THE DREAM of my childhood had been to write music for films. When, in 1962, my first chance finally came, it was more like a minor nightmare.
It was a small-budget British B movie starring the Temperance Seven. Because I had been making records with them, I was asked to write the music for the film, for the princely fee of £112. Not that I really cared about the money. This was my Big Chance.
The songs I wrote for them, and the incidental music, in a typical twenties style, worked out fine and suited the mood of the film very well. But when we came to fitting the music to the picture my troubles started. It was done at Shepperton, and provided my first experience of a film studio; I had no conception of how hard it would be. I was not helped by the fact that the Temperance Seven were seen to be playing in the picture, and that I therefore had to fit the music to what they were doing on film. That was a basic error on the part of the producers. They should have recorded the music first, and then the band should have mimed to it on film, which would have been far easier. As it was, I was landed with having to do the thing back to front, with no idea as to how. It was the most exhausting, nerve-racking experience of my life, and I got through it by sheer hit-and-miss, trial-and-error methods. My problems were not alleviated by the fact that the Temperance Seven fell short of being well-trained musicians- They didn’t follow my conducting very well anyway, and it hardly helped when they started watching the picture instead of rne! Again, the facilities at Shepperton were antiquated in the extreme. There was no ‘rock-and-roll’ machine for running the film forwards and backwards, as there is today. Instead, if we muffed something, which we did continually, the whole reel had to be rewound; this necessitated a delay of about ten minutes before we could try again, which was less than soothing to my already well-frayed nerves.
The film was called Take Me Over, but that was the reverse of what I felt about it. At the end of the recording, I remember going home and saying: ‘I never want to do another film again. If that’s film music, you can have it!1 What’s more, I didn’t think anyone would require my services after that little debacle; so I was astonished when, soon after that, I was approached by Muir Matheson, a huge name in the industry, who probably had more experience than anyone else in conducting orchestras for British pictures. A fine man, and a Scot, he had been asked to provide the music for a comedy film called Crooks Anonymous, starring Wilfred Hyde White, Leslie Phillips and James Robertson Justice. As it happened, I was recording Leslie Phillips at that time.
Muir, though a fine conductor and arranger, was not a particularly strong composer, and felt that he couldn’t write a whole score. So he came to me and said: ‘Why don’t you write a song for Leslie Phillips? We’ll get him singing it over the opening titles, and then you can work with me on the film score. You do all the commercial bits, and I’ll do all the snippety bits of fitting.’ That’s what we did. It was a happy little partnership, and I learned a great deal from him about the techniques of film writing.
The only small problem was that, as he himself was the first to admit, Leslie Phillips didn’t sing too well, and at the last minute the director and producer decided they didn’t like him singing the title song. For some reason, however, they failed to invite us back to do a new opening. The result was that, when I first saw the picture at the Odeon Acton, I was utterly amazed. The opening titles were accompanied by the score I had done for the brash opening music for the song. That was fine. But when the voice was due to appear - nothing. Not a word. All I could hear was the accompaniment to a missing voice. It must have been a very full accompaniment, because no one else seemed to notice. The film was a moderate success.
My next offer came, to my surprise, from the producers of my first film. It was to write the music and supervise the scoring for a film called Calculated Risk. It was aptly named, both from their point of view and from mine, but I accepted, and that gave me more valuable experience. Perhaps it wasn’t such a gamble, because I had learned a lot from working with Muir. I had learned how to fit music to film. I had found out about the frames on a film, and the speed at which the film ran through the ‘gate’ in the camera. I had learned how to make my own measurements of music related to film, and how to cope with other people’s measurements.
All this, of course, took place while I was still working at EMI, and was done in my own spare time; but it was time well spent, a valuable grounding which stood me in good stead when my first real breakthrough came in 1964. The film was A Hard Day’s Night, the first Beatles film and probably their most successful.
Dick Lester was the director, and I made special recordings with the Beatles of songs which were going into the film, producing them specifically with the film in mind. Then I had to knit it all together, and write the incidental music. That worked pretty well. What is more, whereas I had been disappointed that the film was to be in black and white, feeling that the first Beatles film ought to be in glamorous colour, in the event that worked very well too. Dick Lester’s zany editing, and especially his experience in commercials, which enabled him to snap everything into tight, hard-packed little sequences, was excellent.
