Last updated: October 30, 2018
Music Scoring For Radio Plays - Part 2
Notes toward a detailed essay on scoring methodology for audio theatre/radio drama. It is intended for musicians approaching this unique genre, but also will be useful to any radio dramatist seeking to use music in their productions. If you haven't read my essay on Scoring for Audio Theatre - Part 1, I suggest you stop here and go read it, as this essay builds upon what I've written on that page.
Radio Play Scoring - A musician's perspective
Nobody sells anything like "Great Scores for Radio Drama"--a CD to meet the unique requirements of the radio medium! Even library music doesn't hit all the marks for radio shows.
Since I'm a musician as well as dramatist, I score my own shows. It's quicker than searching through hundreds of film soundtracks and since I composed it, there are no problems with copyrights or permissions. "Needle drops" of library music are expensive and require searching. Plus these "found sounds" don't always sync to the mood your script requires. A custom underscore does wonders for your shows.
You could hire a musician to score your shows, but the genre is a bit outside most musicians' experience--especially radio drama. I don't quite know how the non-composing writers get exactly what they want. I suppose you settle for what you get. However, radio scoring is a skill and can be learned--but, with the lack of instruction materials available, I doubt it can be taught--except by yourself.
I've had to translate my musical skills (Pop, R&B, Jazz) into the rarefied world of scoring. It was not an easy transition and there was little instruction to be found anywhere regarding how radio scores differ from the film/TV variety. If you haven't already, I suggest you stop here and go read my essay about Scoring for Audio Theatre - Part 1 as the rest of this essay builds on what I've written on that page.
That essay is actually directed at school teachers and radio buffs who need to score their plays--often with records (what's now glorified by the title "Music Supervision"). However, my essay could help educate a pop musician in the styles and requirements for radio drama. It's a different mind-set that takes a while to get used to.
To get yourself or a musician friend started in radio scoring
Start with a good listening of what radio scores sound like (Soap Opera organs, The Lone Ranger scoring records, The Shadow, the small ensembles used in 1940s shows, etc.) Listen for the act-ins, act-outs (also called play-ins/play-outs) the stings, beds, bridges, rip-chords, instrumental casting, cue lengths, moods, etc. Make notes of what musical device accomplishes what dramatic effect (or doesn't). Before you can write something, you need to know what can be done in the genre. This way you don't waste time reinventing the wheel. When starting off, I'd avoid dissecting film soundtracks or listening to videos with the picture off--they are fine for what they are, but radio drama is its own sub-genre.
To score, you'll need an instrument. I suggest a sampler/synthesizer (I suppose a PC sound card could also serve). You could score with a single trumpet or guitar, but keyboards have more sounds available. You'll find a musical sequencer program essential in orchestrating several instruments. (for PC: Cakewalk Sonar, Master Tracks Pro, etc. For Mac: Vision, Logic, Cubase, etc.) Many musicians have this gear already, so if you find somebody who plays keyboards--you're probably halfway there.
Now onto radio scoring school
First try imitating a couple of different cues. (I cut my scoring teeth by imitating the cues from Alan Ladd's 1940s Box 13 show.) You might want to start with The Shadow since its music is just an organ and very powerful. In fact, it's heavy-handed, but there are times when you need that kind of dramatic firepower. The suspense shows of the 1940s used small ensembles and thus are fairly easy to reverse-engineer for their orchestrations. I think The Adventures of Philip Marlowe is one of the best scored radio programs ever. You can pick up a lot by imitating the greats.
A few pointers about scoring for radio
Pepper's music website do a music search for:
So once you've learned by imitating other cues, here's my method for scoring
NOTE: This page is a work-in-progress--check back again for more.