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  • Writer's pictureKelsey Le Roux

Where do Film Composers Record Music for Movies and Video Games?

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Score supervisor at recording session for film composer recording with Cinemagic Scoring
Score supervisor at Cinemagic Scoring recording session

Music is essential to the cinematic experience. It is one of the main factors that can help determine a piece of visual media's success or failure. Whether it's a brand new pop song, a hip synthesiser score, a hybrid score, or a full orchestral score, music is vital. Music helps drive a story forwards, heightens emotions, and provides continuity.

A composer's first time in a recording studio hearing their music come to life is magical. Getting to that point can be complicated, and many things must be considered. Preparation and planning are the secrets to having a smooth and successful recording session.

As film technology has evolved, the cost has also increased. Films are big businesses and have the potential to yield massive returns. As such, there is an interest in ensuring every part of the filmmaking process is up to scratch with competitors – including the music. The emotional reach of a live orchestra over a purely synthesised score is undeniable, and an orchestra well recorded will always beat out samples – especially with the big cinematic sound.

Film music can be divided into three parts:

1. Underscore: John William's Star Wars, Danny Elfman's Alice in Wonderland, or Hans Zimmer's Interstellar.

2. Pre-existing songs or original master recordings that are licenced for a film: Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" for The Perfect Storm and Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle" for Space Jam.

3. Songs written specifically for the film: Phil Collins's "You'll Be In My Heart" for Tarzan and Bryan Adams's (Everything I do) I do it for you – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

These three parts have different considerations and contracts and involve various backend royalties. The underscore is the music one will typically hear throughout a film. It adds tension to action scenes, emotion to romantic scenes, and everything in between.

If the budget allows it, the composer, producer, or film studio will start looking at film orchestras to record, and this is where it gets interesting.

When recording their music, composers must consider where they want to record. If a composer wants to record their music in LA or London, they can look at some of the most famous studios which have recorded some of the most iconic film music to date. Of course, these scoring stages are priced and reserved for big-budget productions.

In LA, there is the Fox Newman scoring stage which has recorded The Sound of Music, Avatar, The Matrix, and Pirates of the Caribbean and the Barbra Streisand recording stage, which has recorded iconic scores such as ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler's List and Forrest Gump, as well as Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In London, these studios are Abbey Road and Air Studios, which has recorded the famed soundtrack to the Harry Potter franchise, The Lord of the Rings Franchise, The Avengers, and many more. These studios are just some of the fantastic places where iconic film scores have been recorded over the years.

One of the common themes of these film scores is that they are studio productions funded by film studios such as Disney, Universal, or Warner Brothers. As such, these film scores have large budgets enabling them to record for multiple days at the top scoring stages in the world. When recording in LA or London, a composer would need to book their session well in advance as film studios can block off studio time up to a year in advance, sometimes before a composer has even been picked for a project. These studios work on full-day models regardless of the amount of music one needs to record. A full day at a recording studio can be both costly and stressful.

When recording in LA or London, the discussion of Union musicians comes up. In LA, the union is the American Federation of Musicians (AFM); in the UK, it is called the Musicians Union (MU). When employing union musicians, not only does the composer or film studio have to pay union rates – which can be pretty high - but after the project is completed and released, a percentage of the royalties have to be distributed back to the session musicians. Most film companies are now in favour of the buy-out model wherein the fee for the session is the final sum, and the musicians retain no ownership rights to the recording. Recording overseas with companies such as Cinemagic Scoring can be far more cost-effective for a composer and make live recordings accessible to composers with different budgets.

Cinemagic Scoring offers shared and full sessions customisable to a composer's need, schedule, and budget. Shared sessions are where a composer only needs to pay for a portion of a required session instead of a full day, and the day is shared between multiple composers. There is also the option of booking a custom session for one or multiple dates. The custom session adds flexibility with dates for the composer as they do not need to wait for a shared session. Whether one wants to add some life to a score with a small string ensemble or impress with the Hollywood cinematic sound, the quality of a live orchestra is unbeatable. Cinemagic Scoring can elevate your music as well as the production value of your project.

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