Composer Interview – Jeff Rona

You have a diverse history in the music industry, starting with Roland in the early 80’s, working with Zimmer in the 90’s and running Liquid Cinema + Silk Screen Music nowadays amongst other things. What was your most enjoyable experience to date and why?

For me, it’s the simplest act of sitting down and writing music. It excites and pleases me as much now as it ever has. Music isn’t a career as much as it is my passion and outlet. As difficult and frustrating the landscape of professional scoring can sometimes be, nothing gives me more pleasure than to just write something new. The process often takes me to unexpected places both in myself and in the music I make. I try to challenge myself at every point to make what I do of greatest value to myself and the audience.

I bought your book “The Reel World” a few years ago and loved it. Where did the idea for writing it come from and how long did it take?

When I was working in the music technology world (I developed instruments and software for Roland for a few years, and was a part of the group that developed MIDI) I was approached by Dominic Milano – the creator and editor of Keyboard Magazine to write a column about the newest music and audio tech and how it could be best applied musically. I wrote a monthly column for Keyboard for several years. But as my career morphed from musician to composing, so did my writing. I started writing on topics related to film music, and I called it “The Reel World” as I enjoy good and bad puns. Eventually they suggested I try to compile my favorite columns into a book. But when I did it was horrible. I’d learned so much along the way that the earlier articles felt somewhat naive. So I took the main topics of my articles – the aesthetics, the technology and the business of music for film and TV (no games yet) – and rewrote them more or less from scratch. That’s The Reel World, 1st Edition.

Whats in the 2nd edition?

Ten more years of experience and perspective, along with a complete rewrite of the technology section. When I wrote the 1st edition we were still synchronizing video tape machines to our sequencers. No digital video. Software had exploded in just the few years after the first book. So I polished my views, changes the numbers in the business section, and redid the technology section to reflect the modern world.

Whats your definition of success?

Loving what you do, and striving to do it better every day.

What does your daily routine look like?

Up around 6am, a hike or yoga with my wife, strong espresso, and then go to my studio. From there it depends on the projects going on. Some part of each day is spent writing, along with figuring out why something in my studio isn’t working. I break for a quick lunch with my assistant or my partners in Liquid Cinema (my music library catalogue). Inevitably there are phone calls and emails that can be a serious distraction, but are unavoidable. I try to get home for dinner as many nights as I can to be with my wife and children. Towards the end of a project there can be some very late late nights, and the occasional all-nighters. I try to avoid those, but deadlines are crazy these days. And I try not to work too many weekends.

Whats your favorite piece of software at the moment?

I don’t really have any one, but I can’t live without Logic, Native Instruments (Absynth is a favorite there), ProTools, and about 200 other pieces of software.

What does your current studio setup consist of?

I have four main computers. One is for Logic, which is the brain of the system. The second runs Logic again, but just to host my orchestral samples. The third is for ProTools, which functions as a simply recording and monitoring system and hosts the video (which is much better than trying to run a lot of tracks AND video on one machine running Logic). A fourth Mac runs MAX/MSP and some special code I’ve written to help coordinate and automate parts of my process. I have an Avid Eucontrol and an iPad for interface. And it all works in surround. It’s a flexible and very creative environment that lets me try things pretty quickly – otherwise I forget things very quickly.

If you studio was on fire, what one thing would you grab?

The hard drives, and the artwork.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of stock music libraries out there at the moment. How do you make Liquid Cinema stand out from the crowd?

By focusing purely on emotion and structure. That may seem an odd combo, but it’s the right way to do this. I have an amazing group of writers and producers with me on all this which makes a massive difference. I also know how film editors and directors think, and that helps come up with ideas that are of most use.

What are your thoughts on the music library industry? Where do you think it will be in 5-10 years?

For better or worse music licensing has become a major component of modern entertainment production, there’s no getting around that. It’s now the vast majority of music on television, and plays a big role in commercials, trailers, film and video games. It’s everywhere and growing. Does it replace custom written music by a talented composer watching and responding to a scene? No. But it brings a new economy to the process and give producers something they love – lots of options at a low cost.

With the massive advancements in technology, especially communications and collaboration, do you think its as important as ever to be in LA for a career in film scoring?

Less than before, but being in proximity to where projects are in post production does still have its advantages. That said, artists collaborating remotely is growing fast. I see it all the time in every genre.

Can you guide us through Dream with Me? How did you compose it, how did you mix it etc.?

It’s from a film I did a few years ago called “Whisper” for Universal. Stewart Hendler, the terrific director, asked me to do a version of the famous Christmas song “Carol Of The Bells” for a scene. We licensed a boys choir recording and I wrote an orchestral part that started in the previous scene and bridged with it to the next. And I also made a few references to the song elsewhere in the score. I’d also reached out to a wonderful singer named Jesca Hoop to do some twisted vocals on the score (she got her start at Tom Waits’ nanny – but that’s another story). Stewart suggested having Jesca sing something for the end credits of the film, and we decided to use Carol Of The Bells as the inspiration for the song. I wrote a sketch and worked with songwriter Richard Souther and his wife for the lyrics. Jesca helped out a lot during her recording session to polish the lyrics and vocal lines. She knocked it out in about 2 takes – she’s amazing and very creative. The tracks are a combination of elements from the score, a few well placed AppleLoops and my brand of synths, samples, weird loop mangling and production style. I mixed it myself. The whole song came together very quickly, and turned out really well. I post it to my FaceBook page every Christmas.

What advice would you give to an aspiring composer who wants to get into film scoring, but doesn’t live in LA?

Be diverse, but be really really good at at least one style. Watch a lot of movies…all the time. And listen to the soundtracks very carefully. Build up your studio so it can sound as good as your favorite scores – computers, samples, plug-ins, everything. Learn how to use every piece of gear like you were learning to play the violin before your debut concert. Go to film festivals or anywhere you can meet film makers and talk to them. Consider finding a successful composer to apprentice with or help out in exchange for learning the craft. And listen to what they say. And get a fast broadband internet connection.

Jeff’s Website: http://jeffrona.com/

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006258/

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.

  • Alice Hive

    Thanks! I love what he’s saying!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1393442536 Terry Jones

    A great interview, very informative!

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