As lovers of all things dark and mysterious, we find music scoring to be a powerful tool in evoking emotions and highlighting relationships in audio dramas. In this video composer Dayn Leonardson explains how to define the foundational moment in a story that draws on the emotional connections of listeners, creating an experience that is both engaging and expressive.
One of the first things I ask myself before I start music scores for an audio drama is this, what is the foundational moment of the entire project? See, it’s easy to compose an epic song that makes a story feel bigger than life itself, but it’s much more difficult to find and fit the unspoken parts of life in a melody like the twists and turns a heart goes through in a close personal relationship.
Focus on Relationships
Relationships are the most complex and meaningful things we experience as human beings. It’s, for this reason, I focus on them. When I compose, I think of some of my favorite pieces in movies, and I notice a trend, for example, the “Shire Song” from the “Lord of the Rings“. When that melody strikes, I can see that farewell embrace of Frodo and Sam. I can feel the strength of their brotherly bond, but I also feel their pain of losing each other. It’s a nostalgic, deep, and intimate melody.
Then I think of the song “Anakin’s Betrayal” from “Star Wars Revenge of the Sith“. The tragedy of losing a close loved one to the perils of self-destruction has never been depicted better. In my opinion. I can feel the pain in Obi-Wan’s heart as he’s forced to cut his former best friend down to save the innocent lives of others, an unnecessary, extremely painful sacrifice in musical form.
Pulling on Heartstrings
I’ll give you an example with one of my pieces in the clip I’m about to play for you. The main character is completely overtaken with grief as they witness a loved one pass away after a long battle with an illness. Moments of slight relief bleed into the chord progression as the character also realizes that their loved one is no longer suffering.
Notice in the intro here, the intimacy of the piano starts us off. Then the cello begins to draw sadness. Then just as sorrow does, the strings well up from below the surface beginning to overtake us- a bit of relief that the struggle is over. Then once the sorrow has run its course, the memory still hurts, but a slight ray of hope finally Breaks through.
Finding Emotional Connections in Strange Places
So that was all well and good, but how does one pinpoint the emotional foundation of a story? It may appear like a monumental task, but it’s not as hard as it seems. I’ll try my best to convey to you my method by telling you the story of Han Zimmer scoring for the movie Interstellar.
Now, whether or not you enjoyed the movie is besides the point, hearing the main melody of this movie soundtrack seemed to haunt me. I couldn’t explain why, but it seemed to touch my emotions deeply. It was strange to me because, I mean, it’s just a sci-fi movie, right?
Wrong. It’s actually quite deeper than that. You see when the director approached Hans about scoring for Interstellar, he didn’t tell him the movie’s premise or setting, or name. He just handed him a single page of the script. It wasn’t anything epic or action-packed.
Find the Foundation of the Story
It was a simple conversation between a father and daughter, albeit a very difficult conversation. The father was explaining to his girl that he would be leaving in order to solidify a brighter future for their family. She didn’t understand. How could she? She felt betrayed. He felt completely torn.
Hans composed a haunting and intimate melody based around a haunting and intimate moment. It wasn’t anything flashy. It didn’t have a hint of sci-fi in its instrument choices, but regardless, the director loved what Hans came up with. Then afterward, he revealed the size and scope of the rest of the story.
But since Hans was able to see this heartbreaking father-daughter moment as the foundation of the story, incredible music was born, Hans explained how he took this small musical moment and did his best to expand it to the size of the universe. Since that’s what the story itself was trying to accomplish, he used a massive pipe organ and a full orchestra to drive the melody to a greater height.
Listen Close and Find Your Moment
After hearing this story, I realized that it’s our job as composers to find that foundational moment and start laying the bricks. Which characters are capturing you the most during the story and why? Which moment impacted you on a deeper level? Listen to the audio drama. Listen again. Read the script. If you just look for it, it will eventually reveal itself to you. Even if it’s seemingly small, you, almighty composer, can expand it to the size of the universe.
A big thanks to the ADPP for asking me to talk about my method for scoring, and an even bigger thanks to all of you creatives out there. Keep on trucking because even if it doesn’t seem like it, you are reaching someone. This is Dayn Leonardson signing off.
Learn! More about Scoring
Want to learn more about scoring for Audio Drama? Check out these 11th Hour Audio articles.