A request came into Question & Artist a short while ago: how does one become a photojournalist?
So, I decided to parse these interviews out into different types of photo careers, starting with music photography. I touched on it a bit in this previous post about how I got into concert photography, but I haven’t pursued it anywhere close to the level Mathew Tucciarone has. I first met Mat through covering the Rethink Music Conference in Boston. Mat has worked closely with Karmin, and I’d been working on interviews with the duo. Since then, Mat has gone out to LA and has been working with Rolling Stone and LA Weekly.
Here are some key points that I think are essential to make note of if you want to pursue a similar career. Mat was kind to correspond with me through email to crack down on these questions, and offer some informational insight to all of you blossoming music journalists and photographers!
What does someone need to study in school in order to cover music as a photojournalist? Is it best to learn on your own?
It’s great to have a foundation in writing to best communicate your ideas and probably more importantly photography, but there are two things that I did (to begin with) that fueled my passion for music photography. First is that I listened to a lot of music… Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pearl Jam…anyone who stood for something and were pioneers of their genre. I became obsessed with, and genuinely curious, about the artists and the music they created. This led me to buy a guitar and teach myself how to play, to feel what they were feeling. After going to my first big concert I instantly knew that I needed to be involved and that this needed to be my life. I would finally get a camera and begin shooting all of the time, whether it was music, people, places, landscapes, or sunsets. Like I did with the guitar, I was teaching myself photography.
I don’t like to preach that going to school is the answer, because it isn’t. It helps provide a high level of commitment to pursue your passion and is extremely valuable especially with all of the relationships you build and how you utilize them. It is informative and provides an environment for learning. Is it required? No. I earned a bachelor’s degree in film and does that directly help me get work? No. Buy a camera and go shoot.
What was your first assignment and how did you get to that point?
Although I’ve been published in magazines, newspapers, and websites, my first official assignment was this year. I was to go out and photograph an artist’s concert which was being reviewed by a fairly prominent publication and deliver the photos that night to an editor in New York, which would be published the following morning.
I’m a firm believer in doing what you do regardless if you are being contracted, sent on assignment, or hired. For me that thing is photographing music. I started my own blog 3 years ago, my own type of publication that I would shoot, edit, write, and market. At the time I had applied to hundreds of jobs and wasn’t even getting rejected, I wasn’t receiving any response at all. I think that fueled something in me to begin creating opportunities that didn’t even exist. I began reaching out to artists, publicists, management companies, publications, and venues to get access to photograph concerts. After you do this for years you learn about the industry, make connections, and build a network that leads you to work.
Digital? Film? Is it best to use both, to become familiar?
I believe it’s best to learn film first. I took a 35mm black and white photography course initially and materials were not cheap, resources were limited, and it was time consuming. You really had to compose, focus, expose, and create photographs. When I say photographs I mean physical images on photo paper, that were made by spending hours in a dark room to produce a visual.
Digital is wonderful because there’s no waste, your images are available instantly, and there are infinite possibilities to use your work. However there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a physical photograph [created] with film that is hard to replicate. Grain, contrast, and flaws all add to the art. In my opinion, it is best to use both. Gain both perspectives and try to incorporate the practices of one into the other.
What’s the hardest thing you have to deal with as a music photographer?
In an era where everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times, where thousands of pictures get taken at every concert, how do you separate your work and style from the rest? The rest can also be another person who has a “nicer” camera than you who isn’t even a photographer. I’m not competing again cell-phone photos, I am competing against the saturation of the internet and content that gets created at each show or event. Some publications big and small actually settle for bad photos. At the same time there are more and more decent images being created. Everyone wants to photograph music. It’s an evolving industry and I think separating your work is always a challenge. You have to rely on your instincts.
What sort of paperwork do you have to deal with?
Mainly it’s a contract that states that all images you take at the event you are covering for that outlet, whether they are used by the publication or not, can not be licensed elsewhere for a period of time. Sometimes it’s 30 days, sometimes 90 days, etc. Each instance is different.
What do you do to ensure people don’t steal your photos?
There’s nothing you can do to prevent people from stealing your photos. I know people who don’t put their name on the image at all. I sometimes put my name on photos to receive it bit more exposure, at this point I’ll take as much exposure as I can get. There are preventative measures you can take to help minimize this for example, only displaying low quality images of your work online or only allowing password protected viewing. The people who steal photos are people I would never work with anyway.
(side note: I can attest to Mat’s statement about only providing lo res images online. In my field we always need to request hi res images for professional use, and that needs to be delivered by the photographer.)
What’s the biggest problem you’ve run into in this job?
For most photographers, myself included, there’s never enough lighting. As a concert photographer you basically are never allowed to use a flash, so exposing the shot correctly sometimes can be a challenge.
How did you land an assignment for Rolling Stone?
Getting your foot in the door of any publication or company requires persistence, a thick skin, and some luck. First of all, make sure you have a body of work somewhere that is presentable and can be easily linked to. Like a job application, you must effectively display what you’ve done and what you are going to do to help benefit a company. You must also be prepared for things to not go as planned. Over the course of almost two years I reached out a large number of times. Eventually I received an email to shoot and it happened.
I can also say that being friendly, optimistic, and having a positive attitude can go a long way. There are people that are far more talented than me who have not received these types of opportunities, including people that I learned from.
What is your work week like?
As a freelancer, there’s not an exact schedule. I have my little routine in the morning, coffee, emails, guitar playing (ha ha), editing photos, updating my website and social media sites, and reaching out to potential new clients. I can say that if you are photographing a concert and don’t get back until midnight, you might need to spend a few hours on photos after even if you’re tired. I’m always attending events, networking, reaching out, and photographing concerts. There can be times where I work 30-40 hours a week with a very small paycheck. But it is all geared towards getting better because I am constantly looking for ways to move forward with my career.
What is a common misconception for your job?
That it’s all music, concerts, and rock and roll partying all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I get to do my fair share of that stuff and you would be amazed what kind of doors open because you have this little machine that records images. For instance, I went to a festival with a band, and naturally I was backstage. During different parts of the day we’d be hanging out and there would be Rita Ora, Weezer, Skrillex, John Mayer, and even Kanye.
However, a majority of my time is spent editing, re-working images, creating opportunities, traveling, and marketing my work, as well as creating video content which is something I also do. These are things that no one sees. They only see the final product which is a photograph and it’s easy to overlook how hard photographers work.
If there is one thing you wish you had done in high school, that would have helped your career, it would be…
I wish I started taking photography courses in high school. I only took (I think) two photography courses ever, not including filmmaking courses, and the first was five years after high school. I wish I started earlier.
If there is one thing you are GLAD you did in high school that has helped your career…
I learned a lot from playing sports in high school. I played basketball all the way up and even a little in college. With sports you learn the value of hard work, dedication, commitment, teamwork, sportsmanship, and organizing your time. I spent hours in the gym shooting…every day I wouldn’t leave until I made 10 consecutive 3-pointers in a row. The foundation that playing sports created for me continues to help me in the professional world. To this day I can still shoot a basketball, but most of my shooting now is music photography.
What has been your biggest setback?
My biggest setback was figuring out what I wanted to do. I know people who are my age (still in my 20s for the moment) who still don’t know what they want to do and they have a good paying job. Some people never figure that out and before they can commit to their passion, obstacles get in their way, and have priorities such as taking care of a family. Eventually, I figured out it was music photography and have in some ways clawed my way to where I am. As a freelancer and an artist, you learn dial in to what you are good at and what might distinguish you from thousands of other people.
