Compose film music


I'm new here in the forum and this is my first post.

I wanted to know how you compose your music? Do you always start with a melody? If so, how do you do it? Or do you have different methods to start (due to the desired theme or mood)? And if you arrange the music, do you look after other film scores how they have done it or do you arrange it yourself?

I'm currently confused about some things in the composing process and I hope you could help me.

Thank you very much!



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  • Here's a sample of my own which shows some of the issues I raised about contrast:

    - YouTube
    Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.
  • Nice piece. Yes, contrast is important. I always use contrasts in my music, as you can hear in my dragon piece. At the beginning only the percussions, then bigger orchestra, then smaller again, then speed up like an action score (the friendly dragon is pursued by an evil dragon).

  • You write freely. Choose an idea an explore it. A theme, a rythm, a melody, some interesting harmony, some kind of other concept. 
    Steven Settinger said:

    Thank you for the fast answer. But how do you compose if you don't compose for a video? I mean a "free music" without any motion pictures.

    Compose film music
    Hello, I'm new here in the forum and this is my first post. I wanted to know how you compose your music? Do you always start with a melody? If so, h…
  • It always helps if you start with a goal in mind. When i wrote stuff "freely" I would end up with some cool stuff but would have a har time finding things to do with it because it would be void of any unidentifiable genre. 

  • This is a pretty open-ended question. It really depends on the project. I usually start with a theme, motif or a rhythm that I work out usually in my head and on paper before I even touch my computer or instrument. and it really starts with the spotting session and viewing the rough cut though sometimes with game projects and indie films, I may have go with my gut as I have very little information. Once I know what I am doing I pick a set off instruments and colors and build a template to lock myself into a palette. That seems to keep me focused.

    For free form scores I am working on a set of epic trailer type tracks and what I do is write up a scenario to work off.

    Here's an example:

    "It’s in the distant future the year 3000 and two factions (The merchants and the aboriginals) are fighting for power. the merchants are small in number but have robots and the aboriginals are like a tribe of orcs.The scene starts with a spear being thrown at a lone robot. Then the robot opens fire but is quickly subdued by a hoard of aboriginals. Things escalate as more robots join the fight and rip through the hoard with automatic gunfire and thermite bombs. The hoard scatters except one crazy warrior standing alone with a crossbow."

    I have found that doing this helps me stay focused and gives me the direction and instrumentation.


  • I kind of actually start backwards.  An idea will start in my head and I will hum it like mad until I have figured out every variation of the theme, then when I start putting it to use in the samples, I start with the climax of the track first because it's the part that I want to hear first.  If I don't like it, then I scrap it and start from square one.  If I like it, I will then branch out from the 'climax' part of the track and voila!

    Another thing I do which may sound a bit peculiar is I will put on a film soundtrack on in the living room then go shower.  Okay, I sounds stupid.  BUTTTT....the water drowns out most of the sounds and melody making it very difficult to know which track is playing which helps me create something new through the random melody line that I "think" I am hearing.  It's kind of hard to explain, but it works for me!

    Last but not least, I will sometimes just look for random art videos and indie projects on youtube and turn the sound off.  I will compose what I am seeing in my head or on piano, then juxtapose it with the actual song or score used for the film.  It's just nice knowing what you would have done if you were the initial composer for the video.  

    Anyways, happy composing to you Steven!

    -Renan Javier 

  • Interesting methods people have! I gotta try the shower method. :D

    Usually I have an idea, which starts to stick on my mind. Then I start writing it down or play with keyboard. Most of the times, it's a short intro melody. Hardest part will then be building up the track from intro to climax. I'm still learning, how to do that.

    As some suggested, a scenario could be used. I have never done that actually, but I should do it, since I think a film track should be telling a story. Thinking of the story and writing it down sets up the mood, helps you choose instruments and eventually melodies too.

  • Starting a composition can be a difficult thing if it isn't just fresh in your mind at the moment. It can feel like there are so many components to a song it may seem overwhelming where to begin. Here are somethings I came across that helped me. I am one of those people that can get stuck at the beginning of a seemingly big project (depending on what you are trying to accomplish).

