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Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 6 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 6 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-020-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 6  by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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JULY 5 — JULY 18
Songmine by John Braheny

[This is the sixth part of the writer’s account of his work on the sound-track of a low-budget movie.]

After Lucia had recorded the Pipa and Cheng parts I prevailed upon her to leave her Cheng with me and I recorded a lot of stuff by myself using a remote control on the four-track and watching a stop-watch at the same time. I ex-perimented with various mike plac-ings, and found that by placing the mike underneath the instrument, by the sound hole, I got a deep, resonant sound with plenty of bot-tom and lots of overtones. With the graphic equalizer I could further tailor the sound by boosting or reducing certain frequencies. When the mikes were placed overhead I got more of the high-end articula-tion of the string sound. I also experimented with aiming the mike at various spots on the instrument. Before recording any instrument, I go through this process of experi-mentation. I also try different mikes because each has its own character-istic response pattern. Even a cheap mike that you think is terrible may have an appropriate response patt-ern for a particular situation.

While I’m making decisions I’m also thinking about the context. If this is the first instrument record-ed in a cue that will involve overdubbing several other instru-ments, I have to consider the overall sound and where this instrument fits in the frequency range. For instance, in a cue which involved Cheng and percussion I wanted a big broad sound. Since the per-cussion was going to be mostly high frequencies and short, transient bursts, I could go for a very broad frequency range on the Cheng without “fighting” the percussion sounds.

There’s a very basic theory of successful arrangement and prod-uction involved here that bears repeating. You need to pay close attention to frequency range and space to preserve focus and prevent “cluttering.” For example, if you are recording a bass, vocal and flute, you’re dealing with low frequency, mid-range and high frequency instruments, respectively. Not much problem here except that maybe the flute will “mask” some of the overtones of the voice. In that case, the flute has to work out a part that plays between and around the vocalist’s notes so that the listen-er’s mind does not need to continu-ally decide between focusing on the flute or the vocal. A failure to appreciate this phenomenon makes for what we refer to as “busy” arrangements. The problem bec-omes even more complex when we add guitars, keyboards, etc. in that same vocal range. Another principle shows us how to deal with it. Our minds will “take for gran-ted” and not focus on a repetitive rhythm guitar riff or any other figure that we feel will remain the same. The same with a sustained note. Notice the background strings on records. They’re mostly sustains or slowly moving melodic lines only in “holes” between the vocal, in unison with the vocal, or when a vocal note is sustained. The easiest things to listen to are those in which the focus is made obvious for us. We are so used to focusing on the human voice that whenever a vocal is used in a lead melodic line we zero in on it and anything that might pull our attention from it begins to irritate us, at least uncon-sciously. An extreme example is to have two radios tuned to different stations playing in the same room and trying to carry on a conversa-tion at the same time. It’ll definitely make you crazy. At this time I seem to hear the voices of my parents from the past saying, “Okay, wise’ guy, so how could you listen to the radio and do your homework at the same time?” to which I can only answer, “Obviously, I was very highly motivated,” or plead insan-ity.

There are times, particularly in film music, when you’ll want to use that confused focus as a tension device, but it’s better, obviously, for it to be deliberate than accidental.

Anyway, to sum it up, you want to give your lead instrument or vocal the space it needs to be focused upon properly by a combin-ation of: 1) keeping other instru-ments out of it’s frequency range, and 2) giving it it’s space in the arrangement. With this is mind, a flute part and percussion_ were recorded and overdubbed and the whole thing was mixed and edited onto one reel in the order it appeared in the film.

(To be continued.)

