I began studying music formally when I was still in grade school – when I was about seven years old. I studied percussion privately with two amazing instructors, Ron Leach and Randall Larson, and learned to read and write music at that time. However, I was brought up in a musical family from the get-go.
Both my parents were professional musicians and so music was as important as brushing your teeth and eating your vegetables in my house. Being raised in that environment gave me enough knowledge and confidence to start writing my own music.
What would you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?
I definitely consider my strength to be my interpersonal skills with people. In this business, you have to be extremely flexible, dependable, and responsible. It’s a hard concept for some people to accept, but the music business is a BUSINESS before it is anything else. There are so many people out there that are better composers than me or anyone else I know, but they don’t return their phone calls and they are just generally hard to work with, so they get passed over. This business is all about relationships and integrity. If you have one without the other, your business will suffer in some way shape or form.
As a weakness, I’d say my initial feeling that I had to be all things to all people was a huge hinderance to my early career as a film composer. I wanted to take every job and be everything to everybody, and you just can’t. It’s not possible, I don’t care what anyone tells you. Storytelling is so personal – it is so relative, as is music that accompanies storytelling. Look at even the greatest composers of our time. They’ve all had whole scores thrown out amidst huge creative battles at the podium.
When you are up for a job, one director will think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread while another standing right behind him will tell you that you need to keep working because you are nowhere close (both of which are probably true, to some degree, by the way!). You just have to try to separate the grain of truth from every opinion and keep moving forward. You have to grow out of that need to be a people-pleaser and discover your own particular sound. What sets you apart from the rest of the crowd? That’s when you career will really catch fire, and it took me awhile to figure that out. I don’t try to be all things to all people.
If people want the sound that I make when I write music, I’m certainly the best guy for that job, because nobody will do it like I will. If they want Danny Elfman, then they should definitely hire Danny, because nobody does it like he does either. I’d be more than happy to give them his number just to save us all a headache! LOL!
Do you have his number on hand? I have a few questions I’d like to throw his way 😛
Ha! So do I!!
Who would you consider to be your musical influences?
How much time do you have? LOL!
My influences range from rock and pop music to classical music and film music, from orchestral to ambient and electronic. My dad raised me on classic rock and soul – The Beatles, The James Gang, The Eagles, Steve Miller Band, Hendrix, Zeppelin – foundational stuff like that. My mom, on the other hand, was a folk and country fan, so it was all about early Waylon and Willie, Patsy Cline, Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, and Linda Ronstadt. But I’m a child of the 80’s, and that plays a heavy hand in what I hear in my head also.
My favorite band of all-time is Level 42, and I’m very influenced by how synths made their way into pop music, especially in the early to mid 1980’s. I’m a big student of how guys were using DX7’s and mini Moog’s in pop like Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, Steve Winwood, Mike Lindup, and producers like David Foster, Trevor Horn, and Patrick Leonard. The way those guys arranged synthetic sound in a wholly organic medium really informed me later on when I started working with orchestras and arranging my own music as a film composer. It was a mash-up of complex rhythms and cool unique sounds and textures, just like orchestrating for film.
I hear that sort of adventurous arranging in today’s film music now from guys like the late Michael Kamen, Thomas Newman, and James Newton-Howard – guys that have a classical sense, but also have a certain kind of syncopation behind what they do. That kind of music inspires the rhythm maker in me and makes me want to be better at what I do.
Do you compose full time, or as a side project/hobby?
I’m a full-time guy, and I pack a lot into a 24-hour period. I score features, the occasional TV series, and I also play drums on pop and rock sessions in Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville. It’s a crazy life, but I love it and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I find that having a foot in one pool really informs the other, and vice versa. Believe it or not, there is a lot of parallels to be draw between telling a two-hour story and telling one in less than four minutes!
What would you say was your most succesful project?
Man, that’s tough! I think “The Sensei” is a pretty successful film, on a lot of fronts. We really accomplished what we set out to do with “The Sensei”. D. Lee Inosanto is such a talent. She was a triple threat in this movie having written, directed, and starred in it, but she also just brings such a light to everything she does. So for me, we just had a mission. Once she enrolled all of us into that mission, we were off like a rocket. The working relationship with her and her producers was a major success for me, and we are looking toward other projects to work on together moving forward. “Dreams on Spec” was also a major success. It did real well upon it’s release and has continued to be pretty influential on DVD and at places like Amazon and Netflix.
