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10 Music Documentaries to Binge-Watch on a Free Weekend

10 Music Documentaries to Binge-Watch on a Free Weekend

Many films have been made about music and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of those who produce it. Here we list, in no particular order, some of the best and most successful music documentaries to hit the screen, both big and small, over the last five decades. So pick a weekend, get some snacks and beer, lie on the couch and start streaming!

Please use the comments box to add to the list and tell us about your own personal favourites.

It Might Get Loud (2008)

White Stripes’ Jack White meets U2’s The Edge meets Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page in this American documentary by Davis Guggenheim.Sitting around in comfy chairs, these three exulted Guitar Gods chat about their techniques, influences and humble beginnings with interviews, live appearances and found footage from their early careers up to the present day.

At one point, each guitarist teaches the other two how to play one of their band’s tunes. I Will Follow (U2), Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground (White Stripes), and In My Time of Dying (Led Zep) being the three chosen tracks.

The film boasts some classic moments for hardcore axe fiends. Jack White making a guitar in real time from a piece of wood, some wire and a broken bottle. Jimmy Page gurning away with a huge grin while listening to Link Wray’s Rumble. And The Edge plugging in his favourite axe as he warns the camera crew, “it might get loud.”
In the US, The film received a wide release by Sony Picture Classics on August 14, 2009.

Amy (2015)

Featuring lots of found footage alongside interviews and concert film, Amy is the tale of a private, often shy girl with a huge talent and addictive nature that ultimately led to her demise. The film depicts Winehouse’s struggle with substance abuse and the effect of its profound grip on her decisions. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are a lot of scenes dedicated to the celebration of her career and music including a number of previously unheard tracks and unseen performances.

To date the film has received 33 nominations and has won a total of 30 film awards, including for Best European Documentary at the 28th European Film Awards. Best Documentary at the 69th British Academy Film Awards, Best Music Film at the 58th Grammy Awards, the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards and for Best Documentary at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards. The success of the film and the music from soundtrack also led Winehouse her second posthumous nomination at the 2016 BRIT Awards for “British Female Solo Artist”.

The Wrecking Crew (2008)

The Monkees, The Beach Boys, Phil Spectre’s Wall of Sound. This film is where you learn (if you weren’t already aware) that most of your favourite tunes of the 1960’s were not played by the credited musicians. In fact most of these famous songs were performed in the studio by a group of expert session musicians who became known as The Wrecking Crew.

Your jaw will drop as one after another, the surviving members list off their sessions. Good Vibrations, Wichita Lineman, California Dreaming, Mr. Tambourine Man, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to name but a few.

And why? Because The Wrecking Crew’s ranks include a variety of guitarists, drummers, pianists and orchestral players whose combined musicianship is beyond compare. So why spend all afternoon trying to get a take from a young, fledgling guitarist or a drummer who can’t play in time? Draft in expert session players like The Wrecking Crew and get your song finished in one take!

 

Sound City (2013)

Produced and directed by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighter’s frontman Dave Grohl, this film documents the story of Sound City, a recording studio tucked away in the San Fernando Valley amidst rows of dilapidated warehouses and disused buildings.

The little-known recording studio housed an analogue 28 channel 8028 Neve mixing console and had a reputation for drums, giving the studio recordings a particularly punchy sound. Artists such as Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Rage Against The Machine and Slipknot all recorded ground breaking music at the studio. The film tells the story of Sound City from its very early days in the late sixties to its closure in 2011.

Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

A beautifully warm film by Wim Wenders documenting Ry Cooder’s ambitious undertaking to reunite a group of legendary Cuban musicians to record an album and perform three concerts. Two in Amsterdam and one in New York. The film includes interviews with each of the main performers. About their early lives in Cuba, their careers in music and the relative obscurity that followed.
There are also some wonderful scenes of the musicians (many in their 70’s and 80’s at the time of recording) traveling abroad, some for the very first time.

The film spawned a hit album of the same name which includes songs by the likes of Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochoa, Compay Segundo and Omara Portuondo.

 

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972)

It doesn’t get much more proggy than Floyd’s 1972 film which centres around footage of them performing in an ancient Roman Amphitheatre in Pompeii, Italy. Filmed over four days, the Floyd are playing a typical live set, but there is no audience, somehow giving the film an other worldly feel, intensified by their hot and sweaty semi naked daytime performances. For gearheads it’s a great opportunity to ogle at their stacks of amps and speakers, miles of cables and classic guitars, drums and organs all being thrashed by the band to powerful effect.

