Don't Fake it!

By Rick Sherman

Let's talk about communicating with musicians. Music has indeed been referred to as a language (sometimes, the universal language), and it does obviously have some of its very own proprietary jargon. However, when it comes to being unfamiliar with the language...

we musicians have a great deal of respect for those directors, producers, or editors who come right out and admit that they don't know the correct terms to express themselves-as opposed to those who try to fake it.

I once had a client tell me, in dead seriousness, "Well, I like the general direction of the musical piece, but I think the tempo is in the wrong key". My mouth literally dropped open. This was a little bit like telling a video editor that the rate of a video dissolve is at the wrong font size; in other words, it's like comparing apples with flashlights.

Tempo refers to how slow or fast the music is going, and can be expressed in actual beats per minute (120 bpm, for example), or in general terms like "leisurely", "plodding", "frantic", or "brisk".

The key of a song is referring to the "tonal center" of a song, and its associated scale of notes, like "F# major", or "Eb minor". There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of very specific musical terms, and even seasoned professional musicians may need a music dictionary by their sides, to look up the occasional reference to "con slancio" (with enthusiasm), or "incalzando" (getting faster and louder).

The point is, don't try to pretend to know the language (in music, it's frequently Italian). Since music can be very subjective, it's absolutely fine to use common terms to try to express what you're trying to get across to a musician. If you want a piece of music from a composer to have some elements of both rock and jazz, you could use the word "fusion", but you could also simply say "I'd like it to have the power of rock, but the sophistication of jazz".

"A picture is worth a thousand words" is a familiar and well-understood saying. "The music paints a picture" may not be quite as familiar, but most people understand the idea it conveys. Simple algebra states that if A=B, and B=C, then A=C. Therefore, I would like to underscore that, with a picture being worth a thousand words, and music painting a picture, music can also be worth a thousand words. How?

Rather than trying to use words to convey to a composer what mood or style a director is looking for, the director would find that simply providing the composer with 2 or 3 other pieces of music that have a similar style or emotional tone to what is desired will speak volumes to the composer. This is possibly the best role for what is known as a "temp track" (music temporarily placed in the soundtrack of a motion picture, until the "real score" replaces it).

Thanks for listening.

Sherman Sound Suite

About the author:
Based in Orange County, California, Rick Sherman divides his full-time musical career into two very different, yet musically related categories: live musical performance, and music and audio production, including composing and recording music for video, film, and multimedia (as well as providing several other audio services for the media industry). You are cordially invited to explore both sides of composer, keyboard musician, entertainer, sound designer, and recording engineer Rick Sherman at his website