The only trouble was that he was something of a musician himself. He is the sort of person who, at a night-club or a party, will go to the piano in the corner and play his idea of jazz to amuse people. He plays jazz piano tolerably well, and he gave me the impression that he considered me inferior to him musically. The adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing was borne out, and it led to a nasty split between us. There was one of my scores which he particularly disliked. That I wouldn’t have minded, but he waited until the actual recording to tell me so. I was on the rostrum in front of the thirty-piece orchestra when he came roaring up and tore me off a gigantic strip. ‘This is absolute rubbish you’ve written,’ he ranted. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re a bloody fool. What do you call this - this - crap?’
I was very embarrassed, and very angry. ‘This ^is what vou asked me to write in the first place,’ I told him. But it did no good, and there ensued one of those stupid arguments which can benefit no one. So I did some quick revision there and then, and recorded something along his new line of thinking. After that, we were hardly on speaking terms.
The irony was that when the film came out the Americans gave it two Academy Award nominations. One was for the script, by Alun Owen. The other was for the musical direction, by me. Dick got not a mention. Perhaps it was poetic justice. It was also the only Oscar nomination I have had, but I didn’t even go to the ceremony. I knew I had no chance, because the opposition included Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady. In the event, it was the latter for which Andre Previn got the musical-direction Oscar.
There were no aggravations with the next people I worked with, the Boulting brothers. The film was called The Family Way, and they had got Paul McCartney to write the basic themes. I was to score them and write the incidental music. The film was set in the North, with steep cobbled streets and so on, and Paul had the good idea of using a sort of northern brass sound. But I needed more material than he had given me. So I went to see him and said: ‘I need a wistful little tune. You’re supposed to be writing the music for this thing, and I’m supposed to be orchestrating it. But to do that I need a tune, and you’ve got to give me one.’
His reply was, ‘All right, what do you want?’
I told him again, but he was still prevaricating; so I said: ‘If you don’t give me one, I’m going to write one of my own.’ That did the trick. He gave me a sweet little fragment of a waltz tune, which was just what was needed, and with that I was able to complete the score.
As with my first film, the recording was to be done at Shepperton; but I was so unhappy with the inefficiency of the place, compared with proper recording studios, that I went to see John Boulting and told him: ‘I don’t want to work at Shepperton. I’d rather do it at CTS.’ CTS, down in Bayswater, was at that time the best film-recording studio in London.
‘Why? What’s the point?’ he asked. ‘We’ve got a very good recording studio out at Shepperton.’
‘I’ve worked there,’ I said, ‘and I think it’s absolutely ghastly!’
The trouble was that the Boulting brothers were part of British Lion, and part-owners of Shepperton, and to record there would cost them very little. So he was naturally reluctant to go outside. I could understand that, but I pressed the point.
I told him, Tm going to use a brass quintet and a string quartet in most of the scoring, and that’s not many musicians. I’ll be saving you money doing it that way, even though we’ll be using very good players. But recording a string quartet or a brass quintet is very clinical, and very difficult. The balance is extremely important. There’s no room for error, because everything’s magnified. With a large symphony orchestra, someone can make a squawky noise somewhere in the back desk of the violins and no one’s ever going to notice it. But with a string quartet you can hear everything - and I want the recording to be perfect.’
That, at least, persuaded him to a compromise. Til tell you what we’ll do,’ he said. ‘Do a session down at Shepperton with me. I promise you that’ll be a trial. If it comes off well, as I’m sure it will, we’ll do the rest of the score there. But if you can convince me that the studio’s lacking what you need, I promise you’ll have every right to go elsewhere.’
So we did our session at Shepperton, with the string quartet led by Neville Marriner, of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Neville, a marvellous musician, was a tremendous help to me, but when I walked into the studio and saw the set-up I could hardly believe my eyes. They had grouped the string quartet like a chamber orchestra at a Wigmore Hall recital. The microphones were suspended about fifteen feet up in the air. ‘Well, honestly, that’s not going to do,’ I said. ‘I want to hear the resin on the bow of the cello when he’s biting away. I don’t want to hear all the ambience of this room.’ Looking over at the brass players, I went on, ‘What’s more, you’re going to pick up an awful lot of brass on the string mikes. It’s just not going to work.’