As a drummer, I’ve had the privilege of working on several records that have spent time on the Top 10 and even a few that have made it to #1. I’ve been real lucky in that regard.
What equipment do you use?
I’m an Apple guy through and through. I have two Mac Pros in my studio and we also run a couple of Macbook Pros as well. I use MOTU interfaces, mostly because they never give problems and they are rock solid on performance. I also have my big Pro Tools HD set-up that I mix on, although most of my mixes are handed off to a very talented guy here in town that is way more adept at it than will ever be. It’s nice to have a second set of ears on everything before it goes out.
Whats your main DAW, and how do you find it?
I’ve used Logic since I was a kid and it was called Notator. I’ve used it for so long now that it just feels like an extension of myself and I find that it is incredibly easy and quick to throw ideas down on. I also appreciate the seamlessness of having a DAW that is produced by the same company that builds computers for me. Mine is probably the last generation to remember what it was like to have to physically cut tape, so the layout and structure of Logic just feels very natural to me and I find I can move around easily and operate it at the speed of thought, which is what is required in these days of abbreviated schedules and quick turnarounds.
What VSTs do you use, and what are your favourite ones?
How much time do you have? LOL
I love anything that Eric Persing’s group at Spectrasonics puts out. Several months ago I got my hands on Omnisphere and it is probably my favorite synth right now. I also love Native Instruments’ stuff and I use it a lot. As far as libraries and samples, I was lucky and had the opportunity to build a pretty fantastic custom orchestral library with another composer friend of mine a year or two ago, and so it is my go-to library for most of my orchestral stuff. I do enjoy the EastWest Quantum Leap stuff quite a bit, though, and I like some of the things that Project SAM has put out lately.
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 drums since I was a five-year-old. And I’ve toured a lot with that and played on so many records, it’s just naturally where I lean when I write. I play everything from hammered stuff like cimbala, marimba, and santur to things of a more orchestral nature like timpani, vibraphone, field tenor, and everything in between. I love to create unique and interesting rhythmical figures with all that stuff. I’ve created some very bizarre custom percussion instruments for several of my scores too, so I enjoy doing that when the music calls for it. I also play piano, guitar, mandolin, bass, and am currently tackling violin.
Whats your favourite instrument that you own, and that you would like to own and why?
I recently acquired a Hang Drum, which if you don’t know, are a little tough to obtain! I love it and I’m still learning different ways to incorporate it musically into some of the things I’m doing. My percussion collection is gigantic and I have a lot of really beautiful ethnic instruments that I’ve collected over the years. I have a great Indian sarangi that I absolutely love to mess around on and I also have a tribal-fired African udu that I try to get into every score I do in some way, because it’s such a beautiful instrument to record. I also have a great snare drum collection and my prized possession is a Leedy band drum that was built in 1916 and was given to me by the great Max Roach.
I’m on the hunt for an oceanharp. I used one on “Dreams on Spec” and completely fell in love with it. It’s a very unique sound and there’s nothing quite like it. It is a distant cousin to the waterphone, but it’s different – more glass-like and fragile sounding.
Have you done anything cool with the hang drum – for example incorporate it into any of your latest tracks, or scores?
I know, right?! Problem is if you say “I recently acquired a ‘Hang'”, then people think you are desperate for friends! LOL
I used the Hang on a couple of scores, namely “The Sensei” and most recently, and to a more a minimal degree, “In the Eyes of a Killer”.
Whats your favourite piece of software and why?
These days, I’m pretty deep into creating sounds that are interesting and unrecognizable. I love taking regular objects and morphing them with other found objects to come up with stuff where it’s impossible for people to say “hey, that’s a (fill in the blank)”. I find that programs like Reaktor and KYMA are great tools for creating custom sound design. They are a little difficult to get your brain wrapped around, but if you are a complete dork like I am, you’ll sit for hours until you figure out how to get what you want. It’s a little ridiculous how I can get into this stuff! LOL
Whats your favourite piece of hardware and why?
