Composer Interview – Lee Sanders

lee sanders composerDo you have any formal musical training?” “Do you think this influences your compositions in any way (positively or negatively?)” “What would you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?

A quick-and-dirty list of my musical training would look something like this:

– Bachelor of Arts in Music, Murray State University (Murray, Kentucky)
– Master of Music in Music Theory and Electronic Music, Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana)
– Certificate in Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television, University of Southern California (Los Angeles)
…and, from there, into the trenches. Where I really started learning.

From there it gets a little more complicated. As an undergraduate I bounced around between majors, learning a little bit about a lot of different things.
And all those studies outside of music—especially literature and creative writing—were just as important to my development as an artist as the purely musical expertise I’ve picked up along the way.

Everything has an influence, however slight or subtle, and our job is really to translate and reflect those influences through our compositions. That kind of job is a life’s work.

We form what I call a locus of cool—that place where everything we’ve ever heard and liked resides in our brain… where it percolates and boils down and becomes something new and unique. To the extent that I’ve been able to do that, and to pair it with an understanding of narrative and the visual language of cinema, I’d say that’s a strength. And a voice.

We can only write what occurs to us to write. What I try to work on is having as many options, as many things that occur to me to write, as possible. And then culling those options in a way that is distinctive and effective. Organizing, in other words… and I’ll have more to say about that later.

Who would you consider to be your musical influences?

Many and varied—and I’m adding more all the time. I sort of grew up musically with one foot in the classical world and the other in the world of contemporary electronics and gear… and I think you can hear that in the cues I write. I like it when different sound-worlds collide, when new things happen.

Do you compose full time, or as a side project/hobby?

Full-time since about 1999. Which makes me feel terribly, terribly OLD. :-)

What equipment do you use?” “Whats your main DAW, and how do you find it?” “What VSTs do you use, and what are your favourite ones?

My work rig is simple—my approach is all about keeping the filter between the music I’m hearing in my brain and the actual sound waves coming out of my monitors as transparent as possible.

Not *too* simple, though! I don’t want to sacrifice too much flexibility or sonic variety. But with the technology we have today—and the incredible sound libraries and sound-creation tools that are out there—simplicity doesn’t necessarily connote limitation.

That said, my core writing template for The Amazing Race runs to something upwards of 300 MIDI tracks, most of which are tucked away in sub-folders at any given time. I work in Digital Performer, and I find myself constantly looking for ways to integrate the latest sample libraries and synths, and to take my existing sound library deeper. Use those sounds in unique ways. Make those cool Waves plug-ins part of the composing process, not just part of the mixing process, for example.

Do you play any instruments? If so, what do you play and for how long? How have they influenced the type of music you make today?” “What’s your favourite instrument that you own, and that you would like to own and why?

I’ve played piano since I was four years old, which might give you the impression that I’m a better pianist than I am! :-) I also studied horn for about 15 years, and played in orchestras and bands all over the middle of the United States while I was in college.

Sitting in an orchestra was so valuable—it gave me a sense of color and balance and potential from the inside-out, if that makes sense. When I’m composing, those experiences “on the other side of the baton” give me an intuition about what will and won’t work, and about new ideas to try. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to internalize all that simply by reading books and attending concerts. Not impossible—just much, much tougher, I’d think.

All that being said, I don’t miss performing all that much. I have immense respect and admiration for all the amazing musicians I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the years, but perfecting my own performance chops was never what I was willing to stay up all night doing. And I think that’s sort of what it takes to reach the sort of high-level function that makes you relevant as a performing artist.

What I was (and still am!) a fanatic about—what seems to me to be less of a chore and more of a privilege—is creating brand-new music. Stuff that other people might want to perform and interpret some day. That, to me, is worth losing sleep over.

So my favorite instrument right now is an acoustic guitar I bought about a year ago, and that I’m just barely starting to learn to play. And I’m terrible! And I love it. Highly recommended to all composers who are looking for a paradigm shift… grab an instrument you’ve never played before, and re-acquaint yourself with struggle. Struggle is phenomenally underrated in life.