My remarks were not met with any electrifying burst of co-operation. The studio personnel clearly felt that, having been in the business for about sixty-five years, they didn’t need some young man coming along to tell them how to do it. Their attitude was, frankly, bloody-minded. When I said that the mikes had to be nearer the instruments, especially the cello, I was in the studio when the talk-back came over from the control room: ‘Ernie ... er . . . would you mind moving the boom down about four feet for Mr Martin, please?’ The engineer wouldn’t dream of coming out to do it himself. He had to get the appropriate union man, who was Ernie. And even after Ernie had lowered it a bit, it still didn’t make much difference. It was, you might say, an unhappy session.
John Boulting was convinced. ‘I know you haven’t sabotaged it,’ he said. ‘Go and do a session at CTS, and see if that comes out any better.’ So we did, and it did. It worked brilliantly, and we ended up recording the whole thing there. It was an eye-opener for John. At lunch in Bayswater, after one of the CTS sessions, he asked: ‘What’s the difference, George? I can see things have been going better for you here. Why can’t our studios at Shepperton be like that?’
‘Honestly, John,’ I said, ‘I think the subject’s a bit long! You’ve got the wrong equipment. It’s out of date. We don’t use the microphones you’re using any more. What’s more, we don’t use the people you’re using any more. It’s all about the basic attitude to the job.’ I knew I was on pretty safe ground saying that anyway - Roy and John’s film I’m All Right, Jack had been a fair indication of their attitude to union pettiness. Happily, film studios have improved a great deal since those days.
On the Beatle front, the next film was Help!, and that was done without my help! I produced all the Beatles recordings for it, of course, and they certainly thought I was going to do the film music; but since the director was Dick Lester again, it was hardly surprising that, to quote Sam Goldwyn, I was included out. The music was done by Ken Thome, a buddy of Lester's.
Then, in 1966, came Yellow Submarine. That film was a whole package of problems, not least the fact that the Beatles were against the idea from the beginning. At that time they were suspicious of anything that wasn't their own idea, and this was a deal which had been worked out between EMI, Brian Epstein, and the producers. It was to be a cartoon film, and the producers were King Features, the American syndication outfit whose main claim to fame was the strip The Flintstones. The Beatles clearly thought it was going to be yet another rip-off, and wanted nothing to do with it.
But Epstein had contracted not only for the film to use about a dozen of the Beatles' old songs, but also for them to write four brand-new titles. Their reaction was 'O.K., we've got to supply them with these bloody songs, but we're not going to fall over backwards providing them. We'll let them have them whenever we feel like it, and we'll give them whatever we think is all right.'
The result was that, as we recorded songs for future albums, they would try out some little bit of nonsense at the end of the session, and, as long as it worked moderately well, they would say: 'Right, that's good enough for the film. Let them have that.' So the film scraped the bottom of the Beatle music barrel as far as new material was concerned, the songs they produced being 'Only a Northern Song', 'All Together Now', 'Hey Bulldog', and 'It's All Too Much'.
The other great problem was the speed at which the film was being made - a year from start to finish, compared with the minimum of two years that Disney always took to make a full-length animated feature. Normally, in the case of such a film, they like to score all the music first and then animate to that, as in the case of Fantasia. But with Yellow Submarine that was just not possible. The director was George Dunning, a brilliant Canadian animator, and since he wanted, in view of the time allowed, to get writing and visualising straight away, we had to work out a system by which I would work side-by-side with him and his team. He told me: 'We can't take time for you to write the music before we start, and we can't take time for you to write it when we've finished, so the answer is that you'll have to write it while we're making the picture.'
'How on earth am I going to do that?' I asked him.
'Well, I'll send you a reel at a time, whenever a reel's near completion, and you'll just have to write and record as quickly as you can. I haven't got time to consult with you where the music should go. You just write it where you think it should go, and we'll fit it in afterwards.'
