This week we caught up with Chris Green, composer at Blurred Edge to discuss his work for TV, film and video games.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from and what do you do?
Hello to the lovely readers of Film And Game Composers, thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings and Emmett for the opportunity to write them.
I grew up in the little town of Shrewsbury on the English/Welsh border and I’m guessing, like many of you, was completely addicted to listening, playing and making noise of various sorts. Over the years this progressed from making and recording noise on the Tonmeister course at the University of Surrey, via designing noise for Electronic Arts (Harry Potter) and Criterion Games (Burnout & Need For Speed), to composing noise at The Royal College Of Music and finally to being in the very privileged position of getting paid to be a full time noise maker.
I try to jump between all areas of the media industries, but mostly seem to land in video games and advertising. Some recent projects that I’ve scored are AAA game Need For Speed: Most Wanted, Renault and UKTV Watch Channel Brandings, The X Factor and a few well known car commercials.
When and how did you make the move to being a full time composer?
While studying at The Royal College of Music I finally said to myself “I wanna be paid something for everything I’m asked to compose, however small, I’m worth that as an artist, aren’t I”. From this moment everytime someone came asking me to compose music for a viral, short film, advert etc, I always asked for some sort of sync payment, and the great thing is people paid. I guess that was the point I started the move to being a full time composer, not working for free. That may sound very much like its all about the money and I guess it is, but to put it simply, to be a full time composer you need to get paid a full time wage. Also I feel you have to value yourself and your music before other people will.
What does your studio currently consist of hardware/software wise?
My project studio is based around an Apogee Symphony System (which I would highly recommend), 8-core Mac Pro running Logic Pro 9 (with 16GB Ram for those heavy sample libraries), weighted full-size keyboard, and Euphonix MC Control and MC Mix control surfaces. The outboard hardware that gets a lot of use is the Rupert Neve Designs Portico II Master Bus Processor (mind-blowingly good mastering compressor!), Neve PreAmps, Virus TI Desktop and Shure SM7 Microphone. As for in-the-box my go to plugins are SoundToys Native Effects (I cannot explain how good these are!), Altiverb 7 (with the excellent Samplicity IR’s), NI Komplete 9 and Voxengo dynamic effects (you have to try their Elephant limiter). Finally when its comes to samples I’m a VSL, Komplete 9 and Soniccouture type guy, in addition to recording real musicians and instruments as much as time and bank account allows.
Whats your favorite software right now and what software are you looking forward to most in the future?
Currently my favorite pieces of software are Reaktor and its built-in synths (Razor and Monark mainly) because they just sound so current, and Kontakt because for me it’s my only go-to sampler. As for things I’m patiently waiting for top of that list has to be SoundToys’ new plugin Juice and their long overdue 64-Bit update.
You’ve worked on a huge range of projects within the film, TV, video game and animation industries. Do you find your writing process differs depending on the media you are writing for? Do you find it hard to move between working in so many industries rather than focusing on just one?
Yep I officially have no life, sorry to spoil the imagine of musician being a glamorous job (do people still think that…..). I do though feel very privileged to be in that position and to have had so many hard working, talented and creative people trust me with writing the music for their projects. For me I always start writing for any media in the same way, which is to come up with a strong central idea or concept, this can be a melodic theme, a palette of sounds or an overall texture. Something that can glue the whole piece together and make it memorable, unique and standout. After this I shape the piece to work with the requirements of the media, for example breaking it down into interactive stems for video game work, or concentrating on the market and demographic for advertising projects. As for moving between so many industries, I LOVE IT, makes every day exciting, you get to write lots of different styles and work with lots of interesting people and technologies.
Talk us through your music for Tom Clancy’s End War. What were you asked to do and how did you do it?
For End War, the director on the project wanted high adrenalin, elctro-orchestral, action music, that contained the kind of beats you would hear from Prodigy, combined with the orchestration of Hans Zimmer, so quite a big ask!! I initially started off with the beats and electronic elements because I felt these would be the main driving force behind the piece. They were created from of a mixture of chopped-up breaks and loops, and sampled one-shots, performed and programmed on my NI Maschine (great tool for beats). The main synth drones and bass pulses were created by the Virus TI and processed to give movement and variation with SoundToys Tremolator and Crystallizer. These were then combined with samples and loops from the Heavyocity Evolve libraries and electronic soundscapes created by using convolution reverb techniques. Then I created the basic shape of the tracks from this electronic palette, and tried out various melodic theme ideas and orchestral textures until I hit upon one I felt right with the vibe of the electronic elements. Then it was just a case of arranging these main themes, textures and beats into a suitable underscore for the action and stems.
