‘Synthesisers Are Killing Film And TV Music’

phantomUK’s The Guardian reports that British composers are concerned that “Synthesizers are killing film and TV music.”

That sounds pretty dire to us. Here’s what they have to say about the situation:

Two of Britain’s leading film composers warn that the quality of music for film and TV is suffering because synthesised sounds are increasingly replacing real instruments in an effort to cut costs.

Carl Davis, whose scores include that for the World at War documentary series, said a synthesised soundtrack lacked ‘the heart’ of symphonic or instrumental music.

Christopher Gunning, who wrote the Bafta-winning score for La Vie en Rose, about Edith Piaf, was even more critical: ‘A lot of television music has got to the stage where I have to turn it off. There’s an enormous amount of programmes where I find the programme content really quite interesting, but can’t watch because I find the music so blooming irritating. Part of that is, I am afraid, the poor quality of the musical composition. But part of it is also the sheer sound of it.”

There’s a long history of synths being used creatively in British TV and film – ranging from the Dr Who theme to Clockwork Orange to Chariots of Fire – so the anti-synth attitude is a little surprising.

Can you think of any synth soundtracks so craptacular that they’d single-handedly justify these composer’s concerns? Or is it time for this meme to join ‘Home Taping is Killing Music?” in the long history of things that just could not put music down?

116 thoughts on “‘Synthesisers Are Killing Film And TV Music’

  1. well, I suppose some of the baroque composers were concerned as well, when some of them started to use their wretched “equal tempered” instruments.

    1. Actually, Equal Tempered (ET) tuning is a bit of an abomination, if you have the skills and ear to play pitch dynamically to make more pure harmonies. Have you ever taken your synth, played a standard (ie, ET) major third and then bent the pitch until you got a pure third? It’s amazing how far away the ET third is from the proper harmony. There’s a heck of a lot of beating in an ET 3rd that many find objectionable once you show them an alternative.

      So. way back in the day, if your music were built around the stable consonance of a major 3rd, you’d be pretty angry about the ET “improvement” that was being forced by pianists onto everyone else.

      Luckily my old synths are in such rough shape that I can never claim any sort of tuning at all…every day I get something different. Maybe that’s why I like ’em!

      1. Yeah but if they heard what was then possible given the 12-TET system (jazz and it’s crazy modulations would be infinitely more difficult to play, and it’s already hard enough to understand) I think they would be okay with it.

        One slightly out of tune interval (which in some context is actually more colorful) is well-worth the number of possibilities that arise from 12-TET, IMHO. (disclaimer: I play piano. DEATH TO THE NOTE-BENDERS!)

      2. When I read these sort of comments I’m willing to hear the fantastic music that could be made with non-tempered scales but…..I’m afraid this wonderfull music doesn’t exists…..and I suspect it isn’t worth trying….

      3. abomination or not, it didn’t stop some of the guys from producing quite a lot of decent pieces of music in the last couple hundred years, did it? 😉

  2. Taiko loops, Zimmer-esque strings staccatos and epic horns, which are always the same carbon-copy in every single f****** action movie, are killing film music as well. I prefer Carpenter’s synthesizer, for sure.

    1. True indeed. This is he part I hate the most of any _video_ (be it a movie, a documentary or else).

      That “please cry this is an intense moment” kind of music just ruins it all. Silence would make it more real and intense. Not to mention enjoyable…

      That must be why I still prefer oldies (movies, fiction, drama, documentaries et al) over new “must be” kind of things.

  3. Man, it must be uncomfortable living so far up one’s own ass. Mr. Gunning may find diamonds up that tight sphincter of his, but if he is honestly turning off shows he likes then I pity his pretension.

  4. I don’t think these people are talking about synthesizers at all. They are talking about samplers/Romplers and other fake impressions of acoustic instruments and I agree 100%. If the score calls for a violin, use a fucking violin. Sampled sounds are absolute crap, even the very best ones are bad. Full Stop.

    1. Thank you! I’m glad someone here can read between the lines. They’re clearly complaining about the godawful “canned orchestra” sound that permeate film and (particularly) TV scoring. For someone who scores professionally, you can imagine that hearing the same damn Motif string section for the nth time must be tantamount to torture.

      If you’re a gigging musician doing covers or whatever, sure, go for the rompler. If you’re a composer/producer, and you’re using a rompler or (almost worse) unmodified presets you should be taken out back and shot. Get a real instrumentalist to play the parts you can, or a synthesist to design some custom sounds for you if you haven’t the time (or skill, or inclination).

      That turned into quite a rant, but the people leaping to attack these composers based on a slight error in terminology got me a bit warm.

  5. I really don’t like the fact that people use the term synthesizer as a blanket when they are likely talking about orchestral samples. When I think of synthesizer scores, I’m hearing Vangelis or Jarre’s Witness or John Carpenter.

  6. First, synthesizers ARE real instruments. And to me a heck of a lot more versatile than a piano.

    Second, while not exactly a new movie the prog-rock soundtrack to LadyHawke is craptastic that it makes the movie almost unwatchable.

    Third, the piano based score in Eyes Wide Shut made a terrible movie even worse.