Whats your favourite piece of software and why?

DP. I’ve worked with it for such a long time now that it’s become that transparent filter I mentioned above.

Whats your favourite piece of hardware and why?

My Aeron task chair… especially as those long-haul composing sessions creep past the 14-hour mark.

How important do you think it is for a composer to have his own style and why?

Crucially, vitally important. Here’s why: Because, at some point in the next ten years, someone’s going to release an app, probably running inside of Final Cut Pro, that will allow you (or any other desktop filmmaker) to generate an original score in a specific composer’s style. Just drop in the starting and ending timecodes, maybe a couple of sync points, a few dramatic notes (on-screen faders for “sad—happy,” “ominous—fluffy,” etc.) and BANG! Instant score.

Someone’s going to do it. It’s just a matter of time, and of figuring out parameters for all the musical tendencies.

You’ll be able to buy the John Williams algorithm, the Ennio Morricone algorithm, the Danny Elfman algorithm… those will probably be part of the Standard Set. Thomas Newman, Gustavo Santolalla, Michael Giacchino… those will come out later, as plug-ins. The Hans Zimmer algorithm will be delayed for a year or two, due to legal wrangling over licensing and whose name gets to be on the cue sheets. I kid, I kid.

Here’s the thing: Why is it that, as you’re reading this, you can sort of imagine what those algorithms will sound like? It’s because those guys have such a strong, clearly-defined voice. Such a unique locus of cool.

But what that murderous “killer app” won’t be able to do is come up with the [insert your name here] algorithm. Not until you define it. Not until you create the need.

In the end, that’s what we’re selling… not sound, but our particular, idiosyncratic way of organizing that sound. See? I told you I’d come back to organizing.

Are you a multi-genre composer? Or do you like to specialize in one particular area?” “What appeals to you about creating your style of music?

Sure, I work in multiple genres… and I think most working composers would want to say the same thing.

Scoring The Amazing Race alone, I’ve written in a crazy variety of styles… and by that I mean not just all the ethnic influences from around the world (and, in 14 seasons, the show has been to a lot of places!), but also cues that are purely orchestral, rock, pop, jazz, folk, electronica… and so much in between.

When I did synth-work and conducting for Ron Jones on Family Guy,  it was a similar situation—every episode had a handful of bizarre and wonderful cues that took us places where, musically, we’d never been. And every time I take on a new gig—whether it’s for a TV show, a film, a trailer or just a 15-second web spot—one of the things I love the most is that it’s going to be something new and different.

That, to me, is the fun part. Never knowing what’s coming next. Always being hit with new demands, new challenges, on any number of levels. If it weren’t like that, I think I would have moved on long ago.

But whatever the style or genre, I try to impose my sensibility, my opinion, on it. Otherwise it’s clerical. It’s busy-work. And the Powers That Be can hire anyone to do that. Or buy a piece of software (see above).

What types of media have you composed for and which is your favourite?

Tough to name a favorite… the medium tends to matter less to me than the collaborators and the story.

Don’t get me wrong. The medium is important. But I’ve had good experiences in television, film, online content, video games, commercials and trailers alike. So I don’t have a strong preference.

What is your process for composing, especially if you are composing for a particular film/game?

For me it starts with those first collaborative meetings with the filmmakers/game designers. My goal, right from the first meeting, is to reach a mutual understanding about the broad strokes of what the score should accomplish. How much of it is about conveying time and place? How much of it needs to be “inside the heads” of the characters? How visceral; how removed? Top-level issues.

While we’re discussing all this, I’m also working on building a good rapport with these people. We’re going to be fighting a war together, and I’d prefer it if we were on the same side, at least at the outset. :-)

After we’ve made some of these initial music decisions together, I get to run away for a little while and start making mistakes. Trying all sorts of different things to see what works. If my instincts are good, then I’ll “dial it in” fairly quickly—but I’m not worried about that. Sometimes a mistake will lead me to something I never would have thought of trying otherwise.

