Composer Interview – Rob Gokee

Do you have any formal musical training?

I first learned guitar when I was a teen, and taught myself by ear. When I got to college, I took classical guitar lessons and theory, most of which was at the University of New Mexico. Most of my knowledge in scoring for film came from self-education and internships.

Do you think this influences your compositions in any way (positively or negatively?)

Any form of education can only help your writing. I don’t think a formal education is the path to scoring films, some people learn better on their own. But writing music and writing music for film are two different animals.

What would you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?

My strengths are my ability to work well under extreme deadlines, and being able to write in multiple genres. I actually work better when I’ve got a short deadline that I do when there’s none at all. Also, because of blues and rock guitar background, I’m able to implement many different styles into my writing, which is crucial to scoring film and television.

Who would you consider to be your musical influences?

In film scoring, I most admire Christophe Beck, Brian Tyler, Michael Giacchino. and Hans Zimmer. I listen to a lot of guitar players as well: Satriani, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Petrucci.

What equipment do you use?

I use Pro Tools for recording both midi and audio. For samplers, I utilize Kontakt 3 primarily, occasionally I use Gigastudio, Samplebase and Reason when I need a specific sound. A lot of my percussion and drum tracks are sampled through Kore, and live I play an Ibanez S Series guitar and run it through Line 6 Gear Box.

Whats your main DAW, and how do you find it?

Pro Tools is my main DAW. I walked into Guitar Center one day and told them I wanted the industry standard when it came to recording. They sold me Pro Tools. In hindsight, at the time it wasn’t the best thing to use for recording midi, but they’ve since become just as competitive as other DAW’s on the market. In terms of audio, Pro Tools is found in almost every studio, so transferring sessions and files are less complicated.

What VSTs do you use, and what are your favourite ones?

I recently switched from Gigastudio to Kontakt 3, and its the been very reliable. I use Vienna and EastWest Symphonic for orchestral samples, I spent weeks organizing the library for ease of application, and Kontakt has been the least “buggy” software I’ve used.

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?

I’ve played guitar for over 15 years, so I still consider that my main instrument. It’s taken a backseat to piano in the last 5 years or so, because I score films with the midi controller over anything else. I’m trying to build my piano playing, and at the same time I’ve picked back up the guitar to regain my chops. I’m scoring a feature in early 2009 that will have live guitar mixed into the score, and I’ll be playing it myself.

Whats your favourite instrument that you own, and that you would like to own and why?

My Ibanez guitar. I’ve played Ibanez exclusively for over 10 years, it’s the only guitar that I can pick up in a store, no matter the series, and it feels natural in my hands from the first note.

Whats your favourite piece of software and why?

Kontakt 3 and EWQL Symphonic Orchestra. It’s the best library I’ve ever used, and I don’t see myself switching anytime soon. There’s a realism with EWQL that I haven’t heard anywhere else, and it makes my job a lot easier.

Whats your favourite piece of hardware and why?

Surprisingly, it’s a custom built PC that I use as my main computer. I built it from scratch a few years ago, and it’s never given me problems. Although I utilize a Mac as well in my studio, the PC is a workhorse that I know inside and out. I run 8GB of RAM and over 1 TB of storage on multiple drives.

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

It’s very important for a composer to have his/her own style, because that’s what sets you apart from everyone else. Generally your style just forms naturally when you start writing, you can actually see it over a variety of cues

Are you a multi-genre composer? Or do you like to specialize in one particular area?

I’m multi-genre, which is the best way to break into this business. The more flexible you are, the more you open yourself up to work. I love scoring horror, and I feel that and drama are my strengths. One of my weaknesses used to be comedy, so I made sure I went after films in that genre so I could strengthen myself.

What appeals to you about creating your style of music?

I define my style as compositions for film/television. The best part about that style, for me, is the collaboration with the director and producers. I enjoy taking the parts of me that create music and combining them with the emotional parts of the director that fit his idea for the film, and creating something new from the fusion.

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

I’ve worked in all genres of film and television: drama, comedy, action, horror, suspense, urban, contemporary, even songwriting to replace a copyrighted song. My current favourite is horror for writing, action for listening.

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

I take inspiration from the film or television project itself. When I’m in a position to read to read the script for the project ahead of time, I usually hear music in my head as I read. I feel like thats the genesis for the score. Getting that on paper or recorded is hard for me until I have footage to watch. I’ll start by looping the footage in a session and I start throwing things up at it. Eventually, something will click, and it will turn into a melody, and then I’m off and running.

