Over the past couple of years, the market for film & TV and video games developed exponentially. As a crucial element, music is getting new opportunities as well.
According to the 2017 China Music Industry Report, the total revenue of music in film, TV, video games and anime is 664 million RMB in 2016, up 17.7% from the previous year. The rincome includes 130 million in video game score, 140 million in anime music, 394 million in TV and film score with a 34% increase. With new technologies such as AR and VR, the video game and anime industry are filled with possibilities. Different types of combined entertainment models are appearing as well, bringing the entertainment industry great potential for synergies.
During the 2018 Small Antler Music Business Expo on April 13th, we invited well-known musician Peng Dou, Shanghai Online Gaming Industry Association president Shuai Han, Xiaoxu Music VP/music manager Fei Chen and Xiaoxu Music CEO Xiaoxu Lu to talk about film and TV music scoring. They came to an agreement that the TV, film and video game scoring industry is:
Peng Dou is a well-known musician in China who has received a lot of recognition in compositions and songwriting for films. He has received the Award of Best Music for both Design of Death in the 11th annual Changchun Film Festival and Mr. Six in 2016 China Britain Film Festival, and Award of Best Original Sound Track for Mr. Six in CMA Music Awards in 2017. He was also nominated for Best Original Music and Best Original Song for So Young in the 29th annual Golden Rooster Award and the latter in the 50th Golden Horse Award, Best Music in Gone With The Bullets in the 4th Macaw International Film Festival, and Best Film Music in Mr. Six in 2017 Golden Rooster Award. Other compositions include soundtracks of film Peacock, Getting Home, And the Spring Comes, Love on Lushan Mountian 2010, Yun Zhi Jin, Big Fish & Begonia, Blind way, etc.
Fei Chen is the vice president, music manager of Xiaoxu Music and a music producer. He has been producing music for video games, anime, and film & TV for many years. Some of his well-known works include video game score for Xuan Yuan Sword 6, My Name is MT, and One Hundred Thousand Bad Jokes, anime score for Xue Se Cang Qiong, Sheng Si Hui Fang, etc., and TV score for Noble Aspirations, Swords of Legend 2, etc.
Shuai Han, Secretary-General of the Shanghai Online Gaming Industry Association whose members include hundreds of videogame-related companies in Shanghai. The Association commits itself to serve all practitioners in the field and help them develop the industry.
Xiao Xu Lu, CEO and founder of China’s biggest anime music company Xiaoxu Music. His works include soundtrack for games QQ Landlords, Zhuxian, TV show Swords of Legends, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, etc. His company Xiaoxu Music was named the No.1 brand for China’s ACG music. Founded 10 years ago, Xiaoxu Music has grown into a 110 employee company with a headquarter in Beijing and 3 offices in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. It has established a significant presence in anime video game music, virtual idol, virtual idol artists, music publishing, integrated marketing, and other related fields. In 2014 and 2016, Xiaoxu Music completed two rounds of capital injection totaling 40 million RMB and has become one of the most influential and well-known music brands in China.
Lu (as MC): Nowadays we see more and more money going into boutique online shows so I wanted to ask Mr. Dou what the difference is between writing music for boutique online shows or anime and writing for traditional films like Mr. Six?
Dou: Right now I’m working on an online show and a comedy. The most recent work is the theme song for a movie coming soon called Grant Me A Girl At 18. I feel like the quality of these online shows is getting better due to higher standards for the final product as a whole from the producers. Everyone is investing a lot of money and time to shoot in real locations and trying to meet mainstream movie standard. They also hold the soundtrack to similar standards.
I was involved in the productions of two animes with Beijing Enlight Media and they both surprised me. I remember seeing the classic Chinese animes like Havoc in Heaven when I was little and thinking about the fact that there aren’t that many high-quality anime or cartoon made in China anymore. But some anime films that came out in recent years really shocked me with their high quality. The production team worked very hard. They really made me think about the golden days of Chinese anime.
Lu: Every director has his own artistic preferences. I know that you collaborated with many well-known directors these past few years. What are some of your thoughts on these collaborations?