My ears! LOL
How important do you think it is for a composer to have his own style and why?
I think a “style” is one of the most important, if not THE most important things a composer can discover about themselves. It sets you apart in the field and really determines the course of your career. If you sound like everyone else, there’s a problem. I know guys that have painted themselves in that corner already and they’ve only done two or three features. They are just getting started, but now they’ve been stereotyped as a “cheaper Chris Young” or a “poor-man’s Williams” or what-have-you. I hate seeing that because there is absolutely no reason for it. We all have different backgrounds and there is so much opportunity in the industry right now to be original and write your own ticket. There’s just no reason to not be yourself.
What do you think about that statement that nobody can ever be original – they’re simply taking what they’ve heard before and mixing it up a little. Do you think true originality still exists?
Well, of course we are all just products of our influences, but you cannot deny the powers of innovation and invention. I mean, there is undoubtedly groundbreaking work being done in film today, and film music as well. The medium is only one hundred years old, if you want to be technical – it’s still very young. I remember when I saw “The Matrix” for the first time. I’d never seen anything like it. “Sin City”, “300”, even the way that the new Bond films and the Bourne franchise have arguably changed the landscape of that genre – all these films that we are seeing now as a result of where the technology has taken us – I have to believe that music is the same way.
There is so much innovation in music today. I hear it in the studios as well as on the scoring stage and in films. Music is a living, breathing beast that is ever changing and always evolving. I don’t think you can ever put a creative lid on it. Saying there is no true originality in film music because people just mix up what they’ve heard before is like saying “there is no originality in the car business because Toyota just takes what Henry Ford did and mixes that up a little”. To me that’s goofy. Toyota brought the “hybrid” to the forefront, which has spurned a new way of thinking about how to create efficient vehicles moving forward. It has created a paradigm shift in that industry. There are people in film music that are “hybrid-quality” innovators, too. There are people starting to emerge that are even more experimental behind the scenes. It’s a pretty exciting time.
Are you a multi-genre composer? Or do you like to specialize in one particular area?
I like the challenge of moving around a bit. But like I said before, it is imperative that you put your own unique stamp on whatever you do. I have done dramas, comedies, thrillers – lots of different genres, but each project has my fingerprints all over it. I just finished a great psychological thriller called “In the Eyes of a Killer”, ( IMDB ) which, in the hands of a lesser director, could have been easily misinterpreted as a run-of-the-mill slasher film. Instead, my director, Louis Mandylor, created a stylish romantic thriller that has some violent moments, but is ultimately a throwback to the same style of romantic thriller that made Hitchcock a household name. With the score, Louis and I tried to get something that was unnerving yet at once romantic, which was a unique challenge, but something that I thought I could do in a fresh way.
People who have seen the initial screenings of the film have said that the score sends a special tingle up the spine that feels familiar, but in an unsettling and uncomfortable way. That’s the reaction I wanted, and I think I achieved it.
Did you come across any hurdles when scoring for this film and if so, how did you overcome them?
There were a few. “Eyes” is a big film, both visually and narratively. There’s a large story to tell, and that story is told through some very nuanced performances. Like I said before, there was a risk of making this movie to be like every other slasher film you’ve ever seen, but Louis Mandylor was adamant that we veer as far away from that as we possibly could. He is a very stylish director, and he took the film in a much more noir-ish direction that most directors would have. I was bound and determined to stylize the score in that way as well. So the challenge for me was to bring a large enough sound so that I could support this style, but not go over the edge with it so much with the orchestra that we tip the scales into “jump out of the dark” scare tactics territory.
It was a fine line, because there are a lot of moments where you just get assaulted with surprises, but then the rest of the film is literally an exercise in restraint, given the genre. It was a ton of fun, and I cannot wait for people to see it. The reward for me is always to see if the choices you made pay off for the audience.
What appeals to you about creating your style of music?
