arguing

9 Tired Topics in Film Music

We film music fans sure do love to argue. No matter the topic or time of day—on Facebook and Twitter, over brunch and over cocktails, in person or hiding behind some lame screen name—we love to air our opinions. I’m all for passion. It’s sure a helluva lot better than apathy. But some of the arguments surrounding film music have been going on for so long they’ve completely lost their effectiveness, if they ever had any to begin with.

I wish message boards and comments came with an expiration date because the following nine topics need to be recycled for “a new and fresh and exciting one, fully equipped with fire and music.” Have no fear, I’m just as guilty as the next film music fan. I have no illusions that my little corner of cyberspace will change the general direction of film music discourse. The following list is in no particular order, but if you engage in any of the following tired arguments in the future, the film music gods will cut you down with danger motifs.

The Cult of Jerry

He’s God. I get it. I like him too. But I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid or splaying myself prostrate for anyone, not even someone as talented Jerry Goldsmith.

Like vs. Hate

We’ve all seen it. Pages of message board threads and Facebook streams coagulated with pointless “I like it”/”I hate it” comments. Precisely why should I care? A monkey can press that thumbs up icon and he could probably type that eight-lettered or 104-character opinion as well. Do the opinions of complete strangers change your mind one way or the other? I’d argue that perhaps not a good friend can sway you in the opposite direction. Sharing is great, but add to the discourse with intelligent debate. Explain the basis for your appreciation (or not) of a particular score/composer. Without that explanation, you’re basically running after the lemmings in front of you plunging into the briny deep.

CD vs. Digital

Sure, I treasure my CDs as much as the next film music fan. But as the music industry changes, so must the soundtrack world. As factory CD production slows and digital production grows, expect to see more film music available only in download format. Though I have no insider knowledge or crystal ball, I predict CD production will slow to a crawl within the next decade. If/when that happens, what that means for the soundtrack business is anybody’s guess. If you’re denying yourself a particular score because of some ridiculous stance over “lossy” audio or because you can’t fit that flac file on your shelf in between LINK and THE LION IN WINTER, then you may have “collector’s curse”. Seek help immediately.

Trashing the Record Labels

Anyone who is producing soundtracks in today’s recording climate should be applauded. As has been stated in numerous threads on numerous message boards, and by actual producers and label heads, releasing soundtracks is often a losing financial proposition. If you don’t care for a particular score, don’t buy it. Money talks. Trashing the label’s choice equates to a virtual middle finger and just makes you look like a douche. However, if that’s your intended persona, have at it.

Film Order vs. Album Sequencing

I suppose if I had to choose between the two, I’m a completist who prefers to have every note written for the film in the proper order. But I also leave it up to the record label to combine cues and make creative decisions that are best for their product. If it’s a choice between having the music available or not, I’ll take it in whatever format and whatever length I can get it in. And while I may have a preference one way or the other, what good does it do to complain? None. Wait a few years and someone will reissue the title again and the bitching can begin anew.

Trashing the Remote Control Clones

Is it from jealousy because they seemingly get all the choice scoring gigs? Or is it because you truly don’t like their music? Though there is certainly a distinct musical viewpoint to Zimmer & Co., not everyone who has gone through the RC training grounds is cut from the same cloth. Unless you’re a film composer working in the trenches, I don’t see much of a valid platform upon which to bitch. This is the preferred sound of today’s filmmakers and it’s a cycle that will eventually run its course. Either way, be careful what you wish for. Who knows what the future will bring…

Film Music Today Sucks

Seriously, does it really? Out of the hundreds of movies released every year, you can’t find anything in today’s film music to appreciate? I found at least ten from 2012 and I bet you can too. Perhaps it’s time to focus on the more positive aspects of the current crop of film music. History has a way of separating the wheat from the chaff and it will happen with or without our vocal participation.

They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore

Of course not! Why would you want them to? I don’t want a Bond score today to sound like John Barry. That’s pastiche. I don’t even want John Williams sounding like 1970s/80s JW. If either of those examples (and countless others) are appropriate for a particular film, great. Ultimately, I want the composer to have a vision that he executes to the best of his ability, no matter the style. If I want to hear a score from when they did write ‘em like “that,” I think I can find one or two.

Negative S*** Like This Post

Geez, Lochner, perhaps you should heed your own words, “focus on the more positive aspects” of film music and find a less depressing topic for next month.

About Jim Lochner

Jim has been writing about film music for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Music from The University of Texas (Austin), both in Clarinet Performance. He has written soundtrack CD liner notes for Varèse Sarabande Records, Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records, Intrada and Disques Cinemusique. Jim has been a bimonthly guest on BBC-Kent’s Drive Home at the Movies radio program and has been interviewed by a number of online and print outlets, including The Toronto Globe and Mail and the Los Angeles Times. Jim currently serves as the managing editor of Film Score Monthly Online (FSMOnlineMag.com). For more information, visit JimLochner.com.

