Diegetic Music: When Music is Visible

By Kristen Baum

Commonly referred to as source music, diegetic music requires particular methods of preparation and on-set protocol. It could be a singer singing on screen. Or a musician playing their instrument on screen. Or somebody turning on a radio on (or off) screen and you can hear the music playing.

When an audience can see where the music is coming from on screen—particularly if it involves an onscreen performance that needs to be synchronized to the music—there are special considerations in preparing for the shoot.

Directors who decide to just “wing-it” and “fix it in post” will learn there’s no end to the headaches created by doing it this way. Specific things need to happen on set to capture the music and performance in a way that will be editable in post.

As the director, the more you understand what will be needed in post-production, the better you can prepare and the more usable material you can create during the shoot.

How to Handle Music On Set

Best practices—hire an experienced music editor to work with you and your sound person for prep and on set. If the score created by the composer will be performed on screen, hire an actor who is a musician and who can play the music or competently “fake it.” Alternatively, you can hire a musician specific to the instrument being used in the shoot or hire a consultant to help coach the actor. You can also use replacement hands for the actual performance, taking close-ups of the hands of a musician really performing the piece so the true performance can be intercut with mid- and wide shots of the actor simulating the musical performance. Think of it like an action scene when you have a stunt double.

The music scene can be cut together more easily if there is proper preparation.




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