Filming was dogged by technical issues. The power supply in the amphitheatre was insufficient to run the masses of equipment. So in the end a lengthy cable was fed from the local town hall to supply electricity.

With the power supply restored, the Floyd play versions of Echoes, A Saucerful of Secrets and One Of These Days mixed with interviews, rehearsals and, in later versions of the film, studio footage from the Abbey Road sessions for Dark Side Of The Moon.

 

Classic Albums (various)

We cannot list music documentaries without a mention for the greatest music documentary series of them all, Classic Albums. The TV series made by Isis Productions and distributed by Eagle Rock Entertainment.

The format of the show is as follows. The music, and its production, is dissected by the musicians and/or producer, playing the multitrack recordings and singling out the separate recording tracks on the mixing desk. Then the individual musicians play back pieces, which are blended with the original recording. Almost all songs on the albums are meticulously examined, focusing almost entirely on the music itself, its inspiration, composition and realisation.

Each programme highlights the emotional process involved in making music. The highs, the lows, the addictions, the obsessions. Everything is laid bare and examined in minute detail. A truly great series for all musicians interested in the process behind making music.

Classic Albums include recordings by Elton John, Steely Dan, Motorhead, The Sex Pistols, Pink Floyd, The Who, Lou Reed, Iron Maiden, Nirvana, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and many more.

Cracked Actor (1974)

This 53 minute BBC documentary film depicts a post-Ziggy Bowie, emancipated and becoming addled by drug use, but remaining in control, hugely charismatic and beautifully fragile as he tours 70’s America. Languishing on the back seat of a huge limo, being hustled in and out of hotel rooms, appearing on countless TV and radio shows as the US tries to come to terms with this strange pale alien and his alluring, captivating musical paeans to the American psyche.

Drinking from a milk carton in the back of a Limo as they speed through the desert, The Thin White Duke is asked how he’s picked up on so many of the themes and culture of America during his stay. Bowie replies, “there’s a fly in my milk, a foreign body. And he’s getting a lot of milk. That’s kind of how I feel.”

The film includes concert footage from the ambitiously staged Diamond Dogs tour mainly filmed at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on September 2nd 1974.

Although not widely available (it still remains officially unreleased), this film is worth tracking down for all Station to Station/Young Americans period Bowie fans.

Searching For Sugar Man (2012)

This is the incredible story of Sixto Rodriguez, a little known singer/songwriter who had gained almost mythical status in South Africa despite remaining entirely unknown in his native USA.
The film details the efforts of two Cape Town fans in the late 1990s, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, who set out to discover whether the rumours of his suicide were true, or if not, what had become of the singer.

The film takes many fascinating twists and turns as the super-fans uncover more and more surprising details about the singer’s life.

What’s not surprising is that the film won both a BAFTA and an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature of 2013.

Tragically the writer, Malik Bendjelloul committed suicide in 2014.

Some Kind of Monster (2004)

All is not well in the Metallica camp. Their long term bassist Jason Newsted has quit the band and frontman James Hetfield is on the verge of a breakdown. His unwieldy ego and dark mood swings are over riding the band’s efforts to record a new album. Enter Phil Towe, a therapist and psychoanalyst drafted in by the management company (at $40,000 a month) in an attempt to reconcile the band’s differences. But things go from bad to worse and Hetfield checks in to a rehab centre to tackle his depression and alcoholism head on, delaying the recording of the album by around 18 months.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of Metallica’s music, this film is highly recommended for its candid insight into the turbulent roller coaster lifestyle of a mega rich rock group. Including a recruitment scene where new Bassist Robert Trujillo is welcomed into the band with a cheque for a million dollars!

And here’s a list of 5 more music documentary films you must binge-watch on your next free weekend…

 

  • Woodstock (1970)
  • Festival Express (2003)
  • Kurt Cobaine: Montage Of Heck (2015)
  • Dig! (2004)
  • Joy Division (2006)
10 Unforgettable Electronic Movie Soundtracks

10 Unforgettable Electronic Movie Soundtracks

Most Hollywood films use orchestral arrangements in their
scores to engage the audience and help express a wide range of emotions. But synthesisers and computer based music can offer an entirely new experience and enhance the
film in many unpredictable ways. So here’s a list of 10 great movies with 10
great electronic music scores to add to your ultimate movie soundtrack
playlist.

10. Run Lola Run (1998)

Lola’s boyfriend is in big trouble and the only way she can save his life is by
running, sprinting and jogging across Berlin in pursuit of a huge stash of
cash. The accompanying soundtrack drive’s the action forward with a wide range
of acid beats, spikey synths and squelchy basslines. The Techno soundtrack was
composed by the film’s director, Tom Tykwer. With more than a little help from
Johnny Klimek and ’99 Red Balloons’ producer, 
Rinehold Heil.

