AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - June 17, 2010

Meeting Topic:

Speaker Name:

Other business or activities at the meeting:

Meeting Location:


The PNW Section held its June meeting before a summer hiatus, with AES Fellow Shawn Murphy discussing feature film scoring. The Section also held its business meeting with elections.

Shawn Murphy has extensive credits in major motion picture sound work, including an Oscar® in 1993 for Jurassic Park. He said that only about 25 people worldwide record film scores for a living. The business is mostly based in LA (maybe 80%) or London (10%) and other places (10%).

Using material from two recent projects recorded at different sound stages, Shawn presented extensive sound and picture demonstrations to show the work flow involved in recording orchestral scores for feature films. The demonstrations were run by Adam Michalak, Stage Recordist at the Sony (MGM) Scoring Stage in Culver City, CA, running a ProTools rig and basic theatrical 5.1 playback system, provided by Microsoft Studios.

To show the process, he started with a specific movie excerpt (or cue) with dialog & sound effects, but no music, from a film which he recorded about a month prior in the Sony (MGM) scoring stage.

Then he played it with "demo" music from the composer, James Newton Howard, which was electronic orchestration music. Additional steps were shown of:
-spotting notes from the director, composer, & music editor
-composer making an initial MIDI score
-composer sketches out the cue music better
-an orchestration score is made
-real scores created for an orchestra to play
-score recordist (like Shawn) takes the score and makes input list of instruments/channels/mikes/preamps.

Sketches and photos of the session showed how the recording work gets done. Along with the musicians, many others working the session were shown, including:

-music editor
-orchestrator (Conrad Pope): Shawn's "best friend in the control room" on the job
-music librarian
-composer's engineer
-composer's assistant
-music executive
-headphone & click track operator

Next, Shawn showed how this is all put together. He played the cue music only, with the musician's click track. Together with prerecorded percussion tracks, there are maybe 120 tracks. Stems (submixes containing separate musical elements) are assembled. He played the cue with the orchestra stem alone; then the harps & keyboards stem; guitar; high & low percussion; and synths, showing how different mixes can be easily assembled if the film changes. The layout is a film standard LCRS+sub (left/center/right/surround/subwoofer).

A refreshment break was held, PNW election results announced, and some door prizes were awarded.
Grand Prize courtesy Rick Chinn/Uneeda Audio, was a DVD of Jurassic Park with Oscar®-winning score recording by Shawn Murphy, autographed by Shawn, won by Steve Malott.

After the break, Shawn showed another cue from another recent film which he worked on. The similar work flow was described, this time in the Fox scoring stage. He went into more details of the MIDI tempo maps and the musician's headphone mix and click track operator. Different stems were also played to the cue picture for us.

Ensuing questions and discussions included the type of reverb units used; about mixing the spot mikes with the mains; panning philosophy; LFE (low frequency effects) or subwoofer content; music and dialog; and doing scoring at the local Bastyr chapel. He estimated that score recording typically costs about $150k USD per day, and that doing this work in Los Angeles is generally best since everything involved works like a well-oiled machine.

For our dessert, Shawn presented the complete version you never hear of one of his projects: the NBC News theme composed by John Williams, "The Mission," presented for us in the 5.1 channel, 192kHz session, done at the Sony scoring stage.

Written By:

More About Pacific Northwest Section

AES - Audio Engineering Society