Film Scoring: What You Need to Know

You’ve shot your film. Your actors killed it. Your shots look bomb. But what about the music? The filmmaking process isn’t complete until your film has a score – whether it’s entire songs or tiny pieces, instrumentals or pop anthems with lyrics. Big-budget movies employ sound engineers and composers, but that may not be an option for a first-time filmmaker on a shoestring budget. If you need to learn how to score your film yourself, if you want to become a film composer, here’s how you can get started in the world of film scoring – and how much it will cost.

Filmmaker Luke Neumann has put together a crazy-helpful collection of YouTube tutorials on film scoring. They add up to about an hour of content, but it’s a small amount of time to invest in something as important as your film’s music. Imagine Jaws without its iconic theme! Luke also has some words of reassurance for people who are already comfortable editing video: a lot of what you know will transfer over into the world of music production. You might even discover that you love editing music as a creative outlet.

Below are Luke’s five basic things you’ll need before you can get started in film scoring. We’ve added in some additional definitions and information in case you don’t know music production lingo.

Midi controller aka Midi keyboard and external audio device

Besides a computer, the first basic piece of hardware you’ll need for film scoring is A MIDI controller AKA MIDI keyboard. You can find them for sale online in the $99-200 range. To save money, you don’t need a full 88-key keyboard – start with something smaller.

External Audio Device

Luke also recommends an external audio device such as Scarlett Solo, which will run you about $100. Your audio files won’t be as big as video files, but it’s still a good idea to rely on something other than your computer.

Music editing software aka DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

The industry standard software for music and audio is Avid Pro Tools. You can get a monthly subscription if you don’t want to invest in owning the software outright.

However, there are plenty of other DAW options on the market if you don’t like Pro Tools. The most popular free DAW is Audacity, so if money is tight, you may want to give it a try. But if you’re ready to invest some money in your DAW, you can consider:

  • Presonus Studio One 3
  • Cakewalk SONAR
  • FL Studio
  • Propellerhead Reason
  • Ableton Live
  • MOTU Digital Performer
  • Steinberg Cubase
  • Cockos Reaper
  • Apple Logic Pro X

Check out E-Home Recording Studio for a breakdown of the pros and cons of all these DAW options.

VST samples and instruments

VST, aka Virtual Studio Technology, is software that integrates audio samplers, synths and effects with your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). VST takes real-world hardware and musical instruments such as drums and guitars and then converts them into usable software to work within your DAW. Essentially, you’ll be composing the actual notes/music yourself with your Midi controller, but you can then make those notes sound like particular instruments instead of having real live musicians record music with those instruments.

To get samples, you might consider a subscription to the East West Composer Cloud service, which gives you access to over 10,000 virtual instruments. Note that you can get 50% off your first month, so if you’re able to score your film within that month, you can save a significant amount of money. But East West is only one option, and your DAW might also include its own samples.

film scoring

Studio headphones/speakers

Your basic headphones and laptop speakers aren’t going to cut it when it comes to the sound quality you need for film scoring. But the world of headphones can be huge and expensive, with some models costing as much as $5,000! You don’t need to spend this much; Luke recommends BeyerDynamic DT 770 Studio headphones. Other options include models from Sennheiser, AKG, Sony and Audio Technica. The good news is that a good pair of headphones for film editing can double as the headphones you use for film scoring. So if you don’t already have solid headphones, a new pair will help your editing as well.

Good luck on your journey into the world of film scoring! Looking for new gear? Check out FilmUp recommendations HERE!

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Amanda

Amanda Pendolino is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and script analyst who reads for studios, producers, and distributors around the globe. A former talent agency assistant, she has collaborated on both TV and film projects with various producers, directors, and actors. She enjoys silly comedies, stuffy period pieces, travel, live music, yoga and ice cream.

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