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Emmy Awards: OJ: Made in America composer Gary Lionelli

By Jennifer Walden

The aftermath of a tragic event plays out in front of the eyes of the nation. OJ Simpson, wanted for the gruesome murder of his wife and her friend, fails to turn himself in to the authorities. News helicopters follow the police chase that follows Simpson back to his Rockingham residence where they plan to take him into custody. Decades later, three-time Emmy-winning composer Gary Lionelli is presented with the opportunity to score that iconic Bronco chase.

Here, Lionelli talks about his approach to scoring ESPN’s massive documentary OJ: Made in America. His score on Part 3 is currently up for Emmy consideration for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series. The entire OJ: Made in America score is available digitally through Lakeshore Records.

Gary Lionelli

Scoring OJ: Made in America seems like such a huge undertaking. It’s a five-part series, and each part is over 90 minutes long. How did you tackle this beast?
I’d never scored anything that long within such a short timeframe. Because each part was so long, it wasn’t like doing a TV series but more like scoring five 90-minute films back-to-back. I just focused on one cue at a time, putting one foot in front of the other so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the full scope of the work and could relax enough to write the score! I knew I’d get to the finish line at some point, but it seemed so far away most of the time that I just didn’t want to dwell on that.

When you got this project, did they deliver it as one crazy, long piece? Or did they give it to you in its separate parts?
I got everything at once, which was totally mind-boggling. When you get any project, you need to watch it before you start working on it. For this one, it meant watching a seven-and-a-half-hour film, which was a feat in and of itself. The scale was just huge on this. Looking back, my eyelids still twitch.

It was a pretty nerve-racking time because the schedule was really tight. That was one of the most challenging parts of doing this project. I could have used a year to write this music, because five films are ordinarily what I‘d do in a year, not six months. But all of us who write music for film know that you have to work within extreme deadlines as a matter of course. So you say yes, and you find a way to do it.

So you basically locked yourself up for 14 hours a day, and just plugged away at it?
Right, except it was actually about 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with no breaks. I finished the score 11 days before its theatrical release, which is insane. But, hey, that part is all in the past now, and it’s great to see the film out there getting such attention. One thing that made it worthwhile to me in the end was the quality of the filmmaking — I was riveted by the film the whole time I was working on it.

When composing, you worked only on one part at a time and not with an overall story arc in mind?
I watched all five parts over the course of four days. Once I’d watched the first two parts, I couldn’t wait to start writing so I did that for a bit and then went back to watch the rest.

The director Ezra Edelman wanted me to first score the infamous Bronco chase, which is in Part 3. It’s a 30-minute segment of that particular episode. It was a long sequence of events, all having to do with the chase itself, the events leading up to it and the aftermath of it. So that is what I scored first. It’s kind of strange to dive into a film by first scoring such a pivotal, iconic event. But it worked out — what I wrote for that segment stuck.

It was strange to be writing music for something I had seen on television 20 years before – just to think that there I was, watching the Bronco chase on TV along with everyone else, not having the remotest idea that 20 years down the line I was going to be writing music for this real-life event. It’s just a very odd thing.

The Bronco chase wasn’t a high-speed chase. It was a long police escort back to OJ’s house. The music you wrote for this segment was so brooding and it fit perfectly…
I loved when Zoe Tur, the helicopter pilot, said they were giving OJ a police motorcade. That’s exactly what he got. So I didn’t want to score the sequence by commenting literally on what was happening — what people were doing, or the fact that this was a “chase.” What I tried to do was focus on the subtext, which was the tragedy of the circumstances, and have that direct the course of the music, supplying an overarching musical commentary.

For your instrumentation, did the director let you be carried away by your own muse? Or did he request specific instruments?
He was specific about two things: one, that there would be a trumpet in the score, and two, he wanted an oboe. Other than those two instruments, it was up to me. I have a trumpet player, Jeff Bunnell, who I’ve worked with before. It’s a great partnership because he’s a gifted improviser, and sometimes he knows what I want even when I don’t. He did a fantastic job on the score.

I also had a 40-piece string section recorded at the Eastman Scoring Stage at Warner Bros. Studios. We used players here in town and they added a lot, really bringing the score to life.

Were you conducting the orchestra? Or did you stay close to the engineer in the booth?
I wanted to be next to the recording engineer so I could hear everything as it was being recorded. I had a conductor instead. Besides, I’m a terrible conductor.

What instruments did you choose for the Bronco chase score?
For one of the scenes, I used layers of distorted electric guitars. Another element of the score was musical sound manipulation of acoustic instruments through electronics. It’s a time-consuming way to conjure up sounds, with all the trial and error involved, but the results can sometimes give a film an identity beyond what you can do with an orchestra alone.

So you recorded real instruments and then processed them? Can you share an example of your processing chain?
Sometimes I will get my guitar out and play a phrase. I’ll take that phrase and play it backwards, drop it two octaves, put it through a ring modulator, and then I’ll chop it up into short segments and use that to create a rhythmic pattern. The result is nothing like a real guitar. I didn’t necessarily know what I was going for at the start, but then I’d end up with this cool beat. Then I’d build a cue around that.