It was nice enough to be given carte blanche like that, but it was an incredibly chaotic way to work. I might get reel 4 followed by reel 7 - and even then there might be a couple of scenes missing, with a little notice on the reel to tell me how long the scene would be. I spent a frantic month writing the music, fifty-five minutes of it, in this haphazard way, and there was no room for mistakes. Everything had to be tailor-made to the picture. If a door opened or a funny face appeared at a window, and those moments needed to be pointed up, it was the musical score that had to do the job. Luckily, one of my very earliest experiences in the world of film music had given me the tool with which to accomplish that.
I had gone down to Elstree to see Nelson Riddle doing a film-recording session for a Peter Sellers picture, Lolita. What struck me in particular was a section where Peter was driving off with this young girl. Nelson Riddle had scored it with one of his typical rhythm sections, a cushion of strings rather than any particular tune. You saw Peter looking in the rear-view mirror, and then suddenly his eyes opened wide in the mirror because he realised that he was being followed. It happened twice, and on each occasion there was a jarring note from the orchestra to emphasise what was happening. That note had nothing to do with the basic rhythm. It didn't even happen on the downbeat, but in the middle of a bar, yet it fitted exactly °n the first run-through. I wondered how on earth Nelson Diddle had achieved that.
The answer was really very simple. You plan whatever tempo your rhythm is going to be, and then you lay down what is called a 'click track'. That is, a separate track which simply contains a click sound which appears every so many frames of film. You know that 35-mm film runs at twenty-four frames a second, so, knowing what tempo you want, you simply ask the film editor to put on a click at whatever interval you want. Then, while conducting the orchestra, you wear headphones through which you can hear the clicks, and by keeping to that particular beat you 'lock in' the orchestra to the film. In that way you can write your score knowing that, even if something happens a third of the way or halfway through a bar, you can safely put in whatever musical effect you want, with the absolute certainty that it will match the picture. That was how Riddle did it, and that's how I did it with Yellow Submarine. I wrote very precisely even with avant-garde and weird sounds like 'Sea of Holes', keeping to bar-lines, knowing that the click track would ensure it fitted.
Yellow Submarine saw some pretty strange experiments, too. In one sequence, in the Sea of Monsters, the yellow submarine is wandering around and all kinds of weird little things are crawling along the sea floor, some with three legs, some rolling along like bicycle bells. One monster is enormous, without arms but with two long legs with Wellington boots on. It has a huge trunk with a head sticking out of the top of it, and in place of a nose there is a kind of long trumpet. This is a sucking-up monster; when it sees the other little monsters, it uses its trumpet to suck them up. Eventually it sucks up the yellow submarine, and finally gets hold of the corner of the screen and sucks that up too, until it all goes white. I felt, naturally, that that scene required special 'sucking-up' music! The question was, how to do it with an orchestra?
Suddenly, I hit upon the obvious - backwards music. Music played backwards sounds very odd anyway, and a trombone or cymbal played backwards sounds just like a sucking-in noise. So I scored about forty-five seconds for the orchestra to play, in such a way that the music would fit the picture when we played it backwards. The engineer working at CTS at that time was a great character named Jack Clegg, and when I explained the idea to him he said, 'Lovely! Great idea! I'll get the film turned round, and you record the music to the backward film. Then, when we turn the film round the right way, your music will be backwards.' It sounded like something from a Goon script.
We did that, and at the end of the take, instead of the usual yell for me to come into the control room, I heard Jack speaking on to the tape in some weird, Japanese-type language. I could hear this in my headphones, and had no idea what was going on. Then, when the time came to play the film back to hear what it sounded like, I understood. At the start of the take you could hear Jack's voice saying something like 'Myellah sumniarin, teek tree'. While we had been recording, he had carefully worked out what his announcement should be if he spoke it backwards, so that when it was played forwards it would sound English. Well, roughly English! It was a very difficult thing to do, and we all fell about - laughing, amazed, but also full of congratulation - when we heard it.