9. The Social Network (2010)

The story of Mark Zuckerberg’s rocky road to success as head honcho at Facebook
is underscored by music from Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor.
The beautifully dark, post industrial electronica earned Reznor and Ross an
Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack of 2010.

8. Beverley Hills Cop (1984)

Harold Faltermeyer’s indelible synth melody is as 80’s as a Rubik’s Cube,
although far easier to play.
It chattered away behind Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley as he attempts to track down
the killer of his childhood pal, Mikey Tandino. The soundtrack to this comedy
cop thriller opened the gates for a slew of music scores featuring contemporary
80’s instruments like the Yamaha DX7 and Roland Jupiter 8. All driven along by
the robotic rhythms of classic Linn drum machine.

7. Forbidden Planet (1956)

The score for this science fiction epic was so experimental that MGM prohibited
use of the term ‘music’ in the credits. Instead Bebe and Louis Barron’s ring
modulated warblings were referred to as ‘electronic tonalities’. As neither of
the avant-garde experimentalists were members of the Musician’s Union, this
term avoided any union payments for the studio. But it also meant that this
innovative soundtrack could never be nominated for an Academy Award. However, Forbidden
Planet’s soundtrack is a rare gem and still perhaps the most unique sci-fi score
ever produced.

6. Chariots of Fire (1981)

As Hitchcock once said. “If music and picture are doing the same thing, one of
them is being wasted.”

Perhaps that explains the success of Chariots of Fire’s synth heavy electronic
score. The melancholic melody line of the main theme is the polar opposite of
the extreme excursion felt by the athletes on screen. Yet it somehow works
perfectly with the visuals. Helped by the use of slow motion to stretch out the
agony just a little further!

 Of course, there were no synthesisers
around in 1924. So it was a bold decision to use electronic pioneer Vangelis as
the film’s composer. But it paid off big time, winning the film an Oscar for
Best Original Score of 1981.

5. Midnight Express (1978)

Before ‘Shawshank’, before ‘The Green Mile’, even before ‘Caged Heat’, there
was a prison movie to beat all prison movies called ‘Midnight Express’. The
harrowing story of Billy Hayes. An American student who attempted to smuggle
2kg of hashish out of Turkey and ended up spending 5 long years incarcerated in
a Turkish prison-from-Hell.

The film’s director Alan Parker recruited Italian disco
producer Giorgio Moroder to compose something along the lines of his recent
smash hit with Donna Summer, I Feel Love. The result is a dark, incessant
arpeggiated score that coils and slithers its way through the film like an
angry snake. The Chase theme became a disco hit in its own right and earnt
Moroder an Academy Award for Best Original Score of 1979.

4. Gone Girl (2014)

The music to this psychological thriller was the third collaboration between
director, David Fincher and composers, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor  (the previous two being ‘The Girl With The
Dragon Tatoo’ and the afore mentioned ‘The Social Network’).

Filcher’s vision for the music was to recreate an emotion he had felt after
hearing muzak played at a recent chiropractor session. He described what he
heard as ‘inauthentic’. A soothing, reassuring soundscape that in fact had quite
the opposite effect. Leaving him feeling anxious and ill at ease.
The result was a soundtrack that included washes of beautiful tones and colours
indispersed with spikey incongruous electronic noises and discordant notes. Unsettling
to say the least, and another triumph for the pioneering composing team of Ross
and Reznor.

3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Although not wholly electronic, the score for A Clockwork Orange must get a
mention because of its hugely influential role in the history of movie scores. Recorded
in real time (there were no sequencers back then) on a bank of modular Moog
synthesisers, these haunting renditions of well known classical pieces took on
a maniacal life of their own as they resonated in the disturbed mind of
protagonist Alex DeLarge, head of the Droogs played by Malcolm McDowell.

Composer Walter Carlos (who later became Wendy Carlos) came to the attention of
the film’s director Stanley Kubrick after releasing an album of speeded up
electronic chamber music called Switched On Bach in 1968. After contributing to
the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, Carlos went on to record the score for the
Disney film Tron in 1982.

2. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

There couldn’t be a list of electronic music score composers without mentioning
the master of them all, John Carpenter. His mid 70’s film soundtracks
terraformed the entire film music landscape and were a huge influence, not only
on movie soundtracks, but other genres too, like Synth Pop, the New Romantics
and Post Punk.

