The Business Behind the Marriage of Music and Film

What is a kiss without violins serenading in the background of a film? What is a Lord of the Rings war scene without a Wagnerian symphony? It is music that sets the dramatic tone of a film, helping to establish moods and intensify feelings. Additionally, it is music that emotionally bridges scenes together and disguises any blemish in the film dialogue. Watching a movie is a sensual experience.

On October 27, 2007, Robert Kraft (Harvard ’76), President of Fox Music Inc., visited Harvard to discuss the magic of the film music industry. Kraft has supervised numerous Fox scores and soundtracks of films such as Titanic, Waiting to Exhale, Moulin Rouge, Garden State and Walk the Line. Additionally, he has supervised the music from Twentieth Century Fox Television shows, such as Ally McBeal, X-Files, Family Guy, 24 and The Simpsons. He has been nominated for an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, and a Golden Globe Award for co-writing “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” the theme song from the Warner Bros. feature, The Mambo Kings. His other repertoire include the Grammy Award-winning songs on the double-platinum soundtrack of The Little Mermaid. Kraft shared with the Harvard community insights on the business behind the marriage of music and film:

1. An Alternative Career in Music
Kraft started to write songs while he was a music student Harvard, where he formed a band, which grew to become his greatest passion. He followed his love for music from the day he left Harvard. Hungry for experience, Kraft was initially not precious about what jobs to which he would say yes. He was in the yes business. He saw every job as an opportunity to improve his skills. As a result of his positive attitude, Kraft found himself consistently stumbling into incredible experiences. He eventually moved to Los Angeles due to the fact that aspiring musical composers tend to gravitate towards Hollywood. During his career path, Kraft switched from being the talent to the management in a movie studio. According to the humble and modest Kraft, a portion of success in Hollywood can be attributed to luck, where “you find out in life that you were the seventh guy on the list when the first six guys passed.”

2. Pecking Order
Even the top Hollywood composer must be completely aware of the pecking order. The composer must always remember that the movie is NOT his movie. It is the movie of the producers and the director. It is only the composer that gets a little “frosty” that does not get to work a lot in the film music industry. It is simple. If a producer or director does not like the composition, then the composer is strongly advised to respect the pecking order. It is difficult to be an artist in America without dealing with capitalism.

3. Challenges
There exist on the Fox lot two enormous dubbing stations. In the final dub, the two-week period at the end of the final film process, a big consul sits with a row of mixers during the playback of the film. The final mix is a very sophisticated and challenging process. According to Kraft, Fox is an interesting place to work because the studio is “allergic to music”: “Receiving comments such as too loud, too much, turn it down, take the stuff out.or I hate the oftentimes a lovely moment for me.” Producers and directors must be aware of the normal nervous reaction of hearing music synched with the film for the first time, especially after living with the film without music for several weeks. The “I love it reaction” usually results after listening to a piece of music repeatedly.

4. On Forecasting the Future
According to Kraft, it is very important to be current in the music industry because moves are released on year later. Much of the challenge of working with music and film is identifying contemporary music and discovering the young Hans Zimmers in order to save money.

5. Wedding of Music and Technology
Today, due to the marriage of music and technology, making an actor a sing in tune is no mystery. The entertainment industry is living in an incredible digital tidal wave.

6. On Music Licensing
Kraft simplifies the music licensing business using a two-sentence primer. Every song is like a pie with two heads: the synch and the master.
The Synch = the underlying composition; the copyright
The Master = the recording, usually owned by a record company
In the film music industry, usually only synch fees are paid.

7. Loves
Some of Kraft’s favorite films supervised include That Thing You Do!, Garden State and Moulin Rouge. He is always thrilled when is discovers an artist that holds both a great attitude and a superb attitude. For example, he credits Hans Zimmer and for his incredible attitude and fabulous aptitude. He also considers Ray Santos as one of the greatest, most humble and collaborative arrangers with which he has ever worked. Santos was a professor at City College of New York and the arranger for Mambo Kings.

8. Joy of Working
Kraft is a true inspiration of a Harvard graduate who did not hesitate to continue in the artistic vein post-graduation, following the career path of his heart. One of Kraft’s most joyful aspects of his job is working on animation films, due to the delightfulness of working with pure fantasy and imagination. He is truly enthralled with love for his work. When he was a student at Harvard, he was involved with animation at the VES. Little did he know that he would later work with music and animation-with features such as Ice Age 2 and The Little Mermaid. He finds much joy and reward in working with the top talent in the industry. After working with some of most creative directors and musicians in the film industry, such as Baz Luhrmann and Hans Zimmer, Kraft attests that he has never sacrificed anything in life. During a film screening, he is wincing in the back of the room half the time.

Some people do not realize that in a given movie, there are approximately thirty songs. The challenge and joy of working with film music is to deeply listen to the music and follow changes in musical tones while being truly engaged in the film. It is like counting your breath while you meditate. Kraft shared a couple Fox Music Score samples in order to discuss various approaches to scoring. The Harvard audience received a piece of how joyful his daily work is.

Robert Kraft’s lecture at Harvard was kindly presented by “Learning From Performers,” a program of the Office for the Arts at Harvard.