Once I have a couple of those crucial cues done, I sit back and evaluate. A palette is emerging, and now it’s time to codify that and decide if it’s flexible and appropriate for the rest of the score moving forward. Have I established themes? Will those themes work with the rest of the project? How can I expand this material outward as the score grows? Those questions will inform the remainder of the job.

And, if I’ve prepared properly, my filmmaking partners-in-crime will already be on board creatively for what I’m attempting. And I’ll be tuned into what they’re seeking from my score. Tweaks and changes moving forward are the norm, but if I’ve done my job as a collaborator, they’re usually just that… tweaks. Not massive re-conceptualization.

Without a doubt, the rise of new and readily available technologies in music have meant that anyone can create a score in their bedroom – with little or no musical training – that sounds quite good to the average listener. However, there has also been an huge influx of amateur film makers due to the new technologies in film which make it easier to make a film in your bedroom. What do you think of this whole scenario? Undoubtedly, if you were to look at the industry 10 years ago, it was a lot different – do you think it has changed for the better?

We’re seeing a mass amateurization of multimedia storytelling right now. I think professional filmmakers and multimedia storytellers will continue to exist, though, simply because of the extensive skill set required to do the job at a level the audience wants to experience. Most people don’t have the spare time (this sort of links in with the whole “having-many-jobs” thing, above) or the passion necessary to spend several years perfecting their project. So they’ll have to collaborate. Which means money will change hands. Which means there will be a business aspect, and corporate interests, etc. It’s not yet so easy or cheap that we can do highest-quality stuff at home by ourselves. That day might come, though.

Have you had any large clients, and if so, who were they?

I’ve been very fortunate in this regard. I’ve worked with CBS and Jerry Bruckheimer Television on The Amazing Race, and I’ve worked with ABC and Next Entertainment on The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and a handful of other shows that… well, that died in the dust. One of those shows, The Will, was yanked from the schedule after a single episode… ouch!

I’ve worked on projects for Fox, HBO, TBS, Nickelodeon, Showtime, Disney, Sony, Paramount, Sci-Fi Channel, Bravo, The WB Network (back when there was such a thing—!), The Learning Channel, PBS and several others.

In almost every case, I got the gig because I already had a relationship with someone on the show. It’s a coat-tails industry, and we’re no different.

What form of marketing/promotion do you use, if any, and which was the most popular?

By far the most important thing I do in this aspect of the career is to meet people and to forge new relationships. Look at it this way: If your drain is clogged, you need a plumber… and, if you already have one you’re happy with, you don’t go looking. And even if you don’t have a plumber, you probably still don’t go looking—instead, you ask your friends, and then you call the person they recommend.

I think it’s the same for composers. Except that most of us don’t make as much money as a plumber makes!

All that being said, I do get out there and hustle for gigs… you have to! I keep my website as current as possible; I send out demos; I go to Industry events and meet ‘n greet. Lately I’ve been using social media a lot… several recent projects have come about as a result of meeting filmmakers on Twitter, which I think is a great thing. The world is small, and the technological barriers to collaborating with filmmakers from around the world have just disappeared. I love that.

The Amazing Race

The Amazing Race

Would you say you ever had a discernable “big break” in your career?

Several. One that was particularly important for me: I landed a meeting with New Line Cinema for the Lord of the Rings website music off of a recommendation by a friend from school whose thesis film I’d scored (he’d served as Director of Photography on a bunch of their DVD Extras materials).

When I got there, I was able to help solve a little problem the producers were having: they needed to know what the inscription on the One Ring said (they had a graphic they wanted to use, but didn’t know if it was appropriate—the inscription was in Tengwar, one of Tolkien’s invented scripts). I translated it, and even quoted them the whole “Ash Nazg Durbatulûk… etc.” in the Black Speech of Mordor (I’m such a geek!). It got their attention enough that they listened to my demo, and I landed the gig.