What do you see as the future of music photography?
The future will be that everyone will have a 30 megapixel camera in their pocket at all times. Every phone will have this capability. Each concert and event will have thousands of hi-resolution photographs. Staff photographers won’t exist and only freelancers will have their work published. Anyone will be capable of creating news or content. The only way to separate your work from another’s will be through your eye for storytelling.
Hi, arts friends! I still have upcoming posts plans for photojournalism (musician photography, fashion photography, and news), but in the meantime I received this query for Question & Artist.
This question comes from an anonymous high school student in the Boston area:
“What might a music venue or booker look for in underage bands, if they hire them? Is there a particular style of music? How would they suggest a high school band go about getting gigs, since playing shows during the week is difficult?”
First, a booking agent works with a band to help you book shows. A talent buyer is the person who books talent for the venue. I’d previously interviewed Dan Millen, owner of event promotion company Rock On! Concerts, and co-owner of the future Thunder Road Live Music Club in Somerville, about…well, how to book that show! There is a lot to keep in mind when approaching a venue, similar to prepping yourself for a job interview, or pitching to a magazine, for instance.
That being said, I reached out to Dan again today to ask him these particular questions for our under 21 audience. I appreciate Dan’s honesty and insight (plus his tons o’ Star Wars jokes).
I’d say their options are really limited. While we would all like to be supporters of the music in all its forms, most venues are bars, are regulated like bars, and exist to sell drinks to people over 21, and a few venues will do 18+ shows. This obviously presents bad logistics as underage acts all have underage fans that only present liability to bars, and underage members have to be watched closely to ensure they don’t try to sneak any drinks.
There are several community center type venues that don’t serve drinks, TCAN (Natick Center For The Arts) comes to mind, and occasionally places like The Middle East over in Cambridge will do afternoon all ages shows, so opportunities are there, just limited.
As an entrepreneur I would suggest that high school bands create their own venues, rent out a church or a function hall that is not dependent on drink sales, charge a small cover to recoup PA costs, invite all their friends and their friend’s friends and make a party out of it!
As someone who was also in a high school band (eeeek), I support what Dan is saying here. I didn’t play in Boston back then, and we played a lot of venues that were coffee shops, or kind of coffee shops (does anyone remember Curly’s?), under 21 music clubs (was it called Drifters?), and teen events, parties, and town festivals.
What Dan suggests is something to consider even when you’re over 21! It can be tricky to find a venue that is a good fit for the band I play in now, even. When I attended the Rethink Music Conference, I asked musicians like Amanda Palmer and Karmin what they thought of playing shows when your style is unconventional, and they pretty much echoed a similar sentiment. Play at parties! Post quality videos online. Play at event centers, arts studios, and function halls.
Another great way to get your music out there is to play fundraising events, and then you’re also helping a cause!
I hope this helps and, as always, feel free to send your arts oriented career questions to Question & Artist. I’ll snag someone to start a dialogue.
Fellow band members and musicians: what sort of shows did you start out playing at when you were under 21? Or, if you are under 21, what sort of shows do you perform at?
While the Question & Artist page is directed at an informational interview style post with a professional in the field of your choosing (art design, curators, choreographers, music supervisors, educators, voice actors, press, whatever your creative heart desires), I welcome all questions here in order to foster a collaborative and welcoming arts discussion.
What are some of the fundamentals of singing and producing tone with one’s voice? What are some good resources to learn more about the component pieces and common philosophies of singing? Field of Work Interested In: Singing, sound engineering
While I love singing, and know basic fundamentals, I asked my sister for some guided insight for JT, since she is a music teacher with a master’s degree. Sarah says:
“Much of the fundamentals of singing come from breathe support. Then there is vowel shape/diction. I think if [you are] interested in what makes a good singer, you need advice from a professional singer that can basically reiterate what I’ve touched upon…”
“Being on key, etc, is mostly based on breathing. There are good resources on singing, but you might want to first narrow it down to Western or Eastern, then what type. I would say that argument of what is good and bad singing can even vary between professionals and professors (like how one of our friends, an opera singer, was told in her graduate school that everything she’d learned in undergrad was wrong), but there are some things like vibrato and diction that vary depending on style.”
I’ve worked with many vocalists who are also voice actors. Two things anyone recording or editing voice overs will notice right away is that 1) pacing and breathing goes a long way, and 2) your mouth makes funny sounds. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it happens to all of us. But you must be aware of it on a recording. I recorded someone whose voice made so many mouth clicks, spits, and pops, that I started to feel a little woozy after three hours of scrubbing through. Of course the right mic and filters are important, from an engineering perspective. But…SPIT SPIT SPIT. Spit is loud, man. It’s loud.
If you’re interested in connecting with a vocal pro, I’d be happy to pull the conversation in that direction. I currently have some on the site, such as Amal El-Shrafi (opera), Erica Gibson (pop music), Doe Paoro (a very unique vocal training!), and more. I’d also gladly connect you or go more in depth with someone in the field of sound engineering, which I do touch on here, and here. While I work in licensing now, and managing assets for projects (audio, video, and other content), I started out working with audio, so there’s quite a bit to dig into there! I love talking about sound!
I’m glad you asked. Because maybe your friend’s sister isn’t cutting it (hey, don’t look at me…).
During the day, I geek out over intellectual property, music and art licensing, and multimedia. I work with a team of individuals who are specifically trained to do so. That’s because major publishing houses, art galleries, museums, or musicians, are less likely to grant access to creative work if the relationship is not there.
Same sort of deal applies to booking shows at venues. The booking agent has already built a relationship with the venue, so their input and faith in you is taken with more of a Khewra Salt Mine than just a grain.
Did I lose you? Maybe you should mosey on over to my monthly post for the Sonicbids blog, where I chat with Michelle Cable, founder of Panache Booking.
Will you? Won’t you?
Do you book your own shows? Or, rather, do you love your booking agent to Hoth and back?
I think a lot of people still have the idea that blogging is made up of Carrie Bradshaws, online teenage diaries, celebrity gossip, or trend-centric posts full of gifs.
While I was certainly never impressive with my site stats in the way most bloggers strive to be, I have been told by some peers that my blog focuses on quality over quantity, words I certainly appreciate. You may disagree, but I’d rather take the time to think of something to write with some care, or search for an answer to something, rather than rant or rave without direction. I’m not an entertainment writer, despite mostly writing about music, arts, and media. I find the label of ‘entertainment writer’ to conjure up visions of blog posts that are obsessed with Kardashians, award shows, and critiquing famous people. I’d find it easier to write about Cardassians, show tunes, and critiquing sound or music.
Well, ok, not quite. Not a big Next Generation fan. But let’s not get into that here!
At first, blogging allowed to continue my involvement with local musicians, as well as New York City and LA based musicians and PR contacts.
I know I’ve written about the motivation blogging gave me when I was looking for work after being laid off, but it was also so humbling and encouraging to connect with the various people I profiled. Not only did the input from professionals like Mr. Bratton or Mansell make me feel better, to put it in simple terms, but it opened my eyes to a lot of nooks and crannies in a field I love so much: the arts, and music specifically. Even hearing Alex McKenzie’s story about deciding to leave the music industry, or working on a profile of temp score, kind of shaped my job search in an odd way.
