5 ways for guitarists to create better film soundtracks

From film to TV, videogames to shock-rock, LA native Tyler Bates has done it all. You’ll have heard his score compositions in 300, Watchmen, John Wick, Californication, God Of War: Ascension and Killzone Shadow Fall, while his pioneering work on Guardians Of The Galaxy - where he wrote musical themes before cinematography even started - ended up influencing the acting and entire direction of the film.

In between his high-profile scoring gigs, Bates can be found donning a modified Schecter Corsair with Marilyn Manson, co-writing and playing guitar on Manson’s triumphant return to form, The Pale Emperor, with the pair set to collaborate once more on this year’s forthcoming full-length, Heaven Upside Down.

Given Bates’ enviable experience in the scoring arena, there are few guitarists better placed to share advice on writing music for film. So, here are Tyler’s top tips for six-stringers working on soundtracking visuals…

1. Be felt more than heard

“Filmmaking is first and foremost ‘storytelling and emotion’. Guitar can augment the emotional or psychological dimension of music for film if it is applied carefully and tastefully. Remove your personal ambitions to play technically challenging phrases. It should be felt more than heard. Your ‘guitar ego’ must adjust to this way of thinking.”

2. Share the load

“As a guitarist, consider that when you play a simple chord progression an entire orchestral arrangement can be extrapolated from it. Chord voicings can be given to brass, strings and woodwinds, even tympani. The melody or arpeggiation you might play in a simple improvised chord progression can be given to strings, woodwinds or brass for solo melodies, so playing freely on the guitar is a good way to get ‘the idea’ in place.

“Use your sensibilities to determine what instruments will best state each musical part in a complementary fashion. The guitar may ultimately be omitted entirely via attrition if an idea proves to be better stated with other instruments.”

3. Get looping

“Experiment with creating atmospheric ambient textures with guitar pedals and effects that interest you. I love loopers because you can play random phrases or random notes, and build on them to create textures or phrases that wouldn't occur from sitting down at the piano or experimenting with synthesizers (soft synths especially). This is a sure way to spontaneously create sounds and musical passages that belong only to you.”

4. When in doubt, get effected

“EBow/chorus/delay/slide guitar equals magic!”

Tyler onstage with Marilyn Manson

Tyler onstage with Marilyn Manson (Image credit: RMV/REX/Shutterstock)

5. Be open-minded

“When writing on guitar, think of dialogue, and pay close attention to the editing style of the visual media for which you are creating music. Would the guitar serve the picture best if individual articulations are not apparent, but instead are textural and ethereal, while perhaps a piano or cello clearly states the melody or chord progression? Or, is the guitar a driving force in the music that must be stated clearly and deliberately?

Consider working with sounds that are typically inappropriate for your ‘band’ recording or gig

“Consider working with sounds that are typically inappropriate for your ‘band’ recording or gig. Open your mind to all styles of music and appreciate the great ideas and musical techniques that are apparent in every style of music.

“There is an endless universe of unfamiliar music for every artist to investigate and become inspired by that alter how you approach your instrument or your compositions, just from hearing something new - something not in your wheelhouse.”

Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.