That LotR music landed on the desks of Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram Van Munster via another friend who had produced a independent short film I’d scored maybe two years before, and those guys hired me for The Amazing Race in 2001. One of the producers on Race moved over to The Bachelor, so I ended up doing some work over there… and yet another producer I met on that show led to three different TV projects for ABC and CBS. You’ll find similar chains of connections running through the life stories of anyone who works regularly in the business.

What project have you enjoyed working on the most?

I try to make it a policy to have a blast no matter what the project is—life’s too short not to love what you’re doing. And there’s an entirely different sort of pleasure in writing a 20- or 30-second cue for a movie trailer vs. a 65-minute feature film score vs. a 200-minute music library for a TV show. So again, it’s tough to pick a favorite… maybe too tough. I’m thrilled and humbled to get to do a little bit of each.

Have you ever had a client who was hard to deal with, and if so, what did they do and how did you deal with it?

Sure. It’s rare, but if you do enough gigs, it happens. I’ve been pressured to write something way too close to the temp score on a couple of occasions, and had to do a little fancy dancing in order to protect myself (and the client). And I’ve worked with filmmakers who were so intensely focused on the picture that they forgot that their collaborators were people (with, you know, feelings to take into consideration).

In all those cases, I just kept at it, remembering that their comments and their pressure came from the place of wanting to make the project the best it could be. And that’s something I could identify with, and use to get us to a result that was, if not thrilling, at least effective—and then live to fight another day.

But those cases are very much the exception, rather than the rule… and certainly they don’t come up much with the core group of filmmaking friends I find myself working with again and again. Most of the time it’s a honeymoon, and I mean that seriously. About 99% of the time I’m having entirely too much fun to be allowed.

Have you ever had to work with a client who was not near you – ie. on the other side of the world – so physical meetings were impossible? If so, how did you deal with this?

I’d say 75-80% of my gigs are carried out without ever once meeting with the client in person. My main gig at the moment, The Amazing Race, is an exception—I’m close enough to the production offices that I can drive over in about 10 minutes, so it’s easy to stick my head into an edit bay and do the sort of face-to-face collaboration I love.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s better to be there in person. But I used to think it was essential, and it simply isn’t. People have gotten over that; we’ve adapted to the technology, made our internal mental and psychological compromises, and we can swing with remote collaboration.

Technology lets anyone, anywhere, get close enough to that experience to pull off a successful collaboration. Especially if their communication skills are strong. And it’s trivial to move data around fast enough to meet production deadlines. If I’m working with a client who’s not close by, it no longer matters if they’re on the other side of the Hollywood Hills or the other side of an ocean or two. The only difference is the arithmetic I have to do to figure out when to phone them.

What is the most unusual request you have ever had from a client?

A few years ago a director had me write “Kazoo Olympics” music for his student film. That was pretty weird. The director is repped by William Morris now, though, so I guess it turned out OK.

Do you have any tips for people starting up in the music industry, on how to market themselves, get jobs, and get started off in general?

Sure.
1) Write every day.
2) Meet new people in the community every day.
3) Improve something—your gear, your filing system, your hairdo—every day.
4) get some creative input—to fertilize the ground for all that output you’re doing—every day.

It’s the “every day” part that counts. You can make up a point system, if you like (this is an idea that originated with one of my mentors, the inimitable and ingenious Ron Jones). Your point system might look like this:

Your goal = 100 points a day.

If you can take an actual physical meeting with a filmmaker who has the power to hire you someday for money, you can stop. You’ve earned your 100 points for the day.

Successfully placing a phone call to a filmmaker (and that means speaking with them—not leaving voice mail)? That might be, oh, 50 points.

Having a web site? 5 points a day (“gimme” points, unless your server goes down!).

If you send out a demo CD, that’s 10 points (which is probably too generous, considering how little attention filmmakers pay them—sorry to burst that bubble for you if you thought otherwise!).

…And so on. Make up your own point values for all the other things you think are important: reading the trades and important Industry websites; answering e-mails from fans; adding friends on Facebook; etc. Me, I’m counting this interview as, like, 5,000 points. :-)

Too many composers, especially starting out, go through a phase where they rack up something like 300 points a day—blanketing the market with demos; making tons of phone calls; really hustling. And then after a week or two they stop. For, like, a few months. And they wonder why the phone doesn’t ring. Why other people are getting the gigs.

