Bespoke Music for Documentary

“There is nothing so powerful as truth, and often nothing so strange.” – Daniel Webster

The thing I love about documentaries is that they are about something real.  They might be about something I’d never really considered, but now I’m transported into someone elses life and can understand their view in depth.  Or, they might give me a deeper understanding of something I’m already aware of.  Either way, my view of the world is broadened just a little wider.

by Jakob owens

Photo Credit: Jakob Owens



As with any type of filmmaking, you are telling a story.  You are thinking about the characters you are filming, what points do you want to get across, what sequence will it be in?  All these things are also considered by the composer and should be reflected in the music.


Music – What Works

I tend to think about the music in two ways:
  • A Time or Place
  • A Feeling or Mood
Guitar on patterned blankets Junior Pereira

Photo Credit: Junior Pereira

Time or place:    For example, your documentary might be about a particular time period and place.  The obvious thing to do is look for the styles of music that were popular – for example, in WWI it was the Romantic Style (1780 – 1910 e.g. Elgar)  You might also have some source music which you have permission to use, you can ask your composer to write something, or find a suitable music library track.


Feeling or mood: You don’t have to tie yourself to strict time periods or places with your music – you can just use them as little tasters throughout.  You can think about the mood of a certain scene and have music which underpins what you’re trying to say to the audience.  Music can also give pace to a scene you feel is a little slow, punctuate a change of place or scenery, and give your whole production a cohesive sound.

Less is More

Depending on the style of the documentary, a simple approach to the score can often work well.  If it’s following a story about someone’s life for example, you don’t need a big, all-guns-blazing orchestral score.  Something simple and understated just to give the right undertone can be all you need at times.

“I just want something ticking along here which is ambiguous.”

How I Work

Something I think comes up a lot, is that filmmakers think they need to talk to their composer in musical terms, and they’re worried that they don’t know the ‘correct’ term to use.  Well, I can say with a lot of certainty – NO composer is expecting you to do that.  What we want from you is a mood, a feeling.  You can say to a composer – I want something soft and unobtrusive, but with a bit of pace.  Or – I want a sense of urgency here.  I want you to bring out the sadness here, or the joy.  I want it to feel like there is a sense of hope.  I just want something ticking along here which is ambiguous.

You can also use temp tracks to show a composer what you mean.  But that is exactly what they should be: temporary.  Use them as a way to show what mood you are looking for, not something to tie down the composer with.  And if there are things you don’t like about the temp track, say that too.  The more information the better!

by alexey-ruban

Photo Credit – Alexey Ruban


My workflow generally looks like this:

  • Discuss the score with you and any ideas you already have for the music.  Look at any temp tracks you have used and discuss cue timings, moods and instrumentation.  It’s great when this discussion happens early in the filmmaking process, as I can give some ideas right off the bat (which you may not have thought of!) but often I am given a finished edit to start of with.
  • Depending on the timescale, I like to write a few short samples to check I have understood exactly what you wanted.  If it’s not quite right I can then go back and change anything you’re not happy with, before I carry on with the rest of the score.  (sometimes with tight deadlines, this is not possible and the score is written all the way through before any changes are made).
  • I think it’s fair to say that any composer worth their salt will change their score over and over until the director is happy.  However, if we’ve worked out what is needed in the first place, and I have understood you deeply enough, the result is usually that less changes are needed later on.  I want to get in your mind, on your wavelength, I want to understand what you’re looking for right from the start.

If you’re interested in seeing some of my work for documentaries, please visit my website, and here’s a taster playlist:

Documentary playlist:

Further Reading:


A great article on how to make a captivating documentary:

4 Ways Documentary Filmmaking Can Capture Real-Life Drama

Using music which is ‘score’, music which is from a source onscreen and music which is somewhere inbetween:
Diegetic Music, Non-Diegetic Music, and “Source Scoring”

WIRED: A list of the best documentaries available to stream:

Wired: 29 of the best documentaries you can stream right now


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3 Reasons Ukulele Is So Popular In TV Music

Aah, the humble Uke.  Small, and so perfectly formed.  Why though, is this staple of Hawaii and George Formby, so massively popular in TV music at the moment?

1. It’s Happy

The ukulele is the musical instrument equivalent of a fluffy puppy bounding through a meadow with it’s tongue lolling out to one side.  Whether it’s an introduction segment on a home renovation show or a TV advert for just about anything, rest assured a light, happy ukulele track will give the uplifting feel you’re looking for – its small size lends itself to quick and agile strumming.


2. The Tone Doesn’t Interfere With The Human Voice

Ukuleles come in 5 sizes – from high to low are Sopranissimo, Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone.  I would say that the most used in TV music are probably Soprano and Concert.

