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One of the most often discussed topic is that of “temp tracks.” Some composers love them, others despise them – let’s find out why!

Film editors: do us composers a favour and check out my friends at FilmScoringTips.com’s awesome guide to creating better temp scores.

What Is A Temp Track?

Before we can debate their merits or inferiorities, we first need to know what a temp track actually is. Well, it stands for “temporary track” and it is just that: a track that is intended to only be in the movie temporarily as a placeholder before custom music is composed.

Why Are Temp Tracks Used?

Temp tracks are used for a variety of reasons for the benefit of a range of people, including directors, editors, and composers (…although that’s often debated).

As we know, music creates mood. So what better way to capture a certain feeling for your movie than having music to work with. Some directors have temp tracks in mind before they even start scripting their films!

Editors can benefit from the rhythm that temp tracks usually create. Good movies generally have a rhythm, or pace, to their editing. A temp track can make this rhythm more consistent, and can even dictate where a scene should reach its climax.

See whereabouts in the process the temp track falls in my Ultimate Guide to Composing Film Music

For the composer, we need a slightly longer explanation…

Why Are Temp Tracks GOOD For The Composer?

Well, imagine combining both reasons that temp tracks are good for directors and editors, and you have your answer. They give the composer the intended feeling and rhythm straight away. Awesome.

For tight deadlines, a temp track can save a composer so much time. Right off the bat they have things like the structure, tempo, time signature, and even the harmony, instrumentation, and tonality. Then it’s just a case of quickly “filling in” that template to create a piece of music that perfectly fits the visual.

And that can be the problem…

Why Are Temp Tracks BAD For The Composer?

Like anyone involved in the creative world: composers are artists. Now, imagine commissioning or Leonardo da Vinci to paint your portrait and then handing him a “paint by numbers” to colour in. Get the idea?

Many composers feel that the temp track hinders their creativity, pushing them in a certain direction. Some even refuse to listen to temp tracks that are already in place.

Directors are often very aware of this problem though. Some use temp tracks simply for “sound” and “pace” – knowing full well that that the temp track will be replaced with something totally different. However, other directors use temp tracks as very clear indicators of what they want.

Then there’s the dreaded “temp love”…

Temp Love? What’s That?

Temp love is where a director (or producer) gets so used to the sound of the temp track that they can’t imagine the movie with any other music. This can cause all kinds of problems.

If the movie doesn’t have the budget to simply license that piece of music, the composer is suddenly faced with having to pastiche (or copy) another composer. Some composers are fine with that, and for less “artistic” projects it can be fine. But when you’re collaborating to create something wonderful, pastiching isn’t usually the best way to move forward.

Famously, Stanley Kubrick fell in love with his temp music for 2001: A Space Odyssey. No matter what composer Alex North created, in Kubrick’s mind he couldn’t come close to the Strauss and Ligeti pieces that were used as temp tracks. In a monumental blunder, North didn’t actually find out that they hadn’t gone with his music until after he saw the premiere! Talk about awkward!

The Moral…

There isn’t really a “right” or “wrong” way to go about using temp tracks. BUT, it definitely should be discussed in the creative process. Composers and directors should work together to decide whether the composer will hear the temp track, or not.

At the end of the day, both parties need to collaborate to make sure whatever music is used is the music that best serves the project. Being totally objective when it comes to music isn’t exactly human nature though.

What are your thoughts? Have you worked with temp tracks before? Did they help or hinder you? Let me know in the comments!

  • Hello!
    I was searching for some way to use my music as temp tracks and I found this page… it encouraged me to make a temp track but now I don’t know where can I go to do this. Could you please give me some advices?
    Thanks a lot if you reply, habitually they doesn’t even bother to read my message ^^
    (And why the hell does your website think I’m a bot?!)

    • Hi! Well, a temp track is basically just a track to help you set the mood for the project you’re working on. Kind of like a mood-board. So really you can start anywhere! Decide what mood you’re trying to create and head over to YouTube or Spotify, or wherever else you listen to music and start finding tracks that match that mood. Then simply add those tracks to your project! It should go without saying though, you can’t release the project commercially with those tracks on it (that would be a copyright infringement) – it’s purely for your own / your team’s reference while you’re working. Good luck!

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