Mad Max's - Computer Set Up for Film Scoring

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This course in music and filmmaking is:
Film scoring introduction for filmmakers
This lesson is:
Introduction - The basic theory of film scoring
The pages in this lesson are:
Summary: Basic theory of film scoring for filmmakers
Page 1: What are the different kinds of music?
Page 2: Film score example "George Lucas in Love"

You need musical instruments and professional musicians that live inside your computer.

What computer software do I need?

You need a complete Symphony Orchestra
Filmmakers (who are not musicians) need a music program which is easy to use and contains a complete symphony orchestra. Apple's GarageBand combined with Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra is both easy to use and a terrific sounding symphony orchestra.
Therefore, this course is designed around GarageBand with Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra. However, there are other interesting alternatives for you to consider. One is even free. See below.

Part 1 -- Music Programs

GarageBand -- from Apple Computer, Inc.
Apple Computer, Inc. created the first professional-quality music program which is easy to use for beginners who want to create their own music. GarageBand is free with all new Macintosh computers. This is good because GarageBand needs a really powerful computer. Highly recommended. (Note: GarageBand does not come with the sounds of a symphonic orchestra. To get this, you must purchase Apple's Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra or download the free packages from Ben Boldt. See below.)


Notion Protégé demo -- from VirtuosoWorks
The Notion Protégé disk contains a fully working demo (30 days) for its low end version of Notion 1.5 which offers sounds from the London Symphony Orchestra and is ideal for learning film scoring and creating film scores if you know musical notation. Highly recommended.

or possibly:

Session -- From Avid's M-Tools
A program similar to GarageBand for Windows XP is avaialble from M-Audio. According to M-Audio, Session will not run without an M-Audio Fast Track USB audio interface. (Your instructor has not tested this program.)

or on Windows, possibly:

Unknown Program code name "Monoco" -- From Microsoft
A program similar to GarageBand for Windows Vista might become avaialble from Microsoft next year. (Your instructor has not tested this program.)

Not Recommended:

Logic Pro and Logic Express
Under no circumstance do I recommend Logic to filmmakers. I have tested this progeram and it is not suitable for anyone but a professional musician. Hopelessly confusing, extremely buggy and not designed for film scoring. Filmmakers, do not buy the current version. Robert Elliott

Part 2 -- Symphony orchestra sounds

In addition to GarageBand, you need to be able to create the sounds of a symphonic orchestra inside your computer. GarageBand comes with some great sounding software instruments (that is instruments inside your computer). But these are not enough for filmmakers. Filmmakers need the sounds of a symphony orchestra.

  • Ben Boldt's free instrument packages
These are add-on packages which are free from Ben Boldt. I have not tried these because I do not have a way to download files that large. If you can download these, send me a copy. To download, go to .

  • Apple's Jam Pack: Symphony Orchestra
This is an add-on package from Apple which contains many of the sounds of an orchestra. Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra works with GarageBand. Note: this package has many features.
The only feature of Jam Pack:Symphony Orchestra that we use is the software instruments. We do not use loops at for film scoring. Loops are for documentary filmmakers and people who video events such as weddings, funerals and football games; not for narrative filmmakers.

Not Recommended:

  • MOTU Symphonic Instrument
MOTU's Symphonic Instrument is a stand alone package and operates with or without MOTU's Digital Performer or GarageBand.This is an alternative package for Jam Pack: Symphony Orchestra from the Mark of the Unicorn.
Your instructor does not recommend MOTU Symphonic Instrument to people who use GarageBand. Awkward, slow to set up, memory hog. Only the voices are exceptional.

Part 3 -- Music software alternatives

Totally different alternatives are

Tascam's GigaStudio

  • This is a highly recommended product for Windows for musicians. (Your instructor has not tested this product.)

Finale (Only the full version has natural-sounding instruments.)

  • This unique program is for musicians who read and write sheet music.

Never Recommended
Because this film scoring course is designed for non-musicians, I recommend that you do NOT, under any circumstance, use Apple's Logic Express or Logic Pro. These programs are for professional musicians. (Your instructor has tested this products and was not, I repeat, not happy.) Robert Elliott

Install the Software

As soon as you have installed the software, you are ready to begin. GarageBand come installed on all new computers or it comes as part of iLife. Use Apple's Software Update to update GarageBand to the current version.
GarageBand requires very little learning. One reason is it does very little. It is extremely slimmed down to just the essencials
The secret to use GarageBand is to find all the hidden features such as importing MIDI and creating a regions and notes with a pencil tool.