8 comments

  1. Some interesting ones here, Jim. Of course, you realize few, if any, of these discussions will ever go away on the internet. Perhaps they will in other venues of conversation, but never on the internet. I’ll respond to some of your 9 below:

    1) The Cult of _______. Could be a lot of other composer names put in there. And such discussions will never go away.

    2) The internet is full of shallowness of “like/love versus hate” That will not change.

    3) It’ll be a long time before the complaints over the vanishing of physical media stops…if only because I’ll be lamenting it ’til I die. (actually, if vinyl can comeback, why not CDs…in about 30 years? The hipsters of that era will love em.)

    4) Trashing record labels will not go away either…although I completely agree with you. As long as someone feels jilted in the absence of a particular cue…there will be trashing.

    5) Remote Control? You hit it in part. Jealousy…and that’s not going away any time soon either.

    Such repetitive conversations are just a part of online film music community. As new fans come into the fold, the same conversations will be had and had again. This is why I, years ago, abandoned almost every message board. Same ol’ same ol’. But I think this is fine. It’s unlikely these conversations would continue if there weren’t new blood coming in to talk about them and that’s a good thing.

    So what nine, new conversations would you put out there for the soundtrack community to embrace in discussion nowadays?

    • All good points, Christopher. And I’m fully aware these discussions won’t go away. You bring up a good point about new generations entering the discussions, though sometimes I wish they’d learn from our pain. LOL As for nine new conversations, that’s a good idea for a future post. :)

  2. Well, Jim you got that off your chest. Now about that love of film music you have… We’d like to see it please. Suggestions:
    Nine scores…
    … you thought you disliked but grew on you/rediscovered later
    … that changed film music forever
    … of greatness from films of not so much
    … in a Jerry vs Johnny showdown!

  3. Jim:

    These are excellent observations. However, I would like to address some of your points as follows:

    1) CD v. digital: While I do agree that digital downloads will significantly increase, I am not so sure that CD production will fall in the same way. I believe that as CD production decreases, that companies will do what Amazon is already doing–pressing CDs on demand. This will be the balancing factor between the accessibility of digital, and the tradition of a physical format.

    2) Film order v. album sequencing: you hit the nail on the head. Complete is great, but record companies do need the ability to sequence the music so that the soundtrack is musically unified. Either way, there is great music to be heard!

    3) Ther is NO need to trash ANY label that makes film music available. There are NOT enough companies releasing film music. Agree or not, film music is in many ways the symphonic music of our generation, and there is much to like and enjoy.

    4) Trashing the remote control clones: Again, you hit the nail on the head. Not all film composers are equal. More importantly, certain directors and producers like to work with specific composers–not only because of the quality of their music, but because of the relationship that has developed over time. The perfect example is the Spielberg-Williams relationship. I do not believe that it is about a preferred sound as much as it is about the relationship and the trust between filmmaker and composer.

    and finally…

    5) Negative s**t like this post: Jim, this post is NOT negative. It is very positive, and points out many of the things to consider when judging film music, how it’s produced, and it quality. If people do NOT like your posts, then they can pound sand and sign-off. Nothing is ever 100% positive or 100% negative.

    Keep on posting…!

    DSN

  4. >The Cult of Jerry
    >He’s God. I get it. I like him too. But I’m not drinking the >Kool-Aid or splaying myself prostrate for anyone, not >even someone as talented Jerry Goldsmith.

    It’s not drinking Kool-Aid to value a great and very skilled film composer. Goldsmith is a powerful voice in a tapestry of voices. I would hate either a world with no Goldsmith music, or a world where there were only Goldsmith music. Luckily I live in reality, so I don’t know what anyone’s arguing about. So, yes, this is a “tired topic”. +1

    >>Like vs. Hate
    >>We’ve all seen it. Pages of message board threads and >>Facebook streams coagulated with pointless “I like it”/”I >>hate it” comments. Precisely why should I care?

    It’s someone’s personal page. They can say what they want. If you don’t like it or feel that there’s no “intelligent discourse” added to the hate, hit the unfriend button. More often than not, there can be no intelligent discourse provided to support horrible music. It’s just horrible. If you need intelligent discourse to recognize it, you are not a schooled musician.

    >>CD vs. Digital
    +1 again, though your heading is a misnomer, since CDs are digital. Maybe you meant 16/44.1 vs. MORRRRRE!!!! A tired topic. There’s one thing you can never package, bottle or encode onto disk, and that is an individual’s personal enjoyment of music they love. However, you can double, triple and quadruple-dip them into buying the same music they love over and over again, if they are suitably stupid.

