How to Make a Reference Playlist

Before any music is written for your project, it is a good practice to have a conversation with your composer and to provide reference music. While it’s important not to be too attached to the placeholder music your ears have become accustomed to, the reference music can help your composer get ideas for instrumentation, orchestration, tones, vibes, and the overall sonic character of your film project. There is a lot of nuance involved in music, and audio samples can be worth a thousand words. These tips to putting together a reference playlist for a film composer will facilitate the creative process.

Be Cohesive

Unless there is something specifically relevant to your film, it’s best not to jump around from genre to genre. Keep it concise and relevant. It’s easy to plop all your favorite tunes into a playlist, especially when services like Spotify keep giving recommendations, but the more concise your playlist is the less likely your composer will be lead astray by something you didn’t really care about. Next, listen through your playlist several times, eliminating tracks with each pass. Try to keep it to a 60 minutes or less of total music. For a short film you should need less.

Be Consistent

Think of films you particularly enjoyed and listen to their scores. Select specific cues from each score that you think would fit into scenes in your project. Don’t select cues from films that are completely different from yours unless there is something relevant you can point out to your composer to listen to (i.e. tying tracks in the playlist to specific scenes). Having specific scenes in mind can also help you keep track of which tracks in your playlist are worth considering.

Be Emotional

There’s most likely a range of emotions to cover within your film, so make notes in an email of which tracks match the vibe you are looking for in certain scenes. Through this process you can really determine what matters to you. Think about what stands out to you from each track. Is it particularly dark and mysterious sounding or is it light-hearted? Check out the blog article about keywords to describe musical moods to help you get started.

After completing your playlist, give your film composer time to digest it and become as connected in the creative journey of your film as you are. Schedule a time to have a deeper conversation about what stands out to each of you musically.  This is a particularly fun part of the creative process because each of you will have different takeaways and leave the conversation with a new perspective. 

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