    Good music is good music, wether made with an orchestra, a sampled orchestra, an analog synthesizer or mandolin. Bad music is bad music, wether made with an orchestra, a sampled orchestra, an analog synthesizer or mandolin.

  7. Aw come on, “There’s a long history of synths being used creatively in British TV and film…” That’s not what they mean. They say “…because synthesised sounds are increasingly replacing real instruments…” so you manufactured that surprise for yourself.
    Anyway, if nobody cares about composers reusing the same musical pieces in different movies (looking at you, Zimmer), would anyone care about synthesized sounds?

  8. There was a big hoo-ha in the early eighties about this too… Back in the old country the Musicians’ Union were all up in arms about synthesizers replacing real players. Well guess what? It blew over. I compose scores for lots of short films. I use sampled instruments to mock things up and then, when budget allows, I replace them with the real thing. When I want the sound of a synthesizer I use a darn synthesizer. 🙂 I agree that compositional standards are dropping, but don’t blame the instruments; blame the shows’ producers who decided to hire some hack. 🙂

    1. True, the producers are to blame more than anyone if, in fact, the quality of music is dropping. They want it done yesterday and with no budget. Perhaps if the music wasn’t an afterthought it would suite the pictures better.

      And, of course, it would sound so much better if the soundtrack was on vinyl. 🙂

  9. The guy is right, but for the wrong reasons.

    The great thing about modern music technology is that it gives people with little experience the ability to produce high quality audio.

    The bad thing about modern music technology is that it gives people with little talent the ability to produce high quality audio.

    Combine this with the trend on the part of production companies to pay the least they can for soundtracks (see http://bit.ly/1elJC6T) and you get a perfect storm of soundtrack mediocrity.

    1. i was going to say the same thing but you put it so succinctly.
      the same thing happened with every creative field and is pretty much accepted as the way things evolve.

  10. Look kids. This is bad because it leads to less jobs for musicians. Simple as that. I prefer listening to synths over an orchestra, but I also like seeing creative people in work. Machines = fewer jobs. Which is bad. Stop being such spectrum surfers and think about other human beings.

    1. But there’s also been an explosion of film and TV being produced that needs music.

      There may be a lot of crap scoring being done these days, but there’s a lot of great stuff being made, too.

  11. I think TV budgets for music are increasingly crappy. Games budgets – not so much. When watching ’24’ I was listening to romplers. When people played the game, they were listening to the Sony symphony orchestra and it sounded wonderful.

  12. It must be tough to live in the past.

    Of course, some “Synth” (actually ROMpler/Sample Player) are not (yet?) sounding as realistic as a real symphonic orchestra for an expert. No doubt about it. But one of the reason the budget has been cut is because they’re coming closer and closer every day and in most of the case, it sounds already realistic enough for the customer (the person that watches this movie or TV Shows).

    And that’s the reason why they won’t get much job anymore (and that’s probably the reason why they’re so pissed off). They’re just completely disconnected from technology and don’t know anything about it (calling “Synth” is a perfect example) and just prove they can’t adapt to new technologies.

    If I hear a violon sad part when the hero dies in the movie, I don’t care if the composer did use the VSL, the EastWest, 8dio, SoundIron, Orchestral Tools, CineSamples or any of those kind of libraries or if he did record it from an orchestra in LA, in London, in Berlin, in Prague, etc… The only thing I care is what I hear and what I feel. And if it’s “good enough” for me (the customer), nobody cares if it’s not “good enough” for the composer expert.

    Call it path to mediocrity if you want, but why should we pay to have something we can’t even notice? Because yes, if budget would be higher (to hire real orchestra, etc…), TV Shows/Movies would be even more expensive, and then we (the customers) will still end-up by paying the price somehow. The fact we have so much choice today is because of cost reduction. Some TV Shows wouldn’t even exist if they would require the “real budget” by those composers.

    So too bad for them, but the more it will go, the better and realistic sound libraries will come and then the less work they will get if they can’t live with technology. Guys like Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, etc… have been using sample librairies for years now (they actually even have their own ones). They just know how and when to use them and when not to use them and re-record instead their piece by a real orchestra. And so far, no one never complain about their work quality and they don’t seem to be out of work anytime soon…

    1. True, and in some ways we are lucky to get some of the work that we do, there are producers who would gladly use nothing but stock music.

    2. The limits are not just in the VI, it’s also the controller (where we have not seen evolution in decades). Even if you took a NDVR Note and slapped some Touch-Keys sensors on them, and plugged in a breath controller, a foot controller and a LEAP MOTION sensor, it won’t be as direct as blowing into a horn or bowing a violin. It’s still a worthy endeavor to play electronic instrument. And maybe for some things it is the right texture. But fake orchestral sounds aren’t being chosen because they are right for the project. They are being chosen for expedience & cost.

  13. yeah, by “synthesisers” they clearly mean “sample-banks”, which are indeed royally pants. Film and television suffers because the music used is already pretty emulatory, so we end up with near identical sounding scores. That said, if it compromises the ability of orchestras to keep making a living by playing infinite versions of 16-19th century music, and forces them to find new income streams (like playing something written in the last 50 years, god forbid!), it might not be so bad after all.

