Posted by on Dec 16, 2013 in Music, Opinion | No Comments


Chariots of Fire stillSo here’s where this sits for me. First, the article was poorly written. It makes a lame attempt to group “Synthesizer” orchestral scores with scores written specifically for electronic sounds. Then the article goes on and tries to equate the artistic worth of a piece of music with the number of people necessary to realize that piece in a studio. This was at best, an ill-informed position aimed at taking a look at the state of production music today and at worst a cheap shot to sell column inches. The lip service given to artists Giorgio Moroder (with whom I worked closely on numerous films as a synthesist/arranger), et al does nothing more than cloud what ever point is trying to be made here. Too many issues jammed together without focus.

The saga of Synthesists/synthesizers taking jobs away from “Real” musicians goes back to the early ’80’s. Back then, instruments like Synclavier and Fairlight were scaring violinists by the truckload. In the States, to try and regain some balance within the brotherhood of AFofM musicians at the Union level, I along with the likes of Ralph Grierson and a few others, were pushing hard to get synthesists recognized as anything other than instrumental thugs and thieves. Ultimately we came up with the “Overdub” scale which, after a several year debate at the Union, is still in place today. This got rid of the fear amongst union musicians that synth scores would undercut live orchestra. This worked for a couple of decades. Now, of course more and more scores are produced outside either the US or UK unions. The fake orchestra is much better than it was then – sometimes indiscernible, and the pencil pushers at the studios have capitalized on this. To this you must add the fact that the onset of file-sharing created the notion that music is free. Hence, music budgets have been fighting a losing battle since around 2000.

Budgets for media music are what budgets are and they ain’t going back. The sad fact is that not only is the public deaf to the difference between live orchestra and plastic orchestra, it’s gotten to the new generation of directors and producers who grew up in this environment who can’t tell the difference either. This has caused the perceived value of a live orchestra to diminish (sorry – trying to keep musical puns to a minimum). Many of us try to address this issue with hybrid solutions – using live guys when we can’t do otherwise, and using synth when we can. I, for one, don’t remember the last time I hired a timpanist.

To address the art of music, you can only address the artists/composers. Music for music’s sake should be done the best way possible. If I write for orchestra, I would prefer to hear an orchestra play it – no matter how good my synth chops are. But that is NOT the point of the article. The article headline. “Synthesisers are killing movie and TV music, say composers” is a false premise. The trouble is, that we are now in a business environment that has turned music into a commodity and the only way to fill the musical void in Media with the money allocated is to use synthesizers. I know this sounds a bit like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, but in this case it’s true. Mankind has always lived in a world when’re technology changes society. Heck, we wouldn’t all be here screaming about this within a few minutes without technology. And by the way, the entire TV/Film business is based on technology.

My view is that the cream always rises. Yes there is a lot of crap out there, but those who strive for the best will always push the creative envelope. I’ve heard lots of great scoring in various genres over the last couple of years…just as in all the previous years. Great music still happens in Film.

If you want to know who or what is killing movie and TV music – if it is in fact dying – look to the Studios who are cutting the budgets, look to the directors who can’t hear the difference and look to the producers who think that “Good enough” is good enough.

Music is the tiniest part of any film or TV budget. The Film/TV business should realize this and not cut music budgets to the point where the product suffers. Then we might have a chance at a bit more employment, a bit more expression, and a bit more musical excellence in Media.

Just don’t blame the Synthesizer.

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