The many shades of music-making

Referring to music as the most “decentralised global language” is among the most accurate descriptions of the art that we have come across. Attribute it to the fact that exposure to web shows from different parts of the globe has made us consumers of the music from those parts as well, but it’s tough to contend that access to video-streaming platforms has altered our playlists too.

Ramprasad Sundar, music creative and production lead at Netflix, gives us a sneak-peek into the process of creating music for the web platform, and evidently opens the conversation by addressing how a show from one part of the world is made to sound palatable for a global audience. “Shows like Stranger Things and Money Heist have been known for their music. In fact, for Stranger Things, we did something with maestro Ilaiyaraaja only days ago. Also, there is a global appetite for Indian music. We do not reduce the scope of the composer, but we offer to mix [their work] with elements that we think will help the score.” 

Web vs film

Challenging the notion that there is no demarcation between scoring for films and streaming platforms, Sundar highlights that for the latter, adding a pivotal sound to every episode is as crucial as introducing a crucial plot itself. “In every episode, there must be pivotal movement, and the music needs to highlight that. Composers need to add impact in every single episode. Psychoacoustics [refers to] instilling a particular emotion that you can walk away with.” Recall-ability, he adds, is another essential aspect to consider when scoring for the platform. “Themes are crucial, so that every person can relate to [a show]. I’ve noticed that [linking the score] with the songs is beneficial. When you weave elements of the song into the score, it builds emotional connect,” says Sundar, who will conduct a workshop on scoring for short films, next month.

Plagiarism check

While Sundar asserts that they depend on the composers to do “due diligence” when assigned a project, the team “looks for [notes] that may sound similar. If the composer [disagrees with the finding], we leave it at that.” He refers to “modal shifts” as a phenomenon that can make songs sound similar, even if they may not be the same. “Experts analyse three factors — arrangement, melodic structure and rhythm. Music supervisors collaborate with composers, and are comfortable in pointing out that something sounds [similar to another piece]. They are the backbone in ensuring that there is no [plagiarism]. Supervisors ensure that operational aspects are addressed.”

Film director/Showrunner

Every idea starts from the director, who ensures that the effects, sounds, music and themes are conveyed to the artistes throughout the process. The director looks for supervisors to subsequently manage the process.

Music editor

While working closely with the composers, editors create original music. They also tweak the music after the composer has submitted their work. They are specialists who know how to touch the beats, and add transitions to maintain an aesthetic flow.

Music composer

Background score composers are on-boarded early on in a project to develop character motifs, music themes, and title themes. Usually, in the west, they are differentiated from music producers, who work on the songs of the project.

Music supervisor

They come in after the scripting stage. They go through the scripts and pay heed to licensed music, original songs and scores, and walk the director through their plan to ensure that the treatment aligns with his vision. Getting a brief from the director and doing a creative breakdown is the job of the supervisor. If the director has not chosen the composer, the supervisor can suggest the names of people who s/he believe would be an apt fit, based on the emotion that the content evokes.

Record labels

Record labels, as we know,  hold the rights to the songs that need to be licensed — even if this may be a song that was previously created for another content — and the music supervisor works with them to get the rights cleared.

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