5 Rules to Compiling a Killer Soundtrack

Staff Writer Dulani Wallace gives us 5 Rules to get us started on our own Oscar-winning soundtrack. Dulani did his time in the film industry — six years, three of which were spent producing and selecting music for a short film called How My Dad Killed Dracula.

Music supervision has come a long way since the days of silent film when pre-selected pieces were plugged into scenes to cover up the shutter clapping of a projector. In the light of the Oscar ceremonies this past weekend, big ups to pupils of the post-Tarantino age who continue to blaze new trails in the way songs are chosen for film and television, especially to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for winning Best Original Score. I can thank all of them for contributing to my diverse catalog of songs that are associated with some of my generation’s most memorable movie scenes. If you had the musical giddiness of TVD’s own Jon Sidel and had the opportunity to pick songs for a project (motion picture or ad), here are five things to consider:

1) Listen to the lyrics of potential songs.

Even if you only know a few intermittent words or the hook of a song that could be a candidate, there should be no reason why you aren’t using sites like lyrics.com to get the full set of lyrics. Unless you’re an institutional memory on words to songs, a lyrics database can be your best friend.

2) Choose the right genre of music for the project.

If a music supervisor is given a budget for an urban movie, hip-hop music will likely be vetted for the soundtrack. But to go further than that, be creative: find a song, be it rap, indie rock or bluegrass, to set the tone for a film or a thirty second spot. Then follow the Tarantino process: hit the record collection to compile the thematically-related songs.

3) Get hip with your budget and don’t overspend.

I know this is a rule of thumb for life in a capitalistic society, but you could very well be on your way to playing with some serious chips if you stay in the game long enough. Learn early on to account for every red cent you have even if you’re supervising the process on a short film.

4) Know your Ps and “Cues.”

If the subject matter of your project inspires awe or warrants laughter, use your musical instinct to rivet the audience. A single chord can tap a human emotion. Your cue sheet will outline your best-laid plans when presenting music timings to the producer of the project for whom you work.

5) Develop and lead a market-savvy approach to your music projects.

Consider a company like GEICO who keeps its finger on the pulse of pop culture. They deployed a hot shot group of music consultants who exposed the nation to Royksopp. Now, thanks to their music gurus and subsequent audiophiles following the insurance company, GEICO’s website hosts a community dedicated to questions and conversations about featured songs.

Yesterday marked the end of the awards season for television, music and film. Since the three forms of media are a part of the same genome, a music consultant for film and television could gain serious clout. In the silent days of film, who would have known that a film could eventually serve as calling card for an album purchase. That’s just the natural progression of things.

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