‘I begin by writing a short story about the main character’
Once a week I host a writer who uses music in their creative process. This weekend, to celebrate a year (or thereabouts) since the release of My Memories of a Future Life, I’m turning The Undercover Soundtrack inside out.
Today and tomorrow I’m talking to two musicians who have been inspired by novels featured on this series. Stories with origins in music, coming full circle when singer-songwriters are stirred to interpret them.
Today my guest is Beth Rudetsky, who composed the song on the trailer for Fifth Victim, by Undercover Soundtrack author Zoe Sharp
Beth, novels are huge. Songs are a mere handful of words. How do you condense a story into one song?
I first ask myself a series of questions. What is the emotional make-up of the protagonist? What issues are they struggling with? What past or present event is haunting them? What is the current emotional state of the protagonist? What does the protagonist have to do to begin to climb out of that and the events that are causing it?
I begin by writing a short story about the main character’s emotional state and the dilemma they find themselves in. After that I write the lyrics as a poem, choosing words that are very visual. I then go to my piano and as I reflect about the character, I start to create an intro to my song, which sets the mood. Then I start to write the melody and chord structures that convey my lyrics and music. From there I start composing the chorus, whose essence must grab the listener by the throat.
What other music work do you do?
I compose songs, soundtracks and perform the vocal for films. I also record background vocals for various pop recording artists and their tracks, perform as a singer-songwriter in cabarets and clubs, and also sing in concerts on Broadway that feature actors from the Broadway stage.
Here’s a live performance I did on my brother Seth Rudetsky’s radio programme Seth Speaks on SiriusXM Stars 107 in NYC. The song is called Empty Projector
How did you start writing songs for book trailers?
Ever since I was a teenager I have had a tremendous passion for mystery and crime thrillers. I have always been intrigued about what makes people tick, the reasons behind their sadness and what haunts them in their lives. It drives the music and lyrics in all of my songwriting.
The idea of composing music for book trailers came to me during a Facebook conversation with Zoe Sharp. She has a great passion for music and when I told her I was a singer-songwriter she asked to hear my work and loved what I sent to her. I realized my character-driven songs would be a perfect marriage with the psychological portraits of her characters and she was thrilled when I asked if she’d like me to write a song for one of her novels.
Zoe chose Fifth Victim. I wrote The Victim Won’t Be Me. It received wide praise from authors and crime fiction bloggers and another author, J Carson Black, asked me to write a song and make a trailer.
Her novel, Icon, is exciting, eerie and stays with the reader long after the end. One of the reasons is the main character – a film star who has fallen out with Hollywood, struggles with addiction and is then kidnapped and held for ransom. On his escape he finds he is being pursued by a far more lethal killer. He starts out as a broken soul who has lost his way in life and then finds he has the strength to struggle for recovery and fight for his life.
I wrote the song Vengeance, produced the trailer with filmmaker/director Mark Ezovski who wrote a script to resonate with my song and the novel’s original story. I orchestrated the music for me on piano, along with violin and cello. I got two musicians (Karl Kawahara on violin and Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf on the cello) to record the arrangement with me.
Going back to the writing, how long does it take you to finish the song? Do you redraft much? Do you write first and then take it to the studio, or does the song evolve during the recording?
I am a perfectionist and after I have the basic draft I go back to it many times, finessing the music score and lyrics. My signature is to compose dramatic, haunting music and compelling lyrics. I keep at it until I feel the song is at its most moving.
Then I record a version with just piano and my voice and send it to the author for approval. After that I write a full music arrangement for me and other musicians and we record it at Millrose Music studio run by Pete Millrose. He also does a wonderful mix.
Are there other authors you’re inspired by?
I’d love to write music for Gregg Hurwitz, Wallace Stroby , Joseph Finder, Christopher Smith, Douglas Corleone, CJ Lyons and Steve Jackson .
Some authors might be wondering about approaching a songwriter for a book trailer. How much does it cost?
The cost is USD $5,500-6,000 and covers the entire trailer. I compose the music and lyrics to the song, perform the vocal, orchestrate my song for me on piano along with wonderful musicians and then record my song. I work with a filmmaker and director to produce the visuals with script, cinematographer, professional actors, studio and props.
Finding all those people takes time and know-how – for instance, a great cinematographer elevates a basic trailer to film quality, as you can see with the Icon trailer (cinematographer Robert Michael). We did not use stock footage, sound effects or music from other sources. A photographer filmed live action footage in Arizona where the novel takes place. The author doesn’t have to do a thing but sit back and enjoy the result.
Are there any rights issues?
I copyright my song. The author, publisher and I are free to share the song and video with any sites.
I also help with publicity. A lot of authors are shy and don’t have the experience or know-how to publicise their work. I do – and I love to publicize the authors and their work through the trailers. I am told that people listen to my songs over and over – a thrilling feeling for me as a composer and singer.
Beth Rudetsky is a composer, arranger, performer and book trailer maven. Find her on Facebook
Tomorrow I’ll be talking to singer-songwriter SJ Tucker, who has a long-running creative partnership with novelist Catherynne M Valente