However, one thing that blogging did was allow for a place to display my work, kind of like a portfolio, but in an interactive way. I could easily show how an article or interview came to be, how I formed it in search engine results, or how I promoted it online. This was essential in a lot of my job interviews, and while some music writing interviewees didn’t give me much thought, there were other job interviews where I went through many rounds, despite not having a writing or journalism degree. I ended up taking myself out of the running for a few of these jobs once I accepted the role I am currently in, because I decided to keep writing as a freelancer and work full time in educational media, arts, and licensing for a major publishing company.
I’m happy to say that a few of those companies have kept in touch. Strangely enough, I ended up reviewing products for one of these companies for another writing gig, and now receive their press and marketing releases. For another, well, I’m happy to be writing about music careers for Sonicbids!
I’ve seen Sonicbids change a lot. A lot of my peers interned or worked at this company when I was at Emerson, and shortly thereafter. I can honestly say that everyone I know who has worked there really cares about music. And I appreciate what the team behind Backstage and Sonicbids are trying to do. So, since my blog was a basis for writing about music careers, the wheels were already in motion.
My first post was about a band using their tour to reach out to students about bullying, and using performing arts as outreach.
My recent profile was a surprise! I ran into Annalise Emerick at a show years ago, and wrote about her a few times on this blog. So when her profile came my way for Sonicbids, I was happy to do a music business interview. It’s a small world sometimes for us creative types.
I was introduced to Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company when I was studying at Emerson College. I have to say I enjoy a good concept musical (Hair being one of my favorites), but I am not a die hard Sondheim fan. Outside of “Not While I’m Around”, which is such a lovely composition, I don’t really care for Sweeney Todd. Of course, I love the lyrics in West Side Story and Gypsy.
All that aside, Company initially sparked a reaction out of me due to its commentary on marriage, social interaction, and the culture of relationships in general.
I will admit that, before seeing Marblehead Little Theater’s recent production of the show, the only front to back version I had watched was the 2011 revival (segment below). Aside from that, I just listened to the songs a whole ton.
During MLT’s rendition of “Sorry/Grateful”, I observed an older couple in the audience put their arms around each other, and that made me very happy/sad.
With all of the productions of Company popping up over the Boston area, I started to think a lot more about what the show’s themes mean in today’s society. It was interesting to hear from the directors and producers of these productions, and you can read my article for The Arts Fuse here.
I think that, in today’s society of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram…we forget about who is hiding behind the computer screen. All it takes is one read of an article on any various news website to see the pores of hateful and cowardly comments posted underneath. These people don’t have to have the guts to insult people to their faces, because they hide behind their computer and insulting avatars.
Same goes for social media. When Facebook started, it was a college thing. Now, I’m not going to be an old fart and say ‘back in the day, when Facebook was great’, because was it ever…? But social media has become a way for people to brag, show off, act like their own little celebrity, and display only what they want everyone to see. The perfect couple photos, the point-and-smile in front of gorgeous food, the poses that only let the world see your good side. Unless you want to be passive aggressive, complaining for attention, or bullying people. Some individuals seem to be fine with that as well.
I’m not against social media. It has proven to be very helpful (to me, anyway) for networking and job searching. It’s a great way to share creative work and events (as you may have found this blog post from), or email college friends. Though I have to admit I find it unsettling that so many people freely display every detail of their life, or their child’s life, online in a voyeuristic free for all.
Most of all, it has bothered me that it leads us to not glance up and actually look at one another, interact with one another, and relate to other people on a real human level. This post I wrote in November exemplifies that. A few weeks ago, a man got up at my bus stop and his lunch bag smacked me square in the face. My glasses flew right off and clattered down the bus aisle. Nobody asked if I was okay, but thankfully nobody stepped on my glasses (boy, did I feel like an old fashioned dweeb). Once again, the phone held everyone’s attention.
That’s not to say that everyone is like that. You know…to the random man who hailed the bus for me a week before…thank you! To the random man who helped a family get their stroller on the subway the other day…you’re great! To the girl who offered to hold my coffee on the train, or the lady who gave me a tissue when my makeup went all Alice Cooper in the rain…wonderful! See? There’s no sense in feeling all doom and gloom about humanity.
But a few weeks ago I waited for the bus in Harvard Square and noticed a homeless man sleeping on the bench. Two teenage boys came over to the bus stop and found this site to be so hilarious, I was afraid they would start taking photos of him on their phones. I was so bothered that they thought this man’s suffering was amusing. I didn’t know what to do if my bus arrived and they were still there. What if they harassed him? Thankfully, they got on a bus and left. But still. Is that where we are? We’d rather get a clip of something on our phones so we can Tweet about it than actually help someone or even just let them be? When I Tweeted my disgrace at these two boys, though, I was glad to see so many people share it in support of helping those less fortunate. That was my biggest social media stat to date, and I don’t care that it was not related to my media or writing or music. I think a social issue like that deserves our attention.
I leave you with the song that has forever engrained Company as a musical near and dear to me. The lyrics say it all.
Somebody crowd me with love
Somebody force me to care
Somebody let me come through
I’ll always be there
As frightened as you to help us survive
Did I catch you with the David Bowie image? Dance, magic, dance!
I really love interviewing people, artists especially. That being said, I reached my end point for the recent project, and don’t have too much time to write. I love writing, though. Oh, dear.
A goal I set for myself last year was to do less.
As in, my friends and family think I stretch myself too thin and that I want to be involved in all of the thing, and want to help people with their things, and then I end up complaining to my cat at 2 AM about how many things. I just started a new job that I really like, and I need to focus. So, for the writing, I am focusing on writing gigs that pay, or volunteering my time for certain causes. I’m keeping this as a place to disperse this writing and share other media.
If I were to start a new blog, I have a few things to consider. Here is where I need your feedback. OH FOR SURE.
Well, one, would you read it? Or are you reading this now just because you are bored and/or thought this was about Labyrinth? Are you an internet troll who is just reading this in order to write an angst riden comment? If so, how do you feel about being called a troll and not a goblin? How do you feel about the Goblin King, Jareth?
Would you prefer a completely new focus to the blog, or still something arts oriented?
Would you like it to be interview oriented?
Would you visit the blog if the interviews were in audio format, opposed to writing?
Would more video and audio driven content be better?
If audio, would you laugh at me if it were not a podcast? What do you think of podcasts? What do you think of podracers?
New Year’s Day 2013 had me trying to be optimistic. After all, I am fortunate. I have a home, wonderful family and friends, and had the opportunity to do freelance production and audio work for some great people I used to work with at my first job. (Exhibit A of the importance of staying in touch with people.)
However, I felt unhealthy and burdened. I’d been laid off in May 2012, and had continuously been told that I was an employer’s ‘second choice’, or told I would hear back from other companies that then left me hanging. But such is the job search these days. I was lucky to even have an interview for a job that actually paid, instead of being asked to go back to the drawing table as an intern again (it happens).
Then, in February, the tides appeared to have turned. I took a job slightly outside of my comfort zone, and at a commute close to two hours on public transit. I admit now that I immediately felt out of sorts, and had a bad feeling about it. I thought maybe it was the commute. I considered getting a car or moving closer…two things that would have put me in the hole financially. My friends and family advised against it. They didn’t think such a financial investment was a good idea for a job I had just started. It just so happened that my lease would be up for renewal soon, though. Perhaps they also saw how unhappy I was. I’m the type of person who loves to work, wants to have a career, and wants to do a good job. So, that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach didn’t bode well.
