Being told to compose 'in the style of'.

Discussion in 'Composition, Orchestration & Technique' started by Tice, Jun 12, 2018.

  1. Tice

    Tice Senior Member

    Jun 10, 2018
    If an employer asks you to write a que 'in the style of' a different composer (either living or dead), how do you generally feel about that? Is it a disservice to the composer you're being told to emulate? Is it a disservice to you? Is it just fine; part of the job? Do you need/want permission from the composer you're being asked to mimic?
    Or do you stand your ground against your employer, telling them that mimicing what someone else has already done isn't the way to go? Is that a 'hill worth dying on'?

    Your thoughts?
  2. MatFluor

    MatFluor Senior Member

    Jan 11, 2017
    I only made a few commissioned works, but getting asked to "Copy the reference" is often asked, especially since I'm starting out.

    What I think: It is our job to provide the service of music creation. Serve the project and do the best for the project. Talk to the director what you think is best, he talks to you what he thinks is best. In the end you are a service provider, like a craftsman. If he wants you to emulate, and it is the best choice for the project, so be it. You can still make "your version" and "his version" and show both and let him decide.

    As for legal situation: Emulation or lifting is not copyright infringement. There are enough Soundtracks that are just "legally safe knockoffs" of existing pieces.

    Media Composer != free artist in most situations. Sure, Ideally you should be hired for your artistic voice, but depending on project, they just need a craftsmen who can provide the service needed.
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  3. Manaberry

    Manaberry Senior Member

    Apr 9, 2018
    It's legit to have some "sounds like" quotes from people because we all are influenced by someone else's music. I'm currently working on a track based on epic brass with military feels (like super hero stuff), so obviously it sounds like H.Jackman or A.Silvestri's work. But I don't see why I should not go for that kind of music because they did it before. Especially if that's the task.

    Sometimes the employer has no references at all and the only way for him to explain his idea is to point out another composer (like a really famous one). But I guess it depends of the task.
    Like @MatFluor said, if it's a commissioned work, there is less space for artistic choices. It depends of the person you are working for.
    Tice likes this.
  4. fixxer49

    fixxer49 Bouncing Consultant

    Jan 13, 2013
    New York, NY
    part of the job
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  5. stonzthro

    stonzthro Senior Member

    Oct 7, 2009
    Westwood, CA
    Q: If an employer asks you to write a que 'in the style of' a different composer (either living or dead), how do you generally feel about that?
    A: They trust my skills, and that I can craft something that will be tasteful and associative to their audience.

    Q: Is it a disservice to the composer you're being told to emulate?
    A: Don't be silly - of course not.

    Q: Is it a disservice to you?
    A: No

    Q: Is it just fine; part of the job?
    A: You should expect this more than not; at least until people call you for being you, then they'll ask you to write something like you previously did. Copy + 5-10% variation = latest craze.

    Q: Do you need/want permission from the composer you're being asked to mimic?
    A: No one ever does this - ever. Can you imagine someone calling up Hans, "Hey, those Batman jams were sweet, Ima gonna rip you off, we cool?"

    Q: Or do you stand your ground against your employer, telling them that mimicing what someone else has already done isn't the way to go?
    A1: Depends - if you are independently wealthy, then go ahead and tell them you have a better vision for the media project they dreamed up/went into debt finding funding for, produced/directed/acted in/edited/programmed/fought constantly for/worked 80-100 hours a week on for the several years of their lives on.
    A2: If you aren't independently wealthy OR you and and want a career in composition for media, then use their brief as a guide to help you become more creative within the restraints of the project.

    Q: Is that a 'hill worth dying on'?
    A: Sounds like you are looking for justification now. Do what you want.

    Tangent alert: If you went to Uni - you'll be best served to forget the Mozart model the professors worshipped and realize the survivors in this (and any) industry are craftsmen, not 'geniuses'.
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  6. Piano Pete

    Piano Pete Senior Member

    Jan 5, 2017
    I would look at it this way, try to achieve their goals while still being you. Always try to be yourself no matter what you do, but it is something you definitely have to get used to.

    This sort of thing has never really bothered me, as it makes it easier for me to make the director's life easier, but I always bring several different versions of the same scene when talking over stuff with a director, when starting out. This way I give them what they asked for, while also leading them towards other possibilities etc. This sometimes reveals to them that what they wanted may not be the right stuff, but it may also show that their intuition was spot on.

    At the end of the day, is it a decent paycheck for the work? We all gotta eat :I
    Tice likes this.
  7. lux

    lux Senior Member

    A good idea is attempting at learn what client actually found in a reference from another composer and how you can hit the nail on the head with your own style. The harder part is understanding stuff that a non-musician finds in a musical product, expecially when applied to video. Often clients die after concepts like "elegance" or "epicness" or, again, "cool retro vibe with an hint of modernity". Often those concepts become part of composers' inner jokes or such, but at the end it's a serious thing, and it's you trying to communicate with someone, often a director, speaking a different language, but who has serious and well based feels and ideas about his/her art.

