10 soundtracking tips from pros

We gather the best soundtracking tips from Hans Zimmer, Segun Akinola and Neil Davidge.

Hans Zimmer
Image: Spitfire Audio

Hans Zimmer

He needs no introduction: he’s the biggest composer on the planet – it’s that simple.

Top Tip “It’s not my job to tell the audience what to do or feel… Really, it’s the storytelling that’s driving the process at all times. A director will phone me up and say: ‘I want to tell you a story’. As they’re telling me the story, I’ll start to get ideas and the main one will usually be, ‘What’s the sonic world that we’re going to go and drop the audience into?’ So it’s not just instruments… if you just drop an orchestra on top of the sound effects, then they’re too separate. What I try to do is figure out how to bleed into the picture, bleed into the frame and bleed into the story.”

Junkie XL

music for picture

This multi-platinum-selling producer and remixer is also a very in-demand film composer, having scored films including Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Tower and the latest reboot of Tomb Raider.

Top Tip “Directors want to hear that the story they are telling in the film is also being told through the music in an exciting way. I’ve been fortunate that the directors I’ve worked with can really embrace an outlandish idea. You have to have that relationship with the director. You have to be open to suggestions, but also come up with ideas that will make
the director forget whatever thoughts that they had in the first place.”

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Neil Davidge

Neil Davidge

Davidge is a songwriter, producer and composer who’s worked with David Bowie, Snoop Dogg, UNKLE and Massive Attack. He’s also scored music for games.

Top Tip “I start with a simple drone and see if that triggers ideas, and approach the scene from the sonics up. Or I’ll often build a cue, starting with a simple string or piano pad, feeling my way through the scene melodically, going note by note until I have a kind of map that can be fleshed out with other instruments. If I’m not sure what the scene or project needs, I’ll even temp the scene myself, either with archive material of my own or by other composers and artists.”

Segun Akinola

Segun Akinola
Image: David Shoukry

The brilliant new series of Doctor Who has been scored by BAFTA Breakthrough Brit 2017 Segun Akinola, who took on the daunting task of defining a new, but familiar, sonic universe with his compositions.

Top Tip “During the compositional process, I’ll ask questions such as: ‘I wonder what this will sound like?’ Or: ‘If I just did this, what would happen to the sound?’ I’ll run things through unconventional plug-ins to see what happens when I approach things differently and challenge myself. I wanted to have that same spirit of invention that Doctor Who’s original composers had, but to make everything sound completely fresh for today’s audience.”

Jesper Kyd

Jesper Kyd 2

One of the biggest names in the world of video-game soundtracking, the BAFTA Award winning Jesper Kyd was the principal composer for the flagship games of the Hitman and the Assassin’s Creed franchises, and he has navigated an eclectic career making music for film and television, too.

Top Tip “I try to figure out the story and the narrative arc of the game first. I need to fully grasp and understand what this game is about. At that point, I usually start getting some initial ideas, and anything they have to show me as faras concept art, test footage or even a playable demo is very useful. I dofind concept art particularly interesting, because that’s what the developers are looking at themselves when they’re making the game.”


Extra soundtracking tips

1. Composing is all about state of mind. Setting a mood or mindset is important. Mostly, it’s about finding the emotional core of the scene, character or entire narrative that inspires the music.” – Joe Russo

2. I always try and create something perfect from the start. Unfortunately, this rarely works well for me. Instead, I’ll throw a bunch of ideas against the wall  – that’s when the magic really happens.”  Mac Quayle

3. “When you begin a show with a new sonic palette, you walk an unbeaten path that leads you to unique places.”  Jim Dooley

4. You want the people who hired you to feel your enthusiasm for their projects. Bring the excitement you had when you landed your very first gig… and always go above and beyond.”  Siddhartha Khosla

5. I always appreciate when the music is thoughtfully planned out as the show takes its course. It’s architecture in that sense, and the long view is often way more important than individual cues.”  Geoff Zanelli

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