Well, it wasn’t something I ate. The company laid me off in a matter of only a few months. In the meantime, the Boston Marathon bombing had occurred, along with the subsequent manhunt in my neighborhood. And, you know, I started to write about what had happened that week, and deleted it. It makes me incredibly sad and frustrated at how many people in my life have loved ones who were seriously or fatally injured that day, and I felt truly helpless. But I don’t feel I have the right to dwell on it here. That energy should be taken to help, not to remind people or make them feel bad.
A week or so after that awful week, I was laid off from the job I had started in mid February. I was told I took it well, but I honestly was not surprised.
However, around this time something wonderful had happened in relation to creativity, music, and writing. Months before, I had found out that Creed Bratton was in the band The Grass Roots. I’m a big fan of music from that era, and considered trying to interview Bratton about his career. I’d started to focus my blog on careers in sounds and music, and wanted to complete a list of individuals to profile. I decided to have a running list, with an end goal of interviewing one of my favorite composers. Other goals were to interview a touring musician with one of my favorite groups, someone who worked on a film that was key to my childhood and career, and a drummer I admired. In the midst of everything, I didn’t think reaching out to Creed at the time would pan out.
Hark! What was that? A press release found its way to me, and days later I found myself setting up a phone call with Creed himself. I pitched the story to a few magazines, including Rolling Stone. I was told that they already had the story, but was so excited to have even gotten that far, I wasn’t bothered. It was going to be a great addition to the music career blog project.
This interview really lifted my spirits. It just so happened that Creed was in Boston when he phoned in, and getting ready to do another interview after with my Alma Mater, Emerson College. Hearing his story, and his struggles, made me feel a lot better about what had been going on with my job search. One of the best things he said to me?
“All those times in the thirty years where I didn’t have a pot to piss in and I was really wondering whether I was going to be able to eat the next day, I always found a way to get to my class…whatever group I was working with, and put up a scene, and always act. So, yes, my advice is-no matter what’s going on-find a way to keep doing it. Even though you say ‘well, what’s the point’? The point is…the point IS you’ve got to keep doing it. Because it will get better. Even if it doesn’t, you’re going to feel better about yourself. It’s not about saying ‘I gotta do this to be a success’. You do it because you love it. If you don’t do it because you love it, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. That’s true, that’s very true. And I’m a living example of that. I didn’t hit it really big-well The Grass Roots, yeah sure. Forget about that. I was in my twenties. As far as an actor…I didn’t hit it until I was sixty. Think about that. Most people would give up.”
That story helped my blog out a ton, too. If you Google ‘Creed Bratton interview career’, it’s the first non video result. I’m ok with that!
A few weeks after that, I was going to see Muse for the second time. Except, this time, as part of the press. Waiting backstage with a bunch of large men made me suddenly realize how very short, female, and not tattooed I am. As we got up to the stage, a woman walked over to me and started chatting. She was warm, friendly, and asked about my blog and writing. She offered to help, since she was married to someone involved with the show. I was amazed at her generosity. NETWORKING. However, as we were blasted away by the music and then all press were ushered backstage again, I lost her in the crowd, along with her business card. Despite this, I am still in awe of how this was such a textbook example of networking…up until that point. But it got me to thinking of touring musicians, and the fact that profiling someone who’d toured with one of my favorite groups would be a great piece of the puzzle here.
I’d started to really get into Janelle Monáe’s music, and reached out to Brandon Gilliard. He was a wonderful resource, and it was awesome to see him perform with the Electric Lady herself this past October. It was also a remarkable event for the audience and band on that particular day!
By the end of May I had reached my 100th blog post, and over 1,000 followers, but still felt very low on the job front. But those 100 blog posts were important, because I started to get paid for writing for other sites. And you know what? Writing samples…well, they don’t write themselves! What would I have done without these freelance writing gigs as my production work was put on hold, and nobody in the foreseeable future would hire me full time?
In addition, I decided to write a post about a topic that had been bugging me for some time. I was surprised to see it picked up by other sites (even last week), and that it led to other writing offers. King Henry and his horses! What was going on?
By now I also had the wonderful support of a site that helped me get on my feet after I graduated and wanted to keep writing: Blast Magazine. I can’t say enough about the hard work and dedication of Mr. John Guilfoil!
By September, I found a corner of the music and film industry I had yet to explore, and a connection to one of my favorite childhood films. Going out on a limb, I emailed the composer from her LinkedIn contact info. To my surprise, she replied, and we worked on the interview and resources together for a month. It was a great experience.
That’s when it all started to come together. The post about temp score prompted a discussion about film score with Clint Mansell. I was very interested in his thoughts on this, and wanted to learn more about his scoring process. An interview was scheduled!
I was offered a new full time role the same week. Talk about timing.
What a year. In a nutshell, here is a huge thank you to everyone who helped with my writing, my goals, and my job search. One of the first interviews I had upon being laid off the first time was at a music organization. I ended up taking myself out of the interview process when the role was cut to part time (foolish on my behalf?). I’d met with a girl there who, when hearing about my search, commented on how important it was to stay attached to something creative and musical, something artistic, in our work. “We always find a way.” It’s true. In the meantime I’ve also enjoyed helping other people find jobs, helping recent graduates who have reached out, and finding answers to questions I wish I’d asked in school. After all, that’s part of the reason why I started this project!
The last month of 2013 has not been without its own trials, but I’m hopeful.
2014, I’m looking at you! You seem awfully nice. I think we can work together quite well.
Photo credit 2013. Heck, yes, that’s my photo of a flower in an apple orchard.
In part one we discussed the current state of film score, temp score, and the film making process. Here, we jump a bit more into the different films Mansell has worked on.
Note: If you have yet to see Moon, there may be some discussion here that would be spoiler info. You’ve been warned!
Speaking of Requiem for a Dream, the main theme has been used for many things. It was a great piece. What was your inspiration for it? When I first heard it, I started going through a lot of Requiem pieces or masses, because I thought it sounded so much like something else I’d heard…but I was wrong.
Well, you know. There you go. That’s a perfect example of me…basically playing it on the piano to begin with. But I can’t really play the piano. So, you know, I probably only do two or three note chords. And then, I just…whenever I noodle around with it, I’m just looking for something that resonates with me. And I often like things that can, you know, you can have a drone underneath that holds the note, the tonic, whatever…and so, you know, I constantly look for something that resonates with me. And obviously, that probably depends on what mood I’m in, or what film I’m working on, or whatever. But, to me, that’s it really. It’s about trying, and playing, and hitting some notes. And finding things that clash together in a certain way that makes you feel something. And then building on that. And I suppose it depends on what I’m looking for, what mood I’m in, as to what comes up.
I think the only thing about it was the pace of it. At the time, Darren wanted stuff in Requiem to have a sort of hip hop pace to it, a hip hop feel. So, you know, I was arranging around the 100 BPM thing, but then, if you dropped it to around 85…you get that sort of like, slightly melancholy feel to it, sort of a downbeat hip hop tune might have. That was probably about the only real prerequisite for it. The rest of it was just playing around until I found something I liked.
How old were you–
I know that sounds–
I know that sounds really boring, but that’s pretty much the truth! Mansell laughs.
Oh, no!I laugh, too. How old were you when you started composing for film? Was it for Pi?
Yeah. Um, about 35? Something like that.
But you know, but that was the…I’d never even…I mean…I’d never even written that many songs at that point. I’d written the songs in my band, but suddenly I have to write, you know, 60 minutes of music. I just didn’t see how I could even possibly do it, but, you know, you never know. You get in there and you start swimming, as they say.
