Welcome To My New Studio

I’m three and a half weeks into my full time job as a staff composer at Hum Music in Santa Monica and I thought I’d share some photos from my new and awesome studio which keeps getting better every day. Lots and lots of music will be written in this room. I’ll share more with you soon! Now it’s time for bed. After working freelance for 5 years having to get up at 6.30 every morning is quite a change..!


Visa, Honda And A Full Time Job

Long time no blog. I’ve been super busy scoring a whole bunch of commercials, of which I’ve won three. Two for Honda and one for Visa. The Visa was especially fun as I got to write a big orchestral track and it’s going to be running a lot. It’s also fun that Morgan Freeman is doing the narration as I’m a fan! (Not that I got the chance to meet him or anything. He was of course recorded separately. But still!!) Last week we brought in a mini orchestra that we overdubbed to make the sound bigger. We also had a drummer, a guitarist, vocals and piano. Fun stuff!

Check out the Visa commercial here:

Visa Meet The Never Missed The Superbowl Club

Also, here are the Honda commercials:

I have lots of things to be thankful for these days. On Monday I start a full time job as a staff composer at Hum, which is a Santa Monica based music house focusing on music for commercials. I can’t wait to be part of a work environment after working by myself for so many years. It’s gonna be really busy, really fun and I know I’m gonna learn a lot! It’s gonna be great. No more sleeping in in the mornings!


Considering an education in film scoring?

Every once in a while I have people asking me about my year at USC. (The University of Southern California’s Scoring For Film and Television Program). Usually it’s people considering applying and wondering whether it’s worthwhile. So I figured I’d write a blog entry about it.

The year at USC was no doubt the most expensive, exciting, tiring and physically unhealthy year of my life. I was working pretty much all the time, exercised once, drank too many ice coffees, had lunches at Burger King and slept perhaps 5 hours a night on average. And yet I lost weight.
It was still one of the most educational years I’ve ever had. Perhaps mostly because I felt that we were so much in the middle of the action. We were able to learn from the best as the faculty were people with vast experience from the industry. Some of the instructors were the lovely Jack Smalley, who has orchestrated and written music for shows like “The Dynasty” and “Murder She Wrote” and Christopher Young who has composed music for “Spiderman 3”, “The Grudge” and the Hellraiser films, among numerous other films. Another wonderful resource was orchestrator and conductor Pete Anthony, who has worked on just about any big budget film in Hollywood.

Throughout the year we wrote orchestral pieces that we recorded at Paramount Studios with professional musicians. We each had 15 minutes on the podium to record our piece and afterwards we received the ProTools sessions so that we could mix at home.
One time we rescored the whole film “The Man Who Knew Too Little”, which Chris Young originally scored. We were all assigned a scene which was recorded with a big band. Afterwards we presented the cues to director Jon Amiel and received his feedback. Very exciting and slightly intimidating!
Another cool thing was our weekly visit from a working composer, which I believe I have written about before. For this we had James Newton Howard, John Debney, Marco Beltrami, Don Davis and Teddy Castellucci, to mention a few. We even hoped to get John Williams, but instead we ended up having him at our graduation ceremony where he received an honorary degree. He was the one who gave us our diploma, which was the best way to wrap up the year!

One of my favorite parts was Chris Young’s class. Just being at his studio was inspiring. There are pumpkins and skeletons (he loves Halloween) and santa clauses all over the place. I would hate to be there alone at night. He was so passionate and sincere about his craft and went out of his way to be available to his students. One time we got to watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” before he had started scoring. He had just received the film to start working on it and wanted us to see what a film looked like before the music was in place. He was also open to our ideas and thoughts. I have listened to the score later, and as all of his work it was brilliantly and to the bone terrifying. I didn’t watch the film with the music, simply because I was so intensely scared the first time. For me it was hands down the scariest film I’ve ever seen and I didn’t wanna put myself through it again. I have later wondered how the fact that there was no music affected that. Sometimes silence is scarier than anything else.

USC covered a lot of ground – film composition, music technology, music notation and film music history were all part of it. Perhaps surprisingly the actual time spent on writing was very little. It was more about the whole process, from idea, to composing, to preparing for the scoring session (making scores and parts in Finale, preparing click and prelays in Digital Performer and ProTools, practice conducting and so on…), the actual scoring session (my favorite part) and mixing.
We also had classes with composer agent Richard Kraft (whose agency is presenting Danny Elfman and Alexandre Desplat among others) who talked about marketing. He reviewed our demos and talked about the importance of the right choice of music and packaging.