  14. the issue here is that budgets for film/tv score has shrunk so that using live instruments is not viable…

    this is true for VFx work…now outsourcing to asia/china as the ecomony is down.

    this leads to using cheaper methods such as ‘in the box’ solutions running on computer or licensing older music and doing away with bespoke score to picture.

  15. Tuff!

    You let your schools go to hell in a hand basket of homogenized “equality” then bitch when the quality of your culture goes well less than mediocre as if blowing crap out of a saxophone is preferable to hammering it out of a keyboard or tickling it out with a mouse. Beautiful music comes from a human heart expressed with artistic tools always for ears attuned to humanity. Some of are inclined towards music as others to carpentry or cooking or even medicine. Let them find their way and you’ll get your music back! And your culture as well. It’s a bad craftsman that blames his tools!

    1. Yeah this certainly doesn’t sound like the ramblings of a reactionary fool at all. Your scare quotes around the word “equality” tell the reader all they need to know to discount your opinions on social matters. “Oh no!” you lament “Now that others face less institutional disadvantage, it’s harder for people like me to monopolize positions of privilege! It’s not fair! It’s discrimination! We didn’t have to try as hard before, when merely existing was enough to give us a leg up. We have to take the culture back before it’s too late and we’re treated the same as everyone else!”

      Go learn literally anything about the topics you seem to care so much about (preferably from a credible, academic, source, not conservative disinformation sites or reddit) before shooting your mouth off on a damn synthesizer blog you nincompoop.

      1. Strike a nerve did I?

        I do have my degrees from a credible, academic source like other “fools”. You’re reading into what I wrote things not said or implied and reacting to your fantasy man with all the spine the internet gives impertinent little know-it-alls. And, I’ll shoot my mouth off wherever and whenever I please– boy!

        1. I’m guessing those were not in something relevant to the topics you raised–it is, as demonstrated by many computer engineers and MBAs, entirely possible to graduate from an institute of higher learning wholly untouched by the work of those who devote themselves to the study and theory of such matters. The conception that the declining quality of theme music has anything to do with the politics of equality, or that public schools suffer from the aforementioned, speaks to one very specific outlook: that of one railing against the loss of privilege, and seeking to blame all ills upon it. By doing this, you are making an attempt (unconscious though it may be) to suggest that those general gripers agree with your views and thereby foster an environment where these views are considered A Thing To Talk About, rather than something as shameful as your shrivelled malodorous little baby weiner. You struck a nerve, yes, but I responded in such a fashion because unless such attempts are met with condemnation and ridicule others holding similar ideas will spill them forth and then this synthesizer blog will forever have a White Male Oppression Whine Zone beneath it. And that would suck, because synthesizers are as apolitical a topic as one could hope to find.

          1. I edited while typing, and cut out too much. In between the part about the worldview and the part about general gripers there was supposed to be a bit about how the tying in of the unrelated issues was the key to the suggestion that these views were popularly held by the community and damn I’m not going to spend any more time typing this out because now I’ve made myself look stupid and will proceed to abandon this comment thread good day sir.

            1. I stated nothing instituting oppression, white, male, or otherwise. Nor anything politically distressing. Neglecting education could be, I suppose, considered so but it was not my intention, but rather pointing at the fact we now ignore individual differences and talents in favor of a cheaper education. A “one size fits all” sort of thing that robs any person of their personal development and inspiration.

              We have however, fostered and environment of frustration and smart mouthed attitude that serves no one. It shows itself as much in music composition as well as other areas of human endeavor. To think the problem is because of a tool, a tool that really allows many more to participate than just the elite of society, a truly democratizing technology, is just plain wrong. You know that. Everyone can play, now give them the education and inspiration needed to make something of it.

              Really!!! My “baby weiner”? (Sic) Now I’m just getting turned on.

  16. My wife(& I too a lesser extent) loves food porn. Listen to every goddamn song being played in the background on the Food Network/Gordon Ramsey & it is very hard not to gouge one’s eyes out. The constant epic battle of synthesized violins! The hilarious slayer riffs! The drum & bass just adds that little cherry on the top to crush one’s soul. Ah, TV.

    1. Right on! Or how about that creepy bowed-piano sound that every reality show uses at the slightest hint of manufactured trouble? “Eeeee-yewwwwwwww…!” Kill me. 🙂

  17. Deja vu…
    Similar discussion when the digital drummachine was introduced.
    Some drummers were moaning, some used them to their advantage (Phil Collins).
    Drummachines were overused for a while, just like the current sample-libraries, but it will fade.
    The discussion is a storm in a teacup.

  18. A large part of the problem with music for television is that everyone wants to do everything for less and less money. Mrs. Shadow works in production. These days they try to beat everyone down on their rates from the music director, all the way down to Craft Services. As a result we have seen a rise in the use of what is known as library music. Prefab bits of music that are purchased by productions at discounted rates and copied and pasted in to programming as someone deems necessary. Since the people who try and maintain a living by making this sort of music want it to be commercial, it tends to all sound the same. The booming drums, swishes and “cinematic” string libraries are used on everything.

    Even the top soundtrack producers are using fewer orchestral players on soundtracks. They will lay out a score with their mega terabyte sample libraries and then record a frosting of real strings, brass, and/or wood winds over the top. In a dark movie theater, with the surround sound set at 95 decibels there are few non-musicians who will ever notice the difference. I would venture that a lot of musician’s couldn’t either.

