Should I get a composer before or after editing?

I got one more scene to do for a short film which has been delayed cause I have to find a couple of new actors. I could wait till it's done and edited before getting a composer, but I figure perhaps I should take advantage of this free time. Should I listen to peaces by different composers and decide which one I want, then edit it myself accordingly once the short is done? Or would it probably be better to wait till it's all edited so the music can change rhythms and what not, at the right moments of the action?

A lot of people are purchasing music from sights, without the composer knowing what the movie is though. However in some very low budget movies, the music sounds off, and not composed well enough to the right moments. Is that why?
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I'm not sure if this will help, but if you do happen to work with a composer, you need to tell him what kind of music will fit a particular scene. I think that the best thing you could do would be, rather than picking pre-existing pieces and hoping that they will fit, would be to work with a composer, show him a rough cut of the film, and then let him know what kind of music you want for the film, and in particular, the mood of music you need for each scene.

Since you mention that your film is not complete, I would suggest waiting until it's finished, and you're totally satisfied with it, to work with a composer. Every director/composer has spotting sessions, where they go over the exact placement of each cue in the scene. Once that process is complete, you could send him a rough cut of the film, spotted where the composer will insert the music cues for each scene. You can edit them to your specifications. I think that if you really work with him, and trust him to create the music that is appropriate for each scene, then I think it'll be okay. One thing I would also suggest, if you happen to use temp tracks, is not to get too attached to them. Be original, and let the composer you work with have the freedom to create something that will not only be memorable, but will serve the picture. I hope that this helps.
Stock music is great. You generally pay a (small) fee, there's some free stuff but all in all it works and it' ready to go.

Original compositions are awesome. You get custom crafted music for that scene exactly. If you're paying, a composer generally costs more than stock, but since you're a newbie it's a good idea to work with a newbie composer who is either really cheap or volunteer. Learn the ropes together.

On stuff I have lots of turnaround time with, I do the rough cut (as close to edit lock as possible but before vfx and grading) and give that to the composer along with detailed info on what you're wanting. If it's a tighter turnaround, I'll work with a composer in pre-production and have him come up with the general sound and recordings, then when the rough edit is done all he needs to do is trim pieces and segments to build around the rough. I like this better too, because on stuff you want to cut with the music you get the BPM down pat and having the music helps you with the feel of the edit.

If it's a really really tight turnaround like a 48hr project or similar, I'll go with ready available stock.

It's good to give others in the filmmaking community a chance whenever possible though. Everyone's trying to make it as an artist and filmmaking is a unique art that can't be done solo. Making friends and gaining experience now can only help you down the line should you ever see you're filmmaking dreams realized working on big budget features.
It's never too early to look for a composer. It's never too early to put together a temp score (or gather the pieces for it at least), to give you something to edit to. But you'll want to wait (particularly with an action-heavy film) until you have a solid edit before giving it to the composer. As Paul mentioned, it's good to get the tempo down, or rather, tempos. Film music should breathe with the action, speeding up and slowing down subtle-y as the action changes.

This is not to say anything bad about stock music, but it will never be as "in sync" or exactly what you want as working with a composer would be. Check the classifieds here on IndieTalk; there are plenty of composers willing to work for cheap and/or free to build their portfolio.
Yeah I would definitely want to hire one who is just starting out and wanting to work for cheap for experience. The action sequence is all I have left to film for this short. So hopefully it goes good enough to wanna score in the end.
Every project has its own unique requirements. Stock music can work remarkably well if you are an accomplished music editor, but nothing can beat a custom score.

Getting the composer involved early has its benefits and drawbacks, but for the most part having the composer lined up by the time you start editing is a big plus.

Although I hate resyncs (having to resync the audio to a new cut) I really appreciate an early rough cut; it gives me a feel for the atmosphere and sonic requirements of the film. The important stuff is all there, so I can begin putting together my Foley and sound FX list. I can gather any special Foley props I need, and get out into the field to record the major sound FX required.

Most composers feel the same way. They may not be able to do the actual scoring, but they can begin with sketches and writing the themes. BTW, you need a pretty good music imagination, you are not going to hear a full score right away; most composers start with basic piano compositions that will be arranged and scored later.

