Film Music: books
This page lists and reviews film music books – that is, books on the subject of film music. This genre is one of the most popular modern genres associated primarily with orchestral and instrumental music – despite the fact that is primary purpose is to be secondary to the moving images on the screen. A film music soundtrack is often, however, sold separately from the motion picture in which it is features (and usually released a few days before the film’s premiere).
I am an avid fan of film music myself, having written about it since 2010, and studied it for some time now at University. If you speak Swedish, you may visit my website on film music. If you don’t, you may still enjoy the musical examples, and perhaps subscribe to the Spotify list (see sidebar). I have also read six or seven books on the subject. My favorites are listed and reviewed on this page.
If you want to purchase any of these books (and I strongly recommend it) – feel free to use the Amazon links!
List of books
As of now, there are five books in this section.
On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring
This is the number one book on film music. It covers absolutely everything about this subject. It is not only a guide to how film music works and some of the philosophies and techniques guiding the art form – it is a guide to the whole world of film music. Topics include the filmmaking team, screenings and scripts, temp tracks, spotting, budgets, conceptualizing, timings, recording, the use of songs, the use of electronic music, and a long chapter on how the actual business works. On top of this, 200 pages deals with the actual composing, discussing techniques, different approaches, how to use melody, how to use orchestration, how to use harmony and so on. Tons of musical examples with notated scores illustrate the techniques discussed, so try your best to find the right DVDs to use along with them!
As of today (August 17, 2012), it has an Amazon rating average of 4,94 / 5.
Complete Guide to Film Scoring
If you want a cheaper option, Complete Guide to Film Scoring will suit you very well. When it comes to covered topics, it is just as complete as Fred Karlin’s On the Track, only at a smaller scale. This is the first book that I read on the subject of film music. The language is very accessible, and nothing is likely to leave you confused. It does not contain any scored examples, but the final section on interviews does well to compensate for this. Richard Davis did not interview as many composers as Karlin and Wright did, but his interviews are published in their entirety. Perhaps the techniques and philosophies of such composers as Danny Elfman or Elmer Bernstein would interest you? Among other composers interviewed, David Raksin, Alan Silvestri and Elliot Goldenthal are especially noteworthy.
Complete Guide to Film Scoring has, as far as I know, pretty much only received positive reviews. It currently holds a 4,77 / 5 average rating on Amazon.com.
The Score: Interviews with Film Composers
Michael Schelle, who wrote this book, is a composer primarily of contemporary concert music. Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright are both film composers, and Richard Davis is a teacher and composer of film music. Now, I’m not a professor in film music, but I find Schelle’s level of knowledge and insight completely fascinating. He has an amazing ability to ask the relevant questions and to draw connections.
For The Score, Michael Schelle interviewed 15 film composers. However, each composer receives almost 30 pages of attention in this 420-page book. The language will be scholarly at times – after all, the book is just music experts chatting – so I would recommend that you read one of the more complete guides (Karlin/Wright or Davis) before tackling this one. However, this doesn’t mean that a non-musician wouldn’t enjoy the book. Also, don’t forget to keep your soundtracks and DVD collection close at hand!
Knowing the Score
This is another great collection of interviews with Hollywood composers. However, it is arranged differently than The Score. Whereas Michael Schelle’s book gives each composer a chapter each, David Morgan’s Knowing the Score is arranged according to topics such as “The Art of Film Music”, “Getting a Foot in the Door”, “Collaboration”, “Bending the Rules”, and “Adaptation”, constituting a quite unique approach (compared to other books in the genre), where the interview questions and answers support the topic in question.
If compared with other books reviewed here, Knowing the Score can be seen as slightly more philosophical, making it more of a complement than a substitute to, for instance, The Score. Your reading experience will (as is the case with the above books) be greatly enriched if accompanied by the relevant DVDs and/or soundtrack CDs.
Film Music in Focus
This book is no longer than a 100 pages, is printed in color, and contains a lot of images. However, it is not for beginners. It really treats film music “in focus”. You’ll find small excerpts of score analyzed in detail, illustrating how just single notes can make the exact right differences to a cue. However, even if you are not that much into music theory, you will be able to understand most parts of the book. Descriptive adjectives are used just as much as musical terminology.
Film Music in Focus is the only book on this page organized according to film genre. Now, even though there are no set rules, David Ventura does very well to illustrate how certain techniques and methods are particularly suitable when composing for a certain film genre. Each chapter has sections on certain composers, which works well, but might confuse people (Danny Elfman, for instance, doesn’t only write music for animated films).
This is a book for the slightly more academically oriented, perhaps those aiming to study film music at university. Being able to analyze film music properly is immensely valuable if you want to become a better film composer. It is also great fun to know some techniques even if you simply enjoy films. The more you can identify in a film, the greater the experience of watching it!
Peter Larsen starts off by going through some of the developments in the early silent films, where music was played separately from the movie (usually by a small ensemble). Interestingly, this live music was not always related to what was going on on the screen. Following this, Larsen goes through the basics of analyzing film music, making a series of points which you may not have thought about before. A great read indeed – but you have to be very interested in music for films!
The Hollywood Film Music Reader
An extremely interesting publication mainly featuring different composers speaking about their composing for films (or, occasionally, about others’ composing for films). The most interesting part is, to my mind, the middle section “Film Composers in Their Own Words”. This is also the largest section in the book.
The Hollywood Film Music Reader allows you to familiarize yourselves with the words, opinions and creative processes of such giants as Max Steiner, David Raksin, Aaron Copland, Miklós Rósza, Henry Mancini, Bernard Herrmann and Thomas Newman. It even contains an interview with John Williams, primarily focussed on his work for George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977). Other great chapters include “Igor Stravinsky on Film Music”, in which the legendary composer’s somewhat unenthusiastic views on the subject are revealed. David Raksin’s response – “Hollwyood Strikes Back” – is included as well.
Book review page: 16. Published August 17, 2012 as Film Music: books.