The original sound could be anything. I could tap a pencil on a desk and then drop that three octaves, time compress it and do all sorts of other processing. The result is a weird drum sound that no one’s ever heard before. It’s all sorts of experimentation, with the end result being a sound that has some originality and that piques the interest of the person watching the film.

To break that down a little further, what program do you work in?
I work in Pro Tools. I went from Digital Performer to Logic — I think most film composers use Logic or Cubase, but there are a growing number who actually use Pro Tools. I don’t need MIDI to jump through a lot of hoops. I just need to record basic lines because most of that stuff gets replaced by real players anyhow.

When you work in Pro Tools, it’s already the delivery format for the orchestra, so you eliminate a conversion step. I’ve been using Pro Tools for the past four years, and so far it’s been working out great. It has some limitations in MIDI, but not that many and nothing that I can’t work around.

What are some of your favorite processing plug-ins?
For pitching, I use Melodyne by Celemony and Serato’s Pitch ‘n’ Time. There’s a new pitch shifter in Pro Tools called X-Form that’s also good. I also use Waves SoundShifter — whatever seems to do a better job for what I’m working on. I always experiment to see which one works the best to give me the sound I’m looking for.

Besides pitch shifters, I use GRM Tools by Ina-GRM. They make weird plug-ins, like one called Shift, that really convolute sound to the point where you can take a drum or rhythmic guitar and turn it into a high-hat sound. It doesn’t sound like a real high-hat. It sounds like a weird high-hat, not a real one. You never know what you’re going to get from this plug-in, and that’s why I like it so much.

I also use a lot of Soundtoys plug-ins, like Crystallizer, which can really change sounds in unexpected ways. Soundtoys has great distortion plug-ins too. I’m always on the hunt for something new.

A lot of times I use hardware, like guitar pedals. It’s great to turn real knobs and get results and ideas from that. Sometimes the hardware will have a punchier sound, and maybe you can do more extreme things with it. It’s all about experimentation.

You’ve talked before about using a Guitarviol. Was that how you created the long, suspended bass notes in the Bronco chase score?
Yes, I did use the Guitarviol in that and in other places in the score, too. It’s a very weird instrument, because it looks like a cello but doesn’t sound like one, and it definitely doesn’t sound like a guitar. It has a weird, almost Middle Eastern sound to it, and that makes you want to play in that scale sometimes. Sometimes I’ll use it to write an idea, and then I’ll have my cellist play the same thing on cello.

The Guitarviol is built by Jonathan Wilson, who lives in Los Angeles. He had no idea when he invented this thing that it was going to get adopted by the film composer community here in town. But it has, and he can’t make them fast enough.

Do you end up layering the Guitarviol and the cello in the mix? Or do you just go with straight cello?
It’s usually just straight cello. There are a couple of cellists I use who are great. I don’t want to dilute their performance by having mine in the background. The Guitarviol is an inspiration to write something for the cellists to hear, and then I’ll just have them take over from there.

The overall sound of Part 3 is very brooding, and the percussion choices have complementary deep tones. Can you tell me about some of the choices you made there?
Those are all real drums. I don’t use any samples. I love playing real drums. I have a real timpani, a big Brazilian Surdo drum, a gigantic steel bass drum that sounds like a Caribbean steel drum but only two octaves lower (it has a really odd sound), and I have a classic Ludwig Beatles drum kit. I have a marimba and a collection of small percussion instruments. I use them all.

Sometimes I will pitch the recordings down to make them sound bigger. The Surdo by itself sounds huge, and when you pitch that down half an octave it’s even bigger. So I used all of those instruments and I played them. I don’t think I used a single drum sample on the entire score.

When you use percussion samples, you have to hunt around in your entire hard drive for a great tom-tom or a Taiko drum. It’s so much easier to run over to one in your studio and just play it. You never know how it’s going to sound, depending on how you mic it that day. And it’s more inspiring to play the real thing. You get great variation. Every time you hit the drum it sounds different, but a sample sound pretty much sounds the same every time you trigger it.

For striking, did you choose mallets, brushes, sticks, your hands, or other objects?
For the Surdo, I used my hands. I use marimba mallets and timpani mallets for the other instruments. For example, I’ll use timpani mallets for the big steel bass drum. Sometimes I’ll use timpani mallets on my drum kit’s bass drum, because it gives a different sound. It has a more orchestral sound, not like a kick drum from a rock band.

I’m always experimenting. I use brushes a lot on cymbals, and I use the brushes on the steel drum because it gives it a weird sound. You can even use brushes on the timpani, and that creates a strange sound. There are definitely no rules. Whatever you think or can imagine having an effect on the drum, you just try it out. You never know what you’ll get — it’s always good to give it a chance.

In addition to the Bronco chase scene, are there any other tracks that stood out for you in Part 3?
When you score something this long, at a certain point everything starts to run together in your mind. You don’t remember what cue belongs to what scene. But there are many that I can remember. During the jury section of that episode, I used an oboe for Johnny Cochran speaking to the jury. That was an interesting pairing, the oboe and Johnny Cochran. In a way, the oboe became an extension of his voice during his closing argument. I can’t really explain why it worked, but somehow it was the right match.