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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Songwriters Musepaper – Volume 3 Issue 11 – October-November 1988 – Interview: Jules Shear

Songwriters Musepaper – Volume 3 Issue 11 – October-November 1988 – Interview: Jules Shear

Songwriters Musepaper - Volume 3 Issue 11 - October-November 1988 - Interview: Jules Shear

JB#: C000000062-019-001

Jb C0000000062 019 002

JB #: C000000062-019-002


Table of Contents

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FEATURES
THE CRISIS OF A&R COMPETENCE AND RECORD COMPANY ECONOMICS
Music business consultant Thomas A. White fired this opening volley in a heated dialogue on a&r in Billboard Magazine. The subject will continue on the NARAS/ASCAP sponsored panel on November 19 (see Noteworthy) Page 7

JULES SHEAR: RECKLESS SLEEPER
Jules has had hits with Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles, as well as a recording career of his own for over 12 years. We talk about his work, his new band, Reckless Sleepers, and their new IRS Records album, Big Boss Sounds Page 10

SONGWRITERS EXPO 12 HIGHLIGHTS
Scenes from a magic Expo Pages 14-15 & 18-19

IT’S A JINGLE OUT THERE
LASS Pro Member and jingle producer, Richard Lieter gives us a closeup look at his experiences in the jingle jungle Page 20

FREE WOMAN IN POMONA
Molly-Ann Leikin gets a new perspective as she guests with LASS co-founder/director Len Chandler at his songwriting class in a California men’s prison Page 23

WRITING WITHIN A SCALE CONTEXT — USING INTERVALS
David Cat Cohen gives you more hot music writing tips Page 26

# 1 WITH A BULLET
Dan Kimpel reviews a new Cypress Records album featuring the original demos for some #1 hits Page 27

LASS NEWS
MEMBER NEWS — NOTEWORTHY — MUSICAL CHAIRS
News about classes, biz events, where your favorite publishers and a&r reps are this month and good stuff about our members Page 4

WEEKLY SHOWCASE SCHEDULE Who will be at the Showcase looking for songs and what they’re looking for on Cassette Roulette (publisher song critiques), Pitch-A-Thon (producers and record company reps looking for songs and acts). Also a list of Pick-Ups (writers whose songs were picked up last month) Pages 16-17

From the Acting Archivist…

Much like the Songmine columns posted earlier, the archives contain a large collection of Songwriter Musepaper publications. With this posting, I am beginning a project to scan the cover and table of contents of each issue and then OCR (convert the scanned picture to text) the table of contents in order to make it searchable. I don’t yet have the staff necessary to create complete scanned issues of the Museupaper, but if there is interest in a particular article or interview, I can scan that and make it available here.

Douglas E. Welch, douglas@welchwrite.com

Previously in Songwriters Musepaper:

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Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 5 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 5 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-019 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 5  by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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JUNE 21 — JULY 4
Songmine by John Braheny

[This is the fifth part of the writer’s account of his work on the sound-track of a low-budget movie.]

In my last article, I talked about click tracks and free timing but didn’t explain, mechanically, how I did the click track.

I figured out ahead of time what tempos I needed for each segment, and wrote the number of beats per minute on a new form that was prepared for each musical segment. Included on the form was a number of letters for each seg-ment, the reel number of the master tape (since I’d be using several reels), and numbers for each take with space for comments like “sucks”, “passable”, “blew in-tro” and so on. This is already prepared when the musicians arr-ive.

I set up the metronome in an adjoining room with a long chord so it won’t “bleed” onto the instru-ment tracks as they’re recorded. I put a mike up close to it and turn the volume as low as possible without losing the signal on the tape. This click track is only a guide for the musicians, and won’t be part of the final mix. Remember that after the other tracks are filled, you may have to erase and record over the metronome track, since the rhythm will have been established by other musicians by then. There-fore, be careful to record the click track at a very low level, because a sharp, percussive sound doesn’t always erase cleanly, and may re-main on the track and cause prob-lems later on.

Now I’m ready to record. I’ve picked up two ten-inch reels of Ampex Grand Master Tape (you must use very high quality tape).

Lucia Hwong arrived. I’ve hired her to play Pipa, the Chinese equivalent to the banjo, and Cheng, similar to a Japanese Koto and the equivalent, I suppose, of the dul-cimer, only with movable bridges at intervals to determine pitch. There are some segments (usually re-ferrred to as “cues” in the biz) for which I know just what I want, and others that will require experi-mentation, and will depend on how she plays and what she can come up with on her own. Only one cue is notated. Curt Berg has notated it in the Chinese manner, which he learned during our research with Mr. Lui.

