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Basically, it is better to cut a film without existing music. There are several reasons for this: Each film has its own tempo and its own breath. These can best be found out when the film editor and the director work on a rough cut until the film has gained its own tension and depth without any music. If the film still seems emotionless or even trivial, then there is usually something wrong with the editing. Although the soundtrack can help to iron out inconsistencies, it usually doesn’t unfold its full effect.

Another problem can arise if you collect different pieces of music and use them for the editing. This is because all pieces of music have their own rhythm, beat and sound mix. This makes the film seem restless or unbalanced. With this technique there is also the danger that the director gets used to the music and can no longer get involved with the composer’s vision. Often the second story level, which the composer spins, can only be realized to a limited extent with prefabricated music.

As soon as you remove the music from such a rough cut, a single scene may work for itself, but the cut could contain rhythmic and narrative confusion.

Finally, the composer determines for each film in which tempo and beat the score is written, so that it fits optimally to the breath of the film. (Of course, pieces can also be interwoven in other time signatures by the composer.)

The tempo and beat are based on the heart rhythm and the breath. The viewer breathes to the rhythm of the film. If this breath of the pictures does not fit to the rhythm of the music, then the film does not feel harmonious–unless this is intentional, for example in action and horror films. In these cases, you want to increase your pulse as much as possible.

However, there are possibilities to edit a film with music. This is the case when the composer composes some temp tracks (temporary music) for the rough cut. Based on the rhythm of the temp tracks, the film is then edited–the composer determines the breath of the film, naturally matching the film style. As soon as all temp tracks have been used provisionally, the composer can subsequently adapt and optimize the scenes musically.

We usually use this method for documentaries. If there is good cooperation between the editor, the director and the composer, this can greatly speed up and facilitate the work on the soundtrack.

Our tip: It can make sense to include the composer in the editing. Most composers have a very good sense of rhythm for film scenes due to their many years of work. For example, how long an emotion should last so that the music can unfold and optimally pick up the viewer. One is often worried about the long scenes, which often only create a strong depth with the music afterwards and at the same time give the viewer space to process the emotions shown.



In our work we learn again and again that great value is placed on pompous music or catchy tunes. The sound from Hollywood is spectacular–even if the respective pictures are available. But in principle, great music does not automatically ignite great emotions.

Not every film needs the next catchy tune or the epic Hollywood sound. Sometimes a piano melody can be just as overwhelming. It can be exaggerated: Music that is too dominant and concise can distract from the emotions and depth of the story. If the film is touching, even the simple piano melody will be remembered and could develop into a catchy tune. The soundtrack should support the film and it should emerge at the right moment.

It should also be noted that the viewer can only process a certain amount of information and feelings. It takes space and time to introduce the viewer to the themes of the film. This also has a lot to do with the expectations of the audience. When we see a blockbuster in the cinema, we automatically expect big pictures and music. However, these stories are often rather simple.

In fact, it is often enough to find a sequence of melodies that the viewers can remember or perceive, and which is repeated. This applies also to the style, the surrounding melodies, the time jumps, etc.

Experienced directors know all about the power of music. They know that sometimes a simple melody can have an enormous effect.

Our tip: It is helpful to think carefully about where you want to go with the film. Which target audience you want to reach or which message you want the film to make so that the soundtrack really meets these expectations.

This text was written by Raphael Sommer and is based on his experience as a film music composer. These tips and examples are intended as a brief introduction and do not apply to every film, situation or production process. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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