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Video Editors: Avoid The Temp Music Trap

Jonny Elwyn

All too often directors, producers and even lowly editors get too attached to their temp music. Here are a few thoughts on how to avoid that trap.

Photo from Flickr

Temp music, or temporary music, is the score you’re editing with until the final or ‘real’ music replaces it. Many editors get into the trap of using copyrighted temp music in their project and falling in love with this score. This inevitably leads to problems…

One of the main problems with being attached to your temp music is that it is the first time you see the scene really working…all of the cuts and beats work perfectly, the emotions and drama are accented perfectly and more often than not you’ve slotted in a Hollywood score so it feels like ‘high production value‘!

All your hard work has paid off and it just sounds epic! Everything is golden, right?  Well, except for the crucial fact that you can’t use the music. Not in a million years will you get the rights, nor are you likely to be able to afford them. So what can you do?

5 Ways To Avoid The Temp Music Trap

First of all, as a good composer friend said recently, temp music is called temporary for a reason and it should stay that way. If you’re going to use temp music you should do so as little time as possible, otherwise all the people who are hearing it time and time again are prone to be wedded to it. So don’t leave it in too long or it will burn you in the end.

Secondly, and editors are pretty much divided on this axiom, try to edit your project for as long as possible without music in it at all. So, if it’s a drama the scene holds itself up, rather than being propped up by the score. Or if it’s corporate, the clients are focused primarily on getting the content right….the focus isn’t blurred by the presence of the music. Then, when you add it into your project it will make it THAT much better.

photo by Brandon Giesbrecht on Flickr

Third, use music you can afford. If you can afford the temp music that you’ve chosen then you’re onto a winner right out of the gate and have avoided the temp music trap all together. Stock libraries like PremiumBeat offer a wealth of musical possibilities that you can reasonably afford to keep in your project. When the producer says ”I love the music! What is it?” You don’t have to reply ”Oh we can’t use it, it’s from [insert latest and greatest film score here]”.

If you composers that you like to work with (and your clients can afford their rates), use some ‘sketch tracks’ from them. Then just pay them a bit to polish it up a touch and give it a bespoke fit.

The fourth way to avoid the temp music trap is for composers to recognise that the temp music has been chosen for many good reasons. One of the main problems that often occurs with the introduction of ‘the real music’ is that people don’t like it. You’ve lived with the old music for so long and suddenly its gone.

Maybe the composer has come at it from a totally different direction. Sometimes that can be surprisingly good, but more often than not the comments come back to the effect of ”can’t you make it more like what we had before.”

Hopefully your composer will recognize that choices have been made in the selection of the temp track that should be heeded in regards to it’s style, pace, rhythm, feel, progression and instrumentation etc. That way the new music will feel like it belongs, just like the temp music did.

Photo by Health Service Glasses on Flickr

Finally, if you’re going to use a composer over using royalty free music, make sure you get the composer in as early as possible.  If they can provide you with some rough ideas, sketch tracks, or references to use in your initial edit then that will save you a lot of pain in the long run.

The temp music will sound and feel a lot like the final music because it will be coming from the very same artist with all their ideas and sensibilities mixed in. The composer’s ideas of what this project needs will be injected in early on, and will be mixing in with all the other editorial choices that will inevitably be made. This just helps to make the whole process a whole lot smoother.