Do you have any formal musical training?
Carnegie Mellon University on the east coast.
Do you think this influences your compositions in any way (positively or negatively?)
First learn the rules. Then learn to break them. ( I forget who said that! But its true!)
Can you expand a little on why you feel this statement is true? There are so many composers out there without a formal education nowadays, that are quite successful – do you think that statement will always remain true?
I don’t think it’s a statement to be taken as ‘truth’ as per say. But I DO believe that if you know all the rules you have at your disposal a tremendous asset of incredible knowledge that you can rely on if your in a pinch. If you have no skills of knowing the rules of orchestration and inspiration leaves you and you find yourself relying on talent alone when things get rough then your stuck. The advantages to breaking the rules is that it allows you to not sound like everyone else. Danny Elfman was submerged in a set of rules and had a good time breaking them.
What would you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?
When somethings happening on the screen I KNOW exactly what to do. When NOTHING happens for a few minutes I have a hard time with cues like that unless their dialog driven. It takes me a bit to create musical subtext in long drawn out scenes. Usually I have to consult heavily with he Director/writer or editor as to intention.
What equipment do you use?
Macs and Pcs. 7 computer farm at the moment.
Whats your main DAW, and how do you find it?
Logic pro 7 is my choice although we have 8 on one machine. There’s no substitute for it. We have all of the major DAWS here at the studio. I keep going back to Logic.
What VSTs do you use, and what are your favourite ones?
We use a lot of East West stuff. Project Sam (most recently “Symphobia”) Oh-lots of things really. Vienna’s stuff is great, West Gate Studios woodwinds, Kirk Hunter, Sonnivox. For synthy stuff I love Camel Audio. No one does it better. If I didn’t have a job I’d be camping out on their doorstep all day long until they hired me to work for them.
But we have so much stuff here really. I try and use all of it – but its impossible.
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?
Piano/keyboard. (30 years I’m guessing) Some wind instruments. (still in search of the perfect wind controller- know of any?) I’m pretty good at pounding out a rhythm on my pads. Looking to buy a Zen Drum though.
Whats your favourite instrument that you own, and that you would like to own and why?
Some day I must get that aluminum grand piano on Melrose. That things amazing. Simply amazing…
Whats your favourite piece of software and why?
(I plead the 5th-as I work with quite a few developers!)
Whats your favourite piece of hardware and why?
Probably my Roland FAntom x8. It’s a direct extention of me.
How important do you think it is for a composer to have his own style and why?
It helps to define you. It may limit you initially but it helps make your staying power greater in the future. Unfortunately it’s difficult to nurture since most films the director wants you to sound like Bernard Hermann or Hans Zimmer!
Are you a multi-genre composer? Or do you like to specialize in one particular area?
Horror-thriller-sci-fi or so I seem to be stereo typed.
What appeals to you about creating your style of music?
I’m trying to work more ethnic sounds into my newer music. Mostly Asian influenced. I know other composers have done this-but I want to do it in more of subtle way. I also really need to find the time to develop MY OWN sounds (like I used to in the past!) Whatever happened to having the time!?
What do you think about Hans Zimmer and how he has changed the film music industry to date? Do you think his work has been detrimental to composers who are trying to create a new unique voice for themselves, as film makers now want something that sounds like Zimmer if they can get it?
Oh- the ubiquitous Hans Zimmer question. Well you have to remember Hans began by sounding unique and that’s what made his career. And by doing so he created a form of ‘sound’ that everyone loved and in a sense defeated what he set out to do. That is — being unique. I think we have to look beyond this. If you really look to some of the guys that came from Hans Zimmer, Klause Badelt, James Dooley, HGW, Powell, Trevor Rabin, Atli Örvarsson, Steve Jablonsky, etc, and you have a decent ear you’ll hear the ‘voice’ from those composers as well. I mean does Dooley REALLY sound like Powell? Does Powell REALLY sound like HGW. I don’t think so. Does Badelt sound like Rabin? These guys all manage to transcend their remote control image and inject some real creativity into their works. Powell did a great a job with “United 93” composing a nearly all percussive tracks score and sampling his kids voice exquisitely. So far for me I’ve been lucky. No ones said, “Make this like Zimmer” (laughs) although when I was scoring a scene for “Alien Grey” I did this really triumphant hero thing and everyone said, “Wow – Zimmer!” But it was not intended!
What types of media have you composed for and which is your favourite?
TV-film-advertising-web, etc. I prefer film. It’s more creative. TV is good but the deadlines are horrendous.
