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Guerrilla Film Scoring Practical Advice from Hollywood Composers

PDF Guerrilla Film Scoring Practical Advice from Hollywood Composers Copyright © 2015 by Jeremy Borum

Book author
  1. Jeremy Borum
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As the movie and music industries have changed, film scoring has become an overwhelmingly independent process. Film composers have more responsibilities than ever before, and they must fulfill them with smaller budgets and shorter schedules. As a result, composers are increasingly becoming armies of one.

In Guerrilla Film Scoring: Practical Advice from Hollywood Composers, Jeremy Borum provides valuable guidance on how to make a good film score both quickly and inexpensively. This handbook encompasses the entire film scoring process including education, preparation, writing and recording a score, editing, mixing and mastering, finding work, career development, and sample contracts. Offering strategic tools and techniques, this insider’s guide draws on the expertise from a number of prominent composers in movies, television, and video gaming, including Stewart Copeland, Bruce Broughton, and Jack Wall.

A straightforward do-it-yourself manual, this book will help composers at all levels create the best-sounding scores quickly and cost effectively—without jeopardizing their art. With access to rare and extremely useful input from the best in the business, Guerrilla Film Scoring will benefit not only students but also professionals looking to update their game.



THERE IS A REAL need for taking a fresh look at the modern-day scoring process. From the very beginning, music has been used in movies, television, video games, and advertisements, and all the while, the film and music industries have been in a constant state of change. Because of shifts in styles and innovations in technology, scoring today is completely different from the way it was twenty or even ten years ago. The art and craft of scoring needs to be reevaluated and reexamined, since, like all forms of art, it is a living thing that grows and evolves.

In the last decade there have been major and irreversible changes in the music industry. Adaptation and rapid learning are required when industries go through radical change. Companies and individuals that can’t adapt fall away and are replaced. Those who fight to keep things the same usually lose. Composers need to adapt to this new environment and learn new skills.

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The film and music industries have both made a dramatic shift toward independent productions with smaller budgets. Indie films, labels, and game productions used to be only for beginners, but those days are now history. Independent artists are increasingly respected, artful, productive, and profitable. Despite that fact, to date there are very few books, university courses, or trade schools that focus specifically on creating high-quality professional scores on a limited budget. Limited-, low-, or no-budget scores are the norm, and a field manual of guerrilla film scoring techniques is greatly needed.

The vast majority of books and university film scoring programs focus almost exclusively on the well-funded Hollywood machine—and for good reason. It is the established and traditional method of creating commercial music for film and television. The structure of studios, unions, contractors, players, and careful division of labor is well known and well documented. Teaching a composer about that system can be likened to teaching a performer classical music. It is the foundation out of which other things arise. It is a shrinking system, however, and newer methods are replacing it.

As with all things academic and theoretical, these same books and programs talk about film scoring in idealized ways. It is almost always assumed that budgets are adequate, schedules are reasonable, resources are available, players are good, studio equipment functions as expected, and the composer is artistically fulfilled. These things rarely happen at once, and many projects provide none of them. Although a study of the Hollywood machine is interesting, it’s ultimately not very useful. A skeleton of the Hollywood music machine still exists, but the once-pervasive model now only applies to big-budget productions. In today’s industry the composer is the whole machine. Studying the Hollywood machine is like studying frictionless surfaces in physics. It is valuable as a learning tool but doesn’t apply directly to the real world.

This is a major indictment against the available learning resources. Most talk about an industry model that is increasingly obsolete, and they discuss it in theoretical terms that are impossible to apply in a direct manner. The massive transition toward independent productions and smaller budgets is quite recent, so the myriad problems and solutions have yet to be thoroughly explored or codified. Composition students are basically trained in formal combat and then sent into the music industry to do battle guerrilla-style.

A more realistic model involves independent productions, limited money, short schedules, minimal resources, malfunctioning equipment, high expectations, and artistic conflict or frustration. Budgets that are too small for comfort are the rule, and well-funded music budgets are the exception. More attention must be paid to the modern, real-life constraints of film scoring and the harsh realities of the film scoring industry at large.

The traditional division of labor in the film scoring process has eroded completely. Long ago, composers were just one part of a large music machine. They put notes on paper and attended recording sessions, with few other responsibilities. Those duties have steadily increased. Today’s film composer is responsible for each step of the music team’s process, and oftentimes a guerrilla composer is the entire team. Modern composers must have a good balance of artistry, craft, and business, wearing all hats and managing many disparate tasks single-handedly.

Guerrilla Film Scoring is the first book of its kind, a practical field manual for film scoring soldiers. It is not about the art of writing music, the Hollywood music system, or the politics and interpersonal obstacles that come naturally when working in the arts. Composers everywhere and at each level need more ways to create a great film score quickly and inexpensively. This is a book for them: The craft of guerrilla film scoring.


Throughout this volume you will find advice, techniques, shortcuts, and secrets from successful composers who are in the trenches every day. They are influential pillars of the industry within their niches. Appendix B contains bios and websites for additional information on each one. This book follows the film composing time line, dividing the process by task. As you move through each step, seasoned professionals will explain how they manage to survive, meet the demands of the modern film scoring process, and excel. This book features information not available in other sources. It is not taught systematically at any university or trade school and is not mainstream knowledge. It is not intuitive. These insider tips and tricks will reveal how today’s successful composers do it with guerrilla film scoring techniques.


Like many other revolutions in history, the changes in the film and music industries were brought about by improvements in technology. Films and music are significantly easier to produce and distribute than they were just ten years ago. It is now possible to obtain affordable, high-quality equipment, and substantial changes in content distribution models have made self-publishing simple and accessible to everyone. Lest we forget how recent these changes are, remember that Apple’s fledgling MP3 player iTunes was first introduced in 2001, and YouTube didn’t launch until 2005. The digital revolution that gave us increased ease of production and distribution is brand new, and like a tsunami it quickly changed everything.

As a result, the number of films produced each year has skyrocketed. Between 1940 and 2000, the number of film productions roughly doubled. By 2010, only ten years later, that number had doubled yet again. Since then the rate of production has continued to accelerate. During the same time, however, the number of films made by major studios has been in decline. The industry is clearly in a state of flux, but despite its growing pains there are far more opportunities for film composers than ever before.

Music production has changed in a similar way. Studio equipment is consistently getting better and cheaper, and computers are ever more powerful. This paves the way for project studios to spring up everywhere, and it now takes only a minimal investment in equipment to get good recordings from a home studio. The number of independent bands, labels, and album releases has climbed sharply, as has the number of people doing guerrilla film scoring.

Media delivery methods are changing rapidly as well, and as new formats grow up, old ones die. As CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays wane in popularity, streaming and download formats are coming into favor. The older formats were dependent on a physical product, and the cost of a physical product was always prohibitive to smaller artists and productions. Since digital distribution is essentially free and unlimited, product scarcity no longer exists. The entire approach to distribution and delivery has changed. All artists and products are not equally visible, but they are now equally accessible.
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