As with GameDev, I do have a pretty vast and extensive list of material that I think is valuable for a musician working in the music for the media business. A lot of these resources are paid, some are more affordable than others, but any that I list here I know for a fact are well worth their cost. I do have a BFA in music where I covered most of the basics, so I would say most of these are probably advanced courses or books, while some may be considered intermediate if you are happy to do some research on the side to figure things out.
This is a selection of my favorites and the ones I think make an aspiring musician the most well rounded. If you know your basics plus these materials and know how to apply them and use them in your daily work, then I believe you can call yourself a pro.
Courses and videos:
By far the best resource available if you want to learn to write music in a “Golden Age” Hollywood style (think John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Menken, these types of neo-romantic genre music). It’s a subscription service with several valuable courses. A few that I think really stand out:
1- The entire Orchestrating The Line series. A great practical approach to orchestration. Not complete in terms of having barely any info about instrumentation, so a good orchestration book as a companion will be a must.
2- “Practical Counterpoint 2” is a more advanced discussion on contrasts, textures, etc. If you already know your basics this is a great exploration on these topics that are not so often discussed in a college course.
- ThinkSpace Education
They have a fantastic library of courses with very real and practical, business-oriented framework. If you are looking to work in the music business Guy and the crew have the real world advice, particularly in “Music for the media” and “Working composer”. The realities of working in the music business are laid out in those courses, as well as advice for navigating it. They also have some short courses that are more beginner friendly.
- Film Music Notes
Mark Richards has decoded some of the secrets and techniques of writing film music in such a digestible and practical way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I knew some of the concepts before taking the course, but they are explained and demonstrated so clearly that one can’t help but wonder how is it that nobody bothered to put something like this together before. The way this is taught should be the standard, Mark Richards is a genius. Don’t miss out on his stuff!
- Alan Belkin
Alan offers his courses generously on YouTube, for free. Also has a few books out there, free as well. I honestly don’t think you can find material of this caliber and depth for free anywhere else. It’s intermediate/advanced stuff, though.
- Orchestration Online
Thomas Goss has been providing orchestration resources online for years. His material is mostly free, with a Patreon and a couple of books (more on that in a minute). Highly recommended.
- Academy of Scoring Arts
They regularly offer events with score studies and guest lectures regarding famous scores. They are also recorded for later viewing. They have a great library of these talks available.
- “Adaptive Music Adventures” by Kajero (YT Playlist)
A fantastic overview of how game music works. If you’re in need of an intro, this is a great place to start and understand how it all works.
- “Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide To Music Notation” by Elaine Gould
If you are serious about music notation or music preparation you just cannot miss this book. Full stop.
- “Orchestration” by Walter Piston
This is, in my humble opinion, the best resource out there in terms of orchestration. There are books that offer a more complete scope, like Samuel Adler’s “The Study of Orchestration” or a more focused approach like Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Principles of Orchestration”. But I think both have shortcomings and the Piston book is a good compromise.
RK’s book lacks in instrumentation. It is usually suggested to beginners and I just keep wondering why. How can one orchestrate effectively without knowing the idiosyncrasies of the instruments one is writing for? The book is available for free, though, so that balances it out. I just don’t think it is great for beginners.
As for the Adler book… Well the Adler book is okay, but it used in colleges around the world and suffers a lot of the shortcomings of being a college textbook. Costs more than twice what the Piston book costs and contains very similar information. Not only that, but also has all the audio examples behind a subscription service, so you purchase the book and get the examples for only a year before you have to pay again for them. I have a personal policy of not badmouthing online but I will break it this time: What W.W. Norton & Co does with this book is predatory behavior, and makes it unfit for having this text as a consultation book you keep in your personal library. Get the Piston book instead and you’ll be golden.
- “100 Orchestration Tips” and “100 More Orchestration Tips” by Thomas Goss (available at Orchestration Online)
Invaluable resources with short and to the point tips for each section and instrument in the orchestra. These two books constitute a fantastic checklist to look at when you are orchestrating. I use these books constantly.
- “The Spectrotone Chart” by Alexander Publishing
There are a lot of resources like this one available, but I use this particular chart. I keep a copy of the chart in my desk at all times to expedite orchestration. It helps when you need basic blends or quick range consultations. Alexander Publishing uses this chart in a lot of the courses they offer, and some of them I think are more beginner friendly.
