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Notes From The Deadline

TV Music From The Inside By Paul Farrer
Published July 2011

To reach the top as a composer for the media, what you really need is 'people skills' — and the patience of saints.

"No, no. It needs to sound chopped. You know, just the normal kind of chopping...”"No, no. It needs to sound chopped. You know, just the normal kind of chopping...”

TV People: Hi, could you do us a massive favour?

Me: Sure.

TV People: We're making a show but need some music.

Me: Great. What do you need?

TV People: We need it to be 18 seconds long.

Me: OK. What sort of style are you looking for?

TV People: Basic chopped style I suppose.

Me: Chopped style?

TV People: Yes, just a normal edit. It's 30 seconds long at the moment. It needs to be 18.

Me: What?

TV People: Yeah. Whatever normal kind of chopping you'd usually do.

Me: Normal chopping?

TV People: Yeah. Like an edit. Make it shorter.

Me: So you're saying you've already got a piece of music and you want me to edit 12 seconds out of it?

TV People: That would be terrific.

Me: Oh. OK. Why didn't you ask me to write something for you?

TV People: We didn't have much money.

Me: Well, I'd have done you a favour…

TV People: Just like you're doing now.

Me: I guess.

TV People: Can you download the track from the Internet?

Me: Can't you email it to me?

TV People: It's from an online music library. I'll send you our login details and account information so you can get the track. But you'll need to buy it again, though, in order to download it, and you'll need to give them all the details of the programme and transmission dates. I can get that information emailed to you.

Me: You can't just send me the MP3? Or put a WAV up on an FTP?

TV People: Sorry, all these acronyms are too technical for me. I'm going to ask around the production office and see what we can do.

The TV People do a round‑robin email to the nine different editors, producers and the sound department people working in the post‑production of the show, asking if anyone has any ideas for how they can get the track to me. A while later, they call back.

TV People: The track is in the Avid and we can't get it out.

Me: You can't get the track out of the edit to send it to me?

TV People: We can get it biked round to you on a DVD of the offline.

Me: You'd send a motorbike courier with a DVD of the show 200 miles, but you don't have a music budget?

TV People: It's for Channel Five.

Me: I see.

The next day, a DVD arrives of the first 10 minutes of the show. I extract the music from it. The track is distorted and there's varying levels of studio audience applause over most of it. Basically, it's unusable. Knowing I'll never be able to explain this to them, I instead rebuild the track in Logic from scratch, using pretty much identical sounds, keep the tempo, emulate the feel and style and put a slightly different melody over the top. Not only am I doing a crap soundalike of a deeply mediocre piece of library music, but I'm doing it for free. On the up side, my new track is exactly 18 seconds long. A few days pass.

TV People: Thanks for doing that edit.

Me: Perfectly all right. Did it all go well?

TV People: Sort of. The Executive Producer said the music sounded too generic, so we're going with a chart track for the theme tune instead. Trouble is, we don't have the rights to use it. Do you do soundalikes?