Once all the music had been recorded, we dubbed it on to the film, and even then there was more messing about. In some places we cut out the music because sound-effects worked better; in others, we eliminated the sound-effects because what I had written sounded better. Yet, in spite of everything, that score proved enormously successful and earned me a load of fan mail. Jimmy Webb even asked me if he could use the opening Tepperland' sequence for a Ringo Starr TV special in America.
When it came to making the soundtrack album which the producers wanted, there were more problems. The Beatles were still holding themselves remote from the whole enterprise, and simply left us to our own devices. So I told the film people: 'Obviously the thing to do is to let the Beatles issue whatever they want of their own songs. I'll issue my stuff separately, because I don't want to ride on their backs.'
The Beatles decided to issue an EP of their four new songs from the film. For their part, the film people wanted rne to put out an LP of the background score, with voices from the film and with narration. This was to teli the story °f Yellow Submarine, and was to be assembled by the man who had written the original story - Erich Segal, later to make his name and find fame with Love Story. Ihad very closely with him on the script of the film, and the record was to be a combination of words and music, rather like Peter and the Wolf. We were about to start work on that, when suddenly the Beatles changed their collective mind. 'No, we don't want to do that,' they said. 'We want to have a long-playing record.' What they had realised, of course, was that EPs didn't sell in America, while LPs did. What's more, they probably realised by then that, in spite of their lack of interest or co-operation, the film was likely to be the success it eventually proved to be.
So it was decided that the album should have their music on one side and mine on the other. To their four new songs they added 'Yellow Submarine', which had originally been a single, and 'All You Need Is Love'. On my side there were 'Pepperland', 'Sea of Time', 'Sea of Holes', 'Sea of Monsters', 'March of the Meanies', 'Pepperland Laid Waste', and 'Yellow Submarine in Pepper-land', all of which I re-recorded. It was more convenient to do so - and no more costly, since the original orchestra would have had to be paid twice anyway if we had used the soundtrack for the record.
The success of Yellow Submarine soon paid dividends for me. Out of the blue, a film director named Mike Hodges rang up Shirley Burns, my long-time, long-surfer ing assistant, and asked, 'Can I come and see George Martin?' He appeared in my office, told me that he was making a film in Malta with Michael Caine, and asked me if I would like to do the music. To be truthful, I was astonished.
'There are many writers who do nothing but film music,' I said. 'When I get asked to write film music, it's generally to orchestrate a song that Paul McCartney's written, or in some connection like that. Why have you chosen me?'
'I think your Yellow Submarine was the best thing I've heard in ages, and that's why I want you to do the music for my picture.'
'Well, thanks. It's lovely of you to say that. I hope I can justify your faith,' I said.
Hodges was great to work with, and I was pretty happy with the score, but sadly the film was a minor failure - a result, I believe, of bad distribution as much as anything else. It was called Pulp, and was about a paperback writer who got involved in a scenario that he could have written himself. It had a good cast, with Michael Caine, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Webb and Lionel Stander; it was well constructed and well directed. What's more, when I saw it I enjoyed it! But that doesn't alter the fact that it 'bombed'.
From that bomb, I went to Bond. Paul McCartney had been asked to write a song for the film Live and Let Die, and I orchestrated and recorded it for him. After the producers, Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzmann, had heard it, I got a call from Harry's assistant, Ron Cass, saying that they would like to meet me. Ron and Cubby took me to lunch at the Tiberio in Curzon Street, and made it clear that I was being considered for doing the score for the film, since they had been impressed by the orchestration on the record. Would I, they asked, be willing to fly at their expense to Jamaica, to meet Harry Saltzmann who was on location there?
'I don't mind. I might put myself out,' I said.
They were doing all the location work at Ocho Rios, and my first meeting with Harry was straight to the point. He sat me down and said, 'Great. Like what you did. Very nice record. Like the score. Now tell me, who do you think we should get to sing it?'
That took me completely aback. After all, he was holding the Paul McCartney recording we had made. And Paul McCartney was - Paul McCartney. But he was clearly treating it as a demo disc.
'I don't follow. You've got Paul McCartney . ..,' I said.
'Yeah, yeah, that's good. But who are we going to get to sing it for the film?'