I am definitely a sucker for a great story. I’d like to think that my style of writing has a storytelling sensibility to it. I see the storyline as the passengers and the score as the automobile. The music wraps everything up in a nice package while protecting and caring for all of the drama, comedy, and interaction that is happening between the front and back seats. That’s where the meat of the picture is, and if you can somehow support that dramatic tension musically without being noticed, you have yourself a solid score.
What types of media have you composed for and which is your favourite?
I’ve done films, TV, games, and webisodic stuff, but I’ve scored independent features and series television the most. I like both of those a lot, but for different reasons. With features, you are left to be a little more creative in that you have the ability most of the time to create and flesh out a musical arch for the characters or situations in which your are scoring over a longer period of time. From a thematic perspective, that’s is a nice luxury.
Conversely, television requires you to have everything wrapped up in a 30 or 60 minute timeframe, and so it takes a little more discipline. On the other hand, TV also affords you the opportunity to develop things over an entire season, if you can figure out a way to do that while overcoming the fact that people have a one week lapse between episodes. Both are rewarding and challenging in their own ways and I enjoy both mediums for those very reasons.
What is your process for composing, especially if you are composing for a particular film/game?
My film scoring process starts off the same pretty much every time. I watch the film as many times as I can and try to really immerse myself in the material. I read scripts, but only when I’m considering a project – never as an idea starter. Scripts don’t tell you anything because the director hasn’t had a chance to put their creative stamp on it or weave their personality into it, so it’s really meaningless for me. After I watch the film and make my notes, I sit down at the piano and start playing. Sometimes I do this with the movie playing, but usually not. I might go through 80 ideas before the right one hits me and I’m off to the races thematically.
Then I write an “overture” of the themes and motifs that I’ve decided on and try to get everything flowing together in one seamless piece of music, which is what I use as my template for the rest of the score.
Have you had any large clients, and if so, who were they?
This last summer, I was asked to write the swimming and diving themes for the 2008 Olympic Games in China. That was quite an honor. I wrote 32 minutes of music for those events and I am extremely pleased with how it all came out. I also scored a film for my sweet friend D. Lee Inosanto early this year called “The Sensei”. She is Bruce Lee’s goddaughter and the daughter of martial arts legend Dan Inosanto. The film is an amazing movie that is really having an amazing impact on people around the world in the festival circuit, and will be released globally this next year.
I’ve also written music for several high-profle network TV series. I’ve worked a lot for NBC and CBS. Those two companies have always been very good to me and I enjoy great relationships with a lot of directors and producers that started at NBC and CBS.
If you did have large clients, how and where did you get the job?
I auditioned for “The Sensei”. I was up against some pretty heavy hitters for the job, and I was shocked when the call came that they wanted to offer me the film. I hadn’t auditioned for anything in long time, but the idea of that film just really spoke to me on a personal level and I wanted to be a part of the project so badly. I was willing to do whatever it took to get them to take a look at me. I’m so happy they did. It is was one of the best experiences of my career.
For the Olympics, some of the people involved were at ABC Sports back in my Monday Night Football days. I’ve kept in touch with those guys and so when they approached me and asked if I would write a couple of things for the Olympics, we basically just picked up where we left off years ago. Two themes turned into four, turned into six, turned into eight, and pretty soon I had an entire suite of music that was broadcast for 20-some-odd days, in what ultimately turned out to be the most viewed event in American television history.
Wow, that really is an amazing accomplishment. Congradulations! Are the royalties for a project of that magnitude good, or was it just a one off fee? I was always curious how composers are compensated for a project like that.
Thank you. It was a great experience for everyone involved and a major reward to see the American team do so well.
In regards to payout it’s both, really. Obviously, you retain your writer’s royalties, but yeah, there’s a composer’s fee up front too. It’s essentially a commissioned work for broadcast. This was a little weird because we weren’t sure how much music they were going to need. As the swimming events continued, and Michael Phelps just kept racking up medals, the music needs grew and I wrote several more pieces so that things didn’t get repetitive. After all was said and done, we renegotiated our terms and everything was taken care of after the fact.
What form of marketing/promotion do you use, if any, and which was the most popular?
Other than word of mouth, which is still where the majority of my work comes from, I use a number of different methods of promotion. It used to be demos packages. I used to send out demos every day, it seemed.