As a director, he’s quoted as saying that the only reason he composed for his
own films is because he was fast and cheap. But the reality is way beyond that.
His stark synth driven instrumentals locked with the visuals in a unique
tensile alliance. A bond that became so strong that you couldn’t imagine one
without the other.

Christine, The Fog, Escape From New York, Halloween. Any one of these films
could have appeared on the list. But ‘Assault’s insidious five note bassline
has a way of getting inside your psyche. And just like the Street Thunder Gang.
Once it’s broken in, it’s difficult to shift.

1. Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi epic was by no means as successful on release as
it has become since. It under performed in the US with critics calling it
‘plodding’ and lacking in pace. However, it has since become a cult classic and
is was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and heralded as
being ‘culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.’ It is now
regarded by critics (probably the same critics that earlier panned it) as being
one of the best science fiction films ever made.

A large part of the success of Blade Runner can be attributed to its
soundtrack. A glorious sweeping synthesised wash created and composed by Greek
composer Evangelos Odysseas
Papathanassiou. Better known to fans as Vangelis.

Vangelis began his career as a working musician in a covers band, moving on to
become a member of the prog rock outfit Aphrodite’s Child. As side
projects he began composing film scores, later setting up a studio in London
dedicated to his solo album work and a steady stream of movie soundtracks. This
brought him to the attention of high profile film directors and in particular,
David Puttman and Hugh Hudson who were making a film called Chariots of Fire.
An Academy Award followed and the following year he collaborated with Ridley
Scott on the music for Blade Runner.

The score is noted for capturing the isolation felt by replicant Rick Deckard
(played by Harrison Ford) as he scours the dystopian landscape in search of Roy
Batty (Rutger Hauer). A replicant who has escaped to Earth in an attempt to
extend his life cycle and elude his ultimate fate of being ‘retired’.

After the release of the film, a disagreement led to Vangelis withholding permission
for his performance of the music being released. The studio instead hired a
group of musicians dubbed The New American Orchestra to record the official
album release. It took 12 years before the disagreement was resolved. The
composer’s own work was released in 1994.

As with all the movies on the list, it’s important that a composer has an
affinity with the narrative and subject matter of the film. Vangelis’s love of
sci-fi is evident in his score for Blade Runner. He is quoted as saying,
“mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have
fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow
with the music I write.”
His Blade Runner soundtrack is still seen by many to be one of his greatest
works.

Other films with electronic soundtracks include:

Drive (2011)
Escape From New York (1981)
Dredd (2012)
The Birds (1963)
Friday The 13th (1980)
Christine (1983)
PI (1998)
Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Sorcerer (1977)

Do you have any favourite Electronic film scores? Use the “Comments” field to discuss. Thanks!

The Cost of Music – A Filmmaker’s Guide to Cutting Costs on Soundtracks & Scores

The Cost of Music – A Filmmaker’s Guide to Cutting Costs on Soundtracks & Scores

Professional and semi pro filmmakers are aware of the huge impact a great music score can make on their production. But the temptation is to cut costs on music so that more of the budget can be invested in the costly visual & post production side of film making.

 

So how do you trim your music budget without compromising the quality of the score?

Here we offer some tips and tricks on the best way to reduce costs while making sure that your score has the maximum impact on your audience.

Hiring a Composer

There are a number of different ways to add music to a film production. The director could hire a composer & liaise with him or her on every aspect of the score. Together they could spot the various scenes that require added emotional impact & discuss the hiring of an orchestra & specialist musicians to add reality and depth to the music. But all this freedom and flexibility comes at a cost. For a feature length documentary a professional composer’s fee could be up to $30,000 (Danny Elfman costs a little more!) and hiring an orchestra can be a drain on money and time, with sessions adding two or three weeks to recordings and in some cases doubling the allocated budget. However, for some directors a ‘gun-for-hire’ composer may be a necessary expense. This way they can ensure that they will receive personal input on their score, and be able to liaise with the composer if things don’t sound exactly how they’d imagined.

So hiring a composer is flexible & can add a unique quality to the production. But there are also many other options to consider.

Using Published Music

In terms of cost, placing published commercial music in your film is undoubtedly the most expensive solution. Permission needs to be granted by the songwriter (through the publisher) as well as the performer (through the record label). Hiring a rights lawyer to clear permission is only part of the expense. Both publisher and record label will have entirely separate agendas that will conspire to maximise income from their release. And the more a director sets his sights on a particular song, the more expensive they will make it to grant permission.

If a film includes published music without clearing it first, there may be penalties later. The more successful a film becomes, the more costly the penalties are once the clearance problem has been identified, with fees being based on the amount of screenings at film festivals, theatres and on video sharing sites.