So, we already mentioned that you work a lot with Darren Aronofsky and, you know, if I Google your name, it shows on Google , ‘you may also want to look up Darren Aronofsky’…
It sees it as hand in hand. And I think it’s great when directors and composers team up, and that’s part of the reason why I question the auteur theory. Not to sound like a total nerd, but people often say that the director is the auteur, and I thought if he or she uses the same composer…then a good example of being an auteur is being a composer, too.
And here we have more laughter.
So, what do you think about that?
Well, I’m from England. We don’t respond well to hierarchy.
But the business being as it is, everybody’s sort of like…it’s not like , “Yes, Sir/Yes, Sir/Three bags full, Sir”. I can’t afford to be part of that because I can’t sort of be in awe of the director if you like, or not be able to be myself. Because that’s of no use to him, because you’ve got to be honest and say what your opinion is and express yourself honestly through the music for the film, you know?
I mean, that’s how I feel. I don’t know. I mean, sometimes you get the impression that the composer’s job is to be a people pleaser, and…’Okay, you want a bit of reggae now–here you go! You want a bit of jazz, a bit of light jazz, here you go!’…whereas I don’t see it like that at all. I’m coming to bring something to the equation. Like I say, the music is as vital as the lead role, the lead actors.
Obviously, I’m a musician, so I probably care about it abnormally more than most people who see a movie do. But that’s the way it is, that’s how I feel, that’s what I want to do, you know? That’s why I sort of don’t like temp, because it can really sort of close off possibilities. You never know what the film might respond to.
I don’t know who made this quote, but every time you do the obvious, you miss an opportunity to learn something. Because if you take a gamble…I mean, that’s what I say when I start a film. Your options are as wide as the ocean. But you write a few pieces and put it on the film and it instantly narrows it down-what your options are. Because you get a sense of what it doesn’t want. You can see things that will not work with this film, whether it’s the pacing or the instrumentation. Once you start doing a few things to the film, you start limiting opportunities. If you listen, and watch what it does when you play music…the film itself will pretty much guide you where you need to go…
…Basically what had bothered me about the auteur theory was that I felt that a composer has just as much authorization to what’s going on in the film and impacting the direction of the film.
Well, you know, I mean, obviously it depends on the film. You look at, say, the impact that the music in Jaws has on the film. They say that Spielberg wanted to have more of the shark in the movie, but circumstances didn’t allow it. But, actually, it worked better now. And that’s not being an auteur, that’s benefiting from being there and working hard and trying stuff. But that’s just a random thing, and that’s what I love about movie making…those random things. Those moments of transcendence, that’s what we’re all looking for. And some of those things are planned out, but–but they are orchestrated, or they are made to happen by the process itself. It like sort of being an alchemist, you know? Creating something out of nothing.
The thing about my and Darren’s relationship, is that the music or the film kind of make room for one another. I mean, Darren’s films have always made room for music, he’s always wanted a lot of music in there. If you’re going to have a lot of music in a film, it’s got to really work, it can’t just be wallpaper, you know? It’s got to be a character in there.
This is another one of my pet peeves…it’s like, to do that takes a long time. And it takes a lot of understanding on all sides–the director, the studio, the composer. To find those threads and fine tune them and make them sing and dance so that every theme works with every lead line, and every progression works with every melody.
Not in a way that makes it boring, but in a way that leads you and tells the story. Enhances the story.
But so often now a composer will do six weeks work and bang it out, do another one and bang it out…I don’t understand why people don’t want to put the time in to do something well. I mean, I’ve been on Noah a year. And that’s what it takes, you know? That’s what it takes. And I get irritated when I see people taking shortcuts. And that’s sort of what works for Darren and I. And I love that. Every film I’ve done with him has been a challenge to find that score.
Mansell explains the satisfaction when finishing a film and not being able to imagine the film with any other music under it. But it isn’t always that easy.
Was it more of a challenge, or did it help your flow, to be working with Tchaikovsky’s music? Or did you initially know that you somehow wanted to interpret that theme? Well, obviously, because of Swan Lake…
Yeah, I mean, from the moment I read [Black Swan]. I had been to see Swan Lake a few years before.
And I had never been to the ballet before, and it blew my mind. I thought it was brilliant. And I thought, ‘I would love to do something like that someday’, but I sort of meant in the live arena, with music, to some performance.
But then Darren came to me with this idea of Black Swan and I said, from the start, the score’s got to be built out of Swan Lake, because this girl is driving herself crazy, wanting this role. She’ll be rehearsing to it every day, she’ll be hearing the music every day, that’s all that will be going on in her head would be Swan Lake, all of the time. And then we can start to f— with it. Obviously, Tchaikovsky writes very, very different than me. But what I did was go into the score of Swan Lake. And I started finding patterns or four bar pieces, that if I just played them, or if I stripped down one of his phrases and use the progression without the melody…I could start building these new arrangements, but using his building blocks, his DNA. So, the music really would be of Tchaikovsky, but rearranged, or remixed, by me.
He describes the pressure of writing music, and the fun of rearranging and playing with it. Recording it was also a unique experience, bridging the film with classical music.
Classical musicians, they probably know Swan Lake back to front. And that music is written for those instruments. I’ll write orchestral parts, but I’m not classically trained, so I probably do things that, while interesting, is not really what the instrument is designed to do. Whereas Tchaikovsky wrote for those instruments. So, when you hear that music played, it’s bigger and bolder than what we do now. But on top of that we have slightly newer arrangements now, so it sort of melted into something sort of different. I thought it was really cool.
I recently saw Moon, maybe a few months ago finally, and I really enjoyed how some of the scenes, where the music started to feel heavy and sad, then it would pick up with that percussion. I interpreted it as a good representation of Sam’s thoughts and optimism. Is that what you were going for?
My favorite sort of films to score really are those lone protagonists, and getting into his mind, or her mind…Black Swan is sort of like it, Pi is definitely like it. And Moon is definitely like it. And, yeah. Music, for me, just takes me on a journey. So, when I see scenes like, Sam is trying to phone home or he is looking back to Earth, and he is coming to the understanding with what he is. I’m just trying to write a piece of music that says that…but also allows the audience into it…not so they feel it, too, but so they empathize with him. And what doesn’t overwhelm the performance or the film, and doesn’t sound cheesy, I hope. Again, it’s hard work. And that’s the commitment.
Did you ever consider, since you were in a band before you were composing, another career path in anything other than music?
No, because I really had no other options. I was just hanging on, hoping something would work out. I mean, at some point, I would have had to. I was fortunate when I met Darren. I was getting by. I think I left the band in ‘96, and we started doing Pi in ‘97, I think? Yeah. And I worked on it through ‘97. And then I got to do Requiem, so things started picking up. It was something I was definitely having to face up to, but it really wasn’t enjoying the thought of it, so I was very lucky that I never would have to go there.
How did you meet Darren and get started on Pi?
My then girlfriend knew Darren’s writing and producing partner. And they worked in PR and stuff together.
He heard they were getting the script together, and some music. His girlfriend suggested him as a musician. Darren chatted with him. They shared ideas, artwork, and influences. Talk about creativity coming togeter!
And I wrote a piece of music based on the script and based on the things we talked about. Everybody really loved it. It was sort of a really nice galvanizing thing.
He and Darren continue that approach even today, and have worked together countless times since then.
I like to start with a bunch of ideas even before I’ve seen any footage…just to see where it goes. I just want to hear more voices, and see people take a chance. Excite us, you know?
When I changed the focus of my blog, the mission was this: interview one of my favorite film composers. Among these are Eric Serra, Clint Mansell, and Maurice Jarre (RIP).
