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It is important to learn the basics of music design for entertainers as music is an essential component of any show.
Choosing the right music for your acts is critical. You need to match the tempo, music, feel and mood of the music to the illusion performed.
The late-Gary Ouellet covered this subject in depth in his excellent book & companion tape ‘Music for Magicians’. While this books was written for magicians, it really applies to all entertainers and performers. I still I highly recommend this book/ CD set and it is still available from Camirand Academy of Magic. This book will give you sound (pun intended) advice on sources of music and choosing the right music for your show. It will also walk you through a simple music & sound effects edit session.
Note, this course was released in the early-90s so the discussion on technology is dated but the fundamental principles are still relevant.
Fundamental Music Design for Entertainers
At the most fundamental level, music is used to accompany an act to make it interesting and to communicate the performance feel of the illusion. In this case, music is almost used as an audio backdrop to the act.
At a more sophisticated level, music is an integral part of the act. The music becomes just as important as the act itself. With a well-designed piece of music, performed with choreography and precision timing with an act, the music enhances the act and can also be used to highlight specific moments within an act. The music also no longer just serves as a backdrop but helps guide the audience through the narrative of the act and gives the audience distinct applause cues.
An example of how music can be used can be seen in an illusion act I present dubbed “Impossible Cut”.
Music can also be used to evolve sentimental emotion which is a great state to be in to experience wonder that good magic can create for an audience. In magic, Copperfield is a master of matching such music with many of his illusions like “Flying”, “Snowing” and “Portal” to name a few. In the example below, I choreographed a close-up act to a great piece of music to enhance the routine.
Here are some considerations to make when selecting music for your acts:
- Your music style should not only match the acts performed but also the feel of your show and your performance style. If you perform a classical act in tails, a techno remix of a hip-hop track will most probably be an amusing mismatch.
- Avoid overused music pieces that are clichéd and overly familiar, unless you are doing a spoof or themed illusion that must use the track for a logical presentation of the act.
- Avoid using signature music from signature acts from other (especially) well-known entertainers.
- Just as you would create variety and texture in your performance material, be sure to do the same with your music.
Having the same monotonous break-beats of a modern soundtrack can get stale if used throughout a 30-minute show. Likewise, even bright symphonic classical music for every act can be too much.
It does take time and a bit of creative evaluation to select a repertoire of music that is varied but yet has a consistent feel to harmonize with the style of the show.
One way to ensure a consistent sound of all your music but still retain variety is to use different music tracks with the same kind of orchestration. So, if the main illusions of your shows are performed to rock music, the rest of your show music can comprise of tracks of different music styles but with the orchestration made up of electric guitars, drums and keyboards.
Having written the above, having one piece of music that is completely different in your show can also be great to highlight an act and great a completely different mood in the show. This is a useful tool to add theatrical texture to your show.
Sources of Music
Music production for your show starts with finding the right music for your acts. Briefly, your source of music can come from:
- Commercial Music. This offers an extensive range of the highest quality music but will require royalty fees for public performances. It includes everything from classical music to the latest top ten hits to movie soundtracks. Commercial music is music that are released as albums or singles in the commercial market space such as at mainstream music stores or on i-Tunes.
- Royalty Free or Buy-out Music. With this source of music, you are not limited to the use of this music as all royalties are paid upon purchase. However, the quality of music can vary tremendously and finding the right music may take time. You can do a search on-line and find musicians or companies that sell royalty-free music.
- Production Music. This is designed for use in multi-media productions, commercials, television and film. The allowed royalty-free usage may be limited but production value and quality of music can be high. You can do a search on-line and find musicians or companies that license production music.
- Custom-Composed Music. This is the most expensive source of music but offers you custom soundtracks that are designed specifically for your performance material that no one else in the world would have. You can look for composers who create music by asking for recommendations or doing a search on-line.
I personally use and have used all the above sources with great success but you will have to research and invest in what you think is best for you.
You can listen to a sample of music I currently use in my show (2014) below via online stream or here.
This sample track was put together for a blog post that I did for other website for illusionists (www.illusionbooks.com) but is still relevant as an example of my music design.