    Orchestras are an endangered species. There are smaller and smaller budgets for the arts these days as surplus prosperity is siphoned off by corporate overlords from our pensions and school systems. Ballet and opera companies are closing down at an alarming rate, taking jobs for musicians down with them. Every orchestra job that opens up in the US is having literally hundreds of applicants try for the spot.

    I see the main complaint here in a different light. The idea that synthesizers were going to take jobs away from “real” musicians is an old one. Louis and Bebe Barron could not have a soundtrack credit on Forbidden Planet because they did not use real instruments. So this debate goes back to the 50s. I see the issue being more of a supply and demand situation. It has had an impact on every type of music. Producing and recording music was an expensive undertaking for most of the 20th century. The necessary skill and equipment would not easily fall in to the hands of people with little or no ability to use them. These days anyone with a modest computer can make some sort of music. The supply has become massive, the demand has stayed the same or lessened dramatically in some genres. This has led to a devaluation of music altogether. No one buys music these days because they can find something that appeals to their taste for free. It may not be as good as it once was, but it is free. Musicians are expected to produce work because they love their job, not for money. Ask a plumber to fix your sink because it will be good exposure or because he loves his job. See how that turns out. People in the arts are faced with this on a daily basis.

    So the never ending demand that everything be made cheaper has brought us to this inevitable place. Even accomplished orchestral composers have a massive amount of background noise to rise above and an army of eager young volunteer composers willing to work for free to “get their foot in the door”. It’s just that there are fewer and fewer doors.

    1. You’re actually right.

      However, the “Music _Industry_” or “Movie _Industry_” aren’t any different from any other industries. There will always be another person (country) that will be eager enough to work for less (because it will be better than nothing). And somehow, what we describe here is just the result of “extreme capitalism”. Regardless if it’s for a music, a movie, a pair of jeans or an electronic devices. Those are just “products” of the industries.

      However, what I see with all those “Sample Librairies” is that now it’s more easier than never for a single unknown musician to have access to sounds (and then creativity) than he/she would ever dream few years before. Today, it’s pretty normal to record a piano and strings track in our DAW… But 50 years ago, it wasn’t that easy and no one could have access to this tools. Which brings even more and more people to Art.

      The whole “commercial aspect” of the Art is probably dying, but the Art by itself isn’t dead at all…
      (PS: I’m sure it’s changing for few domain: Opera, Ballet, etc…, but it’s just part of the evolution, nothing more, nothing less).

  19. Come synth-nerds, let’s not get defensive.

    First, SOME sampled acoustic instruments CAN (in some musical circumstances) work acceptably well, e.g. piano, drums, celesta, harpsichord, organ, and perhaps others. But most instruments, especially strings & winds, have a myriad of attack & release articulations, dynamic & timbre changes, different vibrato and legato. A phrase is more than a series of notes.

    I recall getting some orchestral Garageband loops a while back and was very disappointed that most were made with a sampler and not real players. Compared to phrases played by real people? Weak.

    Part of what is exciting about composition is hearing your ideas expanded into fully expressive playing. The notes & rhythms on the page represent only a fraction of the potential. A sampler gets it further by using the intended timbre & orchestration. The real players breath LIFE into it.

    There is obviously a role for the synthesizer, the sampler, loops, effects, etc. etc. But to say that a sampled orchestral piece sounds as good as a real orchestra is just silly (and ignorant).

  20. Amen to Mr Gunning.

    A propos the validity of synthesisers, the legend that is Isao Tomita said this in 1974:

    Two kinds of loud sounds in the natural world have been growing on the earth since time immemorial. One is the roll of thunder, the other the sound of volcanic eruption. Both of them were feared by mankind for many centuries as the anger of God. However even the roll of thunder has been proved to be the sound caused by an electric phenomenon – that is, it is an electronic sound. Volcanic sound, on the other hand, is produced by the eruption, impact and rubbing of the substances involved; later such dynamic sounds were made by tools – hammers, bellows to make fire, etc. With the passage of time some of these tools were gradually transformed into musical instruments. At present the method of blowing, beating, rubbing, etc., are incorporated into many musical instruments in the symphony orchestra.

    Electric musical instruments, on the other hand, did not come into existence until the present century. In 1927 Leon Theremin devised the first electric musical instrument, whose pitch was controlled by placing the hand near to or away from its vertical rod. In 1928 Maurice Martenot, a French musician, invented the ondes martenot, which is considered the father of the present music synthesizer.

    It has been said that electric sound is not expressive because it is not a natural sound but an artificial one made by a machine. However, I think that natural sound implies the rustle of the leaves by the wind, the murmur of a brook and the sound of the waves beating upon the shore. In pianos, violins, flutes and other instruments the determination of their musical scales and the methods of their resonance are made by the art of mankind, so their sounds are not intrinsically natural but mechanical.

    Compared to the traditional instruments with a history of many centuries, electric musical instruments have a history of only 50 years. In addition, their shapes are not yet established, so the player is apt to become disorientated. Players of these instruments equivalent in ability to virtuosos of the piano or violin have not yet appeared. I think we must make more effort to study electric musical instruments for the future.