Film music was always a sort of gateway to daydreaming and more when I was a kid. The intro to Rescuers Down Under was such a thrill, I thought, that my dad recorded it onto tape cassette when we couldn’t find the soundtrack. It still makes me smile. The percussion!
Whereas Hans Zimmer’s score to The Lion King correlated directly to the first loss I experienced: my grandpa, Frank. The music is still very difficult for me to listen to.
As for the blog, I passed my other milestones and then, near enough to Halloween, reached out to a composer, Katherine Quittner, who had worked on some films that were monumental to my childhood. I felt a few steps closer to my blog goal, but had no inkling that this would be a bridge. Temp score was something I had never explored before. It was something I had never heard much about in college, or after. I found the discussion with Katherine to be very interesting, especially based on studies I had done years before on switching out scores from films to see how it impacted the audience’s interpreted narration of the scenes they were watching. I’ve always felt that the music in a film is crucial to the story, mood, characters, and more.
I’d interacted with Golden Globe and Grammy nominated composer, Clint Mansell, a few times via Twitter and, being that he is one of my favorite composers, always enjoy his perspective. He responded to the temp score piece I did, and I wanted to clear up any opinions. I also wanted to put some more questions out there, and learn about his process.
Mansell was kind enough to schedule a phone call with me, and here we approach part one of this hurdle in the LaParadiddle music career blog.
Part one? Yes. Because I want to be thorough. And with topics like working with Darren Aronofsky, classical training, the current state of the film industry, sound design, Requiem for a Dream, and more…I thought breaking this into two parts would be best. Enjoy! Questions and comments are welcome…after all, I sure had a lot.
You mentioned that you hate ‘filmmaking by committee’. That being said, what is the standard process when you are to score a film? For example, when you did The Wrestler or Black Swan? What is the start to finish process?
Well, before I answer that, let me just say that you know I don’t have any problem with music editors or whatever, that really wasn’t my gripe from the piece (my previous composer interview). It’s really just a case of now, the way movies are made, and a lot of things are…essentially lazy. But, you know, they are quick shortcuts to getting a result. But when you cut corners like that you get a sort of cheap fix of movie-going.
[It’s a ] quick fix that is commonplace in movie making these days, and mostly in the music department, because the music is the last thing to be finished. Usually the budget has been eaten up elsewhere and there are some compromises that are enforced on the music.
One: laziness, and another…a lack of understanding, a lack of respect for what the music actually has. I think people think that music is music and that just anything will do, you know, and we know that is really not true…but for me the music in the film is as important as the casting of the leads. You know, it’s a vital character in the process.
And so the objection to temp score is…or do you have an objection to it?
I understand why people do it, but my problem with it is that it just becomes a [cycle], perpetuating the same ideas all of the time. You know, certain scores become temp friendly and people temping them all over town with those same scores, and what it does, it places a burden on the film before anyone’s even had a chance to explore the possibilities of what the score for that film could be.
When you start putting on a temp, you just close off so many avenues, and people fall in love with something that they can’t have. You know, it doesn’t bare any relevance to the film they’re making , it’s just real artifice and people just wanting something before it’s actually ready.
For instance, I work on films that are temped, of course I do, you know. Do I listen to them? Initially, when I maybe just watch a film, to see what it’s all about. But after that, very little. Because I don’t want to be constrained by what somebody else’s idea of what the movie means is, you know? I want that to be my job. Now, all films are different, and, you know, if you’re working on…Fast and the Furious 19, the requirements for that film are probably very different from 12 Years a Slave. So, there are all different ways of approaching those. But, my real beef with it is, is the temping process because…
He trails off, and then brings it in focus to projects he was worked on.
Let’s take a Darren Aronofsky film. We don’t temp. He doesn’t temp his films with anything but my music.
Now what that does is, it just leaves the slate wide open. The board is completely clean, you’ve got no preconceptions coming from music that really has no relevance to your film, you know.
I write from the script for Darren’s films, and I write from the rough assembly of stuff. And then by the time he’s getting to a place where the film is becoming something that is bit more than an assembly site, he starts using the bits that I’ve been playing with, just almost anywhere in the film to see what they say, what they speak to, and what comes to life from these different ideas, you know. That way, it stops limiting you before you have a full idea of what the film needs.
But when people temp, I guess they temp with the same scores, because they’re good temp scores. They really work under a number of things. Then that starts dictating–for some people, that will dictate how that score’s going to be. You end up with this same voice going around all of the time. People imitating temps, people perpetuating that temp, using it again. So, you get all these different versions of, essentially, the same piece of music.
Film and music, to me, are things that are meant to educate and challenge, and sort of ask questions while also entertaining. And the modern movie making process has turned everything into a homogenized, industrialized farming technique…plomp, plomp, plomp! All the same.
I do know that music editors have put together great temp scores […] but also while working with the composers material and re-editing it to the film, if you like.
Mansell then refers to my previous post, and film scores he enjoys where the music editor has had a hefty role in the creation of the score.
That’s fantastic work. It works great in the film. I just want to hear more voices.
Mansell states that there is a worrying trend. There seems to be a current idea of making movies by committee, giving the people what they want…but do people really know what they want, if we stick to such a formula? If we don’t explore?
Every once in a while a film will come out of the blue…like say something like Black Swan, and people will go see it…for reasons people can’t define, if you like. Like, “the numbers never said this would happen”, or this sort of stuff. But people are excited by stuff they’ve not seen before. And that’s what I want every film to be doing.
Honestly, I had never heard of temp score before, until I started to dig into it. It was strange to me. I was surprised. It must be such a challenge for the temp score composer and other, credited composer. I’ve also noted the trend of film scores starting to sound alike. (Maybe you’ve read the recent articles sprouting up over the Inception score?)
Well, I think, you know…again, it’s a product of not having enough voices out there.
Mansell then refers to JJ Abrahms and his involvement with Star Trek and Star Wars.
Nothing against him. That’s great for him!
You get the same thing coming at you all the time from this one camp.
He delivers what people want from him, so that’s why they go back to that well, if you like. That’s not Abrams’s or (Zimmer’s) fault. They’re doing a good job.
I want to be challenged, I want to be prodded, but as well as entertained. And it worries me that people sort of seem okay with it. That’s my biggest problem, you know. I grew up in an era…early teens, if you like, in the seventies, watching films like The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, Walkabout, you know. Films that were probably a bit too old for me, but they were challenging me…teaching me how to think and question things. And every generation feels that the generation coming behind them is really dropping the ball, you know, but the statistics seem to add up.
Also, do you work closely with sound designers? I noticed a lot of the scores you’ve done has so many interesting sounds weaved in on the soundtrack. Do you do that yourself as part of the score?
No, that’s the sound designers job. Yes, it becomes a bigger part of the process these days because so much can be done with sound. And there tends to be a lot of music in films these days, so it’s great that the soundscape can really be the cue at times. So, if you communicate with one another: “I’ve got a part for here I’d really like to focus on that, if you could sort of let me know what you’re doing with the sound, and vice versa”, they might come to me and go, “these sections, the director said, ‘ok, this I want to be more sound design than score’” Then they’d be sure to keep out of the way. It’s a team effort at the end of the day. It’s becoming more prevalent, directors are getting younger, and it’s a popular approach.