What was your favorite project to have worked on so far?
Out of the long form jobs it would have to be Need For Speed: Most Wanted for the scope, profile and creativity of the project. As for short form I would go with the UKTV Watch Channel branding as it was so much fun creating all the crazy sounds and textures, and the visual work by DixonBaxi was so stunning and inspiring.
You did the audio branding for Renault – how tough was it to create audio branding from scratch? Were you asked to create the audio based on their visuals, or did you work with the animators/visual editors to create something together?
The Renault project was one of those rare beasts when it just all comes together smoothly and perfectly first time. The brief came in for a strong vocal mnemonic, with a “subtle balance of energy, voice and a touch of Frenchness!” I put forward one idea that was based around this little 4 second phrase made from a chopped up vocal sample, the client loved it and took the mnemonic straight away, no revisions; as said a very rare thing in advertising, even more so in sonic and audio branding. The initial brief was accompanied with an animation of the visual brand identity that had already been signed off by the client, so everything was composed and timed to the movement, dynamics and feel of this.
What do you do in between projects when you don’t currently have something to work on?
In between projects I try my best to enjoy the downtime, read up on music journals and interesting magazine articles that have caught my eye, play the latest video games people are talking about, and listen/watch some new bands and music to try and stay fresh and up to date. Oh and I guess try to save and recover some of my social life!
Do you write any library music? If so, which libraries do you write for?
I only started writing library music recently when EMI/KPM’s new label Sparkle & Burn commissioned me to write some tracks for there new series of albums. Also I just finished writing two pieces for Air Edel/Cutting Edge Group new library Music Company, which were recording with live musicians in their beautiful studios. My general feeling though is that I like to get a bit of money upfront when writing, so I hadn’t looked into library music before these companies got in touch and commissioned me. I do though keep my own internal library of tracks that I pitch out on projects when the client doesn’t have the budget to afford a brand-new track, which I think is a good way to use pitches that were good pieces of music but didn’t quite make the cut. But obviously always let the client know this is what is going on!
What does your daily routine consist of?
Haha, I’m a bit of a night bird so normally prefer working into the night than waking up early in the morning, so with that said my daily routine starts around 10am with a strong coffee! Then I crack on with whatever project is on the go, listening back with fresh ears to whatever the final mix of the previous evening was. I always try my best to not get distracted by emails, real-world stuff, which mostly involves me hiding away in a dim lit studio with the curtains closed. At lunch I always get out of the studio and go to gym or for a walk around the local Highgate Wood, just something to stay active and get some of the sunshine vitamin. Then just work into the evening until whatever deadline I currently have on is met. Ah, also most days I’ll touch base with my agent at Air Edel to see how things are and what work has come in, also he would be sad if I didn’t mention him somewhere in this interview
What are your favorite musician/composer websites?
What’s your definition of success?
Having a job you love, roof over your head, food on the table, enough money to give some away to people who need it more and spending your whole day really just messing around with noises. That and being able to see the world!
How do you stay fresh as a composer?
The biggest thing for me is paying attention to what your peers are doing, and the people who you see as top of their game in any industry. There are so many talented people out there, some who get noticed, some who don’t and I find watching or listening to their work is the largest inspiration, drive and motivation I have to stay fresh, take risks, keep trying to come up with new ways of making sound and music, and pushing yourself and your boundaries.
Where do you see the scoring (film/game/tv) industry in 5-10 years time?
With the advent and popularisation of mobile gaming as well as the rise of independent and micro studios I see scoring becoming something that is more open and available as a career. These smaller non-AAA games will need creative and innovative people to create the sound and music but won’t have the budget to afford the blockbuster composers and in-house audio teams. Hopefully this will lead to an exciting time where new composers and sound designers can get a foot into the industry and not be so held back by the Catch 22 of you want a job, but need a job to get a job.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?
Nice question, haha hmmmm I really don’t know. I think to trust in your decisions and yourself more and to not drink so much Prosecco at that Christmas party one of your clients is going to hold in 2012, it doesn’t help with networking and meeting people!!
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?
My hamster Chi, who lives in the corner of my studio, I just couldn’t let her burn :). Also she’s a good composer and has come up with all my best themes.