But as technology has progressed, I’ve figured out ways to tie my website together with the social networks I’m involved in, and that seems to be the way that I’m getting contacted by people now. Facebook is a huge pipeline for me.
There are so many directors on Facebook, and if you tie everything together and keep your status current, you meet a ton of people. I have three meetings with people next week from just mining my contacts on Facebook alone.
Wow – now thats very interesting! Facebook was not something that I had ever thought of as being a wealth of contacts in the industry. Are these people on facebook, just random directors you have added, or people you had known previously from other jobs?
I’m pretty proud of the fact that almost every single person on my Facebook page is someone I either know in person, or have been introduced to by someone I know. I just joked to all my friends last week that Nicolas Cage was friending me, but then I found out that his production company wanted a demo from me and were trying to hunt me down outside of the formal channels! So, you just never know. I’ve found a VERY vibrant and extremely eclectic filmmaking community on Facebook.
Every single director I’ve worked with is on Facebook, and so are all of their director friends. It’s a very cool club to belong to! Also, a ton of film editors and music editors are on Facebook – and those people are very influential because they are the people who temp films with temp scores.
What project have you enjoyed working on the most?
Several come to mind, but in late 2006, I scored a great documentary called “Dreams on Spec” about screenwriters in Hollywood. It was directed by a Daniel Snyder, who is a phenomenal storyteller and has produced many great documentary films over the years. “Spec” gave me the opportunity to really go crazy stylistically and really branch out in my use of percussion in my scores.
I also really loved working on “The Sensei”. I had the opportunity to record a full orchestra for that film and it really pushed me to elevate my writing skills. The film deals with such heavy and important subject matter and was shot in the Colorado Rockies, so the music had to ride the line of being grand and vast without being heavy-handed or manipulative in any way.
The film I just finished, “In the Eyes of a Killer”, was a total thrill and I loved working on it as well. I could go on and on! They all are special to me in some way. They are like children – you can’t just pick one favorite. You’re in love with different things about all of them.
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?
If you’ve done it long enough, every composer will have some director or producer or music editor – someone that is a tough sell. I had a project go south on me several years ago that I was really excited about. It was a great studio feature with a lot of big talent, and I wrote the score over a period of about 6 weeks. The problem, however, was that the director felt his duties were finished upon wrapping principle photography, and he handed everything over to a post-production supervisor and then split town for France. The post-super and I were left to finish things up, and then when the director came back to town to view what we’d done, he hated everything.
I learned a very valuable lesson with that film and the importance of knowing who will ultimately make the final decisions. Its fine if there is a post-super that you are answering to, but only if it is a situation where the director is either a hired gun OR is simply not the one deciding at the end of the day what stays and what goes. That’s just a recipe for disaster.
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?
As a film composer, the most important thing I tell people has nothing to do with music or the business or film or marketing or anything like that. It has to do with THEM personally. You’d better be confident in who YOU are before you venture out into the deep water of the film industry. For me, I’m a brother, a boyfriend, a son, and a best friend BEFORE I’m a film composer. That’s my identity, and I never let my identity become more about my vocation than it is about who I am as a human being.
The film industry really is a business of rejection. A very small amount of films get greenlit and therefore a very small amount of people get to work on them. If you are lucky enough and work hard enough, you’ll be included in that small percentile. But it may take you a few times of being told “no” before you get there, and you have to be confident enough to rise above it and not let it get to you. I know so many people who have come to LA, gone out for a few auditions – whether they are actors, composers, screenwriters, whatever – and after having a few doors slammed in their face, they go back to Arkansas or wherever they came from. You can’t do that. You have to have the confidence that comes with a solid identity and just knowing that you know that you know that you know THAT YOU KNOW…you’ll make it, sooner or later.
If you are looking to get into the business as a player, which I also am as a studio drummer, then its all about chops and timing. You have to be polished and ready to step in at a moments notice and you have to be available. Those are the two MUSTS of studio work – when the call comes, you better be early and you better be able to sit down, read the chart once, and nail it in a take or two. Record companies have no time for anything less than that, especially now when many of them are rethinking their business plans in the face of the digital age.