'I'm sorry. I still don't follow,' I said, feeling that maybe there was something I hadn't been told.
'You know - we've got to have a girl, haven't we? What do you think of Thelma Houston?'
'Well, she's very good,' I said. 'But I don't see that it's necessary when you've got Paul McCartney.'
Perhaps I was being a bit obtuse. The fact was that he had always thought of a girl as singing the lead song in his films, like Shirley Bassey in Goldfinger, and Lulu; and whoever it was, he wanted a recognisable voice rather than Paul's.
As gently as possible, I pointed out that, first of all, Paul was the ideal choice, even if he wasn't a black lady, and that, secondly, if Paul's recording wasn't used as the title song, it was very doubtful whether Paul would let him use the song for his film anyway. This required some degree of diplomacy, because, if I had said what I thought with any hostility, Harry would probably have taken umbrage, to say the least. He would have chucked it out and blown the whole thing with Paul. As it was, he agreed.
I hadn't done myself any harm, either, because when I got back to London I was given the job of writing the music for the picture. The director was Guy Hamilton, a very easy man to work with. Like Roy Boulting, who had directed The Family Way, he was not a musician, which is always a help. But he was always very concise in his specifications and his brief. He would tell me exactly where he wanted the music, and the kind of effect, he wanted from it.
He would say something like: 'Now in this sequence, you see, Bond's climbing the hill. He doesn't know what's over the hill. He's getting to the top of it. We're seeing him, and we see that he's being watched on a TV monitor screen by the baddie. Something's going to happen. When he gets to the top of the hill and looks down, we know what's there. Now, I want you to build up the suspense as he's going up the hill and being watched by the baddie. He gets to the top, and you see his face looking all around, and you've got to think that you're about to see some disaster area. Then, and only then, do you finally see it for yourself, and realise that there's nothing there except fields. That's what I want you to convey in the music.'
When the score was finished, he came to the recording session, and listened as I played it with the orchestra. Having listened, he asked me for only a few very minor changes. I was naturally pleased about that, and felt that it said as much for his accurate briefing as for my scoring. There were about fifty-five minutes of music in the film; 1 used Paul's song twice, once his own version in the opening, and a second time sung by Brenda Arnau.
Then came Sergeant Pepper, of which enough already.
In many ways, film music has become a part of our culture. The audience know, for instance, when a murder is about to happen, or the cavalry are on their way, or the lovers are about to kiss, because the music tells them so, and the convention is understood. Without that musical build-up, most films would seem clinically sterile. But the audience need not necessarily be aware of the music.
There was a very exciting car chase in Live and Let Die, in which another driver tries to kill Bond with a poisoned dart, but only succeeds in killing Bond's driver. The car goes out of control, with the accelerator jammed under the dead driver, and Bond is fighting to control it as it weaves in and out of the traffic. Finally he does manage to bring the car to a halt, gets out, brushes himself down, and mentions something about a close shave. The whole thing has been incredibly exciting and as he speaks the whole audience inevitably goes 'Phew!' Now I'm certain that if you had asked any member of the audience what the music was like in that sequence, he would have proved unaware that there was any music at all. But there was - and without it, and the sound-effects, most of the excitement would have been stripped from that scene.
The trouble with film music today is that so much is written, particularly with the enormous output of television, that cliches will inevitably arise and be constantly used, because there are only so many ways of doing a particular thing. When you've seen one car chase, you've seen them all, and visual cliches tend to have aural cliches as their companions.
That's not so surprising when you realise that in Los Angeles they actually have musical factories. I discovered that many years ago, when I went there with Brian Epstein. I went to look up a young songwriter named Randy Newman, who has since achieved fame but was then unknown. His publisher had sent me some of his songs; I thought they were very good indeed, and had recorded one with (--ilia Black. I knew that he was related to Alfred Newman, great film writer, and that Lionel Newman, head of at Twentieth Century-Fox, was his uncle. So I went to see Lionel, whom I knew, and he told me: 'Randy's working in the arranging and copying department. You'll find him over there.' 'Over there' was a building that was just part of the whole township of a typical Hollywood studio. The music section was a vast area like a typing-pool, with men sitting at anonymous desks writing music. At one of these was a little dark-haired chap who had glasses and a slight squint. This was Randy Newman.