A WARNING - Do Not edit to temp music. Yes, it may be somewhere in the neighborhood of what you want, but the composer will be able to fit the score to your editing and be able to hit the cues that you want. So cut the scene and then toss in the temp music; after all, temp music is only a reference. Also, beware of "Mickey Mouse-ing" the score. "Mickey Mouse-ing" is the temptation to hit every cut and action a lá an animation score full of musical sound effects.
We have used "buy out" stock music on all of our (eight) feature films, and highly recommend that method over finding your own composer.
(1) The buy out music usually has FULL orchestration...piano, strings, percussion, drums, horns, guitars...whereas your own composer will probably only have an instrument or two.
(2) A local filmmaker decided to go with "original" music, and his composer took eight months
to finish the work...
(3) With "buyout" music, you can plug all different styles into a scene (or have no music at all),
without getting stuck with material that you don't like.
(4) For "buyout" music, an entire (professional) music score will only cost you from $60 to $150 on the average. (supplied to you on a CD).
(5) There are dozens of music companies out there...I have used StudioCutz, TwistedTracks, SoperSound, B&HGold Music, and others. You can google them.
Don't most composers nowadays use a synthesizer though, with a whole variety of instrument sounds on them?

Yes, but not all "sounds" are created equal. The guy I work with the most has over $50k worth of gear, equipment and instruments. He buys the highest quality samples out there and uses the software, digital and analogue interfaces, preamps and plug-ins the big boys use. He's a full time musician, can play several instruments and uses the gear primarily to record his own stuff but others too. You know, one of those guys.

His stuff sounds better than the default samples of garage band.
Yes, but not all "sounds" are created equal. The guy I work with the most has over $50k worth of gear, equipment and instruments. He buys the highest quality samples out there and uses the software, digital and analogue interfaces, preamps and plug-ins the big boys use. He's a full time musician, can play several instruments and uses the gear primarily to record his own stuff but others too. You know, one of those guys.

His stuff sounds better than the default samples of garage band.

Understatement of the century.

As Alcove mentioned, a composer might appreciate a rough cut, but they really can't start scoring until your edit is locked.

Getting an original score vs. canned music? Is this really open for debate? There's a reason Hollywood does it the way they do. There are a ton of talented composers willing to work for cheap, why on Earth wouldn't you use one. Rayandmigdalia, I'm sorry you had a negative experience, but that shouldn't be the basis for everyone to make their decisions by. My composers scored a feature in less than a month, and that's while they where working on plenty of different commercial projects.

If you want a soundtrack (songs) then that's another thing, entirely. But if you want a score, you gotta get the real thing (composer), and you gotta deliver a locked edit.
We agree with everyone.
It all comes down to time and control of your own film. We scored two films with a
composer. In both cases it took them several weeks. In the end, when we decided to
drop (or change) music in certain scenes, in was world war three..."you're not changing MY
music...if you do, I want my name off of the project!". For those of you who have had
good experiences with even-tempered and flexible composers...great.

As for buying canned music, I will also point out that once you have bought it, you can
use it over and over again in future projects for free. There is so much material on each
CD that there's no way that you can use it all..

Just our two-cents worth. No two people paint pictures the same way...
Start looking for a composer ASAP. It may take you a while to find one that's a good fit. Composers also generally like to be involved early on too. It gives them a chance to do the sort of pre production work Alcove was talking about. You can make decissions about sounds and work on themes with a rough cut. The real work starts once the composer has a locked off edit.
I start on a film in a month that I signed on for a year ago. After reading the script and talking to the director I wrote about 40min of music that not only gives us a great starting point but now the director has a custom made temp score.

A composer who causes trouble when you want to make changes to the music has no place writing for films. They obviously don't understand their roll to do what the director directs them to do.

As for library music. It can actually work well sometimes but over the course of a feature it can sound bitsy. If you want to get a cohesive score that moves and breaths with your film then a composer is the way to go.

when i started working with my first director we tried it a bit mad.He'd explain the scene/mood and i'd try to write.Didnt really work that well because a lot of scenes needed some type of musical cues which would of been impossible to do without seeing that scene.So now i wait til he sends me scenes(I live in Ireland he in Texas via youtube) which works out a lot better.
Now am doing an indie film but this time the Director is going to finish the entire project and then send it to me to score.Even though we're in different continents it still works out.I,ve been playing music for a long time now,but am only relativley new to scoring so i'm not actually sure of the professional procedures.Anyways good luck with your project
Thanks. I'm too busy with the rest of production and going back and redoing any possible sound or reshots to look for a composer at the moment. But I will definitely get one once I can, which should be not too far away, without any more delays. I know exactly what type of tone I want with the score, and know what types of instruments as well.
If you can, try to get a composer signed on as early as you can. There's always time to hack out a general sound, some basic themes, etc. Obviously, the heavy work can't begin until the edit is locked, but if the general instrumentation/sound/themes are already worked out, then the rest of the process should go smooth once the composer has the lock edit. Of course, there's always that chance that some last edits will take place that will cause some timings to change, which then means more work for the composer to rework the cue to fit again - just use extreme caution when doing edits that change timings after the composer is already working with what he/she thinks is the lock edit - otherwise you can create a delay before getting final cues!
Okay now I should have time finally to look for a composer. Do a lot of them not mind working for free or very low pay, in order to add something to their portfolio mostly, for art's sake? How should I advertise?