Do you own a personal ‘bag of tricks’?

In so many interviews with well-known famous composers for Film and TV you hear the term ‘bag of tricks’. As an example, just have a look at this interview with Hans Zimmer at around 5:30min.!

“If you take this music thing seriously, you wanna go and have a serious box of tricks! Simple as that!” – Hans Zimmer

Of course, there are many ways how to fill your personal bag: By studying music and music theory, by experience and even by emulating other composers. But do not believe that sounding like just another A-list composer will give you a career in the industry, because this is not going to happen. However, it probably will make you some good income but it won’t help you to establish a career. Instead, your personal bag is supposed to inspire you whenever you got stuck. It also prevents you from wasting time when deadlines are short and the pressure on you is growing. Just imagine a few of the following scenarios:

  • You have to score a commercial in the style of funny animation, in particular, Disney, until tomorrow.
  • You got hired to write source music for a Film. It is supposed to sound like original Big Band music which is true to the style of Benny Goodman.
  • You are working on a CSI TV show. You are supposed to write 5 minutes of underscore music until tomorrow because there has been a new cut of the scene. No melodies, just atmospheres, pads and rhythm.
  • You wrote a piece for the piano. The director wants to hear that piece arranged and developed for the string orchestra because he doesn’t like the piano.
  • You booked 7 woodwind players for a recording session, but only 6 show up. The director/producer wants you to re-write the score on stage because there is no time for another recording session.
  • And one funny example: You wrote a great piece of music, more or less, by accident. A music publisher offers you 1 Mio. dollars in order to write 20 more pieces in the same style. Since you really don’t know exactly what you did, how do you accomplish this?
  • etc. …

This list could go on forever, but you got the point. You have to be able to react to different situations because that is what happens in the industry all the time. There is no time to fool around when solutions are needed immediately. Your personal bag prepares you for different situations so you will be able to react properly.

The way how we deal with that at M.I.T.A. is quite simple. We are giving our composers “Cheat sheets” (along with the regular materials). Those sheets are meant to be short cuts to musical devices and techniques taught in our course. You got everything in place and don’t have to waste precious time when you better start writing. Whatever works for you, put it into your personal bag of tricks! All this accelerates your process of creating good music! Writing quickly is like training a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it becomes! Sounds great, right? But why are not all people master composers then? Well, filling your ‘bag of tricks’ requires some organization and some structural thinking. It sounds funny, but many artists put most of their energy into their artistry and don’t even realize that they could boost their careers in a tremendous way by just working on their personal ‘bag of tricks’ a bit more.

And if you have got plenty of time, finish the job quickly anyway and spend some of your time with your beloved family and friends!



About the Author

Frank Herrlinger

Frank Herrlinger

Frank is the co-founder of Music Interval Theory Academy (M.I.T.A.) and a professional composer working in the industry for over 10 years. He wrote music for numerous video games published for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. His music is also constantly heard on German television (RTL, Pro7, VOX, etc.), in commercials, and trailers.

Furthermore, he gives live training sessions in composition and how to use interval theory inside the membership every month.

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