A Composition By Any Other Name

I knew I had to go heavy on the brass.

A Composition By Any Other Name
Photo by Mike Castro Demaria / Unsplash

This week's post is about how I composed the Star Trek theme song in the Star Trek animation I shared in last month's newsletter. I'm still a novice, but I saw a lot of parallels between song composition and novel writing.

Step one was to do my research. For novels, I pick a bunch of peer books in the style I'm going for and read them to figure out the common elements that I'll need to include in my own work. For a Star Trek theme, I listened to all the theme songs to identify common riffs and instruments. I knew I had to go heavy on the brass. These bits that are going to make up the song are like the characters and setting.

Step two was to make my stylistic choices. Novels: first or third person? Present or past tense? Science fiction or mystery? My story was about a science ship, so I wanted my song to be mysterious yet hopeful. Darker than a Major scale, but not as sad as a Minor. Allow me to introduce you to the Dorian mode. If you play video games, you may recognize it. Or not. I didn't know about the modes before I started, but you can do a super deep dive on them. There are plenty of sites for that, so I'll leave you to it. Instead, I'll go on to say I picked my scale and the got on to...

Step three, where I took my riffs and chords (characters and setting), and sketched out a rough chord progression (plot outline). I tried a bunch of different ideas until I found one that I liked. I played around on paper, at a piano, and in my musical notation software.

Step four is where it started to sound like actual songs. I broke the chords up into individual instruments, added melodies (i.e. patterns of shorter notes), and turned my plot outline into a rough draft. Then I threw it out and started over. And repeated that until I had some that might just work.

Once I had settled on my rough draft, I had to pause in order to finish my movie. Because for step five, I needed to synchronize the music to the visuals. Timing of each scene was challenging. The animation couldn't be too slow or to rushed, but the same went for the music. I also wanted to have the music change when I had the characters leave space and land on the planet, but I didn't want it to be too different. When the action heated up, so to the tempo of the music. But just like a novel, the song had to resolve after the climax. Musical resolution is about ending on the right chord, so the listeners understands the musical journey is at an end, just like a good novel.

Many tweaks later, I had lined the music up with the action. The song was brassy when the ship was flying through space. On the ground, it was more playful and featured wind instruments. My central riff showed up in every section, but changed a bit each time. Repetition without stagnation. I added percussion and bits of color here and there to spice it up. I was proud of my creation.

For your enjoyment:

My first attempt. Pretty basic.

Star Trek Routine Mission Test 1

My second attempt. I went for something totally different and inspired by Philip Glass. Later I realized it had a lot in common with the Discovery theme.

Star Trek Routine Mission Test 2

And the final masterpiece!

Star Trek Routine Mission Final

For those who read sheet music, here's the final version.

Todd Edwards © . All rights reserved.