Marginalia, Graduate Blog

10 Steps through a paid gig

Steven Spiel

This last weekend, I had the chance to score a short (~6 min) promotional video for the college. It was a great experience and a paid gig. Let me step you through the process, and opportunities you can expect from collaborating in the Music Composition for the Screen Program here at Columbia College Chicago.

1. The Call

Friday afternoon I got a phone call from the ambassador of the Producing MFA (Conor O-Ferrell, great guy) saying that they needed a student to score a short film, but that it would be a pretty quick turn around. We are used to working under tight deadlines here, so I said I’d love to and agreed to meet with him and the director later that day.

2. The Meeting

I had a great time meeting Charles Celander (adjunct faculty) and Dale Sandberg (student editor). We talked for a bit about the video and its purpose and I played them some of my recent works. Good thing I had quite a few genres prepared so I could play what they asked for. They were impressed by the writing, but especially by the quality of the instruments/mix. That’s a great thing to hear and goes to show that a bad composition executed well is much better than a good composition poorly executed (best to have both, but if you only have time to focus on one or the other, choose the sound quality). We watched the footage and did a quick spotting session. We shared some ideas and they gave me a rough cut to bring back Monday afternoon.

3. The Prep

I went home and set up my markers, according to what we had planned in our meeting. It was late and I sent an email to Columbia’s own professor Andrew Edwards (read the blog on him here, awesome person). Andrew has done a lot of documentaries and promotional videos like this one and I knew he would have some valuable advice. I sent him a quick email and he responded quickly, inviting me to his home the next morning to discuss it.

He had so many awesome pointers and was able to show me some of the work he did that is similar. He opened the logic session of a documentary he’s doing now and we had a great discussion. Thank you, Drew!

4. The Creative Work

I went home and worked…hard. I only had until Monday afternoon to complete it, and I take my time when writing and mixing, so I knew I would need to pace myself. I came up with a couple of themes and organized a vibe that I felt fit the picture well. I sent the idea to the director and editor and they both loved it, so I kept going. It is great to hear that your work is appreciated. I finished not a minute too soon and ran it over to our session.

5. The Presentation

I arrived only to find out that they had changed some parts of the picture. I was mostly expecting that, but it’s still never good news. You work so hard to sync it up perfectly that a few frames makes a difference. So with that caveat, we threw the audio into the picture and watched it. The speakers also were REALLY bright so a lot of my percussive top end was coming through, and the sync wasn’t right, but I couldn’t control either of those, so I decided not to stress about them, just make the changes for next time. They (Charles, Dale, and a couple of other creative directors) liked the music and gave a few comments that I openly received. They are the client, and they are the employer, so in the end, you do what they want. Most of the discussion was about the picture and how to improve the visual impact, which I was grateful for. It means that they liked it well enough, and also they don’t pretend to know more about music than they do. They were a pleasure to work with and after changing some timing, they gave me a picture lock to fit it to.

6. The Celebration

The next morning, knowing I had little revising to do, Heather, Olivia, and I went out to breakfast to one of Chicago’s best breakfast restaurants, “Yolk.” It was so delicious and a wonderful way to celebrate.

7. The Revising

First thing I did was roll the top end off. I knew it would be too bright in there and the percussion needed to be less present in the mix. Then was the task of modifying. I made it easy on myself by writing to the essence of the video, rather than individual events. I got lucky because somehow the timing worked out perfectly with a couple of measure cuts here and there. I was thrilled.

8. The Second Presentation

Everyone met back on Tuesday afternoon and one other creative director was there, too. We started right away by playing the film. When it finished, the reaction was “Wow! What happened overnight? That fits beautifully!” Uh, yeah. The score fits now. Amazing how much of a difference that makes. A few things had changed with the b-roll, too, but I shamelessly attribute it to the music. We made some final adjustments and I got put in touch with the mixer.

9. The Mixer

I emailed Evelyn, our mixer, a link to my dropbox that night. It included a final mix (24/48) as well as stems (separate tracks for different components of the mix so the mixer has more versatility. I gave her the rhythmic elements, lead elements, and pad/string elements).

10. The Review Process

Next, the video has to be reviewed by the powers that be, including the president of the college. Once we get the go ahead, the video will be posted online and the paycheck will come in. I’m looking forward to both of those. Once it’s up, I’ll post a link here so you can see the final product.

All in all, it was a great experience and wonderful to make such neat connections with talented individuals. I’m looking forward to more fruitful collaborations in the future.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the published video. Enjoy!

10 Steps through a paid gig

This last weekend, I had the chance to score a short (~6 min) promotional video for the college. It was a great experience and a paid gig. Let me step …

Music Composition for the Screen MFA Steven Spiel, steven.spiel@loop.colum.edu
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605

The Graduate Experience