Film score composing is an art, there’s no question about it, but it’s a harsh one at that. Why is that, you ask? Well, for one thing, it’s not the star of the show. Film is collaborative. We all know this, but it bears repeating. Let’s think of it this way: film is like that online flash game QWOP. Remember that one? It’s the one where you have to send the guy running down the racetrack by using frustrating controls built around a physics model design to make the guy collapse on the ground unless you get it exactly right. Don’t forget about that left leg, and swing that right arm, NOW! If all the pieces aren’t there and timed to perfection, the floppy athlete is not going anywhere.
So many different things have to go right for a movie to work and make a connection with its audience. And a spot-on film score is absolutely crucial to the operation. Here’s the proof: think of a movie you love. Chances are, during the film itself, you didn’t notice the music at all. You knew it was there but your brain was busy keeping up with the story, the action, and the characters. But then, later, long after the final scene, you thought fondly on the movie and its memory and looked up the score on YouTube. It quickly becomes your favorite work/study music. It lets you revisit the excitement, the emotional investment of that movie without you having to actually watch the thing again in its entirety.
Nicolas Salinardi has given his life to this work.
A renowned sound engineer with a degree in Film Scoring, Mr. Salinardi has a well-established reputation in the music industry. He has enjoyed international success, which stems from his experience as both a sound engineer and film composer. He ran a successful recording studio in Villa Ballester, Argentina, with many prominent musicians and bands such as Inversa, InDeva, Artematica and Mingo flocking to his studio. The internationally acclaimed sound engineer has worked with award-winning Spanish composer Zeltia Montes on the musical score for the film “Sad Hill Unearthed,” a documentary following film fans working to restore the set of the climatic graveyard scene from the iconic 1966 western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The documentary, which featured Oscar award-winners Clint Eastwood and Ennio Morricone, was nominated for the Best Documentary prize at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Mr. Salinardi took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk to LNGFRM about the finer points of this challenging, but undeniably cool, job.
We started with the basics. I was curious to hear about how he approaches scoring a particular scene.
“My way of approaching a scene is first to understand what is happening on video, if certain characters have musical themes. That is usually a good way to start. Also, I have to understand where the scene is going, and that gives me the flexibility to do different variations on themes, like changing the harmony to make it sadder, happier, more mysterious, etc.”
Mr. Salinardi makes it sound deceptively simple, but in fact this method of assigning melodies to specific characters and locations dates back all the way to the days when opera was the hottest ticket in town (and arguably even further). Some of the greatest composers in history would tailor musical themes to follow a character through the story, each appearance of this musical phrase being slightly altered to reflect the character’s current predicament, or his recent triumph. And it holds true today. Just look at any musical soundtrack or film score from the last 100 years and you’ll notice this thread in the titles: tracks named after characters, and the return of those tracks, often marked with the word, ‘reprise.’ Just as story structure itself is cyclical, the accompanying music, in turn, repeats itself, having a powerful effect on the viewer.
And working within many different film genres, Mr. Salinardi has to constantly adapt to the changing situations on-screen. One week he may be composing for an intimate drama, and for a crime thriller the next.
“Every time I get a new project the director gives some sort of musical direction on how he wants the score to sound. All genres are different and they have their own approaches. For example, for action scenes I would watch the scene, and if everything is moving really fast I would include fast tempos to keep the scene moving forward. Action scenes have a lot of percussion and strings. Not every approach for a specific genre is the same but having knowledge of different genres is a great starting point.”
Building up these versatile composition chops took time and hard work, and at the start, one of the most important elements was having a space where he could develop his skills. In his hometown of Villa Ballester, there were 0 such spaces for young people interested in pursuing a career in professional music recording and sound design. So what did Mr. Salinardi do? He started his own recording studio, Bullsound, when he was just 21.
“Bullsound helped me a lot, not only in terms of how to build a recording studio but also in terms of managing, scheduling bands, and marketing. We recorded many bands at Bullsound like Inversa, Artematica and Mingo. I did a lot of the music editing for the bands and would mix many of their tracks. I also recorded an album with my band House of the Fallen. That project was really good since we approached it the same way a lot of well-known bands do. We would mic the guitar amps and drumset and record takes so that every member would take the recordings home and rearrange songs until we were happy. We then recorded the album in one day.”
He’s come a long way since then, honing his recording skills and ascending to the rarefied air of professional score composers in the highly-competitive entertainment industry. Something you learn about Mr. Salinardi very quickly is that he always has something in the works. These days, one of the projects he’s most excited about has had him delving into the lush synth sounds of yesteryear, which has made a huge comeback thanks to the likes of “Stranger Things” and the music of Childish Gambino.
“Right now I am composing music for a short film called “Jack Turbo.” It’s about an old actor from the 80s who is trying to break into the entertainment industry once again. It’s really good since a lot of the music I am writing is 80s synth music.”
Even at his advanced stage of expertise, Mr. Salinardi is still meticulous about making sure that his work aligns with the filmmaker’s masterplan.
“It is very rewarding when I have meetings with directors and they share the same vision that I have. It can be really stressful when a director and a composer are not on the same page. Every time I play a piece of music to a director is nerve wrecking, but usually the revisions I have to make end up being better than the previous version.”
And that’s what it’s all about, not only in the world of film but in that of nearly every pursuit: listening to others and working together to make something more than just ok– working together to make something amazing.