100 points. Every day. That’s the part that counts.

Do you ever get writers block, and if so how do you deal with it?

Caffeine and fear. Seriously.

Caffeine, to help me keep a regular schedule… the idea being that, if I’m in the studio at the same time each morning, the Muse knows where to find me. And fear—of deadlines, of irrelevance, of bankruptcy—to minimize procrastination. Works a treat.

What I do find, though, is that once in a while I push too hard, and it’s a few days before I get back my edge. Like training too hard at the gym… at some point the creative muscles just fail to respond. I actually just wrote a blog entry on this subject:

Finite Quantities

Do you find that when you’ve finished a song, you’re sick of hearing it?

Usually by then I’ve lost all objectivity, so I’m at a bit of a loss as to how I should feel about it!

Much more common is that, a few days or weeks later, I’ll hear it on the episode (if it’s a TV show) or it’ll pop up in my iTunes, and all I can hear are the moments I want back. Things I could have done differently, better. Which is good, I think—it means I’m still growing. Still improving. And who would want to get to the end of that road, really? “OK, now I’m as good as I’ll ever be. Time for a beer and a slow slide into oblivion.”

How long do you typically spend on one track?

It varies, but not as widely as you might think. Again, you’re touching on something I blogged on recently:
One Minute Of Music

When creating a track, do you know how long it will be before starting it, or do you tend to just “see how it goes” and let the track make itself?

When I’m scoring to picture, preliminary decisions will already have been made (in the initial spotting session with the filmmakers) about where music starts and stops. That determines the length of the cues I’ll be writing. Subject to change as I go along, of course, but I try to stay pretty close to those initial instincts.

If I’m writing library cues, or “custom-library” music for a show like The Amazing Race, then I have more leeway. But I still try to discipline myself, just as a precaution against losing focus.

Is there anything you wish you could do musically, but can’t now?

I hope there’s always something in this category for me! It goes back to what I was saying earlier: The career is a never-ending process. At the moment I find myself thinking less about notes and more about shape—the shape of a particular melodic line and how that fits the moment; the overall shape of a cue and how it builds dramatic intensity; the shape of an entire score as it develops from cue to cue. Where does the energy of the cue go? If I graph it, what would that look like? Is it too extreme, too understated?

So at the moment that’s what I’m working on… thinking less about individual notes, harmonies, phrases. Keeping the conscious part of the thought process at the highest level I can and letting the playing-out of that process happen organically. Writing fast and loose and confidently.

In a word, unclenching.

If you could go back to the start, when you first knew you wanted to score for films, is there anything you would do differently? For example would you have started off on different tools, done a different course, learnt certain things first etc.?

I think I would have spent less time in the books and more time on the street, hustling for gigs. I might not be quite as “fundamentally solid”—though maybe I would; being thrown in the deep end of the pool forces you to get your act together pretty fast!—but I’d have made more contacts, and that personal network is the coin of the realm.

I also would have invested somewhat differently in the gear for my studio. But I think everyone makes missteps along these lines, and it’s such a difficult task, especially starting out, that I can’t be too hard on myself on that account.

How would you define success?

I think that, in the end, we’re all playing for time and relevance.

Time, to spend on the really important things—family, friends, extra-musical interests, projects that mean something to us. Our income is really only a tool that lets us focus on all that good stuff that happens outside the studio.

And relevance, so that something of ourselves remains in the world after we’re gone. Why do so many “name” composers, or artists, or directors, still work at all? I mean, they’ve made more money than their grandchildren will ever be able to spend, so why not just sit on the yacht and laugh maniacally for 30-40 years? I think this is a big part of the answer.

Do you think there is a particular point when its viable to move from composing part time with another full time job, to just composing full time, or would you say, the earlier the better?