I have read in a number of books that there seem to be a few ways to get into the industry – one of them is to move to LA and start looking for films to score, and get your name out. The other is to become a composer’s apprentice, and learn that way, and get small jobs here and there, which start to amount to something later on. What is your view on this?
I say get in wherever you can. I DO think a major boon to your success, and something that will certainly speed the process for you, is getting to Los Angeles, New York, or a place like Austin which is really competitive now and has a very healthy filmmaking community.
I also know people who have gotten a great footing by working with another composer as an assistant or apprentice. My assistant is awesome and is a killer composer. I just handed off a project to him that I didn’t have time to do and he scored it in a way that I never would have thought of, and it totally impressed the hell out me. There are organizations around too that will allow you to jump in with a team and score something for a credit and a stipend. You have to be careful with those, though. Some of them are a little shady. Others are for real, and you can get good experience and start to develop some contacts that way.
Do you ever get writers block, and if so how do you deal with it?
When you are up against deadlines and you are on a post-prodution schedule at the end of the production chain, there’s no time for writer’s block. You just cannot have it. As a film composer, I measure my progress and success by the number of minutes I write per day. My average on a feature is about 2 minutes per day. Some guys write more than that, but I tend not to. I blame it on my perfectionist tendencies! I just cannot deal with something that sounds half-assed, and I certainly cannot let it go if I’m not 200% thrilled with it. Mediocrity is just not part of my core values as an artist.
But back to the writer’s block thing, I WILL get stumped for a minute or I will have times where I have pause about what should go where or whether something really needs to be as big or as small as I’ve written it to be, but that’s about the extent of my writer’s block experience. There’s just no room for writer’s block in the post-production schedule. That’s like a surgeon calling in sick on surgery day because he or she just feels “uninspired”. That’s someone’s life hanging in the balance! You HAVE to perform, I don’t care how you feel today. Those two minutes of music HAVE to be written.
Do you find that when you’ve finished a song, your sick of hearing it?
The only thing I get sick of hearing is composers saying that they don’t see their own movies or listen to their own stuff! What a bunch of crap! LOL!
We all do it! Why wouldn’t we? I listen and re-listen and listen some more after I finish a cue or a project. I’m proud of it! I just accomplished something huge! Writing a piece of music is a huge undertaking and it takes a lot out of a person. It’s cathartic, in a way, and to replenish you have to bask in the sense of accomplishment for a second. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s very healthy.
How long do you typically spend on one cue?
It really depends on the cue. That’s a tough one to answer. Could be one day, could be one week. It just really depends on a lot of factors – length of the cue, density of the instrument palette, is it sketched for a live orchestra or a full MIDI mock-up, etc. There’s a lot that determines the answer to that question.
I guess for me, it takes as long as it takes until it’s finished! I want things to be amazing. Now, “amazing” is relative, but it at least has to blow MY mind when I watch it back. If it doesn’t knock ME out, its not finished for me, and I need to keep working at it until it is right.
He was quoting another composer, whose name escapes me right now, but I heard Jerry Goldsmith say in a public forum once that “you never really finish a film score, you just give up”. That is the truest thing I’ve ever heard! There’s no such thing as “being done”. To this day, I hear things in my music that I wish I would have done a little differently when I recorded it. But I also think the flaws in something add to the character of it, and more often than not, that’s isn’t such a bad thing.
One of the biggest disappointments for someone like me who was born in the mid-seventies has been watching George Lucas rework and digitize the original Star Wars trilogy for DVD release in the early 1990’s. There’s things in those films now that were never intended to be there, and for someone who holds on to movie memories from childhood, it ruined the whole saga for me. With all of the technology at his fingertips now, I’m sure he suffered from the same things I do with my art in wanting to go back and make it into what it could be now, but for those of us who were in the club in 1977, it was already the perfect trifecta and it needed nothing more.
Sometimes I think about releasing a “remix” of an old score or someone will email and ask if I’m ever planning to release thus-and-such as an album. I think about it for a minute, and then I come to my senses. Some things are just better left in the cryochamber!
When creating a cue, 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?