I noticed an interview I read about you, that it was mentioned that you are not classically trained, and I know you were in a band before. I know a good deal of people who have studied music at university or conservatories, but I don’t agree with this notion I have seen recently that self taught musicians, or non-classically trained musicians, don’t deserve to be in the same category. I have had a lot of trouble with this myself, but I don’t feel that someone has to be trained a certain way in order to be an artist. What do you think about this?
Well, I mean, at the end of the day, you should be judged on your ideas and the execution of those ideas. You could have all the training in the world, and know stuff inside out, and you might not have a creative mind. You might have a more technical mind. Don’t get me wrong–no, I am not classically trained.
I am completely aware and in awe, whenever I have toured with a live group of musicians. The amount of training and commitment…dedication that they have put into making sure that they are the best player they can be. They come into one of my sessions, and play my little simplistic tune and riffs, and make it sound completely f-ing awesome. And you know, amen for them doing that! Ok, so that wasn’t my chosen path. I went down the rock and roll road, if you like. And, you know, the training…I like to learn on the job.
Mansell says that he learned as he went, and the jobs got more demanding each time.
I imagine if you worked really hard, and trained, and you feel you are good at what you do, and you’ve got all the skills and all the chops…and then you see, some Johnny-come-lately (…) getting all of the jobs…
Essentially, he can understand how that would be disappointing. I certainly can, too.
At the end of the day, it comes down to opportunity, and the ideas. Because you don’t need to be classically trained to write music. It’ sanother one of these things. With music-to me-see, I don’t believe there’s a right or a wrong way of doing anything. Music’s there, like painting, as a way to express yourself. And if it sounds out of tune to somebody but you love it, then that’s up to you. So sometimes those trainings, those rules, can maybe inhibit your thinking a little bit now.
Of course, he adds, that could be a generalization.
But what I mean is, as much as something can be a benefit to you it can also be a hindrance at times. Would I like to have more skills in the sort of arrangement and just general knowledge of music? Sure I would. But the flip side of that is if I don’t know certain things, I just find my own way of doing it and I find something that’s me, if you like. And I’m sort of fortunate that people have liked my idiosyncrasies, and it’s a benefit to me, so…I can understand it, but there’s no right or wrong answers.
He does state that, honestly, nobody has ever given him a hard time. Nobody has ever had a problem with him not being classically trained or, as he says, ‘musically literate’.
The first time I ever worked with a live players was the Kronos Quartet for Requiem for a Dream, and I was almost embarrassed.
I’m surprised by this! After all, Lux Aeterna was such a critically acclaimed piece. And the music in Requiem adds so much to the emotional intensity of the film as a whole.
There were these fantastic musicians.
He explains, adding that they were all enthusiastic to be involved, and warm and friendly.
And that’s very humbling.
That’s awesome. I guess I had to teach myself a lot of stuff. I don’t know a ton of music theory. My instrument…I don’t need to play chords or anything like that. But I’ve come across some individuals recently, where it was sort of looked down upon. And I never thought of it that way before. Like painting, the output should be what counts.
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s an attitude you can find in any walk of life, really. Not specific to music.
Questions? Comments? Stay tuned for Part 2 to hear more about Lux Aeterna, the auteur theory, and Mansell’s career path.
Of course, special thank you to Mr. Mansell for his time!
A big kerfuffle occurred over the summer, regarding women’s magazines and female journalists. I was asked to write about the rise of the female journo, but I thought that there were so many great female writers out there already! Why was this still ‘a rise’? Why haven’t we…risen? Why are we seen as still climbing a mountain, with men at the top, instead of men and women standing at the top of a mountain, waving to one another, and saying, “Hey, cool. Good job.”
So, I took my story down this path. Why are women underrepresented? Why are the hard hitting pieces in women’s magazines not seen as valid? Why are the game changers headlined in magazines today still pretty much white men? Surely, great writing is written by a diverse set of characters.
I found a bunch of stats. I learned a lot from wonderful resources, such as Gaby Dunn (Cosmo, Daily Dot, New York Times), Lea Goldman (Marie Claire, formerly Forbes), and Jeff Wagenheim (Sports Illustrated).
Do you think women’s magazines are still stereotyped? Have you read a great piece in a women’s magazine recently? Do you think female journalists still have a long way to go? Do you think women’s sites are part of the problem? Drop a note and let your voice be heard!
What is temp score? I was not aware. But I have been obsessed with film score for a long time. Someone once told me that the success of sound design or film score is when your hard work is not noticed.
What’s that, now?
Simply put, the sound and music is so seamless that the audience is not pulled out of the film experience. The sound design in Gravity, for instance, did a wonderful job. The film score, while great, felt a little jarring to me when it gained or swelled. It knocked me out of the moment. Of course, everyone’s experience is different. I still think the music and sound were, overall, fabulous.
Film score is something I tend to get hung up on. I love listening to it, talking about it, picking it apart. Same with sound, or any music selection integrated into a piece. It’s been discussed before, but being a music editor, composer, or music supervisor on a film is a hefty job that many moviegoers simply aren’t aware of.
Scooby-Doo, Dracula, City of Angels, Hocus Pocus, Father of the Bride, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…these iconic films are all part of Katherine Quittner’s resume.
Katherine is a composer who studied in LA and in Europe, and then worked as a music editor specializing in creating temp scores for Hollywood films. Her most well known score design was used for Wojciech Kilar’s score to France Coppola’s “Dracula” (1992). She took the eight cues Kilar wrote, orchestrated variations for the film scoring sessions, and edited them, along with some her own compositions, together creating the entire film score. Thus began her work on certain musical concepts which she further pursued in City of Angels, used by Gabriel Yared. She continues her work today as a composer, and was kind enough to correspond through email, seeing that she currently lives in South America.
Film score and semiotics was a major focus of study for me in my last year of college. I believe that the music in a film can influence the audience just as much as any visual symbolism. You’ve worked on many action and suspense oriented films, such as Dracula, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Halloween favorite Hocus Pocus. What is your method of applying symbolism and suspense through the music?
Music has an enormous and unconscious effect on the audience’s experience of the film. The unconscious aspect of this can be dangerous to people making a movie, since often people will say: “Oh, I hate this movie” when in fact, they hate the music. Comedies are especially vulnerable to being ruined by music that tips or points at the jokes instead of setting them up properly for a pay off. Film music that serves its movie well can elevate a film, insuring that it expresses its potential. After a film has been scored up to its highest level intellectually and emotionally, what you have left is the movie you made. I work with directors at a highly vulnerable stage in the process.
When I put music into a movie, this is not symbolic in any way. It is simply itself. This process is quite direct and requires nothing between the film and the music. Music does not begin in a process that one would call “thinking”. I watch the movie, and the music comes into my head, and that music is a reaction to the film itself. What I put into a movie is the result of my knowledge base, my abilities as a composer and my direct emotional response to the movie. I am the audience.
I also found that many well known pieces of music are so similar to classical pieces. Scores from Star Wars could be likened to Holst’s Planets, and a major piece of music in Atonement was very reminiscent of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Does having a good knowledge of music history help you with temp score?
Film music is unlike any other. What is helpful in doing temp scores is having an excellent knowledge of the literature of film music. Film music gives you small pieces of less than thirty seconds that have beginnings, middles, and ends. Film music, when set up properly, can make you cry in a few beats of the heart. Try editing some Mozart down to a 30 to 45 second piece and, after a few hours, you will want to kill yourself.
You are listed as a music recording supervisor for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Can you explain what your duties are in this role, for readers who are unfamiliar?
