card that’ll plug into your Mac and has a built in microphone. I love the condenser mic on the Apogee – it has a very natural recording tone. I used it for our theme song for “What Do Men Want?”
Create a Hook and Develop It
I believe you should treat music just as you treat plot and story. You should spend the most time trying to create a few themes that represent the feel, dynamic and sense of the story. Then develop these themes through the story. In “What Do Men Want?” there were a few themes that will play through an episode but I would always start with sketches or hints of the theme and then develop them through the plot concluding in a full blown piece at the climax of that episode. Often I will leave it on a kind of musical cliff hanger. I tried a similar thing with Perfect Girl Series too only this time the themes were developed throughout the series towards a climax at the 10th episode.
The hardest thing in the world is to write a “hook” or a catchy theme. This isn’t always necessary but it can help to deepen the story or to create a sense of familiarity. Catchy themes always get people saying things like “I’ve heard this before” or “I just kept singing that to myself” or “I couldn’t get that out of my head”. You may or may not want this to happen – but it’s great for serials particularly if you want people coming back! If you can – spend time trying to craft a great melody – many composers don’t really do this – but this is like crafting the foundation or plot of a script. It’s not good scripting if you’re just going to throw words at a script – you have to know how to select the few great words that will tell a compelling story. It’s the same with music. Just knowing the grammar of music doesn’t necessarily make you a good composer, in my humble view. Knowing how to put together a few great notes in a combination that’ll take the audience somewhere – into memory, wistfulness, emotive states is what is my aspiration for writing music.
My Friend My Home – Theme of “What Do Men Want?”
Since this was a story of two bachelors looking for love and finding it amongst their female friends – I wanted it to feel like a loosely recorded song – as if a couple of guys just sang it on the couch after a night out. It needed to be simple, light hearted but sincere. So I picked up the ukulele which has that sort of sound and started riffing with themes. Bear in mind I only started learning the uke a few months before. I can only play a few chords but that’s enough to write thousands of melodies. Once I came up with the general melody I wrote the lyrics to fit.
And just to show you how easy it can be to record it all – even for broadcast TV – here’s me recording the song with just a ukulele and one harmony – recorded on Garage Band which you can see working in the background.
Variations on a Theme – “You’ve Got Me”
As an example on how to vary and develop your music or theme through a drama here’s another theme I wrote for “What Do Men Want?” I used the exact same ukulele chord progression for “My Friend My Home” and just created a melody on top of it. It again breeds familiarity and deepens the effect of both themes.