For the beginning of Part 3, when the police arrive because there was a phone call from Nicole Brown Simpson saying she was afraid of OJ, the cue there was very understated. It had a lot of strange, low sounds to it. That one comes to mind.

At the end of Part 3, they go to OJ’s Rockingham residence, and his lawyers had staged the setting. I did a cue there that was sort of quizzical in a way, just to show the ridiculousness of the whole thing. It was like a farce, the way they set up his residence. So I made the score take a right turn into a different area for that part. It gets away from the dark, brooding undercurrent that the rest of Part 3’s score had.

Of all the parts you could have submitted for Emmy consideration, why did you choose Part 3?
It was a toss-up between Part 2 and Part 3. Part 2 had some of the more major trumpet themes, more of the signature sound with the trumpet and the orchestra. But there were a few examples of that in Part 3, too.

I just felt the Bronco chase, score-wise, had a lot of variation to it, and that it moved in a way that was unpredictable. I ultimately thought that was the way to go, though it was a close race between Part 2 and Part 3.

I found out later that ESPN had submitted Part 3 for Emmy consideration in other categories, so there is a bit of synergy there.

—————-

Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

Behind the Title: Composer Michael Carey

NAME: Michael Carey (@MichaelCarey007)

COMPANY: Resonation Music

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative director/composer (film/commercials/TV) and songwriter/producer/mixer (album work).

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
For commercials, film and TV projects, I work closely with the director, producer and agency to come up with something that meets their needs and the needs of the project. I develop an understanding of their overall vision, and then I conceptualize, compose and produce original music to capture the essence of this vision, in a complimentary way.

i-want-to-say-composer-main-title-opening-scenes

Michael Carey was composer of the main title theme and the opening scenes for ‘I Want to Say.’

This includes themes, underscore, source, main titles, end titles, etc. When it comes to album projects and soundtrack songs, I often write for (or with) the featured artist or band and produce the track from end to end. This means that I am also the engineer, programmer, session player and often mixer for a project.

On large projects that require fast turnaround, I wear the “creative director” hat, and I assemble and manage a specific team of colleagues to collaborate with me — those I know can get the job done at the highest level. I keep things focused and cohesive, and strive to maintain a consistent musical voice.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Whichever medium I’m working in, be it music-for-picture or album work, the underlying fundamentals are surprisingly similar. In both instances, it’s ultimately about storytelling – conveying maximum emotional impact in a compelling way. Using dynamics, melody, tension, release, density and space to create memorable moments and exciting transitions to keep the viewer or listener engaged.

I’m always striving to support the “main event.” In film, it’s visuals and dialog. In album work it’s the singer’s performance. I see my job as building a metaphorical “frame” around the picture. Enhance, reinforce, compliment, but never distract.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Two parts, really. First, the satisfaction of achieving a collective goal. Helping a filmmaker/artist realize their vision, while finding a way to authentically express my own musical vision and make a deeper connection with the audience experiencing the work.

There are moments in the course of a project when you hit on something that’s undeniable. Everyone involved immediately feels it. Human connections are made. Those are great moments, and ultimately you want the whole piece to feel like that.

The second part is the inspiration that comes from working collaboratively (usually with people at the top of their game) with those talented peers who challenge and push you in directions you might not have taken otherwise.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SCORING? HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
1) Watch film/read script. 2) Discuss with director, get a sense of their vision. 3) Create musical sketches and build a sonic palette. If there’s already some picture available to work with, then I’ll tackle a scene that feels representative of the rest of the project and refine it with input from the director. My goal is to create a musical/sonic “voice” or “sound” for the film that becomes an inextricable part of its personality.

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR WORKFLOW?
Once overall direction has been established and scenes have been spotted, my first step with a scene is to map things out tempo/timing-wise, making note of any significant cuts, events or moments that need to be hit (or avoided) musically.

By defining this structure first, it frees me up to explore musically and texturally with a clear understanding of where “ins” and “outs” are. By then, I usually have a pretty clear sense of what I want to hear as it pertains to realizing the vision of the director, and from that point it is about execution —programming, recording live instrumentation, processing/manipulation and mixing — whatever is required to make the scene “feel” the way it does in my head.

DOES YOUR PROCESS CHANGE DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF PROJECT? FILM VS. SPOT, ETC?
There are certain nuances that have to be considered when approaching these different types of projects. Nailing the details in short form (commercials) is often more crucial because you have an entire world of information to convey in 30 seconds or less. There can be no missed moment or opportunity. It needs to feel cohesive with a cinematic story arc, and a compelling payoff at the end, all in an incredibly compressed window of time.

This is less evident in long-form projects. With feature films or TV, you often have the luxury to build musical movements more naturally as a scene progresses.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
That’s a tough one. As a kid I wanted to be an anthropologist. At 21, I went to a cooking school in Paris for a month thinking that that might be cool. More recently, I’ve been dabbling with building websites for friends using template-based platforms like Squarespace.

I think the common themes with these other interests are curiosity, experimentation, creativity and storytelling. Bringing an idea to life, making the abstract tangible. At the end of the day, music still allows me to do these things with a greater degree of satisfaction.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I knew music would be my path by age 14. I was playing guitar in local bands at the time, and then moved into steady club gigs. By the time I was 18, I was in a signed band, recording and touring. I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else. When I hit my 20s, I knew that writing and composing was the path ahead (vs. being a “gun for hire” guitarist).