It turns out that Lucia never plays in an ensemble, only solo, and consequently her rhythm is not as tight as I need it to be. It’s difficult for her to lock into the click track rhythm and we do many takes. I try to think of ways to salvage some takes, because I’ll need to record other instruments over them and need something solid to work with. I decide after a while that I splice together some of the takes where she does lock onto the click track. It makes us both happy when I can tell Lucia we have enough to work with. She’s been working hard and hold-ing up under pressure, while I’ve tried to maintain a positive and encouraging attitude myself.

This brings up a very important point. The psychology involved in any kind of creative recording sit-uation is critical. If I had got uptight and put her down, it would not have helped her deal with a difficult situation. It may have completely paralyzed her creatively, and that was the last thing I wanted. It’s important to be positive and say things like, “You’re getting closer to it, the feeling was good, now let’s work on…”, and whatever else is true or close to being true.

You must also pay very close attention to each performance and fall back on your own creativity for alternatives if it seems what you had originally conceived is not happening. You really have to zero in on what the musicians can do in case you (or they) had overrated their talents in a particular area. In Lucia’s case, when we got to the cues involving free timing, I ex-plained what was happening on the film and its emotional import, and she was then in her element and performed beautifully.

(To Be Continued)

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 4 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Jb C000000137 018 part 4

Accession Number: C000000137-018 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 4  by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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JUNE 7 — JUNE 20
Songmine by John Braheny

[This is the fourth part of the writer’s account of his work on the soundtrack of a low-budget movie.]

Ideally, I would have a project-or and screen, someone to run it, and would record the music as I watched the segments on film, getting into the mood visually. However, this is a low-budget pro-ject, and a screen and projector are luxuries. If you have access to a video camera and playback system it’s a good idea to record the movie and play it back on your TV. However, I had to make do with a cassette recording of the dialogue track.

While we’re on the subject of budget, I should point out that the music part of a film budget amounts to about seven percent, and more often than not the filmmaker will opt for “library” music, which is recorded cheaply in other parts of the world, bought by companies like Capitol Records (who have an ex-tensive library), and sold by the minute. Whoever is responsible for the music listens to a wide range of styles and sounds and picks what’s appropriate. Much cheaper and less hassle than what we’re doing here, but also less original and tailored.

I knew the sounds of the Chinese instruments as well as styles of playing them as I had inundated my brain with them during the past week. I also had all the segments laid out carefully in terms of length and tempo. I started that process by determining where the music for each segment should begin and end. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Is it better to “sneak” the music in (or out) or to bring it in with a punch. If there’s dialogue, do I need to underscore parts of it by the way I write the music? If so, it must be timed exactly and written in the score. If that’s not necessary, do I need something moody but un-obtrusive in the background? Wh-ere does it feel natural to stop the music? At the scene change? A fade? Need there be a transitional pause between the music in this segment and that in the next? Does the music need to overlap or segue?

After making those decisions I timed each segment, converting feet to frames and frames to seconds. For example, the count on the Moviola might tell us that the length of the scene is four feet and six frames. We convert it to frames by multiplying four feet by 40 (the number of frames per foot), we get 160 and add the six frames we had, for a total of 166 frames. Divide by 24 (the number of frames per second), and we end up with 6.9 seconds, which we could call seven seconds. Obviously, a calculator-speeds this operation considerably.
After working out the times, I decide whether this segment will be “free timed”, having no particular rhythm or pulse, or if I’ll need a “click track” so I can base the music on a rhythmically timed structure. If I choose the former, I will have to establish, in my own mind, a “feel” for how the music should flow so that I can conduct the musician(s) and watch the clock at the same time. If I choose the latter, I need to figure out a tempo based on what’s happening in the film, set the tempo with a metronome, set a time signature, see how many bars of music I get at that tempo and lay out the music accordingly. Unless I need to synchronize the tempo exactly to the film (for dancers, walkers, etc.) I’ll have some leeway to vary the tempo so I’ll come out even in the end and not on the first or third beat of a phrase. That may be important if you want to repeat a chord progression or set up a repeatable musical structure in some way.