I think the career dictates that for you. This is the “making the leap” question that I’m asked often, and my answer goes like this…

You always have at least two jobs, even when you’re composing full-time:
1) Doing the composing gig you have in front of you (if any), and
2) doing all the stuff necessary to land the next gig.
If you’re not able to support yourself on what you make doing 1)and 2), it’s simple: You now have to take additional jobs 3) through X)—the gigs you do to pay the bills while you’re doing 1) and 2). Really, if you’re not doing both 1) and 2) all the time, then you’re missing the thing that will get you ahead down the road.

All that said, you have to achieve a certain escape velocity—that momentum that brings projects in on a regular basis from collaborators who are themselves so busy that they hire you again and again. Getting there is a combination of luck (over which you have no control) and the Rule of Large Numbers (which you absolutely can leverage by working your ass off on as many projects as your health and your social life can stand). You can only stay in that stressful position for so long—and, for many (most?) people, it’s unpleasant enough that they give up and go on to something different.

I’m sure there are a lot of hellacious writers out there who called it a day for exactly this reason. Which is too bad… but that’s the system, for better or worse.

What ultimately are your goals?

It’s a similar question, isn’t it? As composers—as storytellers, as artists—in a shrinking world, we have this incredible opportunity: where most people can still affect only a few grains of sand close to them, we can affect the whole beach. That’s a career worth pursuing. So yeah—I’d say I’m playing for time, and for relevance, and for the beach.

If you could change one thing in the music industry, what would it be and why?

I think Deane Ogden answered this one for you in a previous interview, and I’d associate myself with what he said—scoring for media has become a “closed shop,” with nothing in

SCOREcast

SCOREcast

place since the days of the studio system (!)
to bring along new and emerging talent. It’s such
a solitary occupation sometimes, too, and it’s tough to feel connected.

And sites like this, and the SCOREcast website we’re prepping for launch in early ’09, are doing something about it! It’s a huge step toward tightening up our little community, toward everyone getting to know each other a little better and sharing what works for us.

What would you consider to be the top 5 most important skills of a composer nowadays (including networking, and compositional skills)?

First off, I don’t even think it’s crucial to know how to play the instruments for which you’re writing! It can help immensely—but as long as you understand what’s idiomatic or non-idiomatic for a particular instrument or section, I think you can write competently (i.e., even if you depart from the idiom, you’re making an informed choice for a creative reason).

But that’s a tangent to your question. I think having strong ideas is important, as I’ve said, because that’s what you’re selling (if you’re working as something more than a glorified transcriber of the temp score!). My opinion is that the “five things” you’re asking about, and other lists like that, fall into the bonus category of “good to have; good to strive to improve at all times.” But no one thing is compulsory.

Except being stubborn as hell about toughing it out until you succeed. That you’ll need for sure.

So what is that—three things? Strong musical and storytelling ideas; formidable networking skills; superhuman stubbornness. And a reasonable amount of studio gear. Four things. This is becoming sort of like the Spanish Inquisition sketch. :-)

Where do you see the film music industry moving to in the next 10 years? Do you see any changes coming that will drastically change the way we think about it, or do you think it has evolved to the greatest extent possible within its confines?

That’s the thing about art, isn’t it? We need to do it. As a species, I mean—I consider it a basic human need. Part of our social function. Technology will change, and it will change us, but I don’t think we’ll evolve in such a way that our need to communicate stories, to share truth as we see it, will disappear. Which means that the next 10 years will be about finding ways to use this new paradigm we’re developing. That’s where I see it moving.

How and where, specifically? I don’t think it’s possible to know that—the consequences of such a disruptive tehcnological shift are impossible to predict, almost by definition. One of the things I think about a lot is the massive cultural fragmentation we’re experiencing as a result of the Internet. Suddenly there’s a community for every weird little niche you can imagine… and, the more people enjoy spending time in these heretofore-obscure little corners, the less we have what one might define as a cultural mainstream.

What are the ramifications of that? I don’t know. It makes me feel (mostly) excited and (somewhat) uncomfortable at the same time.

What is your outlook on life and what motivates you?