    1. EAT...seems illegitimate but you'll be surprised what calories can do to you.

    2. Find the time of day your brain works. Again, seems like nothing to do with the process but it really is. I kept trying to compose music late in the afternoon into the night. I could make music that passed by but I found out my mind is most active to new ideas in the morning. So see which works best. You'll know when things come out much more fluently.

    3. START SIMPLE! Here is where there are many possibilities because every situation nearly changes with each project--especially film composing. Watch the film for sure. All the way through. Maybe even a couple times. Become influenced by what you are watching and find any hidden meanings in it. Music is really there to bring out those hidden things people don't see or feel initially in a film. Once you get an idea of what the film is about, you just have to start somewhere. You can figure a general melody if you'd like. The think you have to be careful about with melodies is that it is not a backbone. You don't want to play too many distinguishable notes or it will be distracting. Though finding that melody could set the tone of the film and make it easier to find other ideas. Or you could simply watch the film and start notating or playing what you feel the scene is trying to convey. Also remember...the less the better. You don't want to over score a film. So I went everywhere on this point but mainly just think simple. A small melody. A mood. Maybe even a theory how the music should correspond to the video. 

    You can also use this point for your own music you want to create. You need to find that one thing that inspires you. Either a melody, instrument, chord progression, effect, etc. You need to experiment if the song isn't already in your mind. Another thing you could do is compose a genre you don't do...or even like. You'll find out how much it refreshens you! It becomes fun and exciting. That's the biggest issue normally. We take writing far too seriously and that makes us burn out faster. Put some fun into it!

    4. Start filling it out. Now this is where the brilliance comes in. A melody is just a melody. But what encompasses it creates a whole world to discover and experience. The same melody can sound so many different ways by what is accompanying it. This also is where your knowledge of composition comes in. Both Music Theory and Creativity. You want to take the listener on a journey. You want them to feel everything. The brilliance is being able to take a listener through the ups and downs. Tension and releases in the music. I would advise studying other scores or music that you thoroughly enjoy. Analyze the crap out of them! See how it moves and why you love it so much. There really is no "here's how you do it" out there. I mean...there are many chord progressions that are available but I would advise not doing those chord progressions unless the music calls for it. Don't force a song to go somewhere where it doesn't want to go. Eventually you'll be able to lead the song the more you compose.

    5. Listen to GOOD MUSIC. Yes...there is the argument of opinion...but there is something that reverberates with our soul more than others. Be influenced by what is good and you will produce what is good. It's like being around good friends and bad friends. It really is. Genre does not matter. Like gender, color and anything with people. You can be friends with them. But those who influence you in the wrong direction, you don't want to be around them because it is harmful to you. Same with music and your listening ear. What you are influenced by is very important.

    So with my blabbering, here are some pieces of my own if you wish to listen to verify what I say. I am only 20 so I am still young in experience but I hope what I have said helped you even though this post is old.

    My newest short epic:

    My most recent full song:

    A score I made for a film student:

    I wish you the best!

  • I always compose with melody first.  I've always attributed my love for film music mainly due to all the famous and hummable themes that I have come to grow and love over the years and for this, my composing style has always been geared towards achieving this goal.  

    The difficulty comes when there are some films or videos which don't necessarily require a melody line and rely more on soundscape or wallpaper underscore to achieve their intended effect.  I guess I don't have it in me to create a melody-less score.  

    Regardless, melody first and then everything else comes organically.  It's like creating a character for a story.  Once you create the character and his personality, the actions that he makes within the story flow naturally due to the base in which you created for him.  

    Good thread by the way!


  • Well I compose the way my heart and my ear likes. I never studied composition but I the way I do it gives me minimalistic, yet beautiful results. Really happy to join this forum, For example I got the question . As I mostly improvise not all of my melodies are written in pdfs. So mp3 files would be suficient?

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