There is also the issue of content. Many publishers will refuse clearance due to the religious, sexual or violent nature of the film’s content. Without knowing this, negotiations may have already begun and with a music lawyer on an hourly rate it’s easy to see how clearance issues can soon send the budget spiralling out of control.

Unless there’s no option, it’s sensible for directors to steer clear of published commercial releases in their score.

Using Stock Music

Stock music (AKA library music or production cues) may not be the most flexible way to score a film, but it’s certainly one of the most cost effective. Contemporary stock music is often tailor made for such projects, whereby a central musical theme will have been edited into suitable durations and incidental underscores so that the filmmaker can choose an off-the-shelf solution that is effective and compelling.

Many of today’s stock music producers are themselves film & TV composers which means they have the necessary experience and resources to turn out lush, intricate cues that predict many of the key emotional states expressed in the narrative arc of a typical high end feature film.

Adventure, melodrama, comedy, documentary. Most styles are catered for and often the only drawback is the amount of choice facing a director when he begins his search.

To get the best music filmmakers will need to visit the best and most reputable sites and libraries.

And the better the catalogue, the more expensive the music becomes. However that’s generally a sign of good quality. And whatever the cost, it will be a fraction of the fee for a composer.

And stock music also comes with one huge advantage. If purchased from a reputable site or catalogue, the cost incurred will also include an extensive license. This could include worldwide usage and limitless reproduction in perpetuity. So the director is able to curb costs on music supervisors, lawyers, composers, orchestras and musicians as well as instantly gaining access to all the paperwork required for music rights, copyright and distribution. All this will be included in the license. Saving them time, money and lots of future headaches when the film is distributed worldwide.

On the downside, the score won’t be exclusive. Other filmmakers can access the same music. But if it locks in perfectly with the narrative of a film, then however many other people use it, it will never sound exactly the same. Because of the unique combination of the music, visuals & narrative storyline of each particular project.

If you do decide to use stock music / production music, you could do a lot worse than starting right here at Shockwave-Sound.

The Final Cost

So, is stock music the most effective option for the pro and semi-pro filmmaker?

From the three options above the answer would be yes. However to score a feature length film or documentary with original stock music may require up to two hours of cues, which could end up being expensive. Thankfully, many catalogues release collections with many tracks of similar themes or a complete narrative arc. This greatly reduces the cost of buying each track individually.

As for quality vs. price, it’s worth considering that very few scores are made up of tracks that have been downloaded for $0.99!

Other Options

Public domain music is music with lapsed copyright. Some very interesting music has entered the public domain, particularly from the 1920’s and 30’s and it’s a good resource for eclectic and unusual recordings that may spark the imagination. Blues, swing, ragtime and a lot of contemporary music that is out of copyright. It’s worth spending time listening to what’s out there.

However, it’s sometimes unclear as to whether the performance rights are in the public domain as well as the rights to the composition. If one or other remains under copyright, it will present unforeseen problems if a director is set on using a specific recording of the music.

What they do in Hollywood


Director John Carpenter composed the score for many of his own films

Sometimes directors choose to score the film themselves. Legendary Hollywood director John Carpenter has provided the score for sixteen of his major motion pictures including Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. David Lynch is also a director who often performs and is deeply involved in the musical scores of his own feature films such as Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

Such is the importance of dramatic scores that directors will go to great lengths to get the music they want. Quentin Tarrentino wanted so much to have Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Stuck in the Middle’ for the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs that he fired the music supervisor when they couldn’t license the track. He then employed a music supervisor who got him the rights to the song and the famous scene was brought to life.

Some films employ a device called diegetic sound, where the score is made up of the naturally occurring sounds in the scene. A radio playing, a jukebox, a live band. All adding to a much more naturalistic approach rather than the more self-conscience written score.

Some scores go even further than that. The Coen Brothers’ film, No Country For Old Men had very little recognisable music at all. The score consisting of occasional tones & frequencies that were so in tune with the scene as to be unrecognisable as actual music. Often more like feedback or processed versions of the natural ambiences already present in the scene.

Martin Scorsese uses end to end published commercial music for his movie scores. Often a heady mix of Doo Wop, Phil Spectre, Motown and his favourite band, The Rolling Stones. Although recent films have unearthed buried gems like ‘Wheel of Fortune’ by Kay Star & ‘Cry’ by Johnny Ray from Shutter Island. ‘Bang Bang’ by Jo Cuba and ‘Dust My Broom’ by Elmore James from Wolf on Wall Street. As a music curator, Scorsese is creatively fearless and his hugely popular films of course have a massive budget set aside for licence fees.