I still played in bands and did lots of session work, but I focused more on songwriting and learning about recording and production. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with some legendary British engineer producers. At one point, a well-known video director who had shot some videos with one of my bands had started doing commercials, and he was unhappy with the music that an ad agency had put in one of his spots. So he recruited me to take a shot a composing a new score. It all clicked, and that opened the door to a couple of decades of high-profile commercial spots, as well as consistent work from major ad agencies and brands.

Eventually, this journey led me down the road of TV and film. All the while, I kept a foot in the album world, writing for and producing artists in the US and internationally.

andy-vargas-the-beat-2016-hmma-winner-producer-songwriterCAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I Want To Say— Composer: Main Title and opening scenes (Healdsburg International Film Festival – Best Documentary).
LBS– Songwriter/Producer: End Title Track feat. J.R. Richards of Dishwalla (Sundance Official Selection, Independent Spirit Awards nominee)
• Andy Vargas/The Beat (Producer/Songwriter – Winner 2016 Hollywood Music in Media Awards “R&B/Soul”)
• Escape The Fate/Alive (Songwriter — hit single, #26 Active Rock, album #2 Billboard Hard Rock charts)

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s hard to pick one. Some of the projects listed above are contenders. There’s a young band I’m developing and producing right now called Bentley. I will be very proud when that is released. They’re fantastic.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Pro Tools. It’s my “instrument” as much as any guitar or keyboard. It’s allowed me to be incredibly productive and make anything I hear in my head a reality. Steven Slate, Sound Toys and PSP plug-ins. Vibe, warmth, color, saturation, detail. My extensive collection of vintage gear (amps, mics, mic pres, compressors, guitars, boutique pedals, etc.). Not sure if these qualify as “technology,” but they all have buttons and knobs and make great noises!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (to a lesser extent lately).

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I have an amazing family who helps keep me centered with my eyes on the big picture. Running and exercise (not enough, but feels great when I do) and, increasingly, I try to meditate each morning. A friend and colleague whose studio demeanor I’ve always admired turned me onto it. He’s consistently calm and focused even in the midst of total drama and chaos. I’d like to think I’m getting there.

Main Image: Patricia Maureen Photography-P.M.P

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams to keynote Production Music Conference

Golden Globe-, Grammy- and BAFTA-nominated composer Harry Gregson-Williams will keynote the Production Music Conference (PMC), which takes place over two days in October in Santa Monica. In addition to playing clips from some of his films, including The Martian and the Shrek franchise, Gregson-Williams will discuss the creative process, his beginnings, writing production music for KPM and how he developed his career as a film composer.

PMC, hosted by the Production Music Association (PMA), takes place at Santa Monica’s Le Méridien Delfina on October 17 and 18. The newly expanded two-day conference will host business, creative and technology panels featuring diverse artists from the world of production music and will consist of industry panels, educational seminars with music professionals and networking events.

New features include one-on-one meetings with a music pro, hosted roundtable discussions with professionals and nearby networking and meeting spaces. The goal of the conference is to bring the production music community together. Visit here to register.

Gregson-Williams was the composer on all four installments of the Shrek franchise, garnered a BAFTA nomination for the score for the first Shrek, and received Golden Globe and Grammy Award nominations for his score to Andrew Adamson’s, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Other credits include The Martian and Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott; The Equalizer directed by Antoine Fuqua; Phone Booth and Veronica Guerin directed by Joel Schumacher; Man on Fire, Spy Game and Enemy of the State directed by Tony Scott; Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens; the animated films Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run and Antz, and Gone Baby Gone and The Town directed by Ben Affleck.

Upcoming projects include the dramatic crime thriller Live by Night, starring Ben Affleck, who also directed the film based on his own screenplay; The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Niki Caro; and Alien: Covenant, starring Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup directed by Ridley Scott.

Main Image Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

Behind the Title: Composer Kevin Riepl

NAME: Kevin Riepl (@kevinrieplmusic)

COMPANY: Kevin Riepl Music 

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Composer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As a composer, my job is to create engaging dynamic scores for visual media.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The enormous amount of music that is needed on the average episodic animated television show.

Animal Instincts Digital CoverWHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Being able to write music for a living.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SCORING? HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
I begin by talking with the director of the film, creator of a show or video game and discuss what type of music the project calls for to musically support the project.

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR WORKFLOW?
After speaking with the director or creator of the project, we decide on the musical style and where and how the music should work. I then head into the studio and start working on a sound palette that fits with what was discussed. Depending on the project, sometimes I am asked to provide piano sketches of themes for the characters and story arc. Once the writing begins, if it’s a film or TV, I write and develop the score chronologically as the film progresses.

With games it is a bit different. Many times the process is not chronological. Even though the game may have a story, I’m asked to write a certain number of ambient tracks or action tracks that can be used in multiple areas of gameplay. Rarely are the tracks scored to actual sync points in the game, unless it is a cut-scene between levels, then those are approached the same way a film or TV episode is scored.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would be working in another creative field in music, art, photography or film.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I was inspired by how music affected me as a young boy when watching movies.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Since I was in elementary school when I started playing the trumpet. After many years of studying and various jobs in music I started to pursue a career in scoring video games and film in my early 20s.

PrintCAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Over the last year I’ve worked with Warner Bros. Animation scoring three of their Batman made-for-home entertainment features and now a new series with them. I’ve also worked on the video game Battleborn, the new title from Gearbox and 2K.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I am proud of most of the projects I’ve worked on. There is one project that I will always hold close to me. The short sci-fi film Henri directed by Eli Sasich. This film came to me during a difficult moment in my life concerning my health and I worked on it during part of my recovery. There was a connection I made with the content of the story and what I was going through.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My computer, my other computer and my other computer.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I used to be a really frequent Twitter and Facebook user, but as I’ve gotten busier and busier, there has been less time to follow and less time to post. Even though I still use both channels I mainly just have an Instagram account where I post more personal stuff and share some of my professional news.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’m a big fan of enjoying a bourbon or rye every now and then. Also spending time with my family along with playing baseball with my nine-year old twin boys and coaching their team.

Keeping score for ‘Better Call Saul’

Breaking Bad composer Dave Porter returns for this prequel

By Jennifer Walden

When AMC’s Breaking Bad ended, many went through withdrawal from the multi-Emmy Award-winning show. Thanks to its prequel, Better Call Saul, the world that Vince Gilligan created in the New Mexico desert lives on. But while the landscapes might seem familiar, don’t expect the show to look or sound the same as Breaking Bad.

Dave Porter

“For me, it all starts with the black and white keys,” says Los Angeles-based composer Dave Porter, whose score for AMC’s Better Call Saul is anything but black and white emotionally. At the piano he works out melodies and harmonies that communicate the complicated blend of emotions that move the show. “The characters are complex. The challenge is in trying to find the right balance between the different emotions that are at play in any given scene.”

While Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad feature some of the same characters, Better Call Saul show runners/creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould were adamant that this should be a very different show, says Porter, who won an ASCAP Award for Best Television Composer of 2013 for his work on Breaking Bad. “That meant everything from how they write it, to how they shoot it, to how it sounds. We went back to the drawing board to create a whole new musical vocabulary for Better Call Saul, particularly for Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) who, eventually, becomes Saul.”
Porter defines the show’s score with words like intimate, human and relatable. “Breaking Bad [feels] very worldly,” he says. “The scope is much larger, whereas in Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s fight is a smaller fight. Although it is no less important, it is the challenge of one man.”

Getting Real
In terms of instrumentation, Porter gravitated toward real instruments, relying less on the computer and synths he used on Breaking Bad. “I use instruments that I can actually sit down and play, like organs, electric piano, lots of bass and guitar, vibraphone and different mallet percussion, such as vibes and different little xylophones,” he explains.

BCS_210-20151026-UC_0371.JPGWhile Porter performed the piano/keyboards and percussion parts, he hired studio musicians to play the bass and guitar parts. He works with recording engineer James Saez, owner/president of Glendale, California’s The Audio Labs, when the session requires more than one musician. Otherwise, Porter handles recording, editing and mixing at his home studio using an Avid Pro Tools 12 rig and a collection of outboard effects.

For Better Call Saul, Porter likes the 1980’s-era Korg GR-1 Gated Spring Reverb and a TC Electronic guitar-oriented rackmount effects processor from the 1990s called Fireworx. “I usually play and record everything into Pro Tools first, as unprocessed as possible, and then I go back and process the sound. That gives me the flexibility to play around with the effects later.”

Turnaround time for Porter’s score is seven to 10 days per episode. After reviewing the episode, Porter meets with show runners Gilligan and Gould, the episode’s picture editor and supervising sound editor Nick Forshager for a spotting session. They determine where original music is needed and what it needs to express emotionally. “We try not to use music as a placeholder or filler. If it’s going to be in there than it needs to have a purpose,” says Porter, who notes that Better Call Saul, like Breaking Bad before it, is not edited with temp music tracks. “I have ingrained in all of those folks not to use temp music. This way, when I get the episode there is no preconceived notion about what the music should sound like. It’s a great and very rare thing, and I am blessed to have had that on these two shows.”

BCS_209-20151020-UC_0619.JPG

Letting the Music Do the Talking
Porter’s favorite track on Season 2 was for the opening sequence of Episode 8 — a five-minute scene featuring a US-Mexico border crossing in which a previously unknown character goes through a customs inspection of his transport truck. “There is very little dialogue, so the music was front and center and required a kind of confidence and swagger, which is something I don’t always get to do on the show,” he explains. “The character plays his part so well, so calm and cool and collected, that I took my inspiration from him.” One fun feature to the track is a rock ‘n’ roll horn section, which is something Porter had never done for any of the Better Call Saul episodes before.

Knowing that the opening sequence was a long, fluid shot, Porter began thinking about how to make a track that rhythmically was able to sustain itself over a long period of time without getting boring. “I had to find ways to change it up and divide it into different sections,” he says. “I attacked it that way. Often, when you’re scoring to picture you are building up to a certain moment, but this piece was like a big arc that lasts five or six minutes. It was about keeping the music fresh and interesting and evolving for that length of time.”