    I have used a great variety of electrical sound producing and controlling devices, as in my previous album Snowflakes are Dancing. I have been encouraged to believe that my efforts have produced music that is truly expressive, evoking the emotions of a high musical experience. It is very rewarding.

    1. thank you for this. it´s always amazing to see how an artists really percieves the medium. not surprisingly tomitas thinking is literary lightyears above and beyond than that of most artists. same with vangelis and other synth greats.

    2. Everything ‘natural’ is also mechanical, electrical, bio-mechanical and bio-electrical. in the end it´s all physics.
      But it´s not the physics of dull harmonic oscillators, but anharmonic oscilators, resonators and filters or short finite pulses and corresponding noise.
      I don´t understand why people have to make a distinction between magisteria where none exist. Nothing in this universe is ‘unnatural’ and ‘synthetic’. There are many different ways to make soundwaves and not all ears and brains are exactly the same.

  21. I call bullshit. If they can’t find *good* music in modern programming, they’re not looking hard enough: there is as much of it today–more, I’d wager–than there was ten, twenty years ago. There has always been bad music, too, and they’re just focusing on the crap. I would argue the bar is actually being raised, not lowered. The fact that lower-budget productions can *have* orchestral sounds (via ROMplers) may irk them, but it’s far and away superior to what they would have accomplished with the same budget and NO ROMplers. There’s more stuff out there, because it’s cheaper to create, and that’s a GOOD THING.

    Just. Bull. Shit.

    If they want to lament that lack of budget for music, let them, but that’s an entirely different argument. Lack of synths doesn’t just magically make talented musicians available (and cheap). Idiotic argument.

  22. Hearing the same boring full orchestra moves over and over again actually pulls me out of a movie these days. Real instruments are awesome, but seriously, how many retreads of the same score can we really endure? Given how limited and rigid classical composition is plus how diverse modern music has become, and a traditional orchestral score for a movie is downright aged, or “period piece” at best. Use it for downtown abbey, but anything modern needs a modern sound.

    1. I’ll agree with you up to a point, but if I needed a defense for good orchestral work greatly enhancing a film, I’d say check out Danny Elfman’s opening to “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.” The music is electrifying. The first time I heard it, I got a big niacin rush. At some point, the argument starts to wobble, because whether he’s using a real orchestra, samples or some of both, that couple of minutes is massive. If you’re going to argue FOR the democracy and “validity” of cheap e-instruments, you can’t argue AGAINST the synthesis of more traditional music with the Star Trek tech.

    2. Yes! Let’s see Reznor & Ross do a big sci fi blockbuster! But producers want everything to sound like Star Wars – which John Williams did better than anyone else is going to do.

  23. Dumb jealous old farts who’s knowledge is slowly becoming obsolete will obviously hold a grudge for the new technology.

    Turntable vs. CD
    Digital vs. Analog Telephones
    Abacus vs. Calculator

    Just because they decided to stop learning when they felt they had reached the top, does not allow them the arrogance to govern the future of the industry, who is to say, that they just cant understand the fundamental appeal behind a synthesizer, because its hard to have an imagination when you convince yourself that there is nothing beyond the blinkers.

  24. So much classical is utter dull un melodic shit.
    Electronic music has turned a lot of people onto classical, Craig Armstrong, Wim Mertens etc
    Contemporary credible composers. Not boring old dull ones

  25. I’m a bit hard-pressed in all of this, because I started from the very best sort of point: I had to dig into a piano in real-time to get jack out of what I was doing. That connection is vital, because every musician wants to be seen as bringing some fire to their game. My musical attachment came first; electronics came years later. That early sweat is the reason I feel dismayed when I hear e-music that’s too simple. If its a cheat to use electronics, its a greater cheat not to use them WELL.

    I love the gear, but I’ve seen so many classical concerts as well as major rock shows that I can understand both sides of things. No sampled instrument can top the real thing for nuance, but having seen so much played with finesse, I can use my software orchestra to “fake” it nicely. I draw a personal line about how far I’ll push it because I can see the line in the first place, but there’s no going back, only forward. It would serve nothing for me to abandon my synths based on a purist principle. Instead, its up to me to make them breathe, rendering much argument moot. I can’t change the economic and technological realities, but I can always better my previous effort. Besides, you’ll get my sampler when you pry the mouse out of my cold, dead paw. So speaks Odin.

  26. I will say that the intro music to ‘The Daily Show’ has a trumpet sample (almost certainly taken from a K2000) that makes my ears bleed. And now that I’ve pointed it out, yours will too.

  27. The Dr. Who theme didn’t use synths. In fact, Delia Derbyshire hated synths too. If you’ve never watched “sculptess of sound”, do!

  28. its a full orchestral score on the new Dr Who, i think its too much for that type of programme
    would prefer it with synth sounds or combination not everything has to be epic!

    I guess some or most sessions musicians are not music technologists and tend to be more
    interested in the score rather then how realistic a trumpet sounds.