If you play anything on these smaller sizes they are mainly higher than the tone of the human voice.  Also, the essence of the sound is light, thin and unobtrusive.  This makes the music less distracting and doesn’t interfere with the sound of the VO, presenter or talking heads.

3. It’s Universal

We don’t automatically associate the Uke with Hawaii anymore.  It’s been used so much in many different contexts that now, we feel we can use it on anything.  It’s become the magnolia paint of TV music – it’s been done before, it doesn’t break any barriers – but it works well in many circumstances.


So, if the Uke is used a lot and you fancy using something different, what are your options?

Try thinking outside the box.  Write a brief for the composer or look for tracks which are light and happy, but use different or unusual instruments.  A lot of instruments played in their higher ranges can sound light and whimsical – piano, marimba, mandolin and harmonica for example.

Me with my Kala Concert Uke :)

Me with my Kala Concert Uke 🙂

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I’ve had 8,599 plays on Soundcloud!! Can we get it up to 9,000??


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Seeking Short Film to work on!

I’m currently looking for excellent quality short films to work on for my showreel.

Do you know any filmmakers, directors or producers creating an exciting, interesting short?  I’m offering my services for low / no pay for the right project.

I create high quality, interesting and mood enhancing scores for short films, using a mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments.  In the past my music has been used on BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 4, More 4, Sky, NBC, ABC, Fox and many others.


I’ve created a Film / Short Film playlist so you can hear some of my music:

To see more of my previous work, please visit my website:

And to contact me click here

Thanks, I look forward to working with you!


A stack of three 35mm movie film trailers - on white

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Being A Composer Is Hard

As a little experiment, I decided to type “being a composer is” into Google. The top results were “being a composer is hard” and “is being a composer hard” well, googling people, you have answered each other’s question!

My two pence on the subject is this. I am mainly talking about composing music for tv, film, games etc here rather than concert works, but a lot of the same things apply.

You have two umbrellas of difficulties as a composer. Firstly, you have to excel at writing, producing and usually also performing music (it’s cheaper for you if you can perform more instruments on your tracks yourself). Secondly you will very likely, unless you are very lucky, have to be excellent at marketing yourself, getting to know people, being friendly and nice to work with, and taking care of the business side.

That is one hell of a massive skillset right there.

What you’ll find meeting or talking to successful composers, is that most of these things do apply most of the time. Sometimes careers get propelled quickly with a stroke of luck early on. Sometimes it takes years and years of graft to get where you want to be. Maybe it will be peaks and troughs all the way for you. Even if you’re offered all the work you could ever want, you still have to do that work, and do it well.  I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years now full time, and I still never know what’s around the corner!

There are no hard and fast rules, no one route into the industry or one way to do things, but one thing for certain is: being a composer is hard.

Some other little insights from Google search:

“Become a composer without going to college”

I studied a degree in music composition for media.  I cannot imagine even considering giving this career a go without having had that training.  I learnt so much on that course, I still utilise that knowledge probably every day!  Sure, there are composers who have been successful without going that route, but I think people in the industry are finding it’s a good way to find out who’s serious about composing.  There are a lot of music courses, and a lot of music graduates, far more than there used to be.  It’s hard enough sifting through those young composers to find the good ones, let alone if they haven’t even studied academically.  I guess what I’m saying is – if you are that serious about it, why not study it?!

“Become a better composer”

I am so glad there are a lot of people googling this! I think we should keep this in mind at all stages of our career.  There are always things you don’t know, things you could do better, ways to sound better, the list goes on.  We can always become a better composer if we are always open to learning.


Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

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Please Sponsor me!

I’m doing the London 10K Walk for the MS Society on 28th September.  The money raised will go towards MS Research – it’s vital that we raise money so that one day there may be a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.

I haven’t posted to this blog in a long time! I’m hoping to have time to write some new music related posts in the next few weeks.  However, for now I just have a personal request…

My mother was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 1998.  However, it was suspected that she might have had it for 15 years at that point.  Only 4 years later, she had a very severe downturn and ended up in hospital, and subsequently a nursing home, where she still is now.  I was in school when she was diagnosed, and 17 when she went into hospital / care.  Nowadays she can not really communicate or move at all.  She can not eat or drink as it is dangerous for her to swallow (she is peg fed).

This is why I want to raise money for MS Research.

One of the biggest problems is our lack of understanding and knowledge about MS.  We don’t know 100% what causes it.  We can treat the symptoms a little, but we can not prevent, or reverse the progression of the disease.