    >>Trashing the Record Labels
    >>Money talks. Trashing the label’s choice equates to a >>virtual middle finger and just makes you look like a >>douche. However, if that’s your intended persona, have >>at it.

    Appealing to “money talks” when discussing good music is the factory where douche is made. Go be a hack in someone’s douche bucket.

    >>Film Order vs. Album Sequencing
    +1, a tired topic. We have iTunes. Organize your music however you want, lazy people.

    >>Trashing the Remote Control Clones

    >>Is it from jealousy because they seemingly get all the choice scoring gigs?

    Presuming I’d ever be jealous of creating fecal matter and putting my name on it as a “composer” is the most demonstrable form of mental absenteeism.

    >>Or is it because you truly don’t like their music?

    I truly don’t like their music. Welcome back, brain.

    >>Though there is certainly a distinct musical viewpoint to >>Zimmer & Co., not everyone who has gone through the >>RC training grounds is cut from the same cloth.

    No, but afterwards they’re all wrung from the same menstrual rag.

    >>Unless you’re a film composer working in the trenches, I >>don’t see much of a valid platform upon which to bitch.

    I do see a valid platform: having a pulse.

    >>This is the preferred sound of today’s filmmakers

    Utter nonsense. This is the preferred sound of studios and the studio lackeys who are either too chicken to stand up for a creative vision or too desperate for money to care. I, and even you, can not only list filmmakers who hate this faux-music, but even list filmmakers who used it anyway but admit with some trepidation their inability to acquire a position of confidence to rally for the use of good music. The rest are just talentless.

    >>>and it’s a cycle that will eventually run its course.

    When it does it will be roughly 18 years too late.

    >>Either way, be careful what you wish for. Who knows what the future will bring…

    Do wishes have any effect on reality? Then what difference would it make to apply caution to them?

    >>Film Music Today Sucks
    >>Seriously, does it really?

    Most of it, yes.

    >>Out of the hundreds of movies released every year, you can’t find anything in today’s film music to appreciate?

    Yes I can. Nevertheless, most film music still sucks.

    >>I found at least ten from 2012 and I bet you can too.

    I found 248 official studio releases in 2012. (http://www.wildaboutmovies.com/2012_movies/Movies_In_Theaters_2012.php) I found 6 scores I appreciate, not counting scores for previously released films (star wars, titanic) re-released in 3D to get more money to buy Ferraris and prostitutes. 6 out of 248 is 2.4% of scores from 2012. Most film music sucks, and so does your face.

    >>Perhaps it’s time to focus on the more positive aspects >>of the current crop of film music.

    The number of more positive aspects diminish yearly, and it’s time to focus on that. Would you suggest focusing on the positive aspects of the environment?

    >>History has a way of separating the wheat from the >>chaff and it will happen with or without our vocal >>participation.

    The moment you suggest that, in any given artistic movement, you should shut up and not voice your reaction or opposition to that movement, you can no longer call yourself an artist.

    >>They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore

    >>Of course not!

    Obviously.

    >>Why would you want them to?

    I like good music.

    >>I don’t want a Bond score today to sound like John Barry. That’s pastiche.

    Style is not synonymous with quality writing. You’re equivocating.

    >>I don’t even want John Williams sounding like 1970s/80s JW.

    Case in point: JW’s scores do not sound much like his 70′s/80′s material, but it is still quality. Get it? It’s the writing.

    >>If either of those examples (and countless others) are >>appropriate for a particular film, great. Ultimately, I want >>the composer to have a vision that he executes to the >>best of his ability, no matter the style.

    Ultimately, I want the best composer(s) for the job, and if a particular composer(s) “best of his ability” results in bad music, he/she should be fired and duct-taped to a red-light camera.

    >>If I want to hear a score from when they did write ‘em like “that,” I think I can find one or two.

    Not in today’s films you can’t. Which is the point.

    >>Negative S*** Like This Post

    Bad music warrants negative reaction. You want positive reaction? Write good music.

  5. Actually, the one issue I do have with Digital Downloads is — apart from the fact that most DRM is simply far to inconvenient — that it is lossy.

    And I mean audibly lossy. Intrada, FSM and many other labels go through great lengths to offer the best possible audio mastering for their releases. And one can hear the difference. (Just compare some of the earlier releases to the current ones) What good does that do if you just throw it all down when downloading it?

    • I certainly understand the issues surrounding audio quality. I guess everyone has their priorities. With space at a premium in my home, it becomes more and more about convenience unfortunately. But that’s just me. :) And that’s not to say I don’t appreciate the supreme efforts that the boutique labels make for great audio.

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