Remember, however, that the film music does not need to use song form structures as we’re used to hearing them. Only if you’re going for a hit theme would you do that. So you have a lot of flexibility. With a “click track” you always know exactly where you are, and that it’ll end at exactly the right time. With free timing, you can play it more expressively in some ways, but you have to pay close attention to the clock.

To Be Continued

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 3 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 3 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-018 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 3  by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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MAY 24 — JUNE 6
Songmine by John Braheny

[This is the third part of the writer’s account of his work on the sound-track of the movie “The Birdman”].

OK dear readers, I left you as we were getting the run-down on Chinese music and instruments from Dr. Lui at UCLA’s Anthro-musicology Department. I played my cassette tape of the session over and over in the car and in my house during the next few days. Then I called Curt Berg, who already had The Birdman’s theme written and I went over to his place to hear it. I thought it was beautiful and we discussed how it could best be arranged. Since Curt is an arranger, he was accustomed to thinking in terms of several instruments, musical textures, and so on. Des-pite all that, we decided the most effective way to express the feeling was a single wood flute played loose and free.

Curt was swamped with work, so I volunteered to put the rest of the score together. By this time the .producer/writer/editor was close to a final edit, and I could get more accurate counts to tell me how many seconds of music I needed. Many :ompromises are made on a low-budget film like this. He and his backer were already over budget, an almost standard predicament for filmmakers because something in-variably goes wrong and scenes must be reshot or re-recorded. I mention this to explain that getting by as cheaply as possible without sacrificing quality is the major concern of small, independent film-makers, and consequently, those who compose and produce the music for them. I took the job knowing I wouldn’t make much money or have a big budget to work with. I did it because Bernard does quality films. I enjoy working with him it’s a challenge, and when he gets a shot at a major feature film I’ll be there.

The challenge this time was that, in order for me to come out with any money at all to show for two weeks of my time, we had to forego professional recording stud-ios and record on the TEAC equipment at my office. This offer-
ed advantages other than the obvious financial ones. I could take my time, do lots of takes and experiment without being clock (and budget) conscious during the creative process. I should also mention the negative aspects. I had to be extra conscious of quality. because I don’t have a noise reduction gear and while mixing several tracks together I had to be concerned about noise buildup. Thankfully the score doesn’t have to be as noise free as records because the playback systems used with 16mm films are themselves noisy, and there are other sounds on the film (waterfalls etc) that will mask some noise.

These considerations, how-ever, ‘do not justify carelessness. The following things can be done to minimize noise:

• Don’t use noisy instruments. I had to can a popular brand of contact pickup because the pre-amp was too noisy.

• Use a graphic equalizer, if poss-ible, to de-emphasize noisy fre-quencies as much as possible without affecting the sound quality ‘of the instrument. For example, if you’re recording a bass instrument, you’ll be able to reduce the noise in the upper frequencies without aff-ecting the sound. It’s more difficult with mid-range instruments as the character or timbre of the instru-ment (or voice) is often dependent on overtones that occur within the “noisy” frequencies, so it’s all compromise at that point.

• Record at as high a volume level as possible without distortion. This is called recording “hot”. The idea is that when you finally mix it to the film, you may only need half that volume and the noise will be reduced along with the music.

* When mixing your music at home, before transferring it to “mag stripe” (the sprocketed audio tape that’s used to mix the sound to the film) mix it mono onto a full track if possible. Half track will do, and quarter track is the least desirable. The more signal on the tape the better. Make sure you mix as “hot” as possible without dis-tortion and that all the levels of the individual pieces of music you take to transfer to “mag stripe” are uniform so that during the transfer you don’t have to mess with volume for each one.