  29. I admit that I’m tired of hearing the same Stormdrum/Symphobia/Albion loops everywhere, but it’s mostly in trailers and TV commercials. I suspect that being a classical composer listening to a score is the equivalent of a graphic designer looking at bad typography in an ad — it bothers they hell out of them, but 99% of the public has no idea what they’re on about.

    1. It’s actually worst than that, because the fact of being tired of the same “kind of music” has nothing to do with the fact to use samples or real orchestra. It’s mainly due to the producers wish to have _this_ typical “kind of music”. It’s nothing more than the equivalent of “Pop” for Soundtrack.

      And all of that is not dictated by the tools, but only by the ones that use them to respond to a demand. It’s the same thing than music compression we can hear on any current radio/tv hits. Don’t blame the compressor and instead try to understand why the sound engineer did it that way…

      TV Shows/Movie producers can reduce the music cost because the new way to make soundtrack (with samples) is good enough for the 99% you mentioned. If they could reduce the cost for everything else, they could. Look at the camera prices, it’s dropping too… back in the day they had $1M Panavision cameras, now they can use $50-100K Red/Sony/Arri setup… and it’s getting even more affordable with newest models. Which means we can also see more and more moviemakers. It’s just part of the evolution.

  30. Don’t blame the technology!

    That’s never the problem. Just look at what Vangelis does with synth and, yes, even romplers. He makes his arrangements sound alive by carefully controlling dynamics and phrasing.

    If the music sucks, it’s the producer’s fault for not budgeting for talented musicians.

  31. The synth soundtrack to Ladyhawke with Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick is horrifically bad. Mostly because it is not integral to the movie. It is tacked on like an afterthought.

  32. The guardian article is outright retarded. Synthesized music is not the issue. Are soundtracks being dumbed down? Yes. Why? Because there is little money allocated nowadays to music in movies.

    The dogma that “movie music” must be an orchestra is ignorant to why orchestras were used in the first place. Movie scores are meant to set the tone, instilling emotions such as excitement, calm, fear. Scores can reinforce characterization, push along a plot, slow or speed up the perception of time passed in a scene, etc…

    Orchestras and acoustic instruments were originally used because they were the only tools available. Modern synthesizers can do all the aforementioned things, without constantly reminding the audience they are watching a performance.

    Synthesizers are still relatively new instruments compared to those of an orchestra. Great composers will learn to embrace them and compose specifically for them. In time, synthesized soundtracks will inevitably become more expressive than their outdated counterparts.

  33. Hm… Everyone can use any instrument he wants these days. And you will surely find a musician who can play the one you like. So where is the problem? I love synthesizers, digital and analog. I love classical Instruments and music from the distant past, played on old instruments or reconstructed ones.
    The only music I hate is ‘Deutsche Volksmusik’ because it´s pathetic, generic and cheesy and is part of a narrow minded culture that does not like pluralism, individualism and dissent.

    ‘We can dance if we want to
    We can leave your friends behind
    ‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
    Well, they’re no friends of mine

    Say, we can go where we want to
    A place where they will never find
    And we can act like we come from out of this world
    Leave the real one far behind’

    MEN WITHOUT HATS – “The Safety Dance” 😉

  34. Ha! I have a hard time taking a guy that still says stuff like “blooming irritating” seriously.

    It’s true that a lot of movies and TV have some very terrible boilerplate music, but it’s not the fault of the synthesizer. There are just lots of bad productions out there that don’t give enough care (or money) to the soundtrack. I remember being nearly dumbfounded at how effective the score was in the last season of Breaking Bad, and that was no orchestra. And movies like The Social Network would be much duller with standard orchestra music, IMHO.

  35. I agree with the article in that synthetic instruments shoulden’t be used to replace real instruments, but I don’t feel that that means that synthesizers shoulden’t be used. If you want a sound that sounds like a synthesizer, you should use a synthesizer. If you want a piano sound, use a piano. If you want a sound that sounds like someone using a violin bow on a piece of garden twine… guess. But you should idealy use what’s the right thing to use, not necceceraly what’s the easiest. I realise that this isn’t allways economically possible, but it should be the case as much as possible.
    I’m probably being a bit of a hypocrite on this, as most of what I compose ends up using mostly samples, synthetic organs/E.Ps etc, but I’m just a student with a guitar, a midi keyboard, and an old PC that can just about handle doing what I ask it, not a professional film score composer.

  36. I think this article takes the language out of context and runs with it, these guys are criticizing the faux-orchestral scores on modern TV and film that are sampled libraries running on COMPUTER and almost always in Kontakt or one of it’s derivative dedicated orchestra instruments. This is nothing to do with synthesizers, if you look back at film soundtracks and tv from the 70s and 80s it’s arguable that as many as half of the greatest soundtracks are actually synthesized, usually analog synths….everyone from Jerry Goldsmith to John Carpenter, Gil Melle, Ennio Morricone, Angelo Badalmenti, Vangelis, Mark Isham, Wendy Carlos, Goblin, Francis Ford Coppolla…there are countless examples, and then if you consider TV, in particular the BBC radiophonic workshop era of soundtracking sci fis and sinister tv serials… In almost every case none of these artists was trying to ‘ape’ a real orchestra. They were writing original scores for film and tv using synthesizers. If you fast forward to the current era of TV and film, it may be synthetic, but it’s not synthesized. The Guardian should correct their article to be clear it’s about synthetic orchestration, which everyone knows sounds like turd wrapped in shit.

