One of the questions I get asked the most is how long does it take to compose the music for a show? The answer depends on a number of factors.
For a new series or ‘one off’ drama I like to come ‘on board’ the production while the show is in the rough edit stage. This enables me to compose various music sketches and send them over to the editor and director to try out in the rough assembly. It is a chance to really experiment with different musical directions and to then get feedback from the director and editor on what is working musically in the cut. There is also less time pressure at this stage as the focus is on the cut and not on the music. Submitting music ideas also gives the executive producers a chance to hear and comment on the music.
This is a theme I composed for the BBC film Magnificent 7. Director Kenny Glenaan loved the feel and tone of the theme and it was used in many variations in the film as the main family theme. The theme was originally mocked up with sampled marimba – I recorded it with real marimba for the final mix that you hear here.
By working like this it also gives me a chance to compose music that is completely inspired from either the film or the script: to give the show a very original and individual score and the chance to compose full pieces without worrying about hitting moments in the scene and having to work too closely the cut. These themes can then be placed and auditioned in the film in by the editor. The rough assembly stage for a show can last 3 to 4 weeks.
Once a show is in the fine cut (2-4 weeks), then I like to have a good idea of the direction musically that the score should be taking. This could be: the instrumentation, textural, thematic, are scenes music led, musicians, tone, pace. There are many factors to be considered and at this point I like to work closely with the director. It is one of the most enjoyable parts of the process for me, and it is the time when the real creative juices kick in. I like to still work on new themes but maybe by now I am structuring these themes closer to certain scenes and cuts. Often a director will ask me to try music for a particular scene that they are struggling with, and I get the line “Sheridan, can you help us with this scene?”
Once the cut has been finalized then the ‘picture lock’ is officially handed over to me to score. I usually get about 2 to 3 weeks for this stage for an hour long show. In a 60 minute show there can be anything from 15 to 35 minutes of music, sometimes even more. In these 2 to 3 weeks I have to: complete composing all the cues, book and record the score with musicians, have the cues mixed, get approval for the soundtrack, work on any changes required by the production, remix cues, and finally deliver music and stems to the dubbing theatre. It is still very normal to get additional requests for changes to the music while the film is in the final mix.
Here is a theme from the multi-episodic ‘DCI Banks’ that needed quite a bit of finessing and reworking – it was used in the opening of Series 4 for a ‘music led’ opening sequence.
For a multi-episodic series the timeline above is hugely reduced (with the exception of episode 1). With the exception of episode one, I am given picture locks of each episode as they are completed in the edit. So I may get a new episode every 3 weeks, and in those 3 weeks I have to complete and deliver the finished soundtrack. A 10-part series could take me 30 weeks to score, plus any additional time for initial music sketches. Sometimes the music delivery deadlines are closer together so I will have less time for the series.
Every project is different and these timelines are based on shows that I have worked on for the BBC and ITV. Sometimes the composer is brought in very late to the production and there is a lot less time for scoring. Composing for multi-episodic television requires a very organised and efficient working method and I love the process.