(To be continued)

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 2: Research and Spotting

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 1 and Part 2: Research and Spotting

Accession Number: C000000137-017 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 2: Research and Spotting by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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MAY 10-23

Songmine
by John Braheny

Songmine-Film Scoring-Part 2: ‘Research and Spotting by John Braheny

In my last article I talked about the initial preparations for a film I scored, a Ray Bradbury short story called The Flying Machine, set in ancient China. I also spoke about my background and about the prod-ucer/director Bernard Selling. was doing the music with _Curt Berg, an excellent composer, arr-anger and big band leader. Our first move was to see the film, get some general impressions and talk with Bernard about his general concept for the music. Bernard is a musician (something unusual to run into in a director) and he had some ideas. Obviously, the music had to sound Chinese, but he felt it wasn’t important that we adhere strictly to the traditional style. Since, in film scores, basic song forms usually go out the window, except for thematic material, we had some latitude.

Next procedure is to “spot” the film, deciding in what “spots” there should or shouldn’t be music. This is a very subjective procedure. We start by figuring out where the music is absolutely needed to ex-press something that the actors or dialogue can’t say, to heighten the effect of the action, or to give flavor or “color” to a location. We include notes about places for “wild spots” or “stingers” we’ll record just in case we decide later that maybe we’ll need it and save ourselves from a last-minute session. We also decide which music will be out front, and which will be subtle underscoring.

I put together a form for myself that lists, from left to right:Film Footage and Frame Counts; Action; Psychology and Music. We watch the film on a Moviola, an editing machine on which the film, with a dialogue track, can be run back and forth and pieces can be cut or added. It also gives you film footage and frame counts that are mechan-ically geared to the film so that if you start at the same place every time, it’ll continue to be an accurate reference to the beginnings and endings of particular scenes.

Bernard had not completed the editing at this time, so some counts would be different and we’d get the final ones at a later stage. Even though I knew that, I went ahead and mapped out the film scene by scene, which at least would help me remember what followed in the story. Later, we’d convert film feet and frames to seconds to find out how much music we needed. Some Moviolas show time counts as well as film footage. For 16mm film there are 24 frames per second and 40 frames per foot. Under the Action heading I’d write whatever action was taking place in that scene. Under Psychology I’d deter-mine, in discussions with Bernard, the underlying importance of this action. What feeling is he trying to evoke in the audience? Should the music represent the point of view of one of the characters? Should it “tip off” or anticipate the next scene?

For instance, the Emperor is speaking to the “Birdman” in a garden. The Birdman doesn’t know that the Emperor intends to kill him. I needed to know whether Bernard wanted a little “impending doom” undercurrent of music to let the audience know that something was wrong and all was not as friendly as it appeared. He decided he wanted to keep the music light, from the point of view of the Birdman, who thought he might be rewarded for his beautiful invent-ion. That way we, the audience, would identify with him and be be as shocked as he was when the Emperor revealed his intentions.

We discussed the philosophy of the film in terms of the characters. The Birdman, a creator, a dreamer, a free spirit, should be represented by music that soared and evoked a feeling of freedom. The Emperor, bound by tradition and responsibil-ity, should be represented by music that felt more regimented, tight and conservative. After those “psycho-logy” considerations are explored and we have an idea of what the music needs to do, we get to the Music column, where we figure out how to achieve it. We need to consider what instruments to use, tempos, scales and modes, harmon-ies, etc., as well as musicians. To do this we need some information on Chinese music, so Curt called Mr. Lui at UCLA’s Anthromusic Depart-ment, we got together at his house and he graciously demonstrated several Chinese instruments and allowed us to tape his explanations of techinques, tunings and how to write for the instruments. (To be continued.)

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 1

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 1: Research and Spotting

Accession Number: C000000137-017 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 1 by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 1: Research and Spotting

