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Media Composer Conference

At London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, BASCA curated a day of events
dedicated to media composers – bringing together industry experts and high profile composers
from the worlds of film, TV, adverts and gaming

 

PANEL 1. THE COMPOSER TEAM
A discussion with people who creatively and technically support the composer: what do their roles involve?

Speakers: arranger/conductor AndrewSkeet (AS), score mixer Rich Aitken (RA), musical sound designer Simon Ashdown (SA), and music editor John Warhurst (JW). Moderated by Laura Rossi.

AS: “My role [as arranger/conductor] is to remain as calm as possible and communicate effectively. Ultimately, I’m working for the composer so it’s important that I protect them from complicated social dynamics… “Nowadays, many composers don’t read music but they still have sufficient understanding of the score. However, there are some situations where the composer wants to write a piece with strings that are very high (or in a tricky key) without realising that this will be technically difficult to play.”
RA:“[As a score mixer] I’m often working with, or providing assets to, the dub mixer and director, so I have to be diplomatic. However, my loyalty lies predominantly with the composer… “When I work with stems, I aim to go with what the overall vision for the music is. Normally, the director has the final say on this. It can be difficult when you’ve put a lot of work into live orchestration but hopefully I can spot any potential problems early on, so that I can incorporate different opinions.”
SA: “When I worked on my own as a composer, I struggled with being alone all the time. I made a conscious effort to reach out and start collaborating with other composers, which took some of the pressure off me.”
JW: “[With music editing] it’s important to understand the construction of film, as well as music – ensure you’re just as well acquainted with sound effects and dialogue.”

 

PANEL 2. VIDEO GAME MUSIC
A panel of top video game composers discussed how to break into their industry and the specific challenges of working in the interactive medium.

Speakers: Joris de Man (JdM), James Hannigan (JH), Jessica Curry (JC), and Tess Tyler (TT). Moderated by Richard Jacques.

JdM: “Rather than scoring for a specific scene, think about what the player’s experiencing. For example, if they’re traversing beautiful landscapes, aim to score the experience of what they may be feeling, rather than focusing on their surroundings.”
JH: “There is no set or standard approach to scoring games. It depends on the genre and the role that the user is playing. Ask yourself: are they being told the story? Are they part of the story or an inhabitant of the world?”
JC: “I played piano growing up and composed for pleasure but it never occurred to me that it was a job I could make money from and enjoy, which was an important realisation.”
TT:“It’s important to develop the ability to write little golden nuggets of music that are loopable, and encapsulate an environment or a narrative in four bars that can segue into any game state instantly – whether that’s flying, shooting or exploring. Try not to think of a beginning and an end point. If you have a traditional compositional background, it can be a challenge to switch off that part of your brain.

 

PANEL 3. MEET THE MUSIC SUPERVISORS
A discussion examining the current landscape of the industry, the relationship between the composer and director, advice on what music supervisors are looking for, and how best to secure sync deals.

DN: “If you can keep your emails short and have a point of interest about yourself or about the track that is going to catch someone’s eye, there is a chance it’s going to get listened to and pitched. If you’re starting out, and you’re sending clips of something dark and cinematic and it’s just audio, that doesn’t show us that you’ve got the ability to write to picture – it is important that you can demonstrate that skill.”
LH: “Be very clear about whether you own 100% of the publishing and the master, because as a music supervisor we’re very often caught in a situation where we thought a licensed track was going ahead but then at the last minute something doesn’t get approved… “Everybody has adaptability and can work across different styles, but from our side, it’s much easier to remember somebody if they’ve got one key style that they work in.”
MDV:“Editors often find tracks as well that they will temp in at the beginning, and if it’s working really well then we’ll keep it in. So I would say, if you’re pitching tracks, pitch to editors as well… “I found the perfect track for [a film] – and it was a big sync, it was probably about £15,000 – and the person hadn’t put any metadata on their mp3, so I spent about three days trying to find who had sent it. And I could never find out, so they didn’t get the sync. Going forward, it’s all about the metadata…”
“A really good tip is to contact people on sites like Indiegogo. They don’t get people contacting them, and if you can demonstrate you’re a composer and the directors and producers are interested, you may not get paid, but at least you can create a good show reel if you have about three or four of them at the end of it.”

 

PANEL 4. SURVIVING AS A MEDIA COMPOSER: TIPS + TRICKS
From publishing and pitching to networking and communicating with directors, we look at the art of navigating a career as a professional media composer.

Speakers: Tom Hodge (TH), Nainita Desai (ND), Rob Lane (RL), and Dan McGrath (DM). Moderated by Kevin Sargent.

TH: “If you’re on a tight deadline you don’t have time for writer’s block. Sometimes this can even be helpful to start the flow of ideas. When you
write under pressure or ‘off the cuff’ you might end up creating some interesting, emotionally-charged music.”
ND: “You’re only as good as your last job and can never rely on a few clients alone to bring in the work. Keep networking and searching for new business – otherwise you’ll stay within your comfort zone and only ever work with the same people…” “Directors often want a string of different versions but I think the original one is always the best – this is normally when you have your initial spark of inspiration after seeing the visuals for the first time.”
RL: “We’re all looking for relationships with directors where we have a chance to develop as a composer and work on a variety of projects that stretch us. However,
the way that film and TV is made nowadays makes it harder to build genuine relationships. It’s an ongoing challenge to sustain them… “At some point you have to put
aside your own feelings that are getting in the way of you writing the best music. Ask yourself why you’re committed to defending certain musical choices.”
DM: “We work in a collaborative field. When I decided to make the break from TV and radio production and move into composing for media, the first thing I did was talk to contacts I’d already made within the industry. This has helped me sustain a career throughout the past 20 years… “It’s our job to give back an audio file, within a tight time-frame, that tells a story and makes sense to a producer.”

 

PANEL 5. PRODUCTION MUSIC
Writing production music can offer you a good income and flexibility in your everyday life, but with so many options out there, has the industry reached saturation point?

Speakers: Sarah Pickering (SP), Natalie Dickens (ND), Caspar Kedros (CK), and Dan Graham (DG). Moderated by Marc Sylvan.

SP: “We’re always looking for stems from everybody now, because a lot of the agencies want to do something slightly creative with our tracks. We want to be able to offer that to them without them thinking they have to get something commissioned. Now we can tell them: “you can use this and you can change it.”
ND: “Make your track grow, build and definitely have an end. Do not fade a production music track. Because it’s easy to put an ending on a track, but with a fade, there’s no definite end to it… “When editors are listening to music, particularly library music, jumping through the music really quickly, they are not going to give your piece of music 20-30 seconds. They simply don’t have the time. So, anything that makes it jump out and engage is key.”
CK: “You can write production music, you can write custom bespoke music and you can be in a band. As a person wanting to make a living out of what they love, I think all three are worth pursuing.”
DG: “I gathered a list of maybe 2,000 different email addresses of companies all around the world. I put together some solo piano demos, because that was the easiest thing to do at that point, and just sent them out. Out of the 2,000 I sent out, I got maybe three or four positive responses… “It’s the connections that you make that will lead to other things.”

 

To watch video footage of the Media Composer Conference, please visit: https://basca.org.uk/ display-benefits/videos/

 

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