Composing for the Screen (PERFORM)

PDF Composing for the Screen (PERFORM) July 20, 2022

Book author
  1. Scott W. Hallgren

This book is a collection of essays written by and interviews with working composers for film and television, and video games, exploring the business side of composing, addressing the lack of understanding about career development and business responsibilities as they relate to composers.


What a time to be a composer! There have never been more opportunities or access in the television, film, and gaming worlds … and all the other ancillary roles that give employment to composers and musicians because of their talent, experience, and entrepreneurship. Why is it such a great time to be getting started, or sticking it out, or finding success, or getting ahead, or starting again? You will get the answers to those questions in this book.

An added bonus will be discovering your unique journey to reveal who you are as an artist and empower you in ways you never imagined. And you have the potential to have a career and make a lot of money – much more than you likely would on a concert stage.

Looking at Figure 0.1, you’ll see the cyclical nature of the composing business, a profession that award-winner Will Roget says, “has an infinite skill ceiling.” One that allows you to create and adapt and recreate to meet the needs of the now fast-changing, fast-paced market. The saying in our business is you are only as good your last job.

Some composers I meet say, “I just want to compose music. I’m not good at networking. I’m not good at getting work.” Then you either need to find a detour around that or learn to get better at it.


Would our favorite films still be our favorites if there were no music in the background? Could you imagine, for instance, Jack and Rose’s kiss on the bow of the Titanic without the score as accompaniment? Arms outstretched, fingers entwined, the music soars as the two young lovers share an intimate kiss. We can hear James Horner’s score in our minds as we envision the scene.

Music serves as a backdrop not just for films and television, but also for our lives. We can all recall favorite songs that punctuated key moments or turning points in our experiences. We recognize the heart and soul that imbue these tunes, enabling them to seep into our conscious and subconscious, so much so at times that we find them looping round and round in our minds. These songs, it seems, have become a part of us – stitched together to form our own personal soundtracks.

And the same is true, of course, for the musical scores that have surrounded us throughout the years. There may be no words to lip-sync in these scores, but we can certainly hum the tunes. John Williams’s theme song for Star Wars, for example, or Han Zimmer’s score for Interstellar. As a child, I tuned in every week to Little House on the Prairie, and I can still hear David Rose’s theme song playing over the opening credits. Perhaps you are a Seinfeld fan, and if so, you can likely hum Jonathan Wolff’s theme song. It might even cause your heart to beat a little faster as you get comfy on the couch and prepare to watch an episode. Surely this is true of your current favorite TV show. Doesn’t the score signal to you that it’s time to engage?

This is what the best musical scores do for us as viewers – draw us in and allow us to engage with the stories and their characters. Whether film, television, or video games, the music enables us to connect to the narrative. Think about the films of the silent era … the primary sound we hear is music. In fact, the score sets the tone for the story. The score helps shape our emotional response to the story.

In short, musical scores are an integral aspect of screen stories.

It is my great pleasure to share with you this volume on the business of composing music for the screen. Scott Hallgren has brought together a wide range of voices from the field, discussing everything from the practicalities of composing for film, television, and games, to composing for theme parks, to working with agents, directors, and editors, to building a career as a composer living anywhere in the world. There are fascinating discussions about the role of technology in composition and the evolving relationship between working with live musicians and orchestras to working with electronics. There are also important explanations about the how the business works, including how to build and sustain a network of colleagues and collaborators, how to negotiate contracts, and how “PROs” track performances and calculate and pay royalties to composers.
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