billy bio   jim bio   videos!   premieres!   endorsements   contact   home

Toward a Better Indie Film Music Soundtrack

By Jim Chase

The time for the Director/Producer (D/P) team to think about the music for an Indie feature length film or short is during casting and hiring.  The Film Music Composer (FMC) should be considered before the production phase of your project.

The concept of a music score is often neglected by the novice independent film maker, until the post-production phase of a film project -- when the film editor suddenly has the thought: "Hey, some music would go nice here."  (Not to suggest that this has ever happened to you, dear reader, but you would be surprised at how often this occurs.)
 Such short-sightedness ensures a frantic, last minute search for a music composer in the final weeks of post-production, and nearly guarantees an inferior quality film score.  Fortunately, the professional FMC is competent to work with tight schedules.

Hiring the FMC prior to production is necessary, simply because music as an afterthought will detract from, rather than enhance, the overall effectiveness of your final film cut.  No amount of marketing prowess will compensate for a weak music soundtrack in an otherwise saleable Indie film.  This point alone is good reason to think seriously about your film's music sound track early, and often.
 Once again, the professional FMC can save the day with world-class soundtracks for those 'last-minute' decisions.

The D/P team should have a multitude of composers, directors, and musicians in mind during the casting and hiring process. They need to hire a Music Director or FMC who has the wealth of every conceivable source of music suitable for the project, composed, commonlaw, or contracted.  Normally, the hiring choice comes down to a composer or music director that the D/P team has worked with successfully during a previous project.

Note: If this is your first production, you should consider contracting first-time music for hire.  The film scoring field is saturated to bursting with talented young composers who are just looking for exposure.  The adage "caveat emptor" applies here, as well; if little thought has been given to the music theme prior to post-production, you will get what you pay for.  Also, the novice Indie film score composer will not deliver the quality of The London Symphony Orchestra, with John Williams directing.  As Tracey Larvenz, Senior sound designer at Melodious Thunk, has said, "Good luck getting an orchestra to play for credit only, and a copy for their reel."

Although the veteran FMC will become involved in many aspects of the production and pre-post-production phases of your film project, it is not until the post-production phase -- after the signing of the Composer Agreement contracts -- that the FMC will be compensated for continued participation in your film project.

The D/P team and music director should provide the FMC with ample information early, and maintain frequent personal, phone, and email contact, and invite the FMC to important shoots.  With enough involvment in your film, the composer will be ready when the final edit is finished, just weeks before the scheduled first public screening.

Back to TOP

Let the Music Begin! Let The Music Begin!

Dear Indie Film Maker,

Thank you for your interest in Billy Hale Music.

We have viewed your brief film synopsis.  If you are reading this, we are seriously interested in collaborating with you on your film project.  There are phases in your film production that should directly involve the film music composer.  Here are some points to consider:

Pre-Production Phase:

Commence by supplying the FMC with a more detailed synopsis -- scene moods, descriptive character list -- or at least a story board or script.  This will give the FMC several months "heads-up", while you shoot and edit your film.  The detailed character list will aid the FMC in roughing out a unique 'liet-motif' for each major character in your film.

Post-Production Phase:

The Final Edit:
(often called the Fine-Cut)
The final edit is most important part of the post-production phase of any film project.  The final edit must have dialogue, sound effects, and source music locked-in before the FMC can begin working, or any agreements are signed.  Fine cuts submitted to Billy Hale Music should be in the following format:

 WMV Clip with TIME CODE
  • .AVI or .MOV format on DATA DVDs (NOT DVD Movie format!)
  • Optimum 11 to 15 minute segments cut between cues,
    with no frame overlap between segments.
  • A Time Code -- in the form HH:MM:SS:FF -- to match the spotting notes.
    Example: A WMV clip with time code

  • Locked film, dialogue, and sound FX.
  • Please isolate scratch music and click tracks used during editing on a separate audio track (see "Other Points to Consider", below).
  • Include Spot Notes to match film segments, time and frame.
    Spot Notes can be .TXT or .DOC format.  Cues times can be +/- a few seconds, in which case the exact frame will be at the discretion of Billy Hale Music.

Signing of contracts:

To begin the post-production phase, there must be a Standard Composer Agreement (SCA) between the D/P team and the FMC.  The SCA forms can be perused and edited by you and your attorney, with changes hammered out, and finally signed by both parties.  This will be a legally binding contract.
Composer Agreement - Non-Package Deal
Composer Agreement - Package Deal
Composer Agreement - Deal Memo

The Spotting Session:

 Spotting Notes

It is essential to create spotting notes by reel, hh:mm:ss:ff.  Which is to say, the Reel or Segment Number, Time, and Frame of the start and end of all music within your film.  This can be done jointly -- in a spotting session between the D/P team, music director, and the FMC -- or by the D/P team and music director or editor, as in a film short.  The spotting notes must be complete, and available to the FMC along with the final edit, as they are the "road map" for scoring the music for your indie film.

Back to TOP

Other Points to Consider:

 Bill at Work

In the editing phase of your project, the film editor should have an audio scratch track of music -- or at least a click track -- appropriate for each scene, and edit to the rhythm of that track.  This will facilitate timing cues for the FMC.  Note: the scratch track should be separated from the dialogue/soundFX audio tracks in the final edit, to prevent bleed-over onto the music soundtrack.

