March 13, 2009

Creating An Epic Soundtrack

This week I collaborated on a short film for a friends team with the Sidewalk Scramble, 48 hour short film making contest. Suction Horse Productions (my production company) couldn't sponsor a team this time like we usually do, so I helped my friends Kenneth and Kim with their team by creating the soundtrack and some foley sound for the short film. I wanted to share with you guys how I created the main track, what gear and software I used and my creative process for creating a soundtrack score song.


The first thing you need to have in order to create a soundtrack piece is not only your own musings or personal inspirations but the inspiration behind the film and all the main characters' inspiration and back stories. More specifically:
  • Watch the final draft of the film to get a sense of the "tone" of the film. Is it dark / film noir? happy and colorful?, funny and lighthearted?, serious or emotional? These tones play a huge factor in how the music forms in your head.
  • Consider the main character's back story and their mood. What attitudes are they bringing to the story?
  • look at the locations, are they grungy, clean, industrial, folksy, rural, urban? Use instruments that bring to mind these locations...

Instruments and recording software

As a music writer or composer you must have at least a basic knowledge of recording and a few musical instruments at your disposal. Some of these may include:
  • A fairly modern computer / laptop with a good amount of memory
  • digital multi-track recording software. On the high end: ProTools, Cubase, or Cakewalk / Sonar (there are many other cheap or free digital recording tools available also. Just Google :-)
  • or a software synthesizer / sampler like Native Instruments KONTAKT, Propellerhead Reason
  • an instrument that plays your music: Guitar and piano are the most popular analog instruments, or a nice MIDI or standalone keyboard for your syth / sampler software
  • a microphone (preferably a condenser mic) for recording foley or analog audio.
  • a pair of decent speakers or headphones to listen to playback

Steps to create your score:

  1. Use your inspirations (above) to form a basic rhythm and verse / chorus structure melody.
  2. add bass line and drums
  3. add harmonies and tones using your inspirations
  4. consider "featuring" an instrument to signify a character or location in the film
  5. consider adding sound effects or interesting / ethnic rhythmic patterns
  6. layer alternate instruments or orchestra pieces but don't drown out your main melody. Enhance the original melody with layering.
  7. listen to the rough draft. Is there anything you can perfect or fix? Does the featured instrument stand out.
  8. Do a final mix using panning, EQ, compression, reverb or whatever other studio tricks you have available to you in your recording software.
  9. burn the final mix to .WAV or .MP3 so the editor can easily "slice and dice" your precious soundtrack into the essential pieces that he needs to accent the film.

Of course the technical details about digital recording and songwriting are beyond the scope of this blog, but I hope this helps out those of you who are looking into moving into film scoring. Enjoy!

Photo by PeteWright on Flickr


  1. Hello, fellow music fan here and enjoyed reading this post about the process of how you create a soundtrack. You've covered it well from the inspiration behind the music to the actual recording process. This detailed step by step process will get anyone interested in creating their own soundtrack a very good guide to work from.

  2. Thanks for the great comment! I try to keep my articles simple enough for a beginner to start out and enough info for everyone to learn something... The purpose, like you said, was to hopefully interest someone in investigating what you would need to do to start out with digital recording and writing your own songs.

  3. Good, informative and helpful article for production feild

  4. Anonymous8:27 AM

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.