Notation Protégé
Installation is very easy with this program. The program has a useful tutorial but it comes with no manual; only a reference card.

Why "software instruments"?

Until two years ago, there was no way for you to create the sounds of a symphony orchestra. Until two years ago, the sounds created by a computer were close to dreadful.

Music by Radio Shack; Ugh!

Until two years ago, the typical low budget filmmaker purchased a keyboard synthesizer from Radio Shack for under $200 US and used that to create a musical score. Ugh!!!!

No matter how hard you try, you cannot get a synthesizer to sound like a real symphony orchestra. And even with the best musician, it is almost impossible to get a good sounding musical score from a cheap keyboard synthesizer. Therefore, your motion picture was branded as cheap.



But all of a sudden, you now can have a realistic sounding symphony orchestra inside your computer thanks to "Software Instruments".

Even better, you can create wonderful sounding musical scores with little or now musical talent. Wow!

Organic sounds feel good!

There is a trick to scoring a motion picture by non-musicians.

Anything created by a symphony orchestra sounds good. Even bad music created by a symphony orchestra sounds good.

When people hear you do weird things (such as creating musical sound effects using musical instruments from the symphony orchestra), the audience thinks that you know what you are doing. They think you are a genius! They think you meant it to sound that way.

As long as you use sounds which seem organic (real and natural), your music will be considered 100% professional... no matter how bad it is.

That is why you need software instruments!!!!

Tricks of the trade

And of course, there are a few tricks of the trade to make your music sound better. That is what you will learn in these lessons.

You will learn how to create a mood with a single musical note (such as a violin trill), with fast repeating rhythms (with delicate bells or a harp) and with very simple melodies which give the movie additional meaning.

What? No Midi Keyboard?

One advantage of GarageBand is there is no need for a Midi keyboard to create music on the Macintosh computer. The GarageBand program allows you to use your computer's keyboard. Since the computer's keyboard is not velocity sensitive, you will need to go back and adjust the velocity for each note. However, this is not as bad as it might seem since this course in Film Scoring is for non-musicians who will have to do this anyway because they play so badly.

However, if you wish, you can add a Midi keyboard to your computer system.

Another option - Record real live musicians

Create an audio recording studio inside your computer

What if you don't have a fancy computer?
The purpose of this class is to make organic sounds which create a mood. Therefore, if all else fails, you can use your computer to record actual sound effects which have a musical tone to them. Or even record live music which can be used as a sound effect.
Live sounds work too!
As an example, simply record the sound of fingernails on a blackboard, the sound of a very low note on a piano, the sound of someone making a sqeaking sound on a violin. Then you combine all these sounds elements to create a wonderful musical sound effect.
"Is there are musician in the house?"
Or simply record someone playing musical instruments as they watch the movie. Using any musical instrument and a real, live musician, you can create both a film score and terrific musical sound effects. Rather than play the musical instrument in the normal way, try to play a musical instrument as you would to impress 5-year-old kids at a birthday party by using lots of exageration.
Hardware/Software Required
To record audio directly into your computer, you need a computer with a microphone and a device which connects the two.
For computer software, you can use a very simple audio program (perhaps Audacity; I have not tested this yet.) Or you can use a full DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software package such as ProTools Lite or MOTU's Digital Performer or even GarageBand. The fancier programs can be much easier to use (with the exception of Apple's Logic which is NOT recommended at this time) but if you get an easy to use program that is simple, you can do some fantastic things.
Lots of effort
Recording and processing real music and musical sound effects requires a huge amount of effort to create a musical score. Yet, this method has some great advantages. Using software instruments in GarageBand takes only a few minutes to obtain musical sound effects but GarageBand still has its limitations. Recording actual sounds gives you more freedom… once you have built your recording studio (to keep the noise down) and mastered the art of audio recording.

The next page

The next page gives you your final exam for the course. You should start on it but continue on with the other lessons at the same time.

Contact your instructor

Your instructor for this film scoring class is Robert Elliott.
You can email me by clicking here.