On the Track


A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring

Paperback: 856 pages, incl. Index and Click Book
Publisher: Schirmer Books; 1st edition (1989)
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 2nd edition (January 8, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0415941369
ISBN-13: 978-0415941365
Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.4 x 1.3 inches

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This is a book that’s been needed for a long time, and that’s exactly what inspired composer Fred Karlin and music teacher/composer Rayborn Wright to collaborate on this state-of-the-art textbook in the art and science of composing music for motion pictures and television. Actually, it is far more than a dry textbook. Incorporating interviews with more than 40 professionals (including not just composers but directors, producers, writers, film editors and music editors, executives, musicians, agents and other related perspectives) and well over 150 music examples, ‘On The Track’ is a remarkable and intricate look behind the scenes at just how today’s film scores are made (and how they have been influenced by the scores of the past) which will have major appeal to both students, professionals and fans of the medium.

A foreword by John Williams introduces a voluminous tome containing almost 30 in-depth chapters discussing all aspects of film composing, from Preliminaries (Interaction with producers, directors, editors; Temp Tracks; The Spotting Session; Budgets and Schedules), Conceptualizing (Developing the Concept and Demonstrating the Score), Timings (Click Tracks), Composing (Using Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Orchestration, Technical Considerations), Recording (The Scoring Stage and The Final Mix), Electronic and Contemporary Scoring, Styles and Genres (Movie Genres, Ethnic, Period and Source Music), Songs, the Business, and, finally, a chapter on Specialized Themes (composing for television, commercials, sports and newscasts). ‘On The Track’ is a comprehensively thorough guidebook, reference source, and instruction manual on all these phases of contemporary film scoring.

Karlin and Wright maintain an approachable, readable style incorporating interview quotes, their own working experience, and a winning writing style which makes the book flow and urges the reader to go on. It doesn’t bog down like a lot of “textbooks” (and, because this book will appeal to a much wider audience than just academia, I hesitate to label it just a “textbook”). Intricately indexed, the student or enthusiast can look up and find answers to almost any question he might have, from adapting to directorial music changes, to underscoring dialog, pre-recording or pre-programming electronic tracks, music budgets and licensing and contracting fees, supplemented by 6 technical appendices     (Budget Work Sheets, Digital-Delay Timings, Footage/Timing Conversions), a glossary of terms and a two-hundred page Click Book (metronome timing guide). The authors discuss the differences between Temp Tracks (temporary musical track edited into the film during editing) and Role Models (a specific piece of music used to exemplify a musical style or approach) and discuss the pros and cons of both, with comments from several professionals, including composers and directors. Part Four is especially fascinating, 7 chapters detailing the techniques – technical, dramatic and aesthetic considerations – for composing film music, with numerous instructions, suggestions and references. The authors draw their material from the personal experience of themselves and their contemporaries, and from the rich heritage of film music.

Even though techniques and technology continually change, Karlin and Wright effectively demonstrate how the legacy of outstanding motion picture music continues to influence, encourage and instruct the film composers of today and tomorrow. Their book draws from this rich heritage as much as it draws from current state-of-the-art filmmaking and recording, and offers much for the burgeoning film composer. More so, the same facts, interviews and examples will be of vast interest to the non-professional film music enthusiast, giving him rare insight into the profession which can only serve to increase his or her appreciation of the art.

There have been all too few books on the subject of film music, Tony Thomas’s seminal ‘Music for the Movies’ and ‘Film Music’ being perhaps the best as far as covering film music history and appreciation, Irwin Bazelon’s ‘Knowing the Score’ being one of the best at covering the musicology of film music. Without diminishing the efforts of their predecessors, Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright’s ‘On the Track’ surpasses the scope of all previous books with a massive and invaluable in-depth study of the art and technique of film scoring. It ought to become required reading for anyone with a serious professional or appreciative interest in movie music.

Randall D. Larson


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