- “Hollywood Harmony” by Frank Lehman
This book is another one of those that makes you go “How is it that this is not the standard way of explaining this stuff?”. It is very technical and academic in language but I was glued to the book for like a month trying out and incorporating the examples and techniques described. It simplifies film harmony and harmonic analysis in a way that is hard to beat. Lehman also regularly shares invaluable analysis and insights on his Twitter account. Another one in the league of geniuses, IMO.
- “On The Track: A Guide To Contemporary Film Scoring” by Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright
The all in one guide for film scoring. I can’t think of a better resource that covers all the skills needed for film scoring. The foreword is by the great John Williams, enough said.
- “The Music of The Lord Of The Rings” by Doug Adams
I love this book so much I don’t know if I can stay objective in describing it. It covers the music of the trilogy, analyzed from a musicology perspective, with illustrations and a theme by theme breakdown as well as a film by film breakdown with the occurrence of each theme described. It is the most beautiful and inspiring book in my library, period.
- “Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio” by Mike Senior
I’m very technically oriented and sometimes that works against me in terms of trying out everything under the sun while pursuing the horizon of The Great Sound. This book grounds me into a results-oriented framework to get what I need when mixing and producing music instead of tinkering with the settings until the cows come home.
- “The Score, The Orchestra and The Conductor” by Gustav Meier
I wish everyone would read this book. Every time I hear someone asking what the conductor actually does, and all the awful, incorrect responses that creep up… Yeah. Everybody should read this book. Or, at the very least, every musician.
- “Music Composition for Film and Television” by Lalo Schifrin
Composition-oriented book filled with advice by the guy who wrote the Mission Impossible theme. What else is there to say?
- “74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers” by Dennis DeSantis
This is fantastic to avoid a “blank page” when writing music. It is oriented for EDM but the advice applies to every genre you can think of. If you get stuck on the first step a lot, start here.
- “A Composer’s Guide to Game Music” by Winifred Phillips
Being a gamedev, I couldn’t omit this one from the list. Granted, it is very specific to the issues of game development (adaptive music, horizontal and vertical resequencing, middleware, generative music, etc.) I still think it is a great all around book. A lot of fantastic anecdotes and business advice as well. Great if you’re a game dev.
- “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
Not music related, but I think that if you want to have a career in music, particularly in TV or games or with music preparation for films, where sometimes there’s immense pressure and deadlines… Well, then I also think you might also need to be a Stoic, LOL.
Resources and software:
- REAPER DAW
The most customizable DAW out there, bar none. Some people prefer other software. I love Reaper because of its flexibility. It gets the job done, is clean, light on processing and efficient. I also can customize it with scripts that help me automate the boring stuff. The pricing is very fair. As long as Reaper is around I will never switch DAW.
- Open Stage Control
If you have a touchscreen or a tablet, you can now control Reaper or other software using it. I have the most used shortcuts there, and it speeds up my workflow a lot. It’s all about saving time (even if it’s just a few seconds) on each task. No matter how short, those seconds add up at the end of the day.
- Spitfire Audio
These guys have some of the best samples available. Not only that, but they generously offer the LABS series and BBCSO Discovery for free, and the Originals for very little money. With a few bucks and some creativity you can hit the ground running.
My software of choice for writing music (and transcribing music by others!). I love handwriting music, there’s a connection there that you just can’t get by regular computer input. There’s also a lot of sample libraries available for it, and I own most of them.
First, I was a Finale user. Then I became a Sibelius user. And then I tried Dorico and I have not looked back. The part condensing feature alone saves so much time, the tied tablature and staff parts for stringed instruments… Dorico is ahead of it’s time. I still use Finale and Sibelius from time to time, when clients request it. But I am in love with Dorico and it’s workflow.
Having this installed is like having a second orchestrator checking and testing your work live. It is not perfect in terms of balancing and requires experience. But I would rather have this than the factory samples for each notation app. Plus, you install it and it just works, requires almost no set-up.
- iZotope Neutron and Ozone
Another great time-saver. Again, as a tinkerer, I can stay moving faders and knobs forever and never call something finished. Neutron and Ozone really help by being a one-stop shop and simplifying the process. As long as I can resist the temptation to start browsing for more plugins I know I can call stuff “done”.