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Notes From The Deadline

TV Music From The Inside
By Paul Farrer

Everyone’s patience has limits — but as a professional, you should never reach them.

In 1325, the rival Northern Italian cities of Bologna and Modena went to war over a stolen bucket. Following years of building tension and skirmishes going back generations, the wooden bucket was pilfered one night by some cheekily enthusiastic Modenese soldiers from the well in the centre of Bologna. It was the final straw for the humiliated and outraged Bolognese who, understandably, demanded its return. When no bucket was forthcoming from the Modenese, a state of war was declared between the two armies which eventually resulted in more than 2000 casualties.

Going Too Far

Everyone has a limit, past which enough is simply enough. You could be the most relaxed, easy–going, unassertive Buddhist, but everyone has a cutoff point. What’s your bucket moment? What about if you do a demo and the production team ask you to revise and re–tweak it? What if they ask you to revise it again? And again? What if you are on the 18th version of the same track? Is that enough?

The bucket thieves are said to have adopted a  cunning disguise.The bucket thieves are said to have adopted a cunning disguise.With all composing jobs, the only power you ever really have is the power to say ‘no’. But when, if ever, should you exercise that right? Unlike so many people in TV careers, the composer can take on multiple projects at once, and as such, we don’t really ever feel like we have much choice in where we go. Saying yes to everything is pretty much the path to success — but sometimes you just have to put your foot down, right?

You Have It Easy

Some jobs just start badly and go downhill from there. Often it can be because the people above you in the food chain (producers, directors, execs) are either inexperienced, or not able to articulate what it is they want from you. Also, it’s vitally important to keep in mind that to people who don’t make it, music is one of the dark arts. Everyone has an opinion about music, but only a few people understand the mechanics of actually making and adapting music to a professional standard.

Think about it: we all know that adding a load of different–style drum loops to a fixed–tempo piece of music created in a DAW is easy. But we also know that doing multiple tempo changes in the same environment using recorded audio is near impossible. We know that adding a soaring orchestral string section line to a song is a piece of cake, but pulling off a convincing and characterful solo violin line is (and for my money will always be) almost entirely beyond the reach of technology. Making it faster is simple. Changing a note in a sampled brass riff isn’t.

And not one of the people who will ever commission music from you will know any of this, nor should they be expected to. They are too busy working 14 hours a day trying to make a TV programme, and most of their time will be taken up arguing with health and safety assessors about the audience capacity of a theatre, or how much budget they have left for the camera crew catering, or the graphics department being behind schedule, or the artiste’s dressing rooms not being big enough. Trust me, it’s an unimaginably thankless task, made even harder by the fact that the people above them will be throwing way more contradictory instructions at them than they are at you. And if you want to make them love you, all you have to do is stick with it. Never give up. Be the most easy–going, helpful and patient cog in their massive, expensive machine. They want it different? You do it different. They want it the same again, then change their mind? No problem. They have no idea what they want ? You work with them to help them decide.

Producing anything in the media is a military operation, and your clients want professional, calm foot–soldiers they can trust and rely on. Never give up. Never walk away. Enough is never enough. Even if it’s ‘Demo K version 76’ or a stolen wooden bucket.

Published November 2014