Better Call Saul requires music that is emotionally complex, but it also offers another challenge. As the prequel of Breaking Bad, the two shows are related even though they’re very different. Better Call Saul’s score needs to gradually evolve as the timelines of the two shows converge. “The challenge,” says Porter, “is to be present and honest with where these characters are, but at the same time be able to look ahead and map out the path musically, to evolve the score as the characters evolve into the characters we know they will become eventually on Breaking Bad.”

Porter says he’s happy exploring this new world of Better Call Saul, especially Jimmy before he becomes Saul Goodman. “I am in no hurry to get to where the stories have to overlap. Personally, I hope that takes many years because I’m having a fantastic time watching these characters evolve.”

Jennifer Walden is an New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.

Behind the Title: Game Composer Petri Alanko

By Randi Altman

While Finnish composer Petri Alanko (Alan Wake, Quantum Break) mostly works on games, he does, from time to time, branch out to other genres and other job titles. “In addition to being a composer, I tend to be involved with sound design and creating sound libraries, so you could call me a sound designer too,” he says.

While Alanko is a freelancer, he has had a 10-year relationship with Remedy Entertainment, which is the game company behind Quantum Break, an action-adventure third-person shooter video game that is set at around a fictional university where a time travel experiment has gone wrong.

Let’s find out more…

WHAT SHOULD WE KNOW ABOUT YOU RIGHT OFF THE BAT?
I specialize in really tough jobs, either by their theme or the amount of work needed for the project — or both combined. Back when I was still doing pop music (right after my classical period), I was known to fill a huge SSL desk, plus a few Pro Tools running Macs, so nothing has really changed.

I like layers, and that’s something that can be heard in my compositions. I don’t mean layers as “let’s add yet another pad here,” but rather emotional layers. I’m usually brought in when the plot is more meandering and the themes require some contrast; both in darkness and in light, but also in action interpretation. Sometimes, silence in the middle of mayhem is a beautiful moment and emphasizes the destruction even more.

WHAT TYPES OF PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON, AND IN WHAT CAPACITY?
I work on many different projects, mostly in production, composition and mixing, but I’ve also been involved with audio branding and creating special “audio bibles” for start-up companies. I am currently involved with a project that consists of merging three companies together — how their sound entity and audio signature is going to evolve after the merger.

The term “branding” has become almost a curse word, so I like to call it an audio signature instead. It’s not about a “let’s get this old classic and put it all over your ads” approach, it’s much more profound and goes as deep as their ringtones, their presentations… everything. It’s about studying their past, discussing their future plans and building it from there. These types of projects feature little composing or none at all. I like to save my composer chops for more emotionally wider cases.

HOW EARLY DO YOU GET INVOLVED IN PROJECTS?
I start by having conversations with the project’s writers, directors and artists. For example, with Quantum Break I wanted to know why Ville Assinen, Remedy’s concept artist, created all the details in his exquisite concept pictures and why the writers made their narrative decisions. I talked with almost everyone on the team about the universe of Quantum Break — about the characters, their backgrounds and motivations — and suddenly the world built itself.

After that it was easy to follow each route, each person and each storyline. I started creating sounds first — about a million raw sounds — and then refined them into something more moldable. Usually, when dealing with raw material, some ideas already emerge, as some sounds tend to have a certain alluring quality to them. The set of exaggerated overtones in some metallic samples I created pointed me in a direction of something that sounded fitting for Quantum Break.

My output tends to be quite a bit on the darker side; so considering how much I’ve laughed during the production cycle of Quantum Break, it is simply amazing.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR ROLE AS A COMPOSER?
Sometimes, I seem to be a part-time psychologist. Actually, that was one of my favorite hobbies when I was in school. Nothing deep, just behavioral sciences and concentrating on how people perceive things — how hearing works and the psychology behind it and the possible synesthetic paths each of us may have. All that has actually helped me throughout the years, both in business and in my professional life.

I also read almost all the time and let my brain make the music. I know it sounds a bit funny, but forcing yourself to work — to compose — produces mostly meaningless pieces of music.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The very end, but I like the beginning, too. The ending’s more important, and you see and hear the work of your hands, realizing it, in front of you. It’s almost like living two different timelines at the same time. This was very much thematically correct in Quantum Break’s case, as some of the themes were done early on. Opening an old project file takes you back in time, and you remember the day it was created, even the weather, the people, the discussions… everything.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SCORING?
I’m very meticulous. The initial phase requires a lot of discussions, and then I start building raw sounds, or synth patches, and playing around with the idea of having an orchestra, or maybe recording it in a different way or in different formations. It’s a phase of what-ifs first, but when I hit the master switch in my studio, and I’m good to go.

I’m also a big fan of intuition, so the first glimpse of an idea can be the brightest ever; one shouldn’t sneer at hunches or turn them down just because they’re fast ideas. It actually would be destructive to deny yourself the short route into the heart of the beast, or the core of the time machine in Quantum Break’s case.