    I’m sure most people would be happy for a return to the combination that worked previously, genuine orchestral scores & genuinely synthesized scores, often used both within the same film 🙂

  37. the person up there named “s” (I’m guessing he/she was in a hurry) hit the nail on the head… this is some random dude’s opinion and it’s being passed off as if it’s important.

    on a serious note, there’s room for all kinds of scores as long as they’re good scores and they complement the film.

  38. Well, most TV programs and mainstream movies that come out these days aren’t worth an original score anyway. Most of it is perfect for pairing with a cheap, canned, faux orchestra. Bullshit begets bullshit.

    If people like a show it gets more funding through advertising dollars. If they get more money, they can hire more and better writers and actors, and real composers and musicians.

    The guy in the article says it’s the music that makes tv unwatchable. But I say it’s the other way around – the shows make tv unwatchable. The music doesn’t even matter.

  39. BAH !! By this very logic, we shouldn’t be using CGI for special effects…we should be using clay, stop motion, actors in rubber suits stomping on miniature cities. Some people have a rough time letting go of the old traditional ways of doing things. I have always embraced the future. Since when is it uncool to save some money ?

  40. When you consider the costs of hiring a full orchestra (and the composer who writes the music and works with the orchestra), the synthesizer is a very practical and very affordable alternative. Frankly I think the structure of our economy is killing the music much more than the synthesizer. Mozart and Schubert, two of history’s greatest composers, died dirt-poor and were buried in paupers’ graves. Our society is still economically unenlightened and artists are still starving. I try to find real performers when I can, but there are not always people in my area who play the instruments I want to have in my pieces. Therefore, it is more logical for me to use synthesized music, because at the end of the day, having a product to sell is better than having no product to sell.

  41. Bet the whiner couldn’t tell the difference between synthesized sound and real orchestra sounds of the same type with his eyes closed.

  42. With how quickly film people want compositions to be written combined with (in the US at least) Union musician rates and rules make it financially and logistically impractical to use real orchestras.

    Want real orchestras and music? Give film composers the time and money to do so.

  43. Tangerine Dream, “Sorcerer”
    John Carpenter, “The Fog”
    Giorgio Moroder, “Midnight Express”
    Popol Vuh, “Aguirre”, etc, etc…

    VS millions of lame epic orchestral soundtracks…

  44. Well sample libraries are not really synthesized sounds are they? If at all, sample libraries are the problem, not synths. The critique sounds a bit like someone does not really know what he’s talking about…

    “There’s a long history of synths being used creatively in British TV and film – ranging from the Dr Who theme to Clockwork Orange to Chariots of Fire – so the anti-synth attitude is a little surprising.”


  45. There is so much comments on this post that I was wondering if I should or not add an other one, so decided to make a short one (as possible).
    The problem with those composers who declare things like “synths are killing TV and movie music” is just “Where were they the last past 40 years?”
    Those kind of people only care about their problems, should I remind them that orchestras fo cartoons stopped half a century ago ? Did they care about ? No because it was not their problem, they were working for tv and movie not cartoon.

    Now it’s their problem but “too late guys !”
    … so they are looking to blame something, someone because it’s never their fault : always the other one fault; they are never responsible for the crap they done and the silly things they declare.
    They want their music to be spread all over the world but at the same time want traditional violin makers and violin players, for which purpose ? The quality of the composition : just listen their music we are far from killer soundtracks. For the heart of their music ? let me laugh…

    And if I said something like : stupid composers kill good ones ? or softwares kill analog synths? or HD cam kill 16 mm film ?
    Would that be true ?

    They only make stupid declarations to expect reactions but actually it’s just to hide the fact that they are enable to be in action.

    Everybody has their own taste but shit always smell the same.

  46. What about sampled sounds?

    Either way, it sounds like the age-old moan about computers killing /something, etc. I think anyone saying “real instruments” or “real music” are stuck in an age gone by.

  47. What is a “real” instrument? I the the human voice is one of the few non man made instruments in existance. Otherwise every other instrument was conceived by the mind and built by people…

    Please… Protectionism. Really?

  48. I can not hear classical scores any more…The sound is mostly pathetic. Such musicians are often not very innovative, so thats the point why they dont like new sounds i think.

  49. Thanks for this great post James, we discuss this on Sonic TALK this week with input from a film music composer – starts about 32:20 (hope you dont mind me posting this here)

  50. ‘Synthesisers Are Killing Film And TV Music’
    Yes! like CS-80 that killing Blade Runner film.
    You’re right, Synthesisers Are Killing Film. 😉

  51. haha i saw a bob moog documentary a few days ago where he states that classical musicians and orchestras blamed him for ruining music with synthesizers hehe

    i think they mean sampled strings etc not synthesizers though

    synths and moviescores are meant for each other …

    also a very very cool synth moviescore is the one for full metal jacket, made by kubricks daughter under a pseudonym i forgot on an fairlight cmi

  52. More whining snobs that pretend everything doesn’t change and evolve. YAWN, try and stop the entertainment industry from saving money, I dare ya.

