The best way of using music in a production is to write it yourself (or to pay someone to write it for you). However, there are times that you might not be able to, or want to do this. Using other peoples music is a tricky area to negotiate, and is something you need to think about before performance, otherwise it could end up costing you a lot of money.
Note: I am not a lawyer nor have any legal training. I am offering my experience and opinion as a musician and theatre person. If in doubt check a friendly expert.
Using Sound Effects
I have written about this before (see this post) but legally most sound effects (whether downloaded, on CD, Tape or Record) will have some sort of license. This tells you under what circumstances you are allowed to use the sound, and what conditions need to be met in order to do so. Some (especially free sounds) will require acknowledgement, or will forbid alteration. If you are creating a complex tapestry of sounds these conditions can get overwhelming. More expensive sounds are happier for you to have your way with them and give them no credit, but you still need to make sure you know exactly what is going into your mix, and where it came from. While you can just hope that nobody notices (and they probably never will) you can still be a responsible citizen and make sure that everyone receives the reward they ask for for their hard work.
Using a Recording of a Song
Sometimes you (or your director) will want to use a specific recording of a specific song for a scene or transition of the play. This is possible (and usually pretty easy) but you usually have to get permission from the rights holder (either from the writer and performer, or more usually though a collection agency). They will easily be able to issue you with a public performance licence for a fee. Check your local rights administration agency for more information. If you want a full complement of songs, though, this can add up.
Performing an existing work live
If you want to perform a song or composition with live musicians or on-stage singers you do not need a mechanical license, but you do need a performance licence for the original song from the writers or their agent. This can be slightly harder to find or organise, but is possible. It is a similar process to what you would go though if you were recording a cover song: you need permission for the song itself, but not from the artist who originally recorded the song (unless they also wrote it).
Recording a new version of the song
This is where things start to get complicated. By law to arrange (or substantially change) a song you need explicit permission from the original writers, and a license to record and reproduce that song for public performance. I can’t offer much advice here, as every example will be different, but work out what you wan to do and seek permission and advice early on.
Remember, when you adapt or arrange an existing work without permission that not only can you get sued, you lose a lot of artistic reputation. See this video:
There are as many different ways to present or reinterpret an existing song or recording as there are to skin a cat, but always keep track of what you are doing and the conditions attached to all of your sources. Respect those and you can feel comfortable in whatever you are putting into the theatre, safe in the knowledge that you are respecting and supporting musicians and artists wherever they are.
If you have corrections, suggestions, or useful links leave them in the comments!
Diegesis is a term used in film music to discribe the way in which the elements of film relate to the narrative the film is telling. In film music, it is simple way of describing the function of music: if it occurs within the world of the characters (i.e. someone could hear it) it is diegetic, if it occurs in the world of the audience (but the characters cannot hear/see it) it is non-diegetic.
How can you use it?
It’s not a technique as such, rather a lens though which you can look at your music. Although the script will usually give hints as to the most obvious diegetic cues, you can shift this factor to make your work more interesting: rather than a standard piece of underscore, you could make it play from a gramophone or radio during the scene; or you could use on-stage musician (such as a string quartet in a restaurant) to accompany and set the tone of a scene.
Blurring the line
Of course, the most exciting use of this technique involves the blurring of the line between the diegetic and the non-diegetic. This is particularly easy to accomplish in films (such as Philip Glass playing the background of the Truman Show, or the entrace of the brass band in My Fair Lady) but it can also take place in the theatre. West Side Story has a famous scene in which a jukebox is turned on and plays a recording of the music to an earlier scene, this then segues into “live” underscoring played by the pit orchestra. However, we still believe that the music is ‘coming’ from the jukebox (a consequence of Schitzophonia) albiet with a richer and more visceral style. This effect, the transition from one frame of reference to another, enhances the performance and gives the scene much more impact. Ironically, blurring or transitioning across the real/non-real line can make the performance seem more real by assisting or refreshing the willing suspension of disbelief.
Although not a technique as such, diegesis is an important factor in the construction of theatrical artifice. It can be used to change the perspective on a scene and to freshen an otherwise stale or unorginal cue, or to draw attention to or distract from a musical or theatrical element. Next time you are struggling with a music cue, think about whether you can change its position in the narrative frame to make it more interesting. At the very least this will give you some creative inspiration, at most an entire new way of presenting your score and sounds.