What is your process for composing, especially if you are composing for a particular film/game?
I love getting involved early on. I like scripts. So many of my peers don’t but I do. It gives me the ‘flavor seed’ of the film. Everyone argues that the SCRIPT is NOT the film but I still think the heart and soul resides in the script.
I’ll read the script. Jot down some ideas, either notes on note paper or midi mockups. With sci-fi I have fun. The first thing I do at the work station is setup pallets of sounds. I go through just about every soft synth I have and make/create sounds that I feel ‘talk’ the most about the film. I really enjoy that part. Then the grueling part is the themes. It’s not that themes are necessarily HARD for me. It’s just that I become so attached to them that I know they are going to go through rejections/revisions and that’s a hard part for me. I’ve gotten better over the years regarding that. Lol. It also depends on the director. Some guys push you to the very end with the themes. Others LOVE everything you do first out the gate.
The WORSE things regarding themes is where a director INSISTS on one for something that there’s no need for. That drives me crazy because instinctually I know there shouldn’t be a theme for that so my mind draws a blank but I know I’d better come up with a few or the director will be displeased.
After themes are approved it’s easier sailing. Insert theme here- there- do variation on, etc, etc. The underscore follows. I watch the show and play live into the sequencer my thoughts. Orchestration follows.
Who would you consider to be your musical influences?
I draw from every where and anywhere. Way too varied. Modern hip stuff as well. My peers that tell me hip hop sucks need to have their ears cleaned.
Everything classical from Bartok – Mahler-Stravinsky-to film composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, Mark Isham, etc, etc. Recently of course I love listening to HGW (Harry Gregson) listening close had taught me allot about slicing and dicing loops within loops to give a good modern percussive edge. I really studied him close for “Civic Duty”. It paid off.
Have you had any large clients, and if so, who were they?
A few studio pictures. I’ve worked with Miramax/dimension films, universal studios, etc. The bigger the show the more the politics. Small shows are less stressful. It’s easier to flex your creative muscles without getting bruised elbows on smaller shows. You have fewer cooks to spoil the broth.
If you did have large clients, how and where did you get the job?
I just sent in demos to editors. I walked into one show (Dimension Films project) and the editor had tempted my album music (Opus 2: Penumbrae) all through the show. (Children of the Corn) Strange feeling. I haven’t quite gotten over seeing my old work temped into new movies. It’s weird enough when its someone else’s but when it’s yours it becomes so personal. It’s like – “What – ! That’s all wrong. I didn’t mean THAT to be for THIS…”
Have you ever had to work with a client who was not near you – i.e.. on the other side of the world – so physical meetings were impossible? If so, how did you deal with this?
Not so much clients but I collaborate with other musicians world wide. It works very well. Taking the time differences in mind can get hairy!! Lol. Its 2 am and you really need that guitar track from the guy in Germany and he’s asleep!!!
What is the most unusual request you have ever had from a client?
“Make this cue sound like Electric Gershwin. You know we want our theme to sound like it came from the ball park but with a Gershwin flavor!!!!!” I did it. It sounded like crap. I warned them. So we did something else. It was for Discovery Channel’s “Movie Magic”
What form of marketing/promotion do you use, if any, and which was the most popular?
I don’t . I have an agent and manager for that. I still remain very proactive though. Very necessary for success.
What project have you enjoyed working on the most?
Lots of lower budgeted shows. I work for a director Don Glut whose movies allow me to do all that I want. I wrote a score for a film no one will probably see, “The Mummy’s Kiss” and the director and I just fell in love with that score…
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 have had some difficult clients. Many times it’s for political reasons. Often I’m not supposed to work in a certain country but creative wants me very badly so it becomes a paper work nightmare. You have to find your allies. You have to go in and know immediately WHO is on YOUR side. Team up with them. As a composer your often all alone. It’s YOU against THEM. Make friends. Make allies. Exploit that.
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?
Stay ProActive. Talk to people. Get out of your house. So many composers are introverts. You need to meet people and network your ass off. Go to dinners. Meet directors. Join organizations. Writing music is 5% of the work. The rest is business.
What would you say was your most successful project and why?
I never see projects as successful or unsuccessful. When you do enough of these you’ll get to experience successful PARTS of a job and less desirable PARTS of the same job. I.e. on “Civic Duty” for example, I lost two battles trying to get the client to opt for something really ‘exotic’ and odd in instrumentation. But I succeeded in other aspects. It’s really all about mini battles. You win some and you loose some. I’ve never lost the war though. (that would be if you lost EVERY battle!)