The length of a cue is almost always dictated by the visual it supports, so the answer to that lies in the film itself. The editing pace and the style of the picture really plays a part in determining when you come in musically and when you exit. There are times that I’ve thought “Should I come in here, or should I let it sit a minute and THEN come in?” But if you are savvy with cinematic timing, the film will basically “tell” you what it wants you to do.
Is there anything you wish you could do musically, but can’t now?
Oh yes! LOL!
Too many things to count. I love writing for orchestra, but I wish I knew how to PLAY more of the instruments that I write for. I never would expect to be able to play a trumpet line as well as someone like Malcolm McNab or Jon Lewis, or play a piano melody like Randy Kerber, but I’d sure like to know enough to be dangerous on their instrument! I think it would make me a better writer and when I’m standing in front of those kinds of people, I would want to know that I’m communicating to them in a way that personally relates to them.
They say that the best doctors are those who’ve been through a traumatic medical event in their own lives, therefore they can totally relate to what the patient is going through on every level. I’d like to be that kind of composer.
How would you define success?
I feel that success is defined at home, not at work, so if you are happy at home, your work will show it. Career-wise, I’ve been all over the map. I’ve been down and I’ve been on top of the world, but no matter what, when I get home, I’m reminded of what life is really all about, and everything else just sort of fades into unimportance.
What ultimately are your goals?
My short-term goals are being met daily. But on a long-range scale, what really lights me up is mentoring others and getting people excited and aware of this great business of film music and all of the opportunities it provides for musicians. I created a podcast about two years ago called SCOREcast. You can find it on iTunes.
It’s basically my way of giving back what I can to a community that has nursed me along since the day I started doing this. I get so many emails and letters from people wanting to know about how to get started composing for film, so I started SCOREcast in an attempt to answer as many of those emails and letters as I can. Fast forward two years later, and we have a listener base of over 11,000 people worldwide. In the last month or so, I’ve worked with an amazing team of composers from all over the United States to take SCOREcast to the next level.
We are literally months away from launching some very cool things that this industry has never seen before, and we have the backing of several major players in our industry, from composers, players, copyists, and orchestrators to manufacturers and sister organizations alike. It’s all very exciting stuff. Keep your eyes peeled on my website ( DeaneOgden.com ) if you are an emerging or aspiring film composer. There will be an opportunity to get hooked up on Facebook soon as well!
If you could change one thing in the music industry, what would it be and why?
I’d change the pathway to representation in a heartbeat, if I could. This is a huge issue that we want to address via SCOREcast in ’09. For emerging composers, securing representation is a Catch 22: You can’t get an agent without some sort of major feature credit, but it’s next to impossible to get some sort of major feature credit without an agent. I think that’s a goofy and extremely outdated model. Composers take a incredible risk trusting an agent with their livelihood.
Agents should risk a little for their clients and bet on composers like composers bet on their agents. Digital downloading has shaken up the labels and made them figure out a new millennium model for doing business. SAG and AFTRA are seeing seismic shifts in how their constituency feels about union dues versus benefits, and are making the necessary adjustments to move forward in the digital age. I can’t wait to see the same rethinking happen in the agent/composer relationship. It’s inevitable – it’s just a matter of time.
If you could plot your progress into the scoring scene, what important steps do you think you took that ultimately led you to your current position? Did you join any particular sites, have a particular attitude about it all, find contacts etc.?
I think you just have to network your ass off. I try as hard as I can to genuinely cultivate relationships. I’m not a good “pal”, if that makes sense. I’m a better “friend” and it is hard for me to not fall in love the people that I work with. Sometimes it’s not in the cards to become friends with those people, but I find, for the most part, that when you work on something that means a lot to everyone involved, you tend to develop a bond that lasts.
As far as sites and organizations go – man, there are so many. LOL! Early on, I joined so many, it’s ridiculous. I haven’t really found many that are all that beneficial, to be honest. A lot of sites and organizations want you to give them two-hundred bucks in membership dues before they’ll let you in the club, and I always thought that to be somewhat counterproductive for an artist who is struggling to just make ends meet. I still go back to networking as the number one way to get in the door anywhere in this town. Almost every project I’ve ever been involved in has come about because I knew someone who knew someone else, or because I worked with them before. Word of mouth is 2.0, baby!
