Recently, I’ve been made aware of the confusion that is circulating amongst many composers who don’t know exactly what to expect from an orchestrator. Hopefully this blog will clear this bewilderment and help anyone to understand what an orchestrator can do for them in the film/tv/games realm.
CLASSICAL ORCHESTRATION VS FILM/TV ORCHESTRATION
If you think about the way in which classical music was written in the past, the composer wrote and orchestrated their music directly to sheet music. There was no DAW or MIDI and ideas were played on the piano and committed to sheet music before taking it to an orchestra to be rehearsed and revised.
If you compare this with an orchestrator for film and television, we do not usually have the freedom to be involved as the composer is writing the music. What I mean by that is that in the classical world, the music is written and orchestrated in one swoop (at least, it was in the old days), rather than an orchestrator coming onboard when the music has already been written.
Also, most of the time we are using and working from MIDI to assemble the score to be performed by live players, and so we do not have the ability to make a large number of changes without actually changing the core of the cue. There are a number of things we can do to make it sound bigger and better including revoicing chords and changing octaves of instruments - things that the director/producer may not necessarily notice. The reason we can’t make huge changes is because the clients are used to hearing the music in a certain way, and if we started changing harmonies and melodies, there’s a chance that the director might pipe up during the session asking what has been changed.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM A FILM/TV ORCHESTRATOR?
If you’re a composer and you’re working with an orchestrator for the first time, you might feel overwhelmed. out of control and maybe slightly confused at what to expect from your orchestrator? What will they do to your work? Well, that last bit is something that you need to discuss with them. When I’m working with a composer, I’ll ask them what they’re expecting from me. For example, do I have free will to change various aspects of the cue, or do they want an exact MIDI replication of each cue. Regardless of what the composer wants from me, I’ll always speak to them if something is impossible or if there’s something we could do to make something sound better.
As the composer, you may want the orchestrator to be faithful to the MIDI and to the demo simultaneously, but it is important to realise that those are not the same thing. Sometimes, what is heard is not actually playable in the real world and therefore it is our jobs as orchestrators to work around these potential hiccups which could occur at the session. It is also our job to fix these and iron out anything which could slow down the session and waste time and money.
At the end of the day, the orchestrator needs to be on the same page as the composer as to what is expected of you and how to deliver the composers intentions in the slickest, most efficient manner possible. Make sure that this is one of the first things that you discuss so that everybody feels comfortable early on in the project. If you have been working with a composer for a while, both of you will probably be on the same page and all of this will be irrelevant, but if you’re working with a composer for the first time, these are the things to consider.