Dou: I think, as musicians we have to understand the spirit that each director wants. It’s very important because it sets the tone of the entire film. Directors also have a different perspective of their own production from the musicians. Their visions can also be very hard to explain with words, so sometimes they would ask me to listen to something for inspiration. It’s important to respect that and try to understand them. Directors and composers need to have a mutual understanding and a trusting relationship. It takes time. When I was working with Director Changwei Gu on the movie Peacock, I lived with the crew and revised the music little by little with director Gu. It was the same with movie Mr. Six. All the music was revised many times.
Lu: Can you (Fei Chen) talk about the difference between video game scoring and music & TV scoring?
Chen: Generally speaking, video games and film & TV are two very different industries which makes the whole production process and music different as well.
I think the biggest difference is the process of production and how to manipulate the rhythm and density of the music. Since all the settings and scenes are fixed in games, we usually compose based on a list of scenes with specific requests. However, when composing for films, since it’s one body of work, we need to communicate with the directors about how to work with sound effects and dialogues for a wholesome movie experience.
Another difference is the logic behind the creative process. Games are very spontaneous and active. We can’t control how long each player stays in a scene, what her actions would be or what kind of conversation she has. Nothing is fixed. While in films, there’s a linear timeline. Every scene and every shot angel requires detailed artistic planning.
Lu: A lot of the video games we see today have invited international crossover musicians to compose. Like the game Wangzhe Rongyao or Onmyoji. I want to ask Mr. Han about your thoughts on this topic?
Han: Right now there’s been a tendency of polarization in video game development. On one side we have those heavy, role-playing, multi-player games. These games are extensively produced and as artistic and visual as film productions. On the other side, we have those lightly produced, arcade type of games like the Travel Frog. But I believe you are talking about the first type of games, right?
A lot of the video game companies nowadays have very high standards for the music quality of their games. Some even have designated music managers now. I think about 2 years ago there was this law case that categorized video games as film-like productions, which recognized the fact that some video games use a similar production methods as films, and that video games are not only a chunk of computer codes but has artistic and cultural values as well. The government has also been managing and overseeing the production of games as a cultural form.
Before, we mostly imported games from other countries like Korea, Japan or the U.S. because we don’t have enough original ideas. But a lot of teams and companies in China started to explore the possibilities and quickly gained valuable experiences in financing and technology. Now there are a lot more of video games truly made in China. At the same time, demand for video game scoring has reached a new high too.
However, scoring for games is still very different from scoring for film and TV. Every player in the game has her own path between scenes and the time he spends in each place is up to her. Music we write for games also sounds very different from the music you’d hear in a movie. But I do think that the future of video game scoring is looking pretty good so far. There will be higher standards for video game music will not only be demanded by the producers and game makers but also from the players.
Lu: Film and TV scoring is highly commercial. I want to ask Mr. Dou about how you make decisions when you have to choose between artistry and commercial value?
Dou: I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a director about the commercial value of my music. The commercial success is more dependent on the cast or the market rather than on music.
Lu: What if there’s a disagreement between you and the director?
Dou: It rarely happens. Sometimes the director will take my opinion but most of the times I’d follow the director’s directions because the director would have a different angle. For instance, in the movie So Young, I was very touched by the dolphin scene so I wrote something very romantic and emotional like those in classic American romance film. But neither of the directors Stanley Kwan nor Vicki Zhao picked the romantic music. They decided to use a light piano piece for that scene to complement the feeling. It’s all in the details.
Lu: I know that you not only score for movie scenes, but you also write theme songs like the song So Young that you wrote for Faye Wong to sing for the movie So Young. I want to ask you what your creative process looks like when you collaborate with famous singers. Does the song come first or do you communicate beforehand?
Dou: The song comes first. So Young was a very urgent project. I had just finished Mr. Six when Vicki Zhao approached me with So Young. And I took the job with no hesitation when I saw the final cut because I really liked it and felt a connection. We used WeChat to communicate during the entire process. I would send her my piano recordings and she would give me feedback. Then I sent the demo to Faye Wong and she liked it too. So basically I had the song first and then we looked for a good singer to do the recording. And then we do the marketing and PR.