I try to have a relentlessly positive focus and a bias toward action. There’s a way, if your head is in the right space, to take something meaningful and valuable from even the toughest setback. That’s what I mean by positive focus. And then you keep going—focusing on what’s next and the opportunities that are always out there. More so than ever.

So, for example, if there’s a question as to whether I should reach out to a filmmaker on a given project, the default position is to go ahead and do it! Unless there’s some concrete, valid reason why I shouldn’t do this—that I can think of in the next 5 minutes—I’m going to do it. That kind of thinking.

Of course It’s important to know when to say no, when to protect your time and energy, but I like to keep my emphasis looking forward and upward. I’m always motivated by trying new things—not just in music. I want to do more in this lifetime than I’ll ever be able to do, and at the same time I want to balance that urge to rush through with an appreciation of each thing as it comes. Novelty, variety, quality… all in a nice balance.

What are your other interests outside of music?

All kinds of things—too much to list here, really. I’m interested in just about any subject you could mention.

Some recent stuff:

• I’ve been working on a fantasy fiction novel with an old friend of mine, and we’re this close to being finished (after several years of on-again, off-again work!).
• I’ve recruited my girlfriend to help me learn Korean.
• I gave my mom a map of the world and told her we’ll go wherever she points. Right now, I’m hoping she doesn’t point somewhere too cold. :-)
• I’ve been rehabilitating my shoulder to the point that I can get back into racquetball, which I used to play a lot and I really miss.

And just in the last few months I’ve started to enjoy cooking—it’s something you absolutely cannot rush. A nice way to counterbalance that rushed feeling I was just mentioning.

Over the past while, I’ve done a few things that I’ve found useful such as keeping notepads everywhere to jot things down. Have you picked up any habits over the years that you’ve found useful?

I mentioned the caffeine already, right?

OK… besides that, I find it’s easier to counteract my natural tendency to procrastinate if I have a list. If you fake being organized well enough, it’s not that different from actually being organized. So I re-write my list about twice a week. It’s a template that includes meetings, deadlines, things I need to buy, bills to pay, e-mails needing responses… the whole deal.

Some people don’t need this; they function better in a more extemporaneous mode, or they’re just naturally organized and proactive. I am a little bit in awe of those people.

Re-writing my list—and I do this by hand, not at my computer—helps me no matter the height of the stack of work on my desk. When things are slow, it keeps me from completely wasting a day, by reminding me of those non-urgent but important tasks I could be doing. When things are slammed, it keeps the less-important stuff from slipping my mind. It makes me feel more in control of my work flow. And it’s a nice little meditation on what the day is going to look and feel like (even if that usually changes by lunch time!).

If you were stuck on a desert island with 3 tracks, what would they be?

I did a “Desert Island Five” film-score list a while back:

Sanders Music Blog – Desert Island Five

But that was then (June 2007) and this is now… and if you’re talking about any music, not just film scores, today my list might read:

1. Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”), 1st mvt.

2. Morton Lauridsen, “O Magnum Mysterium”

3. Herbie Hancock, “Maiden Voyage” (1978 live version w/ Herbie and Chick Corea) – Couldn’t find it on youtube, but did find Herbie and Chick doing improv. in 1978 – really interesting:

Honestly, though? I’d trade it all for my rig, or even just a piano and a big sheaf of score paper.

What is the most stupid thing you have ever done?

Let me put it this way: Never get into a drinking contest with a tuba player.

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.

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  • http://deaneogden.com Deane Ogden

    This was a treat! Lee, many of your points here are only obtainable through tried and true methods. I always love hearing how you keep it all moving down the road. Awesome!

  • Elisa

    Great interview! Thank you so much, Emmett, for putting together such a great list of questions. I’m really enjoying this series. And can I just gush for a moment? I LOVE this website!

  • http://www.hannalim.com Hanna Lim

    So much to learn from Lee – not only a talented composer but also a great thinker.

  • http://www.ariyoshahry.net Ariyo

    Amazing interview. Thanks for sharing.

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