For many years, Thinkspace Education have been leading the way in offering practical resources and courses for aspiring film, TV, and video game composers and orchestratore, led by veteran composer and all-round nice guy, Guy Michelmore. In 2015, they offered their first fully accredited Masters programs in these areas, in collaboration with the University of Chichester, and have since expanded with several new courses in orchestral mixing, sound design, and working with Kontakt. This year, they deliver three brand new postgraduate degrees, specifically targeting the areas of video game composition and sound design. We had a chance to chat with Guy about these exciting developments, and what they would mean for future students and the next generation of composers.
Hello Guy! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. So, you’ve had quite the illustrious career as a composer! I’m sure many of our readers are familiar with at least some of your work. But for the uninitiated, what would you say have been your most interesting turns?
Working with Marvel on eight of their animated features was really good fun, along with the TV shows, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, and loads of other stuff for them. Then there’s things like The Jungle Book for TF1 and Disney, Lassie for Dreamworks … I’ve done a lot of animation. Too much, probably – I mentally hear a “mwah mwah mwaaah” when I see something unfortunate happen to people in real life! Working on a couple of games at the moment – Red Bull Air Race for PS4 with my good friend and lead composer Stephen Baysted, a couple of live action features. A full life, but a happy one.
How did you come to create Thinkspace Education?
20 years ago, people used to phone me up all the time saying “I’ve just left university with a music degree and I want to do what you’re doing”. So I spent days on the phone explaining how it worked, and then thought it would be sensible to make some kind of course for people to introduce them to the real-world experience of working in film, games, and TV. Many thousands of students, later it’s worked out pretty well, and honesty, combined with all working professional tutors, is something that many students have come to appreciate and benefit from.
Is there work for composers and sound designers in 2016? Yes, there is – probably more than ever before. It’s tough, however, and for talented people to get heard, there is a need nowadays to be more developed as a composer, and that’s why courses like this, in particular the Masters’ programs, have a role to play. Knowledge inflation, where everybody else seems to know more and more and is better prepared, raises the bar. We take people we think have real potential, and try to help them get to that level. We are brutally honest sometimes, but at least the student is hearing that from us rather than a client. Making your mistakes and exploring your potential within our programs is a very good way of helping your career develop in the real world.
Let’s talk about the new set of postgraduate degrees being offered in 2016 by Thinkspace, in collaboration with the University of Chichester. We’ve got the MA in Composing for Video Games, the MA in Sound Design for Video Games, and the MFA in Game Music and Audio. What can people expect if they were to embark on each of those, and who are some of the exciting collaborators you’ve got involved to deliver them?
The game music and audio degrees are designed to give people the skills they need to work as composers or sound designers. They’ll learn not only to create inspiring interactive sound and music, but also how to implement the audio in the game using middleware. The approach is very project focused, and we’ve licensed some fantastic and inspiring titles, so students will be working on great games, including commercial releases. The iterative process is hugely important. I’ve seen too many job applicants come to us with a sketchy knowledge of a subject. Our students will have hard baked core-skills so they can go out into the marketplace with real confidence.
The tutors? Well we’re really lucky to have some really great composers and sound designers on board. On the sound design side, there’s Frank Petreikis (Rise of Tomb Raider, Dragon Age, Mass Effect), Pete Ward (F1, Colin McRay, Dirt), and Andy Gibson (Moto GP, Drakensang), while composers include Stephen Baysted (Need For Speed, Project Cars), Matt Black (Skysaga), and Gina Zdanowicz (Bioshock 2, Just Cause 3) – I have to leave out loads of great people here, and that’s not to mention the two dozen film and TV composers and orchestrators who tutor other aspects of the course! I don’t think anywhere else has as many full-engaged working professionals on their faculty, and for that, we are extremely grateful.
Thinkspace first made the leap into the world of postgraduate degrees in 2015, offering the MA and the MFA in the areas of Professional Media Composition and Cinematic Orchestration. You’re now working with your third intake of students, I believe. What have been the most surprising and interesting things so far about this process?
How far students can come in 12 months with dedication and hard work. It’s not a long time in the great scheme of things, but many have really managed to reinvent themselves, and are producing music I would be proud to have written, if I could at all. The live orchestral session at Warner Bros in LA was very inspiring, and the students who conducted their music in that legendary studio did so with confidence and competence, which is a tribute both to them and their tutors. Getting a round of applause from a Hollywood session orchestra (which they all did) is quite something!
“Those who can, do, excel, and teach.” I feel like that’s the drive behind Thinkspace’s approach, since every person who is involved in running and teaching the courses is a working professional in the industry, with vast real world experience and insight to bring to the students. What else goes into choosing the people you collaborate with in developing your courses?
It’s true. Writing music for a living is hard – really hard, and we all need to stick together and help each other out. So many great people are willing to “give back”, to give their experience to those on the way up. A group of students had lunch with Oscar nominees Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders a couple of months ago. They’ve met up with Danny Elfman’s orchestrator, Hans Zimmer’s longtime agent, and many, many more. Our hard working tutors are all over the world, and they give so much of their time and expertise. You know when you talk to someone whether they have that combination of real knowledge and top-level experience, as well as the ability to explain how that works to other people. Not everyone can do it, and we are so grateful to those who can, who choose to share their enthusiasm and knowledge with the students.
You also developed some new courses in 2015, focusing on the more creatively technical side of things – Orchestral Mixing with Jake Jackson and Kontakt 101. With composers and audio professionals expected to occupy multiple roles (beyond creating the music), these resources seem more and more necessary. Is that why you chose to provide them?
We love these short courses. They’re fun to do and you always learn a ton of stuff putting them together. They’re often things that we want to know more about ourselves, like the new Sound Design courses. It offers a quick and affordable way of finding out more about the ThinkSpace world.
Those new sound design courses you’ve just introduced sound juicy! What’re they all about?
Making your music sound cool, fresh, and different! All those musical sound design devices we use: reverses, pulses, mangling audio and making it sound amazing – that’s what it’s all about. That approach to making music is absolutely the sound of “now”, and we saw that nobody else was really teaching it, so we got top trailer guy Konstantine Pope (Assassin’s Creed) and built this really inspiring set of courses. If you’re brand new to this, you can start with Sound Design Essentials, which is done entirely in Logic and Cubase, just using the built-in effects. But then you can step up to Sound Design Pro and learn how pro grade musical sound design is done.
I remember when you first hinted to me about the video game courses sometime last year, when I myself was studying the MA in Professional Media Composition. I therefore suspect that you’ve got some more things you’re already working on right now! Anything you can hint at yet?
Well, we’ve produced 6 postgrad degrees in 18 months – we need a rest! No seriously, we need to consolidate, make sure our students are as happy and successful as possible. We’re taking a deep breath, but we are always looking for new opportunities. Free courses are something we’re introducing – “short, fun, and useful”… just like some friends I can think of! But seriously, they’re a quick and easy way to find out what we’re all about. I’m also very excited about blended learning, combining face-to-face with online. That’s something we’re thinking about. First degrees are a possibility, but we will only do something if we’re certain we can offer a real valuable alternative and add some value, so we’re thinking hard and always welcome suggestions!
Thank you very much Guy, and if my own experience studying with Thinkspace is any indication, I’m certain your new students will have a brilliant time of it. They’ll come out with a plethora of new weapons in their arsenal of skills, ready to take on the world of film, TV, video games, and every other medium there is.
Many thanks to Greg O’Connor Read of Top Dollar PR for his role in making this interview happen.