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR WORKFLOW ON QUANTUM BREAK?
At the start of the story, the lead character, Jack Joyce, is fine — it’s late at night and he’s in a cab on the way to meet an old friend (Paul Serene). The feeling is laid back and the only ripple in the pond is an activist demonstration. What’s he thinking when he meets his friend? They’re on good terms, but he’s nervous in a positive way. The friend is not a lunatic trying to control the world; he’s just an average guy making a scientific experiment… with a time machine. Then everything goes bananas. Now, that’s going from 0 to 60 MPH in a second, when the time comes, but it’s really low-key until the time machine is fired up.

Since Jack’s fate is connected with what happens later in the game, I just wanted to test it with a patch I had made for an old analog synth being processed with my modular synth. I just played the chord sequence watching an early cinematic sketch, and… click. That’s the longest musical arc in Quantum Break, consisting of the beginning and the end. I happen to like connecting arcs, so that was it. From that arc came all the rest. The sound set the basis, everything. It’s not much as a composition, as a happy accident.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’ve had a diving license for about 10 years now. I would probably be a dive master somewhere warm, but I think I’d still have music as a hobby. On the other hand, I’ve been obsessed with coffee for a long time, and I actually took a barista course, so I could earn my living creating perfect cappuccinos and lattes.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW MUSIC WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I was at a sandbox as a four year old and the kids were “playing in a band.” Someone took a sand shovel and used it as guitar, someone used buckets as drums, and I took a branch of a tree and started conducting. Six months later, I was visiting a family friend who was an avid fan of operas, and he had a huge vinyl collection. He put on some Maria Callas and when she hit the highest note, I banged the piano trying to hit the note with the keys. He muttered, “I think you need to get him a piano teacher and soon.” That’s where my fate was probably sealed.

OTHER THAN QUANTUM BREAK, WHAT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON RECENTLY?
I scored Trials Fusion’s soundtrack, plus a couple of other projects for Ubisoft. I did an album, the sequel to Classical Trancelations, featuring orchestral versions of trance/EDM classics, and in the autumn I’ll perform the two albums’ worth of material with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, during the Helsinki Festival week, at Helsinki Music Centre.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I have to say right now it’s Quantum Break, but Alan Wake is a very good second. Both were done with lots of love and attention to detail.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My laptop, my Universal Audio Apollo Thunderbolt interface and either my modular synth or Prophet-6. I’ll go with Prophet, as I could carry it to a deserted island by myself.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Twitter, mostly, plus some LinkedIn.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I walk in the forests, run, ride bicycles, and sometimes I’ll rent a fast car and drive a few rounds on a nearby track. I’m not the world’s worst cook either, so I guess it’s a combination of all these things. I’ve also got a really nice collection of games, so when stress levels go to red, I’ll fire up my Xbox One or PS4, and play some FPS games.

Traveling is also a good way to fade stress, too. I’ve always fantasized about taking my lighter setup with me and moving to Barcelona or Southern France or Northern Italy and working there. Maybe one day!

Creating the score for IFC’s ‘Gigi Does It’

Composer Jason Moss channels his inner grandmother for new series.

By Jennifer Walden

Picture a sweet, blue-haired grandma, who bakes pies, knits and reminisces about the good old days. Then meet Gigi Rotblum, the lead character in the IFC series Gigi Does It. She is a foul-mouthed bubbe who likes to kibitz about… well, just about anything. But even though she’s got the mouth of a sailor, is neurotic and often inappropriate, there’s still something charming about this Jewish grandmother, played by actor David Krumholtz. The show follows the 77-year-old Boca Raton widow as she finds odd ways to spend the remaining days of her twilight years.

It wasn’t too difficult for New Jersey-born composer Jason Moss, owner of LA’s Super Sonic Noise, to relate to this character. In fact he says he felt a connection to Gigi immediately. “My wife’s grandmother is 94 years old, and my grandmother is 94, so that uber Jewish grandmother neuroses is very strong in my life. Even though Gigi is a little more vulgar, with all her vagina and penis talk, the character is there.”

Composer Jason Moss

He also shares a connection to the character via actor Krumholtz, who lives in the part of New Jersey where Moss grew up. “It felt like everything aligned — it was kind of hysterical, and it was a nice, comforting connection. They were pretty much speaking my language.”

Finding the Score
Moss was introduced to the brothers Ben and Dan Newmark, founders of production company Grandma’s House Entertainment, through director of development/producer Michael Lopez. During their meeting to discuss the series’ score, Moss presented several options from his production music catalog, ranging from ultra contemporary hip-hop to kitschy Herb Alpert-inspired tunes. He also included his favorite track from Super Sonic Noise’s catalog, a quirky organ-based track laced with whimsical la-la-las sung by Moss himself. “When I got to that track they were like, ‘Holy shit that’s the theme song,’” says Moss. “It was one of my favorite tracks and I feel like it could not have a more perfect home then Gigi Does It.”

Moss, a long-time user of Apple’s Logic Pro, was able to open the original session for that track, which was created in an earlier version of Logic Pro. He did a re-edit and remix to tailor it specifically to Gigi Does It. “Everything was there and that was great because I was able to spruce it up a little bit,” says Moss. “They started cutting with the track and, in the end, they got it approved to be the theme.”