PLEASE DONATE to the MS Research fund so others in the future may benefit from new medications and hopefully one day, a cure for MS.

To donate please visit my Just Giving page, it’s easy! Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far.

Picture – Mum and Me, 1986

mum and me 1edit

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What Makes You So Special? 10 Minute Tips: Audio in Video

Video Production is a busy marketplace, and even at a small business event you’ll meet several companies showcasing their wares.  So how can you win those all important jobs?  How can you make sure you carve yourself a niche and stand out from your competitors? What makes you so special that someone will hire your company over someone elses?

crowded marketplace
Video production is a crowded marketplace

One way is to concentrate on the quality of the work you produce for your clients.  I think  it’s always worth remembering these two key things:

  1. Any work you do could be used on your showreel to present to potential clients.

  2. If you really go that extra mile and wow your clients, frequently exceeding their expectations, they may refer other companies they know to you.

So we’ve established that the quality of the work you do for your clients can have a very positive knock on effect.  One area in which I see (or should I say hear) video production companies falling short of the mark time and time again though, is not the visual aspect, but the AUDIO aspect of their videos. Lets think about the key aspects of audio usually used in a promotional video: Location / Ambient Sound, Voice Over, Music and perhaps some Sound Design or Sound FX.

Ear Art

Location / Ambient Sound

The main issue I notice with location sound is merely the quality of the recording.  Take the best microphone/s you can and always check your recording levels are good but not hitting the red.  If you’re recording people talking make sure there’s no annoying sound interfering with the speech – try and move away from or switch off loud air conditioning or heating, and listen to the ambience of the room.  Is it very echoey?  Try and stay away from large rooms which have lots of reflective surfaces (wood, windows etc).  If you don’t achieve a good recording while you’re there, trying to’fix it in the mix’ could turn into a nightmare – I know – people have sent me audio files to try and clean up.  Remember you’re trying to wow your clients with the quality of your work.

Voice Over

Most voice overs I hear have been recorded well, probably because you’ve shelled out for a nice little reflexion filter and a lovely expensive microphone (I hope!).  However, I don’t always hear them being compressed or EQ’d properly.  What I usually do is raise the EQ slightly in the 150 Hz region (depending on the depth of the voice – trust your ears) and maybe a touch at the top end, both with a wide ‘Q’ (a smooth bump as opposed to an acute point – see below).  I then compress the VO until it sounds smooth and strong, but not enough for it to sound like its ‘pumping’.  Have a look at the compressors in your software – are there any presets you can tweak for voice overs?

Voice Over EQ curve

Voice Over EQ curve

Also see my blog post specifically on compression.


Library Music

A low budget does not have to mean low quality or no music.  If you are using library music, really listen to the quality of the tracks.  There are libraries out there which are excellent value for money with high quality tracks, like Cinephonix (and yes, I do write for them).

Bespoke Music

Bespoke music is not going to be the best option for every job, but it’s certainly worth considering if you think it could work really well, and is most likely less expensive than you think.  If you’ve read my blog before then you’ll know the many benefits of bespoke music, like driving the pace, versatility, saving you time, strengthening brand identity, personal touch and expertise.  If not my blog post on this is here: Why Use Bespoke Music?

Sound Design / SFX

Subtle sound effects on graphics and logos can go a long way to polishing a video to that gleaming professional level.  I’ve worked on many projects where I’ve tied in the effects with the music, like a subtle marimba hit or piano note in the same key as the music to punctuate a titlecard or quoted text.  The key is to not go over the top with them – only hit main titles and don’t use something that sounds overbearing.


Also I just wanted to make a note on monitoring.  Mixing sound is an art in itself so maybe I’ll save that for another post, but with monitoring, I have noticed something in many an office that’s always a worry.  That is – speakers on the desk!! For a start, desks are usually quite reflective so may colour the sound but also, this is way too low a position to have your speakers.  As a basic rule, your ears should be in between the tweeter and woofer which needs to be achieved with desktop speaker stands or Auralex pads.  If your speakers are lower, everything will sound more ‘tinny’ than they actually are, any higher and things may sound more bassy – either way you are not getting a true idea of the sound which means you may be adding EQ in an unproductive way.  And don’t even get me started on using laptop speakers! Only ever use your proper monitoring set up in your studio or very good headphones.

So there you are – I hope this post has helped you to improve the audio in your videos – if so I’d love to see / hear the results!  And if you’re ever considering using a composer to create bespoke music, sound effects or mix your sound, please see my website

Until next time 🙂


Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

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Why Use Bespoke Music? Part 2 – Benefits to Your Work

Part 2: Benefits to your work

Tailored to Fit

Everyone has been in the situation where they’re tired of sifting through library music trying to find something that fits.  Nothing seems to work, and as you’ve been searching for so long everything starts to sound the same.

