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The spotting session is when a director and composer get together to watch the film and decide where the music is going to be and what it’s going to do. This occurs before the composer starts writing the music. People present should be the director, the composer, the music editor and perhaps the producer. 


Many composers like to see the movie before a spotting session.   That way the composer is better prepared to bring well thought out ideas and insights which leads to a more productive and meaningful exchange between the director and composer. A composer who knows his stuff, understands film music and has a strong grasp of storytelling is worth his weight in gold here. A director needs someone he can count on and the spotting session is where the foundation for the score gets laid.

Exact SMPTE time codes for the entry and exit points of each cue need to be written down. ( We will learn more about SMPTE soon) This provides the total number of cues and duration of the score to be written, an important element of time management for any project. So, where should a music cue start? 


  •  At the start of a new act 

  • At the start of a scene 

  • On an emotional beat Anywhere you can imagine… 


The possibilities for the entrance of a music cue are as endless as there are stories to be told! And furthermore, it is an aesthetic decision (meaning it is open to personal interpretation) so it is impossible to set it down in a list. 

Spotting a movie is an art that requires the following: 


  • Knowledge of story telling in film 

  • A solid understanding of the story being told 

  • Awareness (on the composer’s part) of directorial an editorial decisions

  • Understanding off what music can bring to a scene 


(...and by the way, good spotting is not just where the music is present, of course, but where it is absent.) 


 Finding the entrance and exit of a cue is the easy part, the hard part is deciding what the music will do during that time period! 


  • Consider the arc of the film, not just the scene as an isolated event. 

  • Avoid discussing musical specifics 

  • Discuss what the music should do as if the composer was an actor 


Assignment 1: Engage in some web research on the process of SPOTTING music for video. Here are some resources:

Plan your time well.  Set some goals.

Resource 1:  Continue your notes on Spotting by reading Chapter 9 from this resource :



Assignment 2:  Let's look at how another composer chose to spot their film.  Load this short film into logic and turn on the SMPTE window so that you can see the timecode.  Create a chart of where the music begins and ends throughout the film.

Once you have completed that, determine what the function of each section was based on your previous study.  

Why is the music present at each location?

Post your chart in your portfolio.






















We will learn more about naming Cues later.  For now, number them as they appear, and put an M after, to show that it is music.


Example Chart:

(Functions not included on this chart)

Assignment 3:


The subject of timecodes and their use in video has occasioned much confusion.


While your job is to compose the music for the film, you also need to be able to line up your audio with the video in a manner that works correctly.  Many people have scored films without the technical knowledge, however someone eventually has to do the "lining up" of material.  Don't get too bogged down, but expose yourself to this information and do some additional research so that you have a firm understanding for future use.



Here are a few anecdotes to support my thinking:

"Timecode is the common language understood by directors and editors and can only be of service to the composer to learn. Here are some examples:

During a spotting session, the director says he wants a cue to start at 01:25:16:23 and end at 01:26:19:02. He says, "It's important that the music begin no earlier than that specific frame because any earlier would interrupt an important moment of silence I'm going to establish in the previous scene."

So what do you do here? The director gave me a direction. It's my job to follow it like a soldier following orders. It's not my job to delegate the cue placement to the music editor. I have to write the music to fit direction, and that means I have to deal with timecode.

Or, from another film... The artistic discussion was thus: "In this scene, the queen is walking up the stairs and is about make her grand entrance to her court after a long absence. We want the music to start before the heralding trumpeters, just before they raise their horns in the air, so have the music start at 01:26:20:05 -- just before they raise their horns -- but don't have the music peak until 01:26:29:09, where the queen is already through the doors of the palace and she smiles". 

So how do you make those kinds of hit without working with timecode? How do you calculate tempo from cue-start to the big hit at 29:09? Well, you could wing it, but good luck! And if that music has to be transcribed for real orchestra, and has an accelerando in it leading up to the queen smiling, how are you going to communicate that in your written score?"


In an ideal world, all video would play back at a uniform round-number frame rate, for example, 30 frames per second. Associated with each frame of video would be a unique frame count, starting with zero. Each frame count could be translated into a unique timecode format of hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. Each frame count could likewise be translated into a (possibly fractional) time in seconds. All of these descriptions of a frame's temporal location would be mutually interconvertible and their meanings unambiguous and intuitively simple. For example, at 30 frames per second:

108,000 frames = 1 hour + 0 minutes + 0 seconds + 0 frames = 3600 seconds.


The Problem:

When black & white TV was first introduced in the US, it played at 30 frames per second. The AC power available at every wall outlet alternates at a rate of 60 cycles per second, providing an easily available sync signal. In Europe, the AC power oscillates at 50 cycles per second, hence their adoption of 25 frames per second video rates. The conversion between times based on 25 or 30 frames per second is relatively simple. If that were the only timecode problem facing video producers this information would not be neccesary. With the development of color TV, however, the situation became more complicated. The added color component to the broadcast TV signal could sometimes interfere with the preexisting audio. Changing the audio's format would have made all existing black & white TVs incompatible. The solution was to nudge the picture rate down from 30 to 29.97 frames per second. Today, all TVs in the US, Canada, Mexico, and Japan play at this rate. This color TV format is named after the committee that defined it: the National Television System Committee, or NTSC.

As if to add to the confusion, many people refer to 29.97 frames per second video as being "30" frames per second. Many professionals do this as a verbal shorthand; many non-professionals do not understand the difference

It is important to make clear: all NTSC video is intended for playback at 29.97 frames per second. AllNTSC televisions are designed to play at 29.97 frames per second. If they are receiving broadcast video, they will synchronize to the broadcast signal, which will be 29.97 exactly. In playing consumer videotapes they will use an internal clock which should be set to 29.97. If they are cheap or out of adjustment this may vary, but not because of any deliberate intent to play at any rate other than 29.97 frames per second. There are no 30 frames per second TVs.

A frame-counting scheme called drop-frame has been developed that will allow users to ignore the distinction between 29.97 and 30 when interpreting timecodes. The details will be discussed below, but the central idea is important:

Drop-frame timecodes are defined so as to look like 30 frames per second times, and to reflect accurately the actual time elapsed. In particular, time durations found by subtracting drop-frame timecodes will be accurate to within one or two frames over arbitrary length intervals.

We will always express frame rates in frames per second to indicate the connection between the word "per" and the operation of division. 


































You can watch the second video here if you like. (Continues to look at the Buddy...)

Scoring music to video with Logic

- by Scott Hirsch



Using this video:  Right Click Here and Save


Adjust the time code in logic to match the timecode shown in the film. Follow the directions shown in the previous videos.

Take a screen shot of the two time codes in sync and post.


Once you have completed all assignments, go to

OnCampus and submit your work by posting the URL of Unit 8   Thanks!

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