All of these directors have a unique way of scoring. And it’s useful to study each director’s approach as well as the different techniques they employ to score each of their movies.

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island score features many obscure gems

A few more ideas

There are other options available for scoring a film or compiling a soundtrack. Filmmakers often turn to family, friends or colleagues when it comes to music production.

Unsigned bands are also a consideration. Although experience and reliability are often not their strong points.

Perhaps the most exciting score may be a combination of many of the above suggestions. One or two bespoke cues from a hired composer, alongside a number of licensed themes from Stock Music catalogues. And then some eclectic choices from public domain or unsigned bands to add some unusual and unique qualities to the production.

Whatever you decide, hopefully some of these ideas will help create an exciting and innovative score for your next creative film project.

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/
Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 1

Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 1

by Simon Power

If you are a filmmaker or production house looking for a recognizable hook or sound bed for a visual presentation, then classical music can be a tremendous asset. The Classics can be used to add weight and depth to your project, instantly giving it a classy air of sincerity. Or they can be included with a sprinkling of irony to add humor, gaiety and wit.

What’s more, a huge percentage of the public recognize many of the popular pieces instantly, as they have been used countless times on films, sporting events, TV shows and commercials. So that gives you an instant shortcut to a wide pallet of emotions and shared consciousness with your audience.

So that’s great, isn’t it?

Well, yes, but there remains a huge problem with classical music: Much of it is just plain inaccessible. Sure, you can recognize a piece of classical music, you can probably hum the first few lines. But when it comes to searching for the actual piece, you’re met with a frustrating & bewildering puzzle to unravel.

The first problem will be the title. Unlike popular music, the title will not always be representative of the emotion or imagery you get when listening to it. You may be looking for a piece that puts you in mind of a ‘Beautiful Sunrise’. But the piece turns out to be called ‘Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Minor BWV 1007 Prelude’.

Same with the composer. Not content with two names, most of them have three or four. And a few of those will be almost willfully unpronounceable. Of course, I’m being flippant, but you get the picture? Unless you’re classically trained you will find it awfully hard to get what you want when searching for classical music for your project.

So how can I find what I’m looking for?

Well, hopefully, these articles will help by offering a beacon of light to producers who are keen to explore the rich and diverse world of the classics. Each part will name & describe 10 popular classics with a particular theme. Many of the examples mentioned are out of copyright public domain pieces that are available for download at shockwave-sound.

So let’s kick off with some real biggies to get the ball rolling…

Part one: Bombastic Classic Anthems

Here’s a list of 10 rousing classical anthems. Uses could include war-like themes, colossal shows or cataclysmic events. They’re showy, impressive and somewhat grandiose pieces that take full advantage of the huge might of an entire orchestra.

10. Finlandia Op.26 No. 7 – Sibelius

Dark, impressive brassy chords full of impending doom from this Finnish composer who produced loads of good Wagnerian sounding stuff in the early 20th Century.

9. A Night on Bare Mountain – Mussorgsky

A track for the masterwork Pictures at an Exhibition, this frenzied, nightmarish romp sounds like someone left the gates of Hell open wide and the screaming banshees of Hades have just flown through.

8. Symphony No. 9 in D Minor Op. 125 Molto Vivace – Beethoven

A change of gear, but no less impressive, this is a joyous, extravagant string symphony filled with all the pomp & ceremony of a huge event or happening.

7. Gayaneh Suite No. 3: The Sabre Dance – Aram Khachaturian

Kyachaturian was a Russian composer which figures when you hear this Arminian workout complete with driving rhythm and loud, incessant woodwind and brass.
Archetypal Russian folk music played at break neck speed.

6. Toccata & Fugue in D Minor – Bach

its Judgment Day and Bach’s Fugue makes it sound like the entire majesty & weight of religion is crashing down around your ears. This is full on fire and brimstone and what’s more it has a MASSIVE organ!

5. Mars (The Planets) – Holst

Cheltenham born Holst was most famous for his orchestral suite, The Planets. A blinding collection of tunes that run the full gamut of human emotion. Mars makes it to this list for being arguably the most bombastic track with its Morse Code-like pulsing bass and apocalyptic lead lines. Its influence on modern film music is incalculable.

4. 1810 Overture – Tchaikovsky

Boy, these Russian composers like it big and the 1810 Overture is no exception. With its huge orchestration, bells and clashing cymbals, its sheer big-ness knows no bounds. And what’s more, any piece that includes the sounds of canon’s firing makes it into this list, so here it is at number 4.

