Film Music Radio

Film Music Radio (FMR), one of the newest outposts in the expanding galaxy of cyberspace music media, emerged from the digital ethers on September 13. The Internet radio station streams film and television soundtracks around the clock, and offers genre-based block programs and unique DJ-hosted specialty shows.

The station's schedule is divided into two-hour, genre-based segments: Science Fiction, Drama, Comedy and Family, Action, and Songs, with exclusive original programs airing between 7 and 9am and between 7 and 9pm PST. The latter include On the Score, composer interviews with film music journalist Daniel Schweiger; Theme and Variations, hosted by CineMedia Promotions president Beth Krakower; Soundtrack Cinema (formerly aired on Seattle's KING-FM), hosted by Ford A. Thaxton; Clef Notes from Tinseltown, a news and review show hosted by Dan Goldwasser of SoundtrackNet; Foreign Focus, international soundtracks with host Didier C. Deutsch; and The Stars of Sci-Fi, featuring new cosmic soundscapes and hosted by Neil Norman.

Film Music Radio is a project of the Film Music Media Group, a company launched in 1997 to serve composers of film and television music. As the Group's first effort to reach the general public, FMR joins FMMG's other ventures: Film Music Magazine, the industry's only specialty trade magazine, relaunched in 1998; the Film Music Network, which hosts monthly networking meetings and technical classes in Los Angeles and New York City for those in the industry, and provides job leads for composers; and the Turner Classic Movies Young Composers Competition, cosponsored by FMMG since 1999.

Mark Northam, 43, FMMG's founder and CEO, told Stereophile that less than eight weeks after the station's launch, weekly listeners already numbered in the thousands. Core listeners, 25% of whom reside outside the US, tune in for an average of 30–60 minutes at a time.

"My goal," says Northam, "is to get film music, including films utilizing classical and orchestral music, to a larger and wider audience. I also want to increase exposure and appreciation for film music present and past. Film composers deserve more appreciation, since a lot of the time they don't get much recognition in Hollywood."

A classically trained jazz pianist with an accounting degree, Northam once toured the US as a performer. But when he moved to L.A. in 1993 to pursue a career as a film composer, the reality of the industry stopped him mid-reel. "I discovered film composing was such a cutthroat business," he explains, "with so many companies taking advantage of new composers in such a diabolical way, that I felt it important to help get some business education out there. Painfully few schools teach composers how to make a deal, let alone what you should be paid." So Northam founded the FMMG.

Because MP3 is the sound format most universally playable on computers, FMR encodes its on-demand shows in 128kHz and 64kHz MP3 sound. Otherwise, music is streamed at 64kHz and 32kHz. The station's engineers are currently examining the somewhat superior AAC 128kHz format.

FMR is currently advertisement-free, but expects to soon feature minimally intrusive commercials. Ads are necessary to keep the station on the air, and to finance the eventual online archiving of past shows. "The challenge," Northam acknowledges, "is to keep the venture viable as it grows. Since you have to pay for bandwidth, the more listeners you attract, the higher your costs."

Northam's favorite film composer is the late Jerry Goldsmith, who scored Planet of the Apes and many other films. Elmer Bernstein, who also died recently, is another favorite. He is especially intrigued with the growing trend of mixing electronic and acoustic instruments in film scores.

"Electronic samples are increasingly prevalent," he explains. "The samples are so good that composers can effectively augment the orchestra with them. Samples are even replacing live orchestras. Today's younger directors and producers want to hear more contemporary elements mixed with traditional elements such as the orchestra. Hans Zimmer is an example of a composer highly adept at creating such a mix. We're hearing it in almost every film score released."

FMR's most popular programs are Daniel Schweiger's On the Score and Ford A. Thaxton's Soundtrack Cinema. Northam is considering adding a classics show that will focus on music from the 1930s through the 1970s, plus a behind-the-scenes interview show that would feature composers talking about how they do what they do.

Schweiger, 40, is so gung-ho about film music that, unable to contain himself, he twice called before our scheduled interview time. Otherwise employed as a Hollywood music editor and film-music reviewer and editor for CFQ/Cinefantastique and other publications, Schweiger notes that, during interviews, "while actors are trained to make you feel like you're their best pal, composers act genuine, for the most part.

"I've always wanted to do a show like On the Score," Schweiger says. "While I can't play two notes to save my life—my wife is the composer—it's easy to get my composer pals to talk about their careers and play the music I love." Schweiger currently interviews a new composer or music supervisor every two weeks, and hopes to eventually make this a weekly FMR feature. He prefers to target composers of quality film music that can stand on its own, without the visuals.

"I think film music is the new classical music," he opines. "A lot of classical music was or is written on commission or to celebrate an event. Film music is commissioned the same way. It doesn't necessarily aspire to art-music status; it's written to serve the story, and must serve the film before it serves anything else."

Schweiger first got hooked on film music when, at the age of 12, he heard Jerry Goldsmith's score for Logan's Run. "Young kids really dig film music," he enthuses. "The great thing is that it allows your own imagination to create the story. That's what I did with Logan's Run's music when I was 12—I let my imagination run wild."