APRIL 26-MAY 9
Songmine

SCORING FILMS ON A LOW BUDGET PART I
by John Braheny

A couple of weeks ago I finished a film score and thought, after explaning the process to several people, that it might be of interest to you, too. What is interesting, I think, is that I am not an arranger, per say, with a lot of background in theory and composition in that department. As a result, I realize that my potential and scope are limited by the lack of those skills, but it’s all about priorities in my life and becoming an arranger is not one of them. Nonetheless, I’ve done alot of work with film music. There was a period of about 3 years when I composed and produced music for radio and T.V. commer-cials and because I used unorthodox approaches to compensate for lack of chops in other areas, I came up with unorthodox sounding music, which was what they were looking for. Most people dping music for commercialsiareiarrangers.and con-sequently, inspire more confidence in ad execs, who are notoriously paranoid to begin with, and con-sequently, those composers get alot more work. I’m not going to B.S. you that I got rich on it. It just worked out that way when people wanted something out of the ordi-nary, some of them took a chance on me. It gave me the chance to experiment on somebody else’s bread and I did alot of things with studio technology using every new gadget and technique I could think of. Working with film is, to me, very exciting because beyond the mechanics of timing to the second, it’s very subjective and interpretive. Obviously, the ad people as well as film directors, know what the music is supposed to do, but there are lots of different ways to achieve what they need and that’s where the creativity lies. I play guitar and violinand thosechopscan ‘transfer to bass and viola without a lot of trouble. Also, though I lack techni-cal arranging skill, I have a fairly good understanding of the dyna-mics involved which are the same skills basically, that producers need in putting together a “head ar-rangement” (one using only chord charts)

So with that in mind, along comes Bernard Selling a month or so ago and asks me to score his new film. I’ve scored 3 other films for Bernard and he likes my work. He won an award for one of his first documentaries called “Henry, Boy of the Barrio” before I’d met him and subsequent films he produced and directed were aimed primarily at an educational market. His last two have been films of short stories used often in English classes. It’s good preparation for him to move into longer feature films and gives him a way to develop and demon-strate his skill and style. The film I just worked on was from a Ray Bradbury allegory called “The Fly-ing Machine” which is set in ancient China. The story briefly, is about an emperor who upon dis-covering a man flying over his kingdom in a self-made machine, then decides he must kill the man to prevent the possible danger that evil men might use this invention to do evil things. There is much dialogue between the emperor, who appreciates the possible joys of flying, the beauty of the invention and the imagination of the inventor, and the inventor himself, who ob-viously believes he shouldn’t be punished for doing something beau-tiful. In the end the emperor does execute the ‘birdman’, but not without considerable inner turmoil. It’s the classic confrontation bet-ween change and the status quo, and between technological advance and our protection from its evils (see the China Syndrome).

“But Bernard,” I said, “I’m not really into Chinese music. Why don’t you hire someone who is?” He explained that the music didn’t have to be traditional and strict and that he wanted what could result from the synthesis of styles. In that regard, he also put me together with Curt Berg who is a big band leader, composer and arranger. He was looking for a synthesis of our styles, too. As it turned out, it was a very busy time for Curt and he didn’t have as much time to work on it as he would have liked. He composed a beautiful theme,and we spent some time together on the research and recording end. Next issue we’ll get into the nuts and bolts including research, ‘spotting the film’ ,(where it does and doesn’t need music), conversion formulas (frames to seconds), choosing in-struments and players, click tracks, recording, transfers, mixing, etc.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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Archive Highlight: The American Song Festival Songwriter’s Handbook by John Braheny (1982)

“People mailed cassettes (!) to the American Song Festival  offices in LA where they held regular listening sessions with groups of music publishers and producers, voting on each song, depending on their genre. John Braheny was one of the many industry judges (pop music).  All of us looked forward to the annual ASF awards party, where we could see just about anyone in the music biz, like at the Grammys, only not as dressy! The ASF wanted to have a little gift, a premium, to send out to songwriters when the contestants entered the contest, so John wrote “The Songwriters Handbook.” Later people remarked to him that they saw this booklet as ‘the single’ which introduced his ‘album’ (his much bigger book which followed, “The Craft and Business of Songwriting”). This little how-to book was very popular… Jon Iger, president of the Arizona Songwriters Assn., gave away these booklets to each new member…and still talks about it!” — JoAnn Braheny

“When I first began writing lyrics, I was told about this festival and then a friend took me to a celebration party.  I was hooked.  I entered the very next year and won a 1/4 finalist and a semi finalist in a lyric competition.  From that point on I was winning category finalist and money and I didn’t stop entering until the festival ended, finally winning 5 categories and a grand prize.  It was a thrilling introduction to the music industry and enabled me to land a staff-writing job with Motown.”  — K.A. Parker