The film music composer should be included in pre-post-production test screenings.  These screenings typically contain scratch music and click tracks of which the FMC should be aware.  This will give the FMC an opportunity to confer with the film music director on important cues, and help the post-production phase run smoother (in theory).

To better accomodate the needs of our clients, Billy Hale Music will consider FLAT RATE payment on a per-cue basis.  Rewrites are included in the fee, which is paid in advance.  The rewrites will be open until the D/P team is completely satisfied with the final product.

Frequently Asked Questions, before you have to ask:

"We gave you a Final Cut, How long will you take to complete?"

Industry standard for film scoring is 2-5 minutes of music per day, depending on the depth and complexity of the cues.  For safety, figure ten days per 20 minutes of film music.

"Can you help us write, script, edit, etc...?"

We know enough about screen writing, production, editing, and distribution to get by.  Primarily, those aspects of Indie film making are the responsibility of the D/P team, and others.  We are film music composers.  Period.

"Can you help us make a music video from this film?"
 Music Video

In short, No.
Long Answer: The Music Video genre is always a band-specific production.  The MV follows any one of the various verse-chorus, refrain-resolve designs typical of popular music.  The music of film scores follow a completely different structure, and will resolve only when appropriate to the flow of the film.  There are cases where a music video will contain clips from a movie.  Conversely, a movie soundtrack may contain elements of a music video, such as a live performance, source music, or an existing clip that could pass for a music video, or Background Vocal.  Okay then, in review: we are film music composers.

"Can you do this 'pro-bono/deferred' just this once?"

Fortunately, we apply our trade with the utmost in creativity, diligence, and professionalism; in short, we work hard.  Flat rates will be considered on a per-cue basis.  Unfortunately, we cannot do pro-bono or deferred payment projects.  When you consider the number of hours involved in creating a three minute cue, you can understand why.
Simply, the quality of our work speaks for itself. We have quite a few satisfied clients -- 70% of which are recurrent customers.  As an informed D/P, you would be smarter to pay for the quality of Billy Hale Music, rather than relegate the creation of your film's crucial music soundtrack to "...a good friend of your brother-in-law's cousin", who happens to own a Casio keyboard and some bongos.

"What if we have changes after the Final Cut?"

In the world of film scoring, nothing is certain except for Death, Taxes, and Last-minute re-writes.  We are prepared to accomodate the inevitable re-write, and it is in our best interest to provide the finest end-product, right down to a single frame.  There is a real physical limit to this interest, however.  For example, a significant re-write after pre-post production -- within five days of a scheduled release date -- would be crossing the line.

 KORG Workstation

"Now that we have heard your score for the first reel, we have decided to go in a different direction with this soundtrack, are you OKAY with that?"

Yes.  This has happened to even the greatest of film music composers, past and present.  Face it, musical tastes are largely arbitrary, and you have the artistic freedom to hire anyone that you feel is suitable for your film project.  If your last check has cleared, we'll get over it.  NEXT!

"How can I become a film music composer?"

After securing a suitable contract -- and composing the music -- you should copyright your completed work with the Library of Congress PA form.  in the USA. Subsequent copyrights may be purchased for ongoing works, and the cost is cheap compared to being the only one left without a chair when the music ends.  The LOC PA form is intended to copyright major original works, rather than up-to-the-minute changes every time you click SAVE on your sequencer.  Read the instructions.

In addition to the Copyright, you must notify your Performance Royalty Organization (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or whatever) with a Cue Sheet informing them of details of your work.  This is a separate procedure from the Copyright form submission.  Copyright is to notify the Library of Congress.  Cue Sheets are vital to your chosen PRO to track performances of your music -- that's one more way you get paid -- and may be updated by you as often as is necessary.

Submit the Cue Sheets to your PRO by registered return receipt email, rather than relying on the producer to submit them, while keeping a copy of your Cue Sheet for your own records.  Include the full time length of your cues, as the length of cues reported by the producer may differ significantly.  Redundancy and accuracy are a plus when submitting Cue Sheets!  There is a trade-off somewhere when you find yourself spending more time mailing Cue Sheets, rather than composing music.

Film Music Pro Scott Szabo of Szabo Music writes: "My recommendation is that you submit your cue sheet electronically (email).  Call your PRO and ask them how to send it and to whom.  Sending by paper means that your PRO has to re-enter the data by hand, adding months to you getting a paycheck.  When sending your cue sheets by email, get an electronic receipt from the person receiving the email, and keep a copy of the email you sent as well for your records."
Scott adds, "This is your musical 'time card' if you will.  This is the proof that you should get paid.  It is that important.  It is a lot of paperwork (electronic or otherwise) but it sounds like you are not composing as a hobby but as a business."

In addition, the budding film music composer can probably find an example of a Cue Sheet in the FORMS section of the preferred PRO homepage.  This may seem like a lot of paperwork.  In the words of Scott Szabo, "...that is why it is called show BUSINESS."  The Film Music Newbie is advised to get used to it, and Welcome to the Biz!

"Is there anything we can do to facilitate the creation of a 'World Class' music soundtrack for our indie feature film or short?"

Actually, no one has EVER asked this question, and we're speechless!  However, you can peruse this page thoroughly again and again, until it makes sense.  That should help.  We will do the rest.  You can relax, and trust us; we are professional film music composers with a solid reputation to uphold.

Thank you for your interest in Billy Hale Music!

Billy Hale,
and Jim Chase,
Drastic Mummies,
Billy Hale Music
Back to TOP