Focusing on the outcome (in composition)

The other day I was listening to an interview with Christophe Beck, who composes film and television music—the scores to Ant Man and Wanda Vision are among his works. It was generally fascinating, and one particular thing struck a chord with me (no pun intended). To paraphrase very liberally: “I don’t want the director to talk to me about the details of music composition. I want to understand the story structure and character arcs, and how those should unfold. If they insist on talking to me about augmented 7ths I will, but that’s not my preference.”

It was a good example of centring a conversation on value and outcomes, rather than mechanics and outputs. The goal of the composer is help the director tell the story, and guide the audience’s emotions. Yes, this may be achieved by use of augmented 7ths, but when the director and composer are talking about those then they’re probably missing the bigger picture.

Focusing someone on the outcomes, and stepping away from the details of the outputs, gives them the greatest freedom. They take on some real responsibility for the success of the project, rather than just their part. If the director really does insist on meddling with those augmented 7ths then they are now responsible for the film’s music, and the person who’s the musical expert can no longer apply their full creativity and expertise.

That’s not to say conversations about mechanics are verboten. It’s always useful to understand someone’s process and challenges, and it’s often possible for someone else to help—perhaps by clarifying constraints, or some other means. But generally, a focus on the value being delivered will get the best results.

Photo by Kevin Christopher Burke