“The ASF back then was a lot like “The Voice” is now for singers, but it was an annual national songwriters’ competition. It was great fun and resulted in encouraging songwriters everywhere  to continue to learn and grow. It was a goal to aim for.” — Jill (Frisbee) Brandt Gain, former Co-Director, American Song Festival

ASF Songwriter s Handbook 0 Cover

Accession Number: JD000000145, Publication/Digital File, “The American Song Festival Songwriter’s Handbook by John Braheny (1982)

Read The American Song Festival Songwriter’s Handbook by John Braheny (1982)booklet in PDF format

From The American Song Festival Songwriter’s Handbook…

“THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK

If you didn’t feel you had a flair for lyrics and/or music already, you wouldn’t have entered the American Song Festival and wouldn’t be reading this now. I don’t believe you can get talent from a book but I do know that there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help that talent blossom a lot sooner than it would in the “school of hard knocks.” I hope this book will help you in the following ways.

1. Show you some options that may not have occurred to you. Maybe you never knew anyone who wrote songs, or if you did, you never asked them how they did it. In over 400 interviews that my partner, Len Chandler, and I have had with music industry people, including many hit songwriters and producers, we’ve discovered that there are lots of successful ways to write great songs. New writers tend to either want to have a simple ABC formula for writing a successful song or to only trust their instincts and not want to mess with their process by learning anything about their craft from anyone else. Both are a big mistake because they’re self-limiting. Creativity and craft are both essential ingredients in successful songs.

2. Give you some basic principles to go by. I hate to talk in terms of rules because if you’re creative you’ll be breaking them and you must be creative. For everything I say in this booklet that may remotely sound like a rule, there is an exception somewhere, either because an established writer/artist was commercially powerful enough to get away with poor craftsmanship or because the writer had the craftsmanship to violate one rule in favor of another rule of greater importance, to fulfill the needs of a song. It seems like a good rule, for example, never to precede the first chorus by three verses, until you look at Don Schlitz’s “The Gambler” (a hit for Kenny Rogers) or Henley & Frey’s “Lyin’ Eyes” (a hit for the Eagles). Breaking the rule works in these songs because the listener is pro-pelled forward so relentlessly by the strong visual imagery and the quickly unfolding story that it would be a mistake to have the chorus earlier. The need of the song is to keep the listener interested and it’s accomplished brilliantly in both these songs.

What I’ll deal with here are some generalizations and in-sights that are based on the odds. I’ll discuss the most com-=mow monly successful forms, approaches and considerations.”

Read The American Song Festival Songwriter’s Handbook by John Braheny (1982)booklet in PDF format

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Archive Highlight: John Braheny speaks on The Craft and Business of Songwriting [Audio] (55 mins)

Another interesting piece of John Braheny history from the John Braheny Archives on the Craft and Business of Songwriting.


John Braheny speaks on The Craft and Business of Songwriting on this undated cassette tape. Most likely recorded at a Songwriters Expo.

Archive Highlight: John Braheny speaks on The Craft and Business of Songwriting [Audio]  

Listen to this presentation

Accession Number D000000102-001 (Note: These numbers are the unique Accession number for each piece in the archives and allows us to quickly locate any item by searching the archive index) 

From the Acting Archivist…

This is one of those pieces which exist in every archive collection — an undated item with only basic information, if any at all. I have no idea when this recording was made, although it appears to have been presented at a Songwriters Expo, due to John’s mention of “the rest of the weekend” near the end of the talk. If you happen to have any further information about this recording, please send it along and I will add it to the archival entry for this item.

Douglas E. Welch, douglas@welchwrite.com

Previously on Archive Highlights:

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Archive Highlight: How to Write Better Songs with John Braheny and Michael Laskow via YouTube [Video]

Another interesting piece of John Braheny history from the John Braheny Archives on the Craft and Business of Songwriting.


How to Write Better Songs with John Braheny

Accession Number D000000035-001

(Note: These numbers are the unique Accession number for each piece in the archives and allows us to quickly locate any item by searching the archive index)

Previously on Archive Highlights:

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