What is your view on stock music? Have you ever ventured into this “sub-industry” at all? Do you think composers are selling themselves short by using this channel to get their music used?
I have a pretty big library of stuff that goes out to a few networks as a stock library. Some of them use it for certain things on an exclusive basis, while I have arrangements with others that allow them to just use it gratis. I don’t really have time to sit around and write tons of library music, but when I’m working on projects and I have ideas that are far and away NOT going to work with that project, I throw it in the “stock pile” to be revived later for the library. I know there is a huge debate about stock music libraries really stealing thunder from composers and all that, but honestly – some shows just don’t work with a conventional score-to-screen treatment. I mean, let’s just be real – do you see anybody scoring every frame of “The Girls Next Door”? Okay….maybe THAT was a bad example! LOL!
What is your outlook on life and what motivates you?
I’m a pretty damned positive guy. There’s not a lot that will get me thinking “half empty” very often. Like I said, I’ve been up and I’ve been down, but I’m still here, and that’s the bottom line. This is a business, and I don’t make anything more out of it than that. Businesses flail and they succeed, sometimes fluctuating daily on that sliding scale. As long as I can sit in my studio and really honestly say that I still love what I do and I can achieve a healthy balance with my family and friends, I’m golden. Those are the things that have me convinced I’m on the right track.
What are your other interests outside of music?
I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend and we both like to do the same kinds of things to unwind. Her professional focus is in the fashion industry, so our lives are pretty high octane from premieres and concerts to runway shows and collection debuts. We both love going to the movies to chill out, which seems kind of ironic. We love a good dinner followed by a great horror film or an action movie. I’m also committed to at least one chick flick every 8 weeks or so, which keeps the peace! LOL!
I also like to write. I’m currently writing a book dealing with all of the things I’m passionate about in my mentoring of aspiring film composers. It will be out in early 2010, which seems like a long time from now, but in the literary world, I’m learning it’s nothing. That world is quicker than the speed of the film business.
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 hear you on the notepad thing, but mine is my iPhone. I’m a total tech dork and I couldn’t live without my iPhone. It keeps me tethered to everything personal and professional. My girlfriend hates it and calls it the “other woman” in my life, and I can’t blame her…it IS sexy! LOL!
I’m not a huge fan of “lists” because I find that my day is so fluid that working off of a punch-list really limits my potential. I like to prioritize as things come in, sort of using the old Stephen Covey prioritization rule – the four quadrants of effectiveness. If something is urgent, but not important, it goes in the pile that can be dealt with later. If it is urgent AND important, I get it out of the way first thing. If it’s important but not urgent, it takes me until the middle of the day to get to it. And then, of course, if it is NOT important and NOT urgent, I never give it second thought ever again – it goes in the trash bin.
That system works well for me and I’ve operated that way for years. Funny enough, I’d say that 80% of “life” that hits you is the latter – not important and not urgent. But of course, people always want you to stop what you are doing and deal with their seemingly “urgent and important issues”. You have to find a way to keep that out of your life, or their fires will consume your creative momentum.
If you were stuck on a desert island with 3 tracks, what would they be?
“Valerie” by Steve Winwood (Remixed by Tom Lord-Alge)
It’s an exceptional melody and Tom’s production is incredible. He programmed a lot of it using a Fairlight system, but in a way that totally stands up some twenty years later.
“Piano Concerto in G” by David Foster ( here )
David Foster was the first film composer I ever heard. My buddy Brian Curb gave me a cassette tape in junior high school of David’s “The Symphony Sessions” album, and this was the lead track. I was hooked! I’d never heard an orchestral piece like that before.
“Hot Water” by Level 42
Again, the synth arranging by Mike Lindup and Mark King, not to mention Phil Gould’s tight groove and Boon Gould’s perfectly placed rhythm guitar part, shaped everything I know today about syncopated groove and its affect on a melodic structure. Pure, unadulterated British funk from one of the most underrated groups in pop.
What is the most stupid thing you have ever done?
Ha! Listed my top three favorite desert island tracks for all to see! Let the flame war commence!