Another cool thing with USC was the opportunity to collaborate with the film students. Right next door to the music school was the USC School of Cinematic Arts. I scored a handful of student films during my year at USC, and had I had more time I would have done more. We had access to a scoring stage on campus as well as student players from the Thornton School of Music, so everything was available. These collaborations were up to us. It wasn’t mandatory to do a student film, but our teachers encouraged us to try to do at least one.

So would I recommend it? If you are serious about film scoring as your career choice I think it’s a great investment. Definitely one of the smartest choices I’ve made. But it is extremely expensive, which makes it important to consider why you would want to do it. Unless you have 100 dollar bills coming out of your ears every 15 minutes you don’t do this “just for fun”. Anyone tempted out there?


You’re Not A Real Composer Until You’ve Been Fired…

Can’t believe it’s been two months since I last wrote. A lot has happened since last time. I finished the score for “First Dates” – I’ll share a track at the end of this post – and I got fired for the first time in my life…! My only comfort is the saying “you’re not a real composer until you’ve been fired.” So I guess I’m now officially a real composer. The project was the feature film That Side of a Shadow and what happened was simply a bad timing issue mixed with communication errors. I made it through two drafts of the score when the director felt the score lacked a certain rawness and urban quality. Essentially it meant starting from scratch and playing around with new textures to find the right sound. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that we were running out of time. The initial deadline had to be postponed which meant tapping into vacation time that was impossible to change because it affected a whole group of people. I was gonna be out of the country for a little while and starting from scratch and finishing a score in less than two weeks was simply not possible. As they weren’t able to wait until I was back, they decided to find someone else. Of course I couldn’t help but feeling sad that things didn’t work out the way I had hoped. But these things happen. It’s a reminder that unfortunately in this town, you pretty much always have to be available in order to work. If you leave, you risk losing your job. No one is irreplaceable. There’s always someone available to take your spot which makes it possible for the industry never to have to take breaks.
Anyways – I’ve been able to put this behind me and got the chance to take a much needed vacation. I was starting to get a bit burned out. I love my job, but after creating something day in and out for many months I tend to run empty. Now I’m back and ready for new and exciting things. Hopefully something that will be interesting for you to read about too…

Here are a couple of tracks from the projects.

The end credits from “First Dates”:

And – very different – a track from That Side of a Shadow:


Scoring At Record Speed

It’s been four days since the spotting session for “That Side of a Shadow” and I’ve already written the first pass of about a third of the score. It’s fascinating to think how different the process is for each project. The last feature film I scored I had months to conceptualize and analyze the script, work with ideas and do a lot of thinking around the score. This time it’s a lot about just doing. There’s no time to sit around and just think. But it’s nice to feel that I’ve gotten faster at writing and that there still is a lot of thought behind the choices I make. It’s just at a more subconscious level. And it helps a lot that this movie resonates a lot with me. It has an atmosphere that makes me respond immediately. It’s also a genre of music that I feel very comfortable with – a lot of electronic contemporary textures.

The first thing I did after the spotting session on Friday was to make a list of all the cues and put them in categories to see which cues where related. That way it’s easier to use the material from one cue and develop it into something else in another related one. I also wrote down how long they were to know how much music I need to write every day to finish on time.

More updates will come soon, but now it’s time to get some much needed sleep.


That Side Of A Shadow

Things are wrapping up with First Dates. Just a few finishing touches and then we’ll do a recording session in a couple of weeks. Some exciting news: I just signed the contract for the feature film That Side Of A Shadow, directed by super talented first time director Ricky Fossheim. We had our spotting session today and the score needs to be done in a month, so the next little while is gonna be crazy busy! I’m super excited about this movie. It’s so beautifully shot and the acting is very strong. Can’t wait to get started.

Check out the trailer here:


And Now: Changes

I met with director Sam Wasserman today to go over the first draft of the score for his short film “First Dates”. It was a really productive day. It’s always so much faster and more efficient to sit together and try out some changes on the spot. Sam’s great too in his very specific and positive way of giving feedback. A lot of our time was spent figuring out the right sound and timings. We’re definitely staying in the contemporary funk realm (think Lyle Workman’s score to “Superbad”) and I’m hoping to get a session together with a live guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboard player (rhodes and rock organ) and possibly some brass if the budget allows it. The more organic we can make this score, the better. I’m hoping to be able to pull some favors to get the band in the room together at the same time. That would be the best way to create the warm and live feel that comes with the face to face interaction between the musicians. I want improv and slight imperfections. That’s what gives it life and character. A cool thing is that one of the lead actors in the movie is gonna sing and do keyboards. I love it when members from the cast and crew can be part of the score.