    Once you learn to communicate with non-musicians, having a reference will likely become a non-issue most of the time. That's a lifelong process, and none of us gets 100% into it but it definitely worths trying in my little experience.
    Tice likes this.
  8. OP

    Tice Senior Member

    Jun 10, 2018
    Thanks for all the answers, everyone! There's some very good wisdom in this thread! It's very nice to have a decent frame of reference from other composers. By all means; keep it coming!
    DMDComposer likes this.
  9. DMDComposer

    DMDComposer Senior Member

    Apr 21, 2017
    When I'm asked to do this I usually figure out first why they hear "this composer" or "this sound" in the first place. Is it just instrument choices or that composer's harmonic language? What makes Zimmer sound like Zimmer or Williams like Williams? Then I try to implement the core of that idea into my original music. I see it as adding a spice/seasoning of "said composer" onto your music.

    Either way they will always get me, my sound/voice, and my interpretation of what they want. If they can't stand what you write, hate your ideas and just want a copy of for example Zimmer, note for note then they should've went and hired Zimmer and are just putting up with you -- using you as their musical muse... and if that's the case thats when I'd politely step down and ask them to find another composer.

    ...or unless you need the money you can put up with it haha.
    will_m, SimonCharlesHanna and Tice like this.
  10. Haakond

    Haakond Senior Member

    Aug 4, 2015
    When employees ask me to write "in-style-of" music, I usually try to get inspiration from the style he/she wants, and mix it with my own style. So it gets a little bit of what they want, and a little bit of what I want. I am currently making a video game soundtrack thats supposed to something like the music of Grant Kirkhope, so I use some of his orchestration and ideas, and make them in my style. Before I started composing I was very clear to the developer that it will be a mix of both worlds
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  11. dodecabilly

    dodecabilly Member

    Mar 19, 2018
    The way I see it - I am always emulating someone, whether I am aware of it or not... So this conscious emulation requested by someone else might just result in something more original :D
    Tice likes this.
  12. reddognoyz

    reddognoyz Senior Member

    my favorite is to be asked to score in the style of the current hit of the day "we want this score to sound like The Imagination Dragons" to which I usually point to the production schedule and ask them if they want the show to be airing with last years pop hit sound?
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  13. Look at it this way....if you resist, there are thousands of composers behind you ready to take the job. Do what the director wants, that's your job. ;)
    Tice likes this.
  14. Henu

    Henu Senior Member

    Nov 17, 2017
    Definitely part of the job, as mentioned. Besides, am I the only one who actually gets kicks out of that?

    EDIT: I'm not working in the movie business, so most of the music I need to write as "in the style of" are usually only <2 minute long pieces. And those are really fun excercises musically and technically as the styles tend to constantly vary. So in that sense, if someone would ask me to do a full feature film consisting of "that Transformers style made by whoever", I might have a less optimistic tone on the subject. :D
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  15. synergy543

    synergy543 Senior Member

    Dec 11, 2004
    The Internets
    There are numerous examples of John Williams and James Horner almost literally pulling lines of orchestration from other composers. The same with composers of previous generations. Its been a part of the learning process throughout history.
    Tice likes this.
  16. OP

    Tice Senior Member

    Jun 10, 2018
    I see it a bit like Henu said; a fun excersize to do something the way someone else might've done. And I'm glad to hear from many here that it's rather 'normal', part of the job. Personally, diversity is the spice of life to me. So any chance to break out of what I'd usually do is welcome.
  17. studiostuff

    studiostuff Senior Member

    Dec 15, 2015
    The first time you're asked to "do something in the style of Holst - Mars, The Bringer of War" should be considered some sort of moment of arrival.
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  18. OP

    Tice Senior Member

    Jun 10, 2018
    Haha, Williams and Zimmer went there before us... That's indeed a good indicator that you've 'made it' :)
  19. Nao Gam

    Nao Gam Dirty little gearslut

    Apr 1, 2018
    My humble opinion as an amateur, which is also my strength in this case. First of all, I'd ask what elements of their music your employer likes, maybe it's a certain piece, a general vibe, a certain feeling they want out of this. Dig in and try to understand how the employer feels about whatever it is you're scoring for, don't just try to emulate let's say HZ blindly just because your employer said so - not because your employer is wrong, but because they probably don't know what they want when they say such things. Of course get inspiration from that composer, just in the frame of your client feelings.
    But above all.. think as a listener. The listener really doesn't give a damn if you emulated that composer or built the piece on that chord progression or used this sample library or whatever. If it sounds good it is good and that's that.
    Take a general idea of the composer's vibe and run with it, being yourself. Just listen to 4-5 relevant pieces and dig in immediately. No need to make things complicated.
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