It’s at points like this that you could ask yourself – why have I automatically chosen to use library music in the first place? Am I certain a composer would be too expensive? Did I even get a quote?

A composer can feel the ebb and flow of a video.  They can make a slow scene seem more exciting, make something comedic, twee, classy, proud, adventurous…the list goes on, all tailored to your edit.

Brand Identity

Always remember, that tracks in music libraries can pretty much be accessed by anyone.  That means if you use it in your video production, literally hundreds or even thousands of other companies could be using it too.

If you’ve ever seen two different companies’ adverts or corporate videos with the same library track on, you’ll have seen how detrimental it can be for a brands identity.  The main culprits for me at the moment are the hotel / property / cookery reality shows that all use the same library music.  No wonder people can’t differentiate between the overabundance of reality lifestyle shows on their TV.  Give your clients a real identity in their online videos, corporate DVDs or TV adverts.


Why do all the big advertising agencies use composed music? Why do TV shows have composed themes?  Why do major TV dramas still use real orchestras? A good composer could seriously increase the quality of your work.

Increasing the quality of one project doesn’t stop there.  Do your clients ever view your previous work when they’re trying to decide which production company to use? Of course they do.  So having composed music doesn’t just mean quality, it could give you the edge over your competitors when trying to win new business, too.

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

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Why Use Bespoke Music? Part 1 – Benefits to You

Library music has it’s place.  It’s quick, convenient and cheap.  But sometimes, you just can’t find something that fits – so, what other benefits are there to using bespoke music?

Part 1: Benefits to you.


Using a composer for the music in your video means a personal interaction.  Yes, if you’re using a music library you can most likely phone them up and ask advice about their catalogue, but by employing a composer you can do so much more than that.

You can bounce ideas off each other, have real discussions about musical direction, and reach the end goal together.  A composer may have ideas that you hadn’t even thought of.


One of the most obvious benefits is versatility.  If you buy a library piece, you can’t say “Can I just have that guitar a little quieter”, “Can the second section start sooner because we’re changing the edit” or “Can it be a bit faster”?  Usually any changes have to be made by your editor, using up their time not only editing the picture but the music too.  Which brings me to:

A Composer Could Actually Save You Time

Some people may imagine using a composer as a long, drawn out process, when actually it could save you time.  We all know how adversely the music can affect the perception of the picture.  Imagine delegating this to a professional composer, leaving your editor to concentrate on the visual side of things.  You’d still have to approve a couple of samples and discuss the direcion of the music, so why not discuss those things with a specialist?

Someone You Can Trust

Understandably, delegating such an important part of your project can be daunting.  Look at the composer’s testimonials, previous work and credits.  Get to know them – ask them for their ideas on a new brief.  You never know what they could come up with, and if you get a good feeling about them, why not give them a try?

Thanks for reading, now for Part 2 – Benefits to your work

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

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Claire’s Christmas Cracker – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About These Christmas Songs!

Entering any Christmas pub quizzes this year? This little lot may well help you out…

White Christmas by Bing Crosby is not only the biggest selling Christmas single, it is the biggest selling single of all time!


Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon was first released in the USA in 1971 where it didn’t chart.  It only became successful (#4) when released for a second time in the UK a year later


The song ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’ changes between a 3/4 and 4/4 time signature throughout.


Jingle Bells was written in 1850 and has 4 verses.  It was originally written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas


Noddy Holder wrote the lyrics for ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ in one draft after a night out drinking.


The only Christmas number 1 hits by females are ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston, ‘A Moment Like This’ by Leona Lewis and ‘Hallelujah’ by Alexandra Burke.


Mr Blobby (sorry to remind you!) was the first non-human to have a number 1 Christmas single (‘Mr Blobby’ in 1993) followed by Bob the Builder in 2000 (‘Can We Fix It’)


The song ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ by Wizzard was recorded in August 1973.  “To create a wintry feeling, engineer Steve Brown decorated the studio with Christmas decorations and turned the air conditioning down to its coldest setting.”  The song was beaten to the number 1 spot by Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ and reached #4.


‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ by Mariah Carey is the best ever selling Christmas ringtone.


The lyrics to carol Silent Night (Stille Nacht) were written by an Austrian priest (Joseph Mohr) in 1816.  The melody was composed by an Austrian headmaster (Franz Xaver Gruber).  The version of the melody that is sung today differs slightly from the original.


Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

 Facts from Wikipedia
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