A decision we made today was to ditch the lyrical vocals that I had done for the end song. It’s a short film and the lyrics was telling a story. Telling another story when the audience has just had 12 minutes to digest the story of the film is simply overkill. An instrumental piece with some non lyrical vocal colors here and there will work much better. Besides, there is a lot of conversation going on in the film. Adding more words right away just didn’t feel right. Sometimes you just have to do things to find out what doesn’t work.

As far as timing goes – today was spent sliding tracks back and forth, extending a little here, cutting off a little there. I think comedy more so than any other genre makes timing extremely important. There are some hilarious scenes in this film and the right musical timing is crucial. A couple of frames can make a huge difference.

The plan now is to clean up the changes that we work on today (it tends to get a bit messy when time code changes and tempo adjustments are involved) and send them to Sam. Then we’ll get together again Tuesday to see how things stand after today’s changes.


First Dates First Draft

I’ve been working on the short film “First Dates” from AFI director Sam Wasserman now for the last couple of weeks. Suddenly I’m finding myself doing a funk score. Don’t know quite how that happened. Funk is not necessarily the first genre people associate me with, but I’m enjoying the opportunity of doing something different. First Dates is a witty comedy, and I personally think comedy is one of the hardest genres to do well. Sam and I both agree on this. But while spotting the film, we listened to a few different tracks and found out that a contemporary, hip, funk sound would work well with this film because of it’s light hearted, young and fun feel. We didn’t want anything too cheesy or too quirky. I’ve made it through the first pass of the score and will be meeting with Sam later this week to go over some changes. This time the process has been a bit different than my normal routine. I usually write a pass of the whole score before I make any changes. I still send tracks to the director along the way to make sure I’m in the right ball park. Then I keep his or her comments in mind when I continue writing. This time I’ve made several changes to the opening track before doing anything else. And the reason for that is that we wanted to solidify the sound and the instruments that we want to use. Especially since the first track of the film is an instrumental version of a song that comes in at the very end of the film. This is the first time I’m writing a song for a specific film. I’ve done a lot of song writing, but not as part of a score, which is a really fun opportunity.

Monday I met with the sound design team and that was an uplifting meeting. We discussed a couple of scenes where sound and music have to work together. It’s great to see that everyone’s on the same page when it comes to collaborating instead of competing for space. I personally feel that if the music is overshadowing important sound effects, the music is not doing its job right. In this film there is also a lot of source music as well as a lot of dialogue. Having it all fit together nicely as well as not making it too overwhelming for the audience is the ultimate goal.

Next step is to meet with Sam and try out some changes on the spot. I find that to be much more efficient than making changes on my own and sending them to the director. Also, making a decision about how many live musicians we can afford and then assembling the musicians should be right around the corner as well.

You can read more about the movie at firstdatesthemovie.com
It has a fun cast, including Ryan Eggold from “90210” and Madeline Zima from “Heroes”.


Film music vs steak sauce.

OK, so this was gonna be a blog entry about good music vs good film music. But what ends up happening every time I try and write something about it is that I realize that it’s impossible to make some general definition of what good film music is. I guess the only general definition I can think of is that film music is good if it works well with picture. (Surprise!) But even that is subject to different opinions. There’s a million different ways of doing something well. Whether it’s cheesy elevator music or over the top heroic orchestral music they can both be brilliant. The determining factor is what the scene requires.
So my general rule is that I will always offer my opinion and try to write music that I feel strongly about, but really, at the end of the day there’s really only one opinion that matters and that is the director’s. It’s his or her creative vision that everyone involved is trying to help execute. This is art we’re talking about. There are no absolutes. And in that endless sea of opinions of everyone involved, someone’s say has to be the final one. So I won’t stop writing until the director is happy. And when she or he is, and I still feel good about it, then success!

So that’s it. I could keep writing about this forever, but the truth is that I need sleep before the next few days. Looks like a storm is coming in this week. Lots and lots to do. Tomorrow I’ll receive the final cut of “First Dates” which is a short film directed by Sam Wasserman at the American Film Institute. We had our spotting session on Friday, and I look forward to starting the scoring for that very shortly. In addition I’m demoing for another film as well as working on an album with my band Postulat. Tomorrow I’ll also squeeze in some time for a steak sauce commercial. (!) My job is full of contrasts. Thankfully! 🙂

Happy Tuesday!


Some Batman Music

Today I just wanted to share with you my latest big orchestral tracks that I wrote. Back in January I was demoing for a project that required some action music in the style of the score from The Dark Knight. The film is still in its very early stages so I won’t know anything about their choice of composer for a while, but at least I got something in front of the director and one of the producers.
Even if I don’t get the project I never feel that it’s a waste of time writing specific demos. In this case, it’s given me two extra action tracks for my reel, regardless of what happens.
Here’s how they turned out:

Batman Fights

Chase The Batman