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Music Editing

For several years, I worked as a music editor for TV and film productions.  For an entire list of credits, see my page.

"What does a music editor do?"

The music editor assists the composer of a film or TV production by handling all of the technical aspects of the film scoring process. 

Most of the time, the work of a music editor begins once the production is finished and the post-production process begins.  However, depending on how much on-screen music there is -- bands or singers performing, etc.-- the music editor may be called in during the filming (or taping) to assist with musical or sync issues.

When the production is finished, the post-production begins with picture editing.  The picture editor often adds several temporary music cues from various soundtrack CDs and other sources to scenes to help the director and others when viewing.  On a large feature motion picture, a music editor is often hired to create an entire temp score for the film.  But the beginning of the real musical score starts once the picture has been edited and the composer is hired.

This process starts with the spotting session attended by the composer, music editor, and the director or producer.  The group watches the production to determine where music is needed, what type of music it should be, and the length of each piece or cueThe music editor takes detailed notes during this process.

Not all music is background music, or what we call underscore.  Think about scenes you've watched where music comes from a jukebox or car radio or perhaps a live band on screen.  Since the source of the music is a part of the scene, this is called source musicEven someone humming a tune while walking down the street is considered a source cue and must be notated on the spotting notes.

Later, after the spotting session, the music editor supplies detailed timing (or "breakdown") notes for each scene to be scored with music.  Timing is exact to 1/30th of a second using SMPTE time code.  This way, the composer knows exactly when characters are speaking and when important actions take place -- the gunshot, the kiss, the cut to the next scene, and so forth. The composer begins writing the music and schedules the recording, or scoring session, working with a music contractor who hires the various musicians. 

Very often, the picture is not "locked" meaning there are still changes to be made in the length of various scenes.  The music editor needs to keep in touch with the picture editor so the music cues will be the correct length.  All changes are communicated to the composer while the picture is still being adjusted.  Once the picture is "locked," the composer and music editor breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Once the music is finished, copied, and individual parts are prepared for each musician, we get to the scoring date.  The editor attends the scoring session and ensures that the music is in sync with the picture.  Once recorded, the editor adds any other music tracks which may come from other sources ( songs from CDs, etc.) and prepares for the dubbing or mixing session. 
At the dub, all sound elements--dialog, sound effects, music--are blended by re-recording mixers to achieve the final soundtrack.  The picture is shown on a big screen, just like a movie theater, and the mixers adjust the volume and quality of each individual sound element.  It's not uncommon to run the same ten seconds back and forth twenty or forty times while making these adjustments.  The editors of each sound element attend along with the director and producer for this most important final step in creating a movie or TV production.  When you have finished the entire production, you screen it for the executives . . . and they make notes so you can start making little adjustments all over again!

That's it!

"What does the schedule look like on 'The Simpsons'?"
When I worked on the show, and we were going week to week with new shows, the schedule was roughly:
  • Week 1
    • Friday afternoon:  SPOT a new show and get Spotting Notes and a few Timing Notes (individual cues) to composer
    • Saturday morning:  finish the Timing Notes
  • Week 2
    • Monday morning:  address any changes; transfer any songs from CDs, etc.
    • Friday evening:  SCORING session at Fox Studios with a 37-piece orchestra
    • Saturday or early next Monday:  assemble show for dubbing session
  • Week 3
    • Monday afternoon:  DUBBING session at Sony Pictures Studios.  "Building" the show.
    • Tuesday afternoon:  Fixes on the show; getting ready for playback.
    • Tuesday evening:  Playback for the show runner (executive producer) and sometimes Matt Groening himself!  We would then spend hours making fixes based on their notes.
We had to finish that particular week...because the show was schedule to air the FOLLOWING SUNDAY.

The crazy part was that if you re-read the schedule above, and you see the SCORING session on Friday night...well, a NEW show was spotted earlier that afternoon.  So, there was always an overlap of two shows.  On Mondays, I would be handling changes on the new show and then rushing off to Sony to begin dubbing the show we worked on LAST week.