Recording Doctor Who soundtracks

Thursday 29 September 2011, 10:00

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton

I come from a family of Doctor Who fans. If he were on Mastermind, Doctor Who would probably be my cousin Nick's specialist subject. When I got my job, I think one of Nick's first questions was when would my first Doctor Who session be.

Recording a soundtrack for a show as celebrated as Doctor Who may seem like the coolest thing since the Daleks learned to hover circa 2005, and I remember the excitement I felt on the morning of my first Doctor Who session.

The sad truth is, soundtrack recordings are not glamorous affairs. You come into the studio and there's a small rainforest of music on your stand, time is already ticking, and if Ben Foster weren't such a good session director, I doubt it would be covered in a day.

I shall now dispel a number of recording studio myths:

  1. Cans: You know the headphones that people in rock videos wear at jaunty angles? These may look cool in video mash-ups of soundtrack recordings, however, they are not - they are unwieldy, silly things, that never fit properly, and if you have a smallish head, have a tendency to threaten to slide off, usually at a rather inconvenient moment.
  2. Click tracks: This is the continuous click played through the horrible cans of point one. Its purpose is to have everyone playing militarily together so the music can be lined up, to the millisecond, with the visuals. This may seem like the ultimate in 'I'm Doing Proper, Serious, Professional Recording Stuff', but in fact, it is like Chinese water torture.
  3. Monitors: We do not see the on-screen action these days whilst recording the music. You know that wonderful scene in The Pandorica Opens when the Doctor gives an epic Churchillian speech from atop a boulder at Stonehenge? We did not see that.
  4. The Red Light: The cue to play is a little red light. You'd imagine this is the moment when a hushed, concentrated silence falls on the studio. Pah! This is the moment when that little tickle at the back of your throat will erupt into a full scale coughing fit, or some brass player will kick over their mute, or someone's chair will squeak and the take will be ruined and you have to do the whole take YET AGAIN!

On the positive side, recording days are normally cake days. I like this. We in the viola section pride ourselves on our excellent cheesecakes and brownies.

Points one to four aside, Doctor Who recordings are a painless affair (not just because of the cakes). Any aspiring TV and film composers should take a leaf out of Murray Gold and Ben Foster's book - they are always super organised and have a very definite idea of what they want.

On 19 July, we recorded the music for the second half of Doctor Who season six - which concludes with the season finale this Saturday. I can assure you that no one in the orchestra knows anything about plot lines, so don't bother asking. The truth is, even if I did know anything, I wouldn't say, even to my cousin, and he let me be his daughter's godmother.


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