So, what does everybody do? When you read a programme you can see all sorts of music related jobs, many of which sound like the same thing. I’ve provided a brief outline of the most common roles below. Of course, many of these will be done by the same person in a smaller production, and you can even find one person doing the whole lot (although they don’t usually put that in the programme as it would take up too much space)
In a musical or music-heavy genre of theatre the music director is the person who makes artistic decision and controls the artistic side of the musical output. They will often conduct (or band-lead) and generally acts as the main point of contact for all musicians during the performance. This person shapes the overall contours of the music and is responsible both for achieving the desired sound and maintaining standards in performance.
This is similar to the music director, but has a slightly more administrative role. These are often used with compilation and pre-recorded scores, as their main job is to select appropriate music, suitable composers, and decide (often in collaboration) where cues should occur within the score. This is still a creative role within the music department, even if there is less of a focus on live musicians.
A mostly managerial and logistical role, the music manager performs the important function of coordinating all musicians, equipment, scores, rights and composers/songwriters. They can also be the fixer (the person who recruits and engages musicians) or the orchestra manager (the band equivalent of the stage manager who works with the orchestra during a run of performances).
Composing involves the planning and writing of the music for the performance, but does not include the performance or recording of the music. The composer will often be present at rehearsal or recording to ensure that the music works, but is not necessarily a performer.
Sound designers decide how sound will be used in the production, and the role can vary from the construction of soundscapes and effects to the planning of live sound rigs and acoustic design.
Once the music is in rehearsals the performers (particularly on-stage actors and singers) are supported by a repetiteur, an accompanist, or other members of the music staff. Their main job is to familiarise and coach the performers with the music for the production, to ensure that they are prepared for the introduction of the band or orchestra.
These are the people who perform the music on the night. They may be instrumentalists or singers or electronic musicians, and may even be members of the above areas also. These are the people who interpret the planned musical input (the score, the sounds, the songs) and replicate and present it each performance for the audience. They may also perform in a recording session so that the recording can be used for rehearsal or the performance itself (although this is frownedupon by musicians unions and performers).
I hope this sheds some light on the various roles and positions within the music department for a production. If you have corrections or suggestions leave them in the comments.
I am going to use today’s Around the Web to point out the new site aimed at theatre music directors, the aptly named theatremusicdirectors.org. It is the sister site of MusiciansWages and already contains many useful titbits of advice and information for people who work (or want to) in the creation of music for the theatre. It does have a slight focus on musical theatre, but contains some useful pointers nonetheless.
How much you can give your musicians isn’t just up to your own skills as a music director. It is also up to your musicians’ skills. When you conduct a slow 4/4 in 8, it might not be as clear for high school students as it might be for Broadway players. Or when you start to subdivide in the middle of a measure, it might not be as powerful for community theatre musicians as it might be for professionals.
As music directors, we do not need to tell our players the details of the show.
-Because it takes time away from rehearsing: a good rule of thumb is to have the band play at least 80% of the time, and to speak no more than 20% of the time.
-Because it doesn’t make much of a difference to the musicians.
(I actually disagree with this, having both MD’d and played in pit bands. Knowing the dramatic context of the music you are playing gives you a great deal of information about style, cues, timing, and helps you enjoy the performance a little more. I believe that an orchestra that knows roughly what is happening while they are playing will be more responsive and sensitive).
Instrumental partsthat need a cue: Cue a section when they first start playing, when they’ve had a long rest, and before an important solo.Not all cues are marked in the conductor’s score. Make sure to listen through the show, and compare each part with your own to add any important cues you’re missing in your score.
The more prepared you are, the easier the rehearsal will be.
(This last sentence is the most important piece of advice I can give to any Music Director, Composer, arranger or performer.)
The New York Philharmonic, the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, and also the orchestra with historically the most restive audience members, has announced the planned installation of a new “Listener Speedy Exit Ramp” which will enable to patrons to leave their seats either during or after a performance in less than 2.5 seconds.