I know that I may not be the best person in the world when it comes to music. In the fields of playing and writing music, I am still nothing but an amateur. Then again, it was my choice not to major in it. I do practice in a community band every Monday and I try to practice three to four times a week outside of that to maintain my level and possibly grow a little bit. Sometimes my church music director allows me to play during special events like Christmas and Easter and she hasn’t stopped inviting me yet. Still, playing music only helps a little bit when it comes actually writing it. You can hear the individual voices that each instrument makes and learn about styles and instrumental balances. Replicating what you hear is difficult though.
Writing music takes a lot of effort and education, a lot of which I am lacking. I did learn some music theory a while ago, but I forgot a lot of it because I don’t use it often and for writing music, I arranged a song for a brass quintet for my high school senior project and you may have heard my work when it comes to writing music for the iNAP podcast. Still, all of that was messing around with music that composers have already made. It took five hours to write the podcast stuff and at least 50 hours for my senior project. Nothing creatively original anywhere. So what I am saying here is music is hard. Just like everything else, it takes a lot of work, study, and inspiration to write an original work. I know that some composers repeat a lot of their themes and instrumentation, but I don’t mind it as much as some other people, because I’ve dipped a little bit into the musical world and know a little bit of how it works.
Generic Composers Background
So I should say this now, not everything that I am about to say is one hundred percent accurate because I didn’t go through the college portion of this personally, but I have a good idea about how one becomes a composer. I also know a few people who went the music composition route. This starts with experience and dedication. The first step is joining band at a young age, picking up and instrument, and sticking with it. Sticking with it through years of development, years of practice, years of pain, years of your parent having to endure your bad sounding years, years of competition with other players that play the same instrument, and years of auditions. All of that all the way through high school while going through normal classes, private instrumental lessons, practice, and so many other things that your high school will drag you through. There is a reason why band was considered a life style in high school, because it takes up most of your time. Then comes college where the focus about music becomes more real if it is your decided major. A person may have learned the concept of music theory in high school, but the learning becomes more advanced here. Same goes for instrumental practice in more complex and thorough methods of playing. It’s college after all, playing an instrument is just as important as writing all of it. Understanding the history behind music is important too.
If you want to write music, then you probably should know the history of music too. Not just the history of what kind of music you have played since day one of joining band in Elementary school, but world wide cultural music. Almost every country across has a style of music, a specific instrument, or both of these things that connect to who and what they are as a society. From what I’ve heard from various different music majors, music history courses are hard. I cannot technically say that because I’ve only taken beginning courses from the history of jazz and rock and roll, but music majors take a far more robust and thorough course. I can’t imagine what that was like, but then I was going through all my engineering classes at the same time. This may not sound like a big deal to some of you, but having more music to call back on when writing is a good thing. Especially if you are improvising a jazz solo and only given a chord structure to play from. The more history and more knowledge you have to play a solo, the more tricks you have up your sleeve to play one. That same thing could be applied to composing music because having more weapons could make writing music easier. You go through all this school, maybe have written a few things as a student, and get a job. So what happens next?
Composer on the job
Ok, so now you are a composer working for a company to produce music. Let’s say that you are some sort of prodigy that everyone wants. Somehow you are placed in the forefront of writing a soundtrack for an anime series. The director of that anime comes to you and tells you what kind of feel that they are going for. So you come with an idea, share it in a meeting with the director, and eventually you come in to an agreement. Next thing you know, you sit down in your chair, start writing music knowing what kind of instrumentation and style you want to go for, work on it for hours, listen to it a million times on the computer program that you have been writing on to make sure you think that it’s right, get some instrumentation to play your music and record it while fixing things here and there on the way (that’s how al music rehearsals go), and you hand what you’ve done to the anime director and they are extremely happy about it. Then you are thrust into another job and you do the same things again. And again. And again. And again. Eventually, you start taking some short cuts by using the same kind of style, same kinds of musical instruments/voices, some kind of rhythms, and so on. Can you blame a composer for having their own sorts of defaults in order to get through another music writing job? Especially if they are doing this job just to put money in your bank account while you are possibly working on your dream?
The music composers that I thought about when writing this were Hiroyuki Sawano and Yuki Kajiura because both of them write music that is virtually the same every time from instrumentation to rhythm and almost everything else. Even Joe Hisaishi when it comes to his Studio Ghibli works, because all of his scores seem to use the same kind of orchestration and chords. Now I am not saying that any of them are bad composers in anyway. Especially since everything that they’ve written get across the kind of emotions and hype at the moments that they are supposed to do. Sawano does this with his brass and bombastic soundtracks (AOT, Aldnoah Zero, and Re:Creators), Kajiura with her epic choirs and string voices (Madoka Magica, Sword Art Online, Kara no Kyoukai, etc), and Joe Hisaishi with his great world expansive style of writing. Still, a lot of their works sound similar. The argument for a signature style can be said here too as well. I don’t blame any of them for doing that at all because they seem to be constantly busy writing one soundtrack after another for anime while also working on their own projects too.
Not everybody is a Yoko Kanno either. To be fair though, Yoko Kanno spends a lot of time, years even, making a musical soundtrack. That just means that whenever she is behind the soundtrack of an anime, you know it’s going to be worth it. She is going to spend time studying the style of music of another country, like she used Icelandic Style of music for Terror in Resonance and wasn’t that just amazing? Even when she didn’t have years to write music, each of her soundtracks were completely different from each other. Not everyone can do that. It takes a certain amount of passion, hard work, and wealth of ideas to keep going. I feel like that’s why Yoko Kanno hasn’t written an anime soundtrack for a few years. Maybe she got tired and ran out of ideas or she is waiting for the right project to appear to put her musical talent to good use.
Inspiration and ideas are a big thing when it comes to music. I’ve seen a couple professional musicians write songs out of inspiration for something. One was a French horn player that wrote a song about his daughter. The other one was a professional trumpeter who wrote a piece that was inspired by Louis Armstrong pieces. Then I’ve seen them arrange these songs in different ways. That French Horn player’s song has been arranged different quite a few times until we played the band orchestration version of it at my community band last summer. Then that Louis Armstrong piece that was written for a small group was transformed into a big band orchestra piece a year later. I can’t say that they haven’t written anything else, but it’s strange how some musicians get a lot of distance out of one song. Inspiration is hard to find sometimes.
In the end, why did you guys allow me to write about music for a long time? Why didn’t any of you stop me? Seriously, I made a tweet about this. Don’t let me do this again. I know that I don’t do this often, but I don’t usually want one of my hobbies to leak into another hobby. That’s when everything feels the same.
In all seriousness though, every single composer that works in the anime field deserves an achievement award for doing whatever they are doing. Every single composer out there is at least good or beyond that. They know what they are doing, but sometimes unique takes like Yoko Kanno, whoever did the Made in Abyss soundtrack for Australia, or even Magus Bride, will show you that those usual soundtracks. All of them are the usual soundtracks for a reason, because they are good, and they work for what is going on in anime at the right moments. Each one elevating their anime more than just reading a manga or light novel would do. Thumbs up for those composers. Still, there are times when you want something a little bit extra or will blow you away with something unique and unexpected. This is why the Gundam Unicorn OST surprises me, because it’s so different from Sawano’s usual works. Anyway, that’s all I am trying to say with this piece. If you feel like I said something else then that, please let me know. Thank you all for reading.
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