Apocalypse Now used Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”

3. Ride of the Valkyries – Wagner

Wagner is so cool, he even has his own expression named after him. ‘Wagnerian’ means big, powerful, domineering, full of drama and emotional intensity. And that about sums up ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, now famous of course for its inclusion in the chopper sequence in ‘Apocalypse Now’, this is a masterpiece of bombastic classical music from Mr. Hitler’s favourite composer.

2. Romeo & Juliet Op.64 Act 1: Dance of the Knights – Prokofiev

Recently highjacked for the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’, Dance of the Knights is a behemoth of classical music with orchestration that crashes in like the approaching footfalls of some giant monster. It lollops around with surprising grace before ending with some huge chords that are enough to induce feverish applause from any mortal human being on the planet.

1. Carmina Burana Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: No. 1 O Fortuna – Orff

Carmina Burana is a collection of 24 poems set to music by Carl Orff in 1936. The poems are from dramatic texts from the 11th, 12th and 13th Century that reflect the birth of an international European movement. Though you wouldn’t know that to listen to them as they were all written in Latin and a couple of other dead languages.

But no one really listens to the words of ‘O Fortuna’ (the intro to Carmina Burana.) You just get swept away by the power and majesty of the awesome music. The huge choirs, the incessant rhythms, the dark thunderous orchestration. Yep, in a list that’s all about high and mighty classical tunes, ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana is number one, because, in all truth, there’s no other place for it.

OK, so as always with charts there are lots and lots of choices that didn’t make it into the final list. And this is by no means meant to be a definitive countdown of bombastic classical tunes. In fact, there’re in no specific order and, after reading it, you can probably think of a hundred omissions and one’s that got away, or trampled in the stampede.

So at least let me give you these. Five more tunes that were considered for the list, but didn’t quite make the final 10.

  • Brandenburg Concerto – Bach
  • Radetzky March – Strauss
  • The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – Handel
  • Entry of the Gladiators Op.68 – Fucik
  • Symphony No. 40 in G Minor – Mozart

Who knows, maybe this list will lead you on to finding some less well known pieces by these awesome composers. Either way, I hope it will help with your decisions when choosing some rousing classical music for your film, documentary or presentation.

Royalty Free Classical Music can be searched and licensed at Shockwave-Sound.com

This article continues in: Choosing the right Classical music (Part 2)

Artist feature: Adam Skorupa

Artist feature: Adam Skorupa

Adam Skorupa originally became a Shockwave-Sound.com music composer / contributor because he happened to be a friend and musical collaborator of Shockwave-Sound founder and creator Bjorn Lynne. Ever since our beginning back in April of 2000, Adam’s music has been available for licensing here, and we felt it was about time we pestered him with some questions about music, life, royalty-free music licensing and what ever else comes up…

Click here to listen to some of Adam’s music while you’re reading this interview:

Adam, you’ve been a part of Shockwave-Sound.com ever since the beginning, back in 2000. Was that the first time you were ever involved with any stock music / royalty-free music licensing, and that way of making your music available for use by media producers?

Is it 12 years already? How the time flies. Indeed, Shockwave-Sound.com was the first site, where I’ve had an opportunity to share my work, and after all this time I can state with utmost certainty, that it’s the best site I’ve ever had the chance to collaborate with!

Thank you for the compliment! 🙂 Do you generally write tracks especially with the meaning of placing the tracks in the Shockwave-Sound.com stock music library, or do you tend to write tracks for specific projects, and then place the tracks in the stock music library afterwards?

The vast majority of the tracks I’ve placed in your stock music library were composed with this purpose in mind. When ever I’m not working on any commercial projects, and I feel like composing something, I tend to visualize various images which I’ve always wanted to illustrate with sound, but never had an opportunity to. The resulting compositions, in my opinion, are well suited for use in commercial ads for cars, leading edge audio equipment, as well as social networks, community activities or war reports. When they’re being placed in your library, I discreetly hope that your customers might use those tracks in the same context, as the one they were composed in.

Sometimes (but very rarely) I also upload tracks that were originally composed with a particular commercial product in mind, but which in the end, for a variety of reasons, ended up not being used for that project. It would be a great shame to stash them away, because I believe them to be good compositions, which might turn out perfect for utterly different projects (most artists hate stashing away their work).

You are a prolific composer and producer in many different genres and styles (one of my all-time favorite tracks, from any artist, at any time, is the deep techno-trance Hypnosphere). Is there a particular genre of music that you most enjoy working with? Or that you feel you do your best work?