Do you ever get writers block, and if so how do you deal with it?
I get burned out if that’s what you mean. At that point you’d better be really skilled because your skill will be forced to take over where talent dries up.
Do you find that when you’ve finished a song, your sick of hearing it?
Lol. Ok-I’ve been asked allot of questions over the years. But never THIS one! (good one) Depends on the song. If it’s a piece of crap – yup- I sure do! If it’s got talent then I could listen to it all day long!
How long do you typically spend on one track?
Depends on the schedule. Some days there’s one cue to do. So I perfect it. Other days I have 12 cues to rip through plus my private music library stuff so I spend maybe and hour on a minute.
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?
If it’s for a scene I know exactly how long it will be of course. If it’s for me and my private library it just sort of grows. It takes on its own life. That’s fun to watch/experience.
Is there anything you wish you could do musically, but can’t now?
I wished I could play every instrument that was ever built.
How would you define success?
If your really happy with what your doing then your a success. If it becomes laborious and you dislike going to work that day – then it’s time to quit.
What would you consider to be the top 5 most important skills of a composer nowadays (including networking, and compositional skills)?
– PERSONALITY to deal with EVERYTHING they throw at you.
– ORGANIZATION of yourself. File organization, theme organization, song organization. Really spend time on that – you’ll benefit so much in the fut ure from doing so.
– PERSEVERANCE (especially for new comers but that doesn’t mean you don’t need it later because sometimes jobs are few and far between.)
– FLEXIBILITY – Learn to do other things. Composing is great but not everyone gets to do it full time. Learn to program synths. Do your own music sound design and maybe someone will hire you to do theirs. Write for music Libraries, Program sounds for soft synths. Get to know developers and do demo tracks for them. Be flexible but try and stay in your field. NEVER taker an office job. lol…
What ultimately are your goals?
Keep on writing.
Well – personal goals for music? I have one that everyone thinks is funny. I want to buy one keyboard workstation and try and do an entire score on just THAT work station. No fancy string libraries – no expensive samples – no live players, etc. Just the sounds that come with the keyboard. And I want to do it at someone else’s place. No familiar surroundings! hahah – silly isn’t it!?
If you could change one thing in the music industry, what would it be and why?
Make ALL film directors AND producers aware of how music operates within the structure of a film. Oh and make EVERYONE aware of Music Publishing. I’m tired of giving eductions on Music Publishing to everyone. lol.
I have an idea. All directors should take a “Film Music Appreciation” course before they begin their project. Might aclimate them a bit.
If you could plot your progress to your current success, what would you say would be your main achievements that led you to your current position?
I would have to put emphasis on networking most. Keeping a level head and dealing with problems in a mature manner helped as well. Took me awhile to learn that one. I was hot head at the beginning of my career. That doesn’t work. A Bernard Hermann attitude in today’s climate doesn’t cut it.
Where do you think the film music industry is going in the next few years?
It will continue along the lines it’s going. It’s becoming more and more celebrity driven. BT, Clint Eastwood. Celebrities are being made into composers now. People love celebrities. We live in a sometimes ‘odd’ culture.
What are your other interests outside of music?
Other interests? Not much time for those!! (laughs) I’m a pretty good pool player.
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?
Yes. Record EVERYTHING. Do LOTS of variations. You’ll need them someday. And while your on a film and come up with a theme, create subfolders of variations. Your inspired at the moment and chances are you’ll have to revisit that theme so do it NOW while it’s fresh in your mind. I wish there were 42 hrs in a day. Really. If I spent this time right now writing a cue for myself instead of doing the interview I know I would use that track in the future. My point being: You can never write or record TOO much! You’ll ALWAYS use it.
If you were stuck on a desert island with 3 tracks, what would they be?
God – I hope yor referring to other peoples music and not my own! (laughs) I’d die listening to my own music on a dessert island.
1.) Mahler’s “Symphony number 5“. (especially Part 3 – 4. Adagietto in which too watch the waves with!)
2.) Vaughan Williams’ “Symphonia Antarctica” (symphony No.7). I’d listen to that when it just got too damn hot.
3.) The full blown Mussorgsky‘s: Pictures At An Exhibition – (has a lot of things in it to get me through a year. The ending would be great for when the plane finally arrived to take me off the island.
What is the most stupid thing you have ever done?
I told a producer he was a complete idiot and knew nothing about music in a film. I even fired myself off the film. (laughs) since then though we’ve actually become friends… (who would have known? He wants to do a picture with me this year)