Lu: For the past couple of years EDM and hip-hop have been very popular. Do you think there will be scoring incorporating these elements?
Dou: I’ve never done it but I wouldn’t mind. If there’s a film that needs a specific genre of music, I won’t limit myself in style.
Chen: I also want to ask Mr. Dou a question: we are the new generation of musicians who work in the field of film and TV scoring and we face some practical challenges. For example, I want to know how many projects can you take on at the one time without producing unsatisfactory work?
Dou: It’s like giving birth. You can only bear one child at a time. So it is difficult to divide my attention between multiple projects. I sometimes take on more than one at a time because of hectic film schedules. But then I realized I still have to finish one before moving on to the next. I have to focus.
Chen: We tend to all face the same challenge when we get into a new field. That is to find a balance between quality and quantity. We can’t help saying yes to good projects but need to avoid piling up too much work and cause the quality to drop.
Dou: It’s possible to divide up the work when you have a team. But I believe that even when we can get things done in an assembly line, we still need to have a key person focused on the communication between the main composers and the directors. Also, film scoring often needs a theme before we can start to compose. If there are many people on the team, who’s making the final decision? How are we dividing up the work? All these are things that a team needs to keep in mind.
Han: The way I look at it, film scoring is a process of artistic creation rather than production of an artistic product. If it’s any other type of commercial product, it can totally be produced on an assembly line with computer systems. But film music really relies on how each individual composer understands the scene.
Chen: I have another question. Generally, we would compile all the finished music cues and someone match the cues into the final cut. So who should this person be? Do the composers take care of this part or do the film team do it because this person is very important to the final quality of music in the film.
Dou: A lot of the film crews do this. If a director really values the music part, it’s a lot easier for us. Sometimes I finish scoring but the film crew’s music editor does a messy job adding the music cues into the final cut. Then I have to do the editing part myself. A lot of the film teams are doing much better with music editing now, but sometimes I have to do it myself.
Chen: If they have all the sample edits, would you skip through it or watch every episode before scoring?
Dou: It depends. Sometimes the music was already written when the outline of the script came out. Because the production team will keep editing each episode of a TV show, it’s impossible for me to watch every single one. I would only watch the first couple episodes and draw down some key scenes, storyline, characters, theme, and melodic ideas. I start composing once these are all identified.
Chen: I want to ask Mr. Han the next question. There are a lot of independent video games and they are getting more and more popular. The artistic value of both the production and the music of these independent games are very high. How do you think these independent video games are going to develop in the future?
Han: Independent games have been there for years but only gotten a lot more popular recently. It’s probably because of our 4G high-speed data and smartphones that these low-budget independent games are developing and spreading faster than ever. But I still think there will be many challenges that independent game developers will face. They have to be very patient and ok with not having staple income for a long time when developing these games.
Lu: Right now the quality of films and TV shows in China varies to a great extent, and we still have an increasing number of shows coming out every year. I want to throw this question to Mr. Dou again about your advice for the young people getting into the industry. Any suggestions for them under this market condition?
Dou: I have worked with many film directors and learned a lot from each and every one of them. Film directors see things differently from us. It takes 2-3 years to produce a film which requires a lot of patience and dedication from the director. The music is only a small portion of the whole production but you’d still need to edit everything, note by note, measure by measure, small things like how many notes can fit on a piano score, was there an extra beat on the right-hand part, etc. You have to make it very concise and clean, or at least have an attitude to work towards that. Same thing with video game scoring. The intersection between pictures, music, and games is very important and will very likely become a huge market in the future, especially now that qualities of video game production are getting closer to film. A lot of them are true pieces of art.
I think the time and energy a person can have in his life is very limited. If you’re a composer, focus on composing and leave the rest to your manager or a professional team. Save all your energy and ideas on your creation. It’s too hard to do it all yourself.
Translated by Paris Wu
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