What are your thoughts on composing for films as a full time job? What would your advice be on the subject in regards to earning a decent wage from it – do you feel you should have another job on the side to keep the income coming in, or do you feel its possible if you have a good name, to earn a steady wage?

That’s an excellent question. It really depends on the situation. Many, many composers you’ve never heard of make a living scoring to picture, but It’s almost impossible to make money composing for film and TV for first few years. You don’t have enough experience and credit to get paid enough to live on, unless you catch a big break. I went from a full time job before I started on my own, and worked weekends for 2 years before I was making enough to quit. Even then it can be hit and miss, sometimes you hit a slow patch and then it’s important to have a nest egg to tide you over.

One approach is the assistant route. Some composers work as assistants to A list composers, which, once in a great while, leads to future work. The most important thing is to have a long term set of goals, and not give up. Find ways to make money related to composing if things get slow. I’m a film believer that if you hold on long enough, and give it everything you have, eventually your time to shine will come.

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

Most of my work has been in independent film, so the distribution deal with mid/large distributors happens after the fact. I’ve done work for PBS nationally, and had films I’ve scored distributed worldwide.

If you did have large clients, how and where did you get the job?

Hard work, determination and luck. You have to get your foot in the door, and then once you do you have to make a good impression and, above all, be open to any suggestion and never use the word “can”t.”

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

I market from a variety of sources. I utilize casting listings on some sites, and I read the daily trades to look for things in production. I get a lot of work, at this stage in my career, from repeat business and word-of-mouth, so I spend the majority of my time marketing that first.

What project have you enjoyed working on the most?

They’re all special for different reasons, so there’s not one I can single out. I try to make the next film better than the last, I try and grow as an artist between projects.

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?

I’ve been lucky in that there’s never been a client that I’ve worked with that’s been difficult. Every client is different, and every one has their own style and way of working. I really enjoy all the different personalities, and working with people one of the best parts of the job.

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?

Don’t give up. Treat everyone with respect. Hollywood is a very small town, and everyone knows everyone else, so it’s important not to burn bridges. It takes a long time to make money as a composer, so you need to come prepared with a 5 year plan, and be ready to make another 5 year plan when that one is up. You need to do it for the love of film and music, and not for fame and money, because your passion will ultimately be the thing that gets you where you want to be.

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

There’s not a lot of time for writers block, you just have to push through it. If I have a week to finish cues for a meeting, sometimes I can afford to be blocked for a day or so. But ultimately I have to make it work, and the inspiration always comes when I need it to.

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

I never really get sick of it, there are times when something gets stuck in my head for days, which can be annoying.

How long do you typically spend on one track?

It depends on the track, it can vary widely depending on the length of the track, the complexity of the orchestration, how many times it needs to be rewritten to fit the film. There’s no real standard.

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?

As I mentioned above, I let the track happen organically based on the emotion I’m feeling for the film as I watch. Then I sculpt the track from there and fill it out.

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

I’d like to be a better piano player, which will happen over time as I spend more time learning the instrument. I’d love to learn the drums one days, I love the use of percussion in a cue and would like to record it live myself at some point, much like Brian Tyler does.

How would you define success?

Being able to do something you love as your career. Not the money, not fame, all of it for the love of music and film.

What ultimately are your goals?

To keep my career moving forward, and to be able to do this for the rest of my life.

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

The industry is constantly changing, I just think that composers and musicians should be paid a fair wage, in the same way that actors and writer are.

What are your other interests outside of music?

I spend time with my fiance’ and my son, I love to watch television and movies, and go out to lunch and dinner when I can. My introverted personality works well with my vocation, the only time I really go out is for film premieres;)

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 never go anywhere without my Blackberry. I use webmail and a web-based task manager so that I can sync things on the go. I never go longer than an hour without checking email, and I’m constantly updating my tasks and projects.

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

Right now, it would be:

1. Dark Eternal Night by Dream Theater
2. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift by Brian Tyler
3. Rubina’s Blue Sky Happiness by Joe Satriani

What is the most stupid thing you have ever done?

I haven’t done it yet, ask me again in a few years;)

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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.

  • Pingback: The Score » Blog Archive » Rob Gokee

  • http://www.jodimariereynolds.com jodimarie

    WOW Great interview:)

    Glad to see things are going well for you!!

    Jodimarie~

  • http://blog.angelobell.com Angelo

    Wow. There’s stuff in here that goes right over my head, man. I’m guess I’m just a writer, lol

    Good stuff brother.

    Angelo

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