‘Straight Outta Compton’ Composer Delivers Score with Pro Tools and Sibelius

By in Music Creation, Pro Mixing, Video Editing

We sat down recently to spend time with the young and up-and-coming composer for the hit movie ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Joe Trapanese.

“The thing that initially drew me to Pro Tools was that I could speak the same language as everyone else in Post Production. By using other software – I was placing boundaries between myself and my music editor, my engineers and dubbing mixers… It’s been a real time saver – once I got into Pro Tools I got to see what makes it so strong. It’s handling of audio and MIDI allows me to get my ideas down faster than ever.”

—Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton, Oblivion, Tron Legacy)

Feature Film and Episodic Drama TV composers face big challenges delivering a high quality, compelling score that matches the story and picture. Besides the creative aspects and interpreting the director’s vision for music score in the story, there are huge technical hurdles and workflow challenges and it’s not always a linear process because of picture changes, input from the studio execs, directors changing their minds or hearing something different when all the final elements are in place…

Working and writing in a separate DAW (other than Pro Tools) like Logic, Cubase or Digital Performer puts another layer of complexity and translation that needs to happen for a composer.  Music editors, Scoring Mixers and Dubbing Mixers will be working in Pro Tools as the Post Industry standard solution. Composers like Joe Trapanese, Brian Tyler and Tyler Bates have found that making Pro Tools HDX or Pro Tools | HD Native their central application for writing with MIDI and Audio, Recording, Editing, Mixing and Delivery, mean that they can spend more time focusing on being creative, focus more on the music and less time trying to juggle the work and translate MIDI to audio back and forth between applications.

Having worked for composers who use Logic and then score, edit and mix in Pro Tools, there is an elaborate process to get all the Pre-Records (synths, loops, guitars – i.e. non orchestral sounds) and tempo maps from Logic into Pro Tools to go to the scoring stage. If a cue changes (sometimes the night before the scoring date and even sometimes during) – changes need to be made to the recording template and it can get crazy…

“Pro Tools makes perfect sense for how I compose. It’s the focus of my studio. I don’t have time to change platforms back and forth, do stems, conform them to picture changes — I just could not do it. I would never have time to deliver anything. The Pro Tools environment is the truest to my process, to the demands that the project puts on me. This is my beginning and ending platform; it’s the way things are done. I know that when I go to Abbey Road Studios to record choir and orchestra, they work in Pro Tools, and I can send them a session or a drive to prepare for that. I know we are speaking the same language, and we are not going to have a problem.”

—Tyler Bates, composer (300, Guardians of the Galaxy, Sucker Punch)

Pro Tools also makes the most sense because it integrates and works well with Sibelius – the language of orchestrators for writing and enhancing parts in the right voicing’s for each of the instruments and then printing out the parts for musicians as Joe discusses in this video.

Pro Tools HDX allows the scoring team to record (with ultra low latency that professional musicians demand), edit and manage hundreds of tracks and dozens of takes of each cue, especially on big scores.  It’s not unheard of for a cue to have over 256 tracks. Big orchestra and choir record dates could easily require more than 64 inputs and many outputs for all of the pre-record playbacks. All of which is easily and reliably handled with Pro Tools HDX.

And when it comes time to mix – HDX offers the power and flexibility mixers need to get their job done: under time pressure deliver complex, great sounding, stemmed mixes (usually 40 or more channels wide in 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound) as well as a stereo mix for the CD. Stem mixes give the Director, Music Editor and Dialogue/Music mixer the ability to tweak any balances on the dubbing stage and work around the dialogue better. HDX in combination with an integrated Avid Pro Mixing control surface like Pro Tools | S6 or S3 handles the job with ease and allows mixers the ability to still be creative.

“Pro Tools HDX has been a huge upgrade from the previous HD system for me.  The sonic improvement is significant and the faster processing speed allows me to work faster… I mix entirely in it and it’s been very reliable – and I don’t need a separate stem recorder system.  Track counts these days are way over the previous 192 track limit and my session templates and routing keep getting more complex, but HDX allows me the flexibility and power to do what I need to deliver the score on time. I’m really thrilled with the upgrade…”

—James T Hill, scoring mixer (Revenge, Olympus Has Fallen, Mad Men)

Now if you are a young composer getting started, Pro Tools HDX or HD Native may be out of your reach financially right now, but it doesn’t mean you can’t start using Pro Tools as the center of your studio and composing tool of choice. You can get a full version of Pro Tools with 128 audio tracks, 512 virtual instrument tracks, 512 Midi tracks, up to 32 simultaneous hardware inputs, unlimited busses, included virtual instruments, plug-ins and more… all for $ 599 purchase or as low as $ 24.99 a month subscription.

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Marketing manager for Avid Post Audio and Pro Mixing, I am also a veteran engineer/recordist/editor. I've worked on music scores for dozens of feature films, including Ice Age, Collateral, and The Spirit.
  • AndrevanHaren

    But isn’t Pro Tools very midi unfriendly? I worked with it for a while and it has limitations compared with for example Logic.

    • Tom Graham

      I suppose it’s a point of view and a bit of conjecture. Some would say Logic is Audio and Mixing unfriendly. Thanks for your comment.

  • Timothy Mathews

    Logic is also Mac only. Those who don’t want to waste money for name cache instead of performance can’t use it.