You’ve written music for a huge number of TV series’ over the years. How do you keep your sound fresh, while trying to remain true to the requirements of the show?
I buy almost every VI and sample library that comes out, but it takes forever to groom through them and find “my point of view” in there…sounds that I find useful to me. I also do a LOT of custom work, bespoke synth sounds from programmer friends in LA and in London as well.
When you start work on a TV series for the first time, how do you find and settle on “the sound” the show requires – Vikings for example?
It’s both the biggest challenge and the most rewarding part. I tend to try to visualize the “feel” of it…by feel I mean what it actually feels like to the touch. I think of music in terms of light and colour and aesthetics, like rusty and furry or velvety or sharp, things like that. Then I just go after the composition with that in mind.
How important is having an “identity” or “sound” to you as a composer, as well as to the clients you deal with? Alternatively, is being good at your job and being able to tell the story more important?
I think cultivating your own voice as an artist is incredibly important, and something I am conscious of. But never at the expense of the story, story always comes first.
Having worked so long in the industry, do you ever find yourself becoming disillusioned with it at times?
Yes and no. I’ve had a few very hard “Hollywood moments,” but overall I really am living my dream, so it’s hard to ever complain.
Many of the projects you work on most likely require long hours and working through the night in order to make the deadlines – do you ever just burnout? If so, how do you deal with it?
I am pretty resilient over all I think. But I do get burnt out, I’m actually there right now after a long stretch of heavy lifting TV work and “Olympus has Fallen.” So I’m going to take the month of May completely off, maybe more. Just work on my Golf game and my BBQ chops.
What is your perception of composing for TV currently in regards to all the changes in budget, the politics and advancements in technology?
Budget changes are tough, but it’s a constant for me now and not changing anytime soon, so I just make it work. I bitch and moan at the outset, but then I just do the work, which is more satisfying to my soul than money ever could be. I am really big on technology, so the advancements are something I keep up with and push the envelope on. My team and I do things that no one else is doing, which is not to sound smug, it’s just what energizes us, gets up excited.
You have a huge studio with some pretty hefty hardware – can you talk us through your current setup?
I write in Cubase, which hosts 4 VEP machines (all 12 Core Macs, SSD drives, 34Gig RAM), and I print into ProTools. Is the simplified answer. I have lots of outboard hardware that I use, some every day, some just now and then. I still have my first synth, an original Super Jupiter and Programmer circa 1986 or 1988 I think. I have Euphonix System-5 console in my mix room, so everything ends up flowing through that board at the end of the day. The sonics of that board just cannot be beat.
What advancements are you looking forward to in music technology industry?
More power I would say. The technology no matter how advanced still feels behind to me, at least the the way I work. I can break anything!! I would love to see the power increase so the VI makers can take advantage of it, and build more articulations in to orchestral libraries, rather than loading so many individual patches. It’s starting to happen, Cinematic Strings out of Australia did a great job on this, which is why they are a big part of my palette build. CineSamples in LA are also doing fantastic work, game changing libraries.
In previous interviews, you mentioned that you used a sampled violin for season 1 and 2 of the Tudors. How often are you able to call in live talent on a project, and on what scale?
For TV it’s a tough sell. I usually pitch the producers to finish strong, and do all live for the final 2 shows. Though there are shows that get live each and every week, so there is a model for making it work. But it’s a frustrating sell to the budget people, who are somewhat immovable in their ways. But I digress. Anyhow, I’ve been very fortunate to get live strings and brass, and a lot of Choir as well, which I adore writing for.
When you sit down and watch a film with a director for the first time, what is going through your head as you’re watching it?
First time I watch as an audience member the best I can. The second time is 100% analytical, down to the DNA level. And the third time is usually from my point of view, “now what do I want to do with this?” Then I start working.
If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do differently (if anything)?
Mmm, not much. I have such an amazing life, it’s hard for me to embrace that perspective. I work very hard, but am always grateful for my career.
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you grab?
Pictures of my kids in one hand, my EMMYs in the other. That and maybe my Super Jupiter I bought when I was 16