It’s the typical New York thing to meet someone and, after exchanging names, ask them ‘So, what do you do?’ I usually answer, ‘Well I’m a producer at konsonant/ and I wear a lot of hats. I help bring artists on board to our catalog, help our clients find the music they’re looking for and I am also a Music Editor.’ ‘A Music Editor, ’ they respond, ‘do you record bands, or, err, what is that?’
So I’ve decided to sit down and write an inside glimpse into what it means to be a music editor, and explain why it’s important to know about for filmmakers and musicians alike.
I often describe music editing as an audiovisual puzzle. In its most basic sense it is taking a pre-existing track and chopping it up so that it fits a film cue so perfectly that it seems it was made specifically for that scene. Let’s say you need a 30 second cue (that’s another name for a piece of music in a film) and the filmmaker wants to use a song that’s 3 minutes long. You’ll have to take a section of the track that best fits the scene and edit it in. Or you can have the opposite, where the filmmaker has a longer cue, let’s say 1 minute, and wants to use a piece of music that’s only 43 seconds long. Either way, it’s only once in a blue moon that the track and cue length are the same length and work perfectly together. This is why we edit.
For filmmakers, knowing about the possibility of music editing and what to expect is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it means that even if you are under financial constraints (and who isn’t these days?) you can still get high quality music for your film. Secondly, depending on the music you choose to work with, you can draw from a variety of styles and can incorporate pre-existing rock/pop/what have you/songs to help tell your story in the best way possible (as long as you have all the rights cleared, of course). Lastly, you may be pleasantly surprised when you try a song that’s in a different vein to what you were initially thinking. If you temp with music that you know you can obtain the rights to, it can also be a great way to help guide the film itself. However, do beware the pitfalls of Temp Love, or falling in love with tracks that you’ve temped with but can’t possibly afford to license. Severe cases of Temp Love have proven to be nearly fatal.
For musicians, understanding music editing can show you what the possibilities are when licensing your music. It will also give you some perspective on why licensing catalogs are particularly thrilled when you have stems as well as instrumental versions of your songs. If you also happen to work with production, reading about the following scenarios might pique your interest in becoming involved with music editing as well.
Ok, so you’re a filmmaker and you’ve decided to work with a music editor. First thing’s first, you’ve got to get all your materials over to her in the correct format. These are the same as when working with a composer. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to provide notes for each cue on what you’re looking for. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure of musical terminology, just stick to the basics and describe the type of mood you want to convey. From there, your music editor will be able to provide you with a selection of tracks that s/he thinks will work well. Now, take each track and put it up against picture. Regardless of how much you love a piece of music or think it has the right feeling, the only way to tell if it’s going to work is to try it out.
When I am looking to see if a piece will work well for a cue there are several things that I consider: mood, instrumentation, tempo, and then there’s ‘Factor-X.’ I look and listen to see how it feels and whether there are places where the music and picture hit at the same time (the ideal). If ‘Factor-X’ is present (like when your arm hair stands on end because the music and picture work so well together) then all the better.
Now that you’ve chosen the piece of music you want for each cue it’s time to let the music editor do his/her job.
For Music Editors
The first thing I do, as a music editor is to look at the cue and see where the important changes and visual cuts that need to be emphasized are. Then I’ll take the track and try to have the bigger chords or drum beats (depending on instrumentation) match up with the visual cuts. ‘Great, ’ you say, ‘now what about the beginning and ending? Should I just fade those in and out respectively?’ The answer is a definite NO. Fading a track in and out is generally a signal to the audience that the track was not made for your cue. Ideally I would edit the piece so that the beginning of the track starts with the beginning of the cue and the end of the track ends with the end of the cue. ‘How?’ Simply with some intuition, experience, and a bit of elbow grease.