We introduced ourselves, and I told him how much I liked his work. But at the same time I was wondering to myself what on earth he was doing in this place, when he had such talent. Then, glancing along the rows of desks, I spotted an English writer I knew, who had done a lot of music for Tony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. I was astonished. Of course they were earning a good living at it, but it was so tedious: exactly like a typing-pool, a musical factory production line. They would be asked to write seventeen seconds of car chase music, or forty-five and three-fifths seconds of music for moonlight romance. Sometimes they would not know what film they were writing for. But again, so many TV films were being churned out that they contained stock situations, and therefore stock lengths of music had to be written.
The click tracks I mentioned earlier were so much a part of the scene that they had a whole library of them, giving every tempo from a beat every five seconds to one every micro-second. It really was a machine process. As soon as the music was written, it was taken into the studio, where musicians were waiting to record it. Nor did they even have to record it to the picture. If the right click track had been selected, the music would fit.
The whole attitude, the whole process, explains why television music is so unexceptional - always the same kind of music, the same kind of scoring. Occasionally good tunes emerge, but with so much material being used, boredom is the rule. To be fair, I am sure that all those people, writing all those bits of music, are trying to do something different. But if you are doing it all the time, it must become harder and harder.
That is one reason why I am glad that my dream did not come true, that film music has not become my career. If I did it all the time, I don't think I would be much good at it. One picture a year is fine, but keeping to that is very difficult, because it is a kind of golden treadmill. To be accepted by the film people entails having film credits. You have to go from one success to another, and that means doing nothing but film music. John Williams is a good example. He wrote the music for Jaws, followed that with Star Wars, and followed that with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He gets offered more film work than he can possibly handle, so he does nothing else.
I consider myself lucky because, as well as writing for films, I am still able to produce records, build recording studios, write other kinds of music and even write this book (with a little help from my friend). I may even be able to take time to attempt a lifelong ambition, that of writing music for the ballet. I don't just have to write music for films; if I did, I think I would soon become bored with it, and my music, in consequence, would become very boring too.
But I would hate this to be taken as meaning that I believe all film music to be workaday. On the contrary, much of it is highly creative and inspirational. That's not to say that when I write music for films I want to write tunes that will appeal to everyone in the world. I try to write good ones, and when they don't sell a million I am not bothered.
For a start, songs sell much more easily than orchestral tunes, because the human voice projects music much more readily and finds a quicker route to people's gut feelings. There have, of course, been instrumental hits, like 'Love Is Blue', and 'A Walk in the Black Forest', but they are few, probably less than one in a hundred of the totality of hits. To write hit tunes, therefore, you have to be a songwriter, which I am not. But the fact is that writing film scores is basically writing instrumental music, and men like John Williams and Lalo Schifrin are tremendously good at that without writing any hit tunes. Nor does that lack of hit tunes prevent albums like the music from Star Wars from selling in enormous quantities.
Films use all sorts of musical sounds, but the staple diet is a symphony orchestra. Today, of course, rhythm sections, electric guitars, synthesisers and so on are also used. But ever since the transition from the piano in the pit of the silent movies to the early version of Ben Hur, through Victor Young and Dimitri Tiomkin, and up to today, the backbone of film music has come from a miniature symphony orchestra. So, base logic to the fore: if you want to write for films you have to know how to orchestrate for a symphony orchestra.
Orchestration is an enormous subject, on whose various aspects many, many books have been written. There are certain rules which, if followed, happen to work out very well. In spite of that, and in spite of all those books, many people don't follow those rules. They seldom, if ever, get away with it.
One of the easy traps, when writing for strings, is to think of the string section as being like a piano. People who do that write the cello parts as if they were the left hand, and the violas and violins as if they were the right hand. Then they bunch them all together with a gap in between, which is what happens when you play the piano. I have found that the secret of good string writing - and I claim no original thought in the matter - is to write for four parts. That may sound rather obvious, but if you can keep it down to four parts and not indulge yourself in too many harmonies, you get a much better string sound. It also helps if you balance those string parts within themselves, so that they are not too far apart. Think of the cellos, the violas, the second violins and the first violins as being like four human voices, equivalent to the bass, the tenor, the alto and the soprano, and you can't really go wrong.
