The sound of music

Amanda Falkenberg and Paul Hopkins, of Music HF studios, compose and record orchestral scores for film and TV.
Paul Hopkins and Amanda Falkenberg, founders of Music HF studios.
Paul Hopkins and Amanda Falkenberg, founders of Music HF studios.
Music HF uses a range of hardware and software to create classical compositions.
Music HF uses a range of hardware and software to create classical compositions.
Music HF uses a range of hardware and software to create classical compositions.
Music HF uses a range of hardware and software to create classical compositions.
Music HF uses a range of hardware and software to create classical compositions.
Music HF uses a range of hardware and software to create classical compositions.

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Amanda Falkenberg and Paul Hopkins, founders of Music HF studios, compose and record orchestral scores for film and TV. Digital Studio chatted with them about cross continent collaboration and found out how well one can replace session musicians with software.

How did you both come to be working in the Middle East?

Amanda Falkenberg: We set up the company in Dubai after meeting on an International film composing course in Seattle in 2004. We then joined forces and established Music HF studios.

Within our first year of operating, we received an L.A. Music Award nomination in the film music category, which was really great.

What recent projects have you been working on?

AF: We do documentaries, corporate films and commercials and we just finished a full-length feature film. At the moment, we are writing for a 13-part 3D animation series produced by Rubicon.

It features the voices of Lucy Liu and Mark Hamill (a.k.a. Luke from Star Wars) and is about the adventures of a Jordanian boy and an American boy who travel through time to meet important historical figures from the Middle East, while learning about cultural differences and how to get a long.

It is really a fun project to write for!

How do you see yourselves fitting into the local market?

Paul Hopkins: Being relative newcomers, I think that it is still to be determined how we fit in, but for sure there's a lot of work happening here in post, and more and more people are looking for quality music and sound design.

We are both trained classical musicians, and have extensive orchestral writing and arranging skills, which is an area where the Middle East is perhaps not very well covered.

How different is the production scene here from Western markets?

AF: It's certainly an interesting market due to Dubai's cosmopolitan nature. We really enjoy working with people with different cultural perspectives as it often requires us to fuse our Western style of writing with theirs, which is always refreshing.

What are the benefits of working with software versus live musicians?

PH: More powerful computers have enabled musical instrument software to do more and more.

The newest software, if programmed well, can do a pretty convincing job of replicating live players, and of course it is much cheaper than hiring musicians and recording them in a studio.

Having said that, no software can capture all of the subtle nuances of a live player. It is still better to have a least some real musicians, if time and budget allows for it.

How will Studio City affect your company's work?

AF: We're hoping Studio City will bring more interesting projects to the region and open up some creative doors that will see more feature films being produced here.

The fact that it is geared specifically toward the film and TV industry means you're getting a concentrated area devoted to likeminded industry players.

That should be good news for us.

How do you perceive the way the market has developed over the past ten years?

PH: With Media City fully matured, and more and more talent coming into the market, the quality of production has improved greatly over the years. And, with the internet, you can work with a creative team scattered around the globe whom you have never even met in person.

This is particularly useful for people working in the Middle East.

For the animation series we are currently working on, we receive the locked films from the editor in LA, and then send it to the director in Hong Kong, yet the whole project is being produced in Jordan. This is all made possible by ftp sites, email and overnight couriers.

What elements can music add to a production?

AF: Music is crucial in our opinion. If you have ever watched a scene from a movie with and without the music, you are made aware of how important it is.

Music can dramatically enhance the film's message and can transport the film to a higher level. It injects life into the picture - any part of the sum that is responsible for elevating a film has got to be an asset to the overall production.

At the same time, bad music can have the opposite effect and cheapen the film's look and weaken its impact.

Do producers typically dedicate enough of their budget to sound?

PH: Because music comes in at the post-production phase, it does sometimes get overlooked. If funds are running short, the soundtrack may suffer. However an experienced producer, who appreciates and understands the benefits of a good musical score, will know to budget for it sufficiently. - John Parnell

Making music

Adding music to your production can be done in several ways and doesn't necessarily involve months of composition and a full chamber orchestra. What exactly are your options?

Produce your own soundtrack in-house

Adobe claims to have made the first sound editing software specifically for video editors. This could tempt some to work on their own audio production. The Soundbooth application, a new addition with Creative Suite 3, converts waveforms into their spectral equivalent.

These visual representations of the audio file can then be edited in the same way as a picture is in Photoshop. Unwanted noise is erased using tools more familiar to picture and video editors than sound technicians.

Abaltat offers a video-driven software package that automatically fits a soundtrack in the style of your choice, with key elements in the video. Although it provides a cheap and quick way to produce a variety of styles of royalty-fee music, it could lack the personal touch.

This is better suited for smaller production houses and freelancers.

Buy existing recorded material

Paying for the privilege to use popular existing material could be expensive. However, for the right money, a user can purchase the rights to use music that they know their selected audience is going to recognise. Songs may have been successful in their own right previously, but may not fit your video exactly. Well known songs can add instant recognition to a TVC.

Commission original music

Having a third party produce your own soundtrack offers the benefits of having a personalised theme for your production. This method also permits complete synchronisation with your video material should you desire it.

Commissioning your own music can also go a long way to creating an identity for your show. However, the cost involved may not always be viable for smaller budgets.
 

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