These various credits that I accumulated were the result of my doing many jobs that were not the music editor’s job. These credits are not a reflection of the standard use of these terms. The Turtles would be an excellent example of this. On The Turtles, there was a lot of confusion on the part of the producers and the director who took this picture for a movie that teenage/college people would flock to see. They were certain of this. However, the reality was that The Turtles was a children’s movie. The producers did not understand that the Turtle fans were “non-ironic” three to twelve year old kids. Further, they failed to understand that since The Turtles faces were crudely articulated animations that barely moved, that the music would be unusually vital in evoking the emotional intentions of the film. This movie could not just ride on the beats of some repetitive pop songs, it needed a score. I fixed this problem in their temp music by throwing out everything they had done.
The director was replaced by the collective decisions of three people who shared equally in the process, which is highly unusual. This cooperative group consisted of the producer, the picture editor, and myself, the “music editor”. After they fired the director and the composer, I found out that I still had the job. John Du Prez became the composer when I presented the idea of him and his music to the producers. We had worked together similarly on UHF. He made a score like the score I made, everyone was happy, and the movie was a huge success. The budget was incredibly tiny.
So….what was my job as “music supervisor”? I did everything relating to music on this movie possible, because I didn’t know that most of those things were not my job. No one trained me as a music editor, so I made the job what I could do, not what I was “supposed” to be able do. I was clueless. I even did the vocals of all the baby turtles on our cut for the record one night at 1 AM, just so we could go home. For nothing. They made $50 million in children’s tickets the first weekend. On Turtles 2, I was not hired because my *quote had gone up in the intervening two years, and the producers refused to pay the $400 per week difference. Hollywood – short memories, no gratitude.
* A quote is what people paid you on your last film….your rate is what you ask for. Studios call each other’s post production depts to get the figure of exactly what you made on your last movie.
Is there a a particular scene from a film you have worked on that you found to be the most difficult for temp score?
That was an entire movie, and it was Robert Redford’s Quiz Show. I had to teach myself the music of the 40s and 50s. That time zone was totally outside my knowledge base. They had Mark Isham copy my temp score, like on The River Runs Through It, and if they had just bought the whole thing, that movie could have been a cult classic. I used all the really great music of the times, including real movie music from French New Wave flicks which had been scored by Miles Davis and Art Blakey in Paris….that stuff was amazing.
The opening sequence from Hocus Pocus is memorable for many in my generation, and the music truly carried it. I know it was a while ago, but can you recall how that scene was scored and worked with, in terms of music editing? I am fascinated!
This movie was scored by James Horner and he deserves all credit for how well it worked. My job was finished when the preview process was over and he scored the movie. My job was to keep the lovable, kind and generous director, Kenny Ortega, on track with music that would serve his previews and his editing process. All questions regarding this movie in the final version should be referred to James Hendrikson, who is Horner’s most admirable music editor.
Also, I noticed that the music from Hocus Pocus was then used in many other film trailers for a few years after its release. Was this due to temp score, and finalized scores not yet being ready for the official soundtracks to these other films?
Hollywood uses music in its trailers when it is effective as shorthand signifying whatever their marketing department tells them will hook the audience they believe is the group for their movie. Obviously, the score to Hocus Pocus was good enough to work well for a variety of films. This is about advertising, and should be understood as such. Usually, when the advertising for a particular movie is created, the score is not yet recorded, or the score can serve the movie well, but may not be useful as a shout!…which is what trailer music does. Trailers need to “signify” their movie quickly and clearly.
Has using ProTools altered your work flow in a negative way at all? What is the advantage to using film?
In movie music, there is no advantage to using film at all. ProTools enables me to multitrack my ideas, and mix them myself. It opens a world of possibilities that make creating much easier. For others, ProTools offered a way to edit music visually, and thus relieved them of having to rely on their ears to cut music. When I first had ProTools on The River Wild, I had a headache for most of the year from having to use my eyes constantly to watch these wave forms scroll by.
City of Angels also received much attention for the songs used in the film. Were you part of that process?
In part. The score to City of Angels, which was composed by Gabriel Yared, is a pretty exact copy of my temp score. This score had a big effect on the songs, since it worked extraordinarily well, and was very unconventional, and there were few spaces without music. Some people on the movie were against the use of songs at all. It was a delicate matter to put songs into a movie of this nature…but for me, the movie needed emotional breathing room; a diversion of energy, a pulse, a ride on a beat, because the score and the movie were really intense.
The songs, which made that hugely successful CD, were edited by Carl Kaller, who was the “music editor for songs”, except a few I did, or had to re-do, for some picture editing during the temp process. I believe those choices were presented by Danny Bramson, “music supervisor”, who worked at or for Warner Bros. Once we knew what was working, I think the real source of the songs in the final version of the film was the intriguing and diverse producer, Charles Roven. He managed many of the people on the record and he brought those artists to the table.
The song choices were made intelligently on this movie. We tried songs out in the editing process and in the previews. Seeing the movie with an audience was insanely helpful. Everyone on the movie worked in concert, and we all had a good feel for what was working. Everyone involved in that movie was at the top of their game and working for the best interests of the movie. It was Hollywood’s unique musical, editorial, and preview process working at it’s best. Absolutely.
Your work on Coppola’s Dracula sounds so inspiring! You are also credited as a music supervisor on that film, and I know some of my readers are very interested in music supervision as a career path. What is your advice for individuals who would like to become music supervisors?
People who wish to be Music Supervisors should acquire a broad knowledge of the literature of current film scores and the composers who are writing them, a knowledge of the scoring and music editing process, and study what songs can can make a positive impact on a movie. Frequent places, virtually or otherwise, where one can find breaking bands, new artists, and new anything. They should take care that their influence on a movie is not outside their knowledge base. Giving opinions on subjects outside one’s knowledge base can be risky, since one can be held accountable for statements that are not supportable. Everyone has “feelings” about music…people that work in music for movies need to have more than this at their command.
Good luck to everybody!
Featured image, credit Ned Sloane
*Note: Youtube clips are used as examples of the films and scores mentioned in this interview
Janelle Monáe, the Electric Lady herself, graced Boston with her presence just a little over a week ago. And Boston graced her with quite an honor.
I wish I had taken a moment to listen and absorb Monáe’s compositions and lyrics long before I finally did. What this women stands for is, in my opinion, pretty remarkable. And she does it in a way that is classy, musical, and sprinkled with science fiction.
The City Council office of Charles Yancey in Boston seemed to have a similar sentiment.
Read an interview with Boston City Council assistant Segun Idowu here to find out more on how the resolution came about, and to view a video of the event.
I’m working on my next music/sound career profile for the music blog, and it will be slightly Halloween themed for the upcoming (best) season…
I love Halloween. Costumes. Autumn. Cider. Spooky, scary! When I do Halloween costumes, I really do my darndest at going all out.
Therefore, some of my favorite films as a child were Hocus Pocus, Batman, The Addams Family, Casper…you get the idea.
Whenever I try and share the delight that is Hocus Pocus with someone who hasn’t yet experienced it, I find it difficult to get the reaction I was looking for. I’m thinking, “This is pure gold! Witches! New England! The songs! The flying vacuum! Does it GET better?”
I guess it does. The last time I tried to share, the general reaction seemed to be “where did the last few hours of my life go?”
But fear not, Hocus Pocus fans.
I’ll be profiling a music and sound oriented job you may not have heard of, and doing some Q&A with the individual as well. One of the films she worked on is…you guess it…Hocus Pocus!
It’s like the Black Flame Candle has been lit again! Stay tuned!