I love challenges, and therefore I often test my skills with yet unfamiliar musical genres. It’s such a great feeling to be able to say about the resultant track, that “it’s not my style… and I quite like it”. Such versatility is obviously also quite desired, when one wants to become a professional, making their living only through composing music. Countless times I was in such a situation, that one day I needed to compose a hard rock piece, and the next day the same customer asked me to prepare for example a children’s lullaby, and then upon completing it, I had to start working for example on a club trance track.

In reply to your question about which genre I most enjoy working with, it’s most certainly film scores. It’s a special genre, which includes almost everything that I love most. First and foremost: orchestral sound, which is the best medium to relay feelings. On the other hand, film score arrangements always leave the composer with complete freedom. The entire rhythm section may be electronic or rock, or even, for that matter, ethnic. It’s a great genre, which enables me to combine all the styles that fascinate me the most at a given moment in time.

Have you ever come across your music by surprise in a game, TV broadcast or other media? Perhaps some case where a client had licensed your music from Shockwave-Sound.com and used it in their project… which you happened to come across and hear your own music by surprise?

Yes, it happened a couple of times actually. I have heard my music in game trailers, television commercials, shopping centers, and even iPhone games. Every time it happened, it made a mind-blowing impression. I felt proud, that someone wanted to use my music for their project, because for me this was proof, that someone truly liked it!

Besides obviously handling samplers, synths and keyboards with great skill, do you ever record live performed instruments in your compositions? If so, which instruments and who are the performers?

Recently I had a chance to record with a 150-piece live ensemble (full orchestra and double choir). See how it sounds:

Real live orchestral performance of Adam’s music for “The Witcher 2”

There are times, when I work with smaller orchestra ensembles (mainly strings). I also record vocals (despite the fact, that I do not compose songs, I often need some forms of vocal expression in my work). I also quite frequently collaborate with my friend, Olek Grochocki, who’s an absolute master of the guitar, and is able to play any genre to my heart’s desire.

Let’s do a different twist on the “5 island albums” where you would normally tell us the 5 CD’s you’d take with you to a desert island… Let’s instead do it with music production hardware and software. If you could take only 5 items of music production tools… hardware or software… which 5 would you bring?

  • A PC

  • Cakewalk Sonar (I need something to record with)

  • A keyboard (any keyboard with a MIDI connector would do)

  • Symphobia (to be able to produce orchestral sounds)

  • WinRar (in order for my compositions to fit into bottles, which I would then throw into the sea).

Your best-selling track here at Shockwave-Sound.com over the past year is this track, Familiarize. Do you have any explanation or thoughts about why people seem to go for that track and want to use it in their media projects?

Perhaps simply because it’s good? 🙂 But seriously, I think this track is so popular, because it’s so uniquely universal. It may be received as very affirmative (bringing hope, showing the good aspects of life to date), as well as sad (nostalgic, melancholic). Its arrangement is quite modern, which enables it to be used for example in leading edge hardware or revolutionary technology presentations. In general, this track may simply be associated with everything you can imagine. I would also hereby like to ask those, who have used this track in their productions, to send me a link via e-mail. I’m dying of curiosity, wondering how it was used in practice!

How come you ended up as a composer/producer, and not something completely different like a plumber or a fireman, or anything else? What brought you to a career in music and making a livelihood as a composer? That is a dream for many, but few, very few, ever manage to realize it. Did you always plan on being a composer/producer?

I was simply very lucky, and ended up in the right place, at the right time. I almost became an electronics engineer, because that’s what my education was leading to. Fortunately, I came across the right people, who saw some potential in me, and supported me when I made my first steps into composing music. 🙂

I know that you also compose a lot of bespoke music, in other words, compose music especially for unique / individual projects, such as short films, TV commercials and video games. Can you name some of the most interesting projects you have worked on; where we may hear your music?

I’m probably most recognizable thanks to my work on the soundtrack of “The Witcher” and “The Witcher 2” games. If you’d like to, please have a look at the latest trailer, which includes my compositions as well: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwUAv-SSZqw. I would also like to recommend a very emotional short animated feature, called “The Kinematograph”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwYToSP8V8o. It made me very proud to be able to participate in the development of a film devoted to international promotion of Poland and its culture. I was honored with a chance to compose a track for an 8-minute animated clip depicting the history of Poland: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qr6Q0BpmyG0. I am also the author of music used in a clip that was made to promote the beginning of Polish presidency in the European Parliament: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YYHekN7qco&feature=fvsr.

If anybody reading this would be interested in hiring your services to compose and produce new music especially for them, would you be interested in taking such jobs?

Most certainly. If you’re reading this interview, and you believe that my work fits your requirements, do not hesitate to contact me via Shockwave-Sound.com

 We thank Adam for his time and his insights.. but most of all for his great music!

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