Writing A “Grim” Film Score

Read this if you'd like to understand how we write music nowadays

Bach and Mozart et al, had it rather tough.

You see back then, if they were writing a piece of music and it didn’t solely consist of the piano, they had to “hear” the sound of the accompanying instruments – like violins, celleos, or tubas – in their heads. Then they wrote it down in a language that players of those instruments could interpret and of course bring to life.

Of course, we still hear the sounds in our heads today, but we do have it a little easier. In the digital era, we’ve been fortunate enough to have keyboards that can play sounds other than just that of a piano. We do this through a technology called MIDI, which is simply the computer interpreting the notes you play on your keyboard. This enables your computer to replace the sound of what would normally be a piano, with something else.

Basically the computer would try to mimic sounds – like the violin, or bass guitar etc according to the note you played on your keyboard. It’s kinda like asking someone to make the sound of a violin with their voice box – no matter how close you think you could get, it will always sound fake. That was MIDI Synth – while it had it’s place in the 80’s I have to admit it was pretty disgusting for the most part!

Enter VST.

Virtual Studio Technology also uses MIDI, only this time, the computer doesn’t try to mimic the sounds you want – it actually plays the real deal, by serving up notes that have been professionally recorded from real instruments.

So if you’d like to play a violin, all you have to do is get a VST violin plugin like LA Scoring Strings, that uses Native Instrument’s Kontakt to serve up the sounds. When you play a Middle C for example, the VST MIDI interface plays the corresponding note on the virtual violin and voila! You get a beautiful violin sound, without having to actually play the violin yourself.

Hans Zimmer created his own set of virtual orchestral instruments and that’s what he uses to write his soundtracks with. Of course there really isn’t any substitute to the real thing, which is to say that he would then get a symphonic orchestra to record what he’d written. Having said that, the difference is so subtle nowadays that loads of soundtracks are written without anyone having ever actually played a real instrument. If you have some cash to spend, the 8Dio VST’s are out of this world. Sadly I don’t have cash to spend, so I haven’t been able to use them just yet!

A while back these Indie Filmmakers from Wales caught my attention. They’re trying to create a really cool web series and are, as all indie filmmakers are, underfunded. They’ve got an indiegogo crowd-funding campaign running trying to raise funds so they can actually go ahead and create a masterpiece.

I decided to help them along by writing an eerie score for them. Let’s talk about how I achieved that.

It started one afternoon on an old piano – I wrote the first little piano riff on that, and then headed home where I got out my iPad, and using GarageBand, created a little musical “idea” for the score. Take a listen below:

So that was done on my iPad. GarageBand uses Virtual Studio Techonolgy (VST) instruments to create those sounds. But I knew I needed to go into studio to create a really usable track, so I headed into JetFuel Studios in Cape Town to make some magic.

After putting well over 20 hours into it, over the course of a month, Kamil Govender & I took  “Cursed Be The Woods” from the iPad version, into what you’ll hear below:

As you’ll hear, it’s much improved from the iPad version. And that’s what great VST instruments will do for you. Of course we wanted to get some eerie vocals in, but we didn’t have money to hire a female singer, so in the end we decided to simply do a little DIY female vocals – which was simply me singing like a girl in falsetto. We think it worked out ok! ;)

And that my friends, is how you create a score nowadays. Kamil & I love it so much that we’ve decided to turn our hobby in a fully fledged profession. So no doubt you’ll hear way more soon!

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  • Calvin

    Great work bud! Getting better every time I listen to your next track, can’t wait to see what comes out next!

    • Andy

      Thanks boet :)

  • Alejandro

    Just landed on your page, beautiful music on here. Instantly marked as favorite. Great work.