    Write something undeniably good and people will come calling. Also culture affects everything. Stop whining and get a synth if you need to pay your bills.

  53. I love these two composers, however, I think the comments are a bit unfair and snobbish! It doesn’t matter how the music was created and what instruments were used it is how the music makes you feel while watching the film, or listening to the score! Some TV shows have dire music and some are good, but that is down to taste! There have been loads of interesting and classic film soundtracks that use synths! Blade runner, midnight express, clockwork orange, this list goes on! Please don’t give up on electronic composers as a lot of them are struggling independent composers trying to ern a crust, thanks. Kevin/ The Hypnotix State https://soundcloud.com/kaydoubleyou/majik-serpant-instrumental

  54. I am quite sure that the composer in this article meant “sound libraries” which are – simply put – recorded live sounds of a real orchestra rather than synthesized ones (difference between synthesizer and sampler is apparent). And in that context it is true that “out-of-the-box” VST-based libraries playing back whole textures, figures and tonal construction are seriously abused in the past decade.

    I recently watched four seasons of a TV series which throughout the whole duration utilized well-known library of ‘quirky woodwinds’ which anyone can purchase for $199 …… That being said, I can understand how many composers are forced into such means by ridiculous budgets, deadlines and producers totally unaware of the process (“listen, mate. I want it sound like a real orchestra. are we cool?”).

    Synthesizers are just another instruments adding their own palette of sonic colors to the table and should be embraced no less than piano, tuba or hurdy-gurdy.

    What worries me is the whole notion of ‘epic’, ‘huge’, ‘massive’ sound being in demand and diminishing role of well-composed melodic and harmonic material. I hope that libraries of dozens of percussionists recording Zimmer-esque textures will eventually pass as a fad. On the other hand we have Jim Jarmush and his “Dead Man” with its soundtrack recorder by the director on one electric guitar – not exactly perfect score but definitely noticeable and expressive attempt on originality.

    I revere smart use of synthesized sound in film-score and their full-bodied analogue sound. Orchestra is and will be the main device of music in traditional terms but its a bit reckless to dismiss new tools on premises of ill-conceived purity. It is worth to mention that many composers are looking into world music and traditional instruments of other cultures and blend them with western music in their search for new methods of expression and that intangible ‘sense of place’ which every good soundtrack should deliver.

    PS please excuse eventual grammar issues – English is still my 2nd language 😉

  55. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
    Synthesisers don’t kill film or TV music, people kill it.

    As it says in the quote “in an effort to cut costs”. Responsible for “killing” or at least damaging a lot of good things…
    Synths aren’t new. Synth music isn’t automatically bad, just as “real instrument” music isn’t automatically good. The only thing that has changed is that it’s now cheaper and easier to make music. Doesn’t mean more traditional methods are going to vanish.
    If producers want cheap music, that’s what they’ll get…

  56. Too many unitiated idiots are blathering on this subject. Let me make the distinctions clear for you:

    There’s a difference between the electronic/synth soundtracks heard in Drive (2011), Oblivion (2013), and Blade Runner (1982), which do not imitate or try to duplicate classic orchestral instruments, and the cheap, keyboard music (fake strings, etc) that populated ’90s soaps and DTV movies. BIG difference. One is an established musical genre, the other is an emulation of traditional orchestral scores using cheap keyboards.

    The latter ruined TV music for a very long time, while the former is currently rejuvenating cinema scores.

  57. I’ve worked with a lot of film and TV composers.
    Here’s the way it works…

    In TV, you have very quick deadlines and the budget isn’t there for an orchestra date.
    You have to either hire a small quartet or do it on synths or samplers.

    In film, it’s very common to compose everything on samplers, then use an orchestrator and/or arranger to make hardcopy (actual paper!) music for each member of the orchestra.

    But it’s mostly defined by budgets and deadlines.
    A full orchestra can cost $80-100K a day.
    Blockbuster films with huge budgets can afford this, but not independent films or TV.

    One thing people might not know: Sometimes a composer is late and a film will be released with his sample-based score.
    A week or two later, the actual orchestra is recorded and all those films are replaced with the final music.
    They actually redistribute a new copy to every theater, which usually number in the thousands for the US.
    This costs a fortune to do, but happens every once in a while.
    So not all films you see on opening night are completely finished.
    This goes for some video effects and editing too.

  58. Synth-star killed the orchestral-star. We have had this debate before, in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. Many composers start with purely electronic scoring and move on to full orchestral works. One example, would be howard shore cf scanners to lord of the rings

  59. Synths are a good tool, the problem started when virtual orchestras hit the market and everyone branded themselves as a ‘composer’.

    Now film music is pretty much dead. One substandard composer mimicking another substandard composer. Symphobia, Stormdrums, block chords, terrible (if any ) melodies, and an insatiable appetite for massive drums and huge sounds which are made to mask the fact that uneducated composers today have no idea what the hell they are doing and are blindly pursuing the dream of becoming the next Hans Zimmer who in reality is also a substandard musician.

    So sad.

    Film scores had melodies, counterpoint, contrapuntal writing, ORIGINALITY and complex beauty. Composers used to have a deep knowledge of music and getting a job to write a film score was a massive deal.

    What the hell happened to film music????

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