The best way to learn to write for a string orchestra is to write first of all for a string quartet. Then you have to be economical. In a full orchestra, there are desks of violins, at each of which two people sit. The second person turns over the music for the first, because they only have one piece of music in front of them. Mostly they play the same notes. But sometimes what the composer does is to 'divisi' the notes. That means splitting the violins into two parts. The leader of the orchestra, and all the others sitting on the right-hand side of the desks, play the top line, and those on the left play the bottom line, so that the section as a whole plays two lines instead of one.
You can't do that with a string quartet, because there is only one person per musical line, so that writing for a string quartet teaches you real economy. It also teaches you the value of each particular instrument. The importance of that is that another easy trap into which people fall, when writing for strings, is to write too many parts. They think that they must cover every note in the harmonies. When you play the piano, you play up to ten notes at a time, simply because you have ten fingers and piano composers make use of that fact. But inexperienced people tend to write that for a string orchestra, and a combination often different notes among strings sounds horribly thick. Think of just four notes, two in each hand. Then you will write cleanly for strings, and each line you write will mean something because it will have to weave its own particular direction. Each is a single line weaving among three others. That is the way to write for strings.
Writing for brass is rather different, because trumpets like to be fairly close together. If you spread them out too much, they become a bit thin. In addition, the range among brass instruments is not as wide as that among stringed instruments. The range from the bottom note of a cello to the top note of a violin is much wider than that from the bottom note of an ordinary trombone to the top note of a trumpet. So brass writing has to be a little more compact - though much depends on how many instruments you are using, since each plays only one note at a time. Woodwind has problems and limitations similar to brass, but the important thing there is to know the texture of the instruments, of the sound they make.
When writing for an orchestra, it really does help to know what an instrument can do. That may sound obvious; after all, a textbook on orchestration will tell you that the range of an oboe starts at the B flat below middle C and nses two and a half octaves to round about G, and will supply you with similar information about every instrument in the orchestra, so that you can know, in theory, exactly what each can do. But what the textbook does not tell you is which notes sound better than others, and on which instruments. That information will only come from experience, and from knowing the instrument.
The ideal way of achieving that, of course, is by playing it. But it is just not possible for everyone to go and learn every instrument in the orchestra. Music students, however, would do well to get as much of that practical experience as possible. When I studied orchestration at the Guildhall, I took oboe as my second subject, so I learned that very thoroughly, even if my peak performances were only to be in public parks! But I also took violin for a term. That was pretty painful for anyone within earshot, but I did learn what I could do with it, what the bow could do, what the range of the fingers was.
I learned, for example, that it is quite difficult to play open fifths double-stopped on a violin, because the fingers get in each other's way. That lapse into musical jargon does not mean this is about to become a technical treatise. It merely serves to indicate the importance of knowing the capabilities of each instrument. To put it more simply, most people are familiar with a piano. Even if they know nothing about composition, they realise that it would be absurd to write a piece of music in which the thumb of the right hand had to play middle C while the little finger of the right hand played the C two octaves above - not unless they were writing for giants!
And for most people, of course, playing the piano is the closest acquaintance they ever make with a musical instrument. They simply never get the chance to learn any other. For them, the majority, the key thing should be to listen to the instruments, and try to work out which is which. If you are really interested in orchestration, do a mental analysis of what you are hearing when you listen to a record. Most people, when listening to an orchestra, let it flow over them like a homogeneous mass, a beautiful sound. They don't really care about what makes its constituent sounds.
But the serious musician who wants to orchestrate will listen to it very clinically. He will ask himself: Is that a flute I can hear there, doubling thirds on the violins? Is it the bassoon I can hear reinforcing the cellos? He may not know for sure, but he will get a good idea. If he can see the actual score, which he can when classical music is being played, he will find out for himself what is doing what, and he will learn from that. Then, he can set out expectantly towards the golden treadmill of a career in film music.
But if he wants variety, he should hope to become a record producer.