Homeschool Dropouts: The Score

Posted on November 19, 2009 at 9:41 pm, by Ben

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The Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences just recently completed the documentary Homeschool Dropouts: Why the second generation is headed for a spiritual wasteland, for which I was privileged to write the music. You can view the trailer above.

Here are some screenshots I took of Cubase 4 in mid-project. The screenshots couldn’t show everything in my project windows, but it will give you an idea of what the software looks like. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

You can also hear a short medley of some assorted musical cues that found their way into the film.

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One thing I have noticed is that film and documentary music (though subject to the same fundamental principles of design), can be very different in the ways that they’re applied to their respective categories of visual media.

Homeschool Dropouts is a documentary, so most of the music I wrote for it plays under constant dialogue and keeps a very subdued and submissive role– almost exaggeratedly so, as most of the music is little more than ambient or atmospheric. Though I developed a couple different melodic motifs and musical textures that I could weave throughout the film, there was never really a place for a big, developed symphonic approach to melody or movement–most of the music would be pretty uninteresting or boring if you heard it on its own.

In the style and texture department, we were looking for a sound that could effectively represent the “serious” and almost “crisis” flavor of the film. The documentary was shot in dry, barren locations in Texas and New Mexico, so the music had to match that empty, wasteland feel. In addition to this, I was also looking to find a musical sound that would be quick to write, as I only had about 5 days to write most of the 30 minutes of music that appeared in the final version of the film.

Prominent Musical Elements in Homeschool Dropouts:

Low Drones and ambient rumbles
Ethnic flute phrases
Subdued electric guitar
Percussive Piano
Muted string sustains

*My secret weapon on this score was the site, a user-based audio community which offers a very wide of sound effects for free. The sounds on the site are uploaded by its users, so the quality of the files is kinda hit-and-miss, but it is a great resource nonetheless. I wanted a very distinct audio signature that I could use at points of emphasis throughout the film, so I used to download an assortment of explosions, thunderclaps, metallic clangs, engine noise (even rattling chains), and other sounds that I thought would add that extra punch and grittiness the music was missing.


  • Will the soundtrack be made available for sale? It sounds great!

    Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Jeffrey French on November 20th, 2009 at 10:40 am
  • Hey, Ben!

    I just went to the Mysterious Islands Premiere here in Tampa on Wednesday, and I was very impressed by the music. I know many people were. I kept hearing comments about it. I think my favorite, though, is the one where the two guys are arguing and Fitzroy comes and speaks to the crowd. It’s perfect. 😀

    You did a really great job, and everybody was impressed! The whole movie was great!

    ~Kaitland C

    Posted by Kaitland C (aka Kay Morris) on November 22nd, 2009 at 8:59 am
  • Excellent article!
    My experience with digital music production is limited, but I would like to get a sequencing program when I have a better computer. At first glance Cubase looks rather intimidating. (Must be all the windows. 🙂 ) But have you found it to be user-friendly?
    Also, thanks for the freesound recommendation. I’m definitely checking it out!

    Posted by Molly on November 23rd, 2009 at 9:00 pm
  • Very fascinating!

    Posted by Jeremiah on November 24th, 2009 at 10:01 am
  • Ben,

    Excellent work again. I suppose the most marvelous aspect of the score is really the short time frame you had to create themes and interpret ideas musically.

    It’s interesting that modern composing tries to maintain a balance of organic instruments, and a mechanical mood. This must be hard to maintain when working from a purely digital platform? (Look! A question in the form of a statement!)

    At any rate, this, and your Mysterious Islands work, are high on my favorites list. Not quite as much variety as RotD, but I think it’s a better use of subtext, and orchestral attitude. Bravo!

    I can’t wait to see what your next film score will be!

    ~ In Christ, John.

    Posted by John Moore on November 24th, 2009 at 4:43 pm
  • Hey Ben,

    Another excellent preview of music! I enjoyed your Return of the Daughters soundtrack as well. Keep up the good work!

    God Bless,

    Posted by Josh on November 28th, 2009 at 11:37 pm
  • STUNNING as usual. You are becoming a pro by the second. I love the sound and movement in this latest project.

    My wife was home schooled. I am from South Africa. The homeschool community there is basically non-existent. Our public schools functions like private schools would in the US and else-where. Today though things have changed.

    I was always apposed to homeschooling because I felt that kids are disadvantaged because of their lack of interaction with kids their own age. It seemed to me that homeschoolers always grouped together and were always in the presence of grown-ups. I always wondered what would happen if you put a homeschooler in a public school. If they will be able to survive.

    Back then I spoke in ignorance. Now that I see what is going on in the U.S. and how kids are deprived of their innocence, spirituality and identity, I will under no circumstance send my children to public school. I value the parenting and educational role that my wife and I as parents will play and I value the protection I impart by rooting my child in the foundational years so they can rise up to be anchored in truth, godliness and freedom.

    GO Homeschoolers !!!

    Willem (Hein) van Wyk

    Posted by Willem van Wyk on December 15th, 2009 at 3:26 pm
  • We watched Homeschool Dropouts as a family tonight. We were both encouraged and challenged. I can’t speak for my younger siblings, but my older sister and I wholeheartedly want to serve the Lord someday by homeschooling our children to His glory. It’s encouraging to hear from others who have the same worldview, but at the same time your presentation of the common sins of second generation homeschoolers was convicting and challenging.
    Most of my peers aren’t homeschooled. There are 3 other families here that homeschool for the same reasons as us. I know that at least a few of the children in those families have been harmed by an academic-oriented schooling rather than a God-centered character-oriented approach. I pray for them so much – and pray that God will spare me from those traps.

    As for the soundtrack, I thought it was extremely well done! It was nice to have read this post before watching the movie to understand your intent – which you accomplished very well!

    God bless,

    Posted by Kyleigh on January 6th, 2010 at 12:42 pm
  • Hi Ben

    Great job on your music. I really like how it fits into the moment of the scene. I totally believe in homeschooling and hope that the faith that our parents taught us carries on for many generations.

    God be with you,

    Posted by Liam Marsh on January 30th, 2010 at 7:44 pm