Composer Interview – Colin O’Malley

colin o malleySomeone meets you in an elevator and asks you to explain what you do in one sentence – whats your answer?

I’m a song writer, composer and orchestrator

Was composition/orchestration something you always wanted to do since a young age?

Yes.  I never considered anything else.  I ignored my parent’s advice to have a backup plan.

What websites do you visit a lot as a composer that you find useful?

VI-Control is the main one I visit. Gearslutz, KVR are great as well.

You’ve worked on the latest 8Dio Library with Troels – what was your role in it?

Troels and I are co-creators of Adagio.  We worked closely together to design the concepts of the library.  We also co-produced the recording sessions and supervised the post/editing and programming. We’re deep into Adagio cellos, violas and basses now as well.

Where did you meet Troels originally before working with him on Adagio?

Troels and I met years ago when we were involved in some private custom sampling projects.  From there, Troels brought me into the Tomb Raider universe and was the main reason I landed the gig to score Tomb Raider Underworld.  We’ve been close friends for a long time now.

How much time did you invest in the sample library, and what was the hardest part of its creation?

Creating a string library is a daunting task.  I’m very glad to have a partner like Troels to share the ups and downs of the process.  Nothing about it is easy.  It is grueling but also very rewarding.  It’s hard to say what the hardest part is.  Really staying focused in the sessions, making sure the musicians are locking in with the emotion we need takes a lot of effort.  If we’re not proactive with them sample sessions almost inherently start to go flat. We record for months, so it is a bit of a marathon.

The post phase is also a big mountain to climb. Getting programming to the point of polish that we want always takes longer than our initial estimates.  In some ways it’s never done.  There is always something you can push further.

Was Adagio the first library you worked on, or have you been involved in any others before?

I was involved in a variety of custom sampling projects for years.  There was a small team of us that conducted a variety of experiments, both small and large.  Most of the guys in that initial group are now very successful developers/composers in our industry. Thomas Bergersen, Anderew Keresztes, Andy Blaney – to name a few.  With that in mind, I find there is a lot of respect and camaraderie in our small industry.  There is healthy competition, but I also buy and use products these other developers produce.  I have great respect for their work and points of view.  Each of us try to push things in different ways.

How much further do you think sample libraries can go in terms of realism?

I think there is a lot more can be done, particularly in the area of emotional realism.  Troels and I have been very up front about our philosophy in that regard, and have big plans to push that further. Adagio is just he beginning.  I also think “realism” in a mockup has a great deal to do with the skill of the composer.  We’ve reached a point where achieving a decent sound is not difficult.  Now the focus is shifting to individuality in writing, orchestration and production.

In a lot of your interviews, you say that Superman Returns opened up a lot of doors for you. Can you attribute your success so far to any other big projects, or is SR still your one big fish that pushed you furthest?

I’m not sure.  Each gig sort of leads to the next.  Superman Returns was part of what helped me land Tomb Raider Underworld with Troels. I also recently scored the next Madden game for EA with another very talented composer, Aaron Sapp.  Madden is done by the same studio that produced SR.  We hear all the time in this industry, it’s all about who you know.  That really is the case. The most door opening relationship in my career has definitely come from working with Yanni as his arranger and orchestrator.  My main focus for the last few years (outside of Adagio) has been songwriting and production in a more popular sense.  I’ve met so many great producers and musicians branching off from Yanni’s circle.  Networking is everything.  It doesn’t come easily to me at all, but the value of it transcends everything else.

How do you market yourself as a composer – do you use social media etc.?

I’m haven’t done a ton with social media, but Troels has shown me the value of taking your online presence seriously.  Aside from having a website, I don’t market in a traditional sense. Again, I feel the  music industry is largely relationship driven.  People work with people that they know and trust.   I’ve had a few lucky breaks and I’ve just walked to edge of the earth to do a great job with them.  That is how things have slowly moved forward for me.

What does your current setup consist of? (Hardware/software etc.)

I use Logic on an 8-core Mac Pro as my main DAW.  I also have Pro Tools, but only use it to interface with Yanni or other clients that work on that platform.  I have 4 slave pcs to run my orchestral template.  I don’t use VEPRO or any of the LAN solutions.  I still prefer the stability and low latency of routing audio from my pcs to my mac over lightpipe.  Reverb wise, I mostly use the Lexicon PCM bundle and a hardware Bricasti m7.

Do you have an iPad? If so, whats your favourite music app/synth?

Yes.  It’s indispensable.  I don’t use any synths on it, but I run Midi Touch to make my iPad my primary control surface for midi CC’s.

What do you find is your single most important tool? Hardware/software/mental.

I think for writing keeping things simple  is important. A nice piano is the most important thing for me.  If I have too many toys in front of me I get caught up in that, and lose my focus on the essence of what is important in what I’m writing.  This is particularly true for songwriting.  Less so for scoring.  I will write with my template in that case.

Whats your definition of success?

Financial stability and getting up everyday being able to choose what I want to do.   I value autonomy over anything.  I try hard not to get caught up in worrying about what other composers are doing.  That is the number one thing that can lead to unhappiness for a composer in my opinion. There is always somebody better and more successful out there.

What advice would you give to a composer starting out nowadays?

Find your own voice as a composer.  That’s a huge one.  Everyone one I know who has done that has found a great career for themselves.  Also, make sure you’re not pursuing a composing career out of any romanticized notion of the film or music industry.   That all wears off real fast when you’re really working in it.  Finally, get out of your silo and collaborate a lot.  I didn’t always do that, and regret I didn’t learn that lesson sooner.

Written by: Emmett Cooke

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

  • http://www.nathanshubert.com Nathan Shubert

    Colin mentions his template that he uses for scoring a couple times. Does anyone know the nature of this template?

    Great interview!!

    • http://www.SonicOctave.com Emmett Cooke

      Its just a normal DAW template with lots of instruments/fx/eq already setup. Most composers do this – saves time having to load up multiple instruments again from Kontakt.

      • http://www.nathanshubert.com Nathan Shubert

        That makes sense. So would you typically have a template per ensemble type? So, an orchestral template, string quartet, etc?

        • http://www.SonicOctave.com Emmett Cooke

          Yes, well some people just have a massive template with everything they normally use in it. Load it up in the morning, wait half an hour for it to all load and you’re ready for the day (or others just leave it loaded up all the time and never turn off their PC/slave PC).

          I have one for “Epic Orchestral”, “Hybrid Orchestral”, “Piano and Strings” etc. – saves you trying to remember which instruments you usually use, and you have some of your EQ done already

          • http://www.nathanshubert.com Nathan Shubert

            Cool, thanks for this!! Great info.

    • http://www.mikemarinomusic.com Mike Marino

      Hey Nathan, here’s a link to another interview of Colin on 8dio’s website. You’ll find a screenshot of some of what is template looks like in Logic. Hope that helps:

      http://8dio.com/?page_id=9616

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicky.butler.16 Nicky Butler

    I really enjoyed the first track, very celtic sounding, could imagine it in a great disney film… or maybe brave from pixar. Has this track been used in anything?

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