While Moss always uses real instruments to perform his guitar and bass parts, the score for Gigi Does It runs more in the elevator-vein, featuring organs, horns, and small percussion. His go-to for virtual instruments on the series are Arturia’s Vox Continental V for quirky sounding organs; Spectrasonics’s Trilian for upright bass; Addictive Drums by XLN Audio; and a small library called The Trumpet 3 by SampleModeling. “The Trumpet 3 is an amazing trumpet sample library that has a very authentic trumpet sound, with all the nuances of trumpet playing, like the way the tongue is used, and the different sorts of riffs,” says Moss. “With Addictive Drums, you can tweak the microphone distance to give it a bit more of a warm feel. The sounds for this show I want to be really warm, round and organic.”

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No matter what type of music Moss is composing, he feels there are three very important considerations to working creatively. “I always say it’s your ass, your ears and your eyes. You have to have something comfortable to sit on, something great to listen to and something good to look at. So I have a killer seat, and killer monitors to listen through, and a killer monitor to look at.”

The show’s score is a combination of Moss’s custom composed music —tracks pulled from the Super Sonic Noise catalog — and quirky, campy, lounge-style music tracks from composers that have written for Moss in the past. “There are a lot of funny organs, quirky drums and some Latin samba stuff that really works for Gigi,” says Moss. All the tracks and stems are delivered in stereo as 24/48-bit files uploaded to the Super Sonic Noise catalog site. “I use a platform called Source Audio and it is basically my search/play/delivery system. They are absolutely the most amazing and current company when it comes to music catalogs.”

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Delivering files via the Source Audio platform allows Moss to add artwork, metadata and publisher information. “When the post production facility downloads the files, they are all watermarked and contain all the metadata embedded in the file. It’s very organized.”

So, is Gigi Does It a series for everyone? Maybe not, but, says Moss, “She’s a funny grandma, and maybe you can relate to it because you have a grandma, or an uncle, or an aunt that is just incredibly inappropriate. Still, there’s something very sweet about Gigi. David [Krumholtz] does a brilliant job being Gigi, and you forget that there is a man in that outfit playing this old Jewish grandmother. He does such a wonderful job.”

Talking with ‘House of Cards’ Emmy-winning composer Jeff Beal

By Jennifer Walden

As the saying goes, “the third time’s the charm,” and that was certainly true for Emmy-winning composer Jeff Beal. With two previous nominations for his score of Netflix’s House of Cards under his belt, this time Beal took home the statue for “Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.” The winning episode was “Chapter 32” (Season 3, Episode 6), in which President Frank Underwood and First Lady Claire visit Russian President Petrov to hash out a deal to release imprisoned American activist Michael Corrigan, who was arrested for advocating for LGBT rights in Russia.

Chapter 32 is a good example of how Beal has been able to grow his score alongside the show for the past three seasons. While his music still feels like it’s coming from the same musical world, the sonic palette has grown as the geography of the show has become wider. “Frank becomes president, and we go to Russia and there is a whole storyline about the Middle East,” explains Beal. “Each season we’ve had a lot of new themes that come in and help bring music into the storytelling and into those areas that we are exploring.”

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The Sound of Geography
Throughout the Russian scenes, Beal used a more Eastern European sense of melody and harmony, drawing inspiration from his favorite Russian composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitri Shostakovich. “I always loved the way Russian composers wrote for orchestra. There’s a certain expressiveness to the way they write,” he says. When President Frank and First Lady Claire arrive at Moscow’s Red Square, Beal’s score is “almost this Shostakovich kind of march,” he explains. And for Russian president Petrov — whom Beal describes as a fictionalized version of Putin — he created several variations on Petrov’s theme using piano and strings.

But, Beal feels the real soul of the score was the scenes involving Michael Corrigan and Claire. “There is a wonderful scene where he talks to Claire about his relationship with his partner and he turns the tables on Claire about her relationship with Frank,” he explains. “Michael also talks about the hunger strike — that he failed to continue — and the Russian man who lasted to death’s door.” For those scenes, Beal wrote a simple duet for cello and viola. “It’s a very mournful tune and in that a little kernel of the theme eventually became the courage theme that we hear at the end of the show… when Michael makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes his own life rather than read the disparaging statement that is a condition of him being freed.”

Beal finds it’s always interesting to score the aftermath of an event. There is enough information on screen that he doesn’t need to nudge the audience toward one particular emotion. For example, during the tense news conference that follows Michael’s suicide, Claire speaks to reporters about what happened in the cell. Instead of reading the appropriate response that would maintain the relationship with Russia, Claire has a moment of courage and stands up for Michael and his cause. “I’m often interested in scenes where there are multiple layers going on, multiple emotional layers and story layers happening at the same time. I think music can help contain the complexities of those types of moments and bring it all together,” he says.

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All-Encompassing Workflow
From the first note to the final track, Beal always has his hands on his music. He writes it, orchestrates it, conducts it, records it and mixes it. “A lot of my workflow goes back to personality. I’m a classic introvert,” he admits. Coming from a music performance background, as a jazz trumpet player and pianist, Beal loves the music-making part of the job. “For me, music-making is a very proprietary and personal journey. It’s always been this way.”

In Beal’s approach, the compositional act doesn’t stop at music making; it involves orchestrating and conducting, because that ultimately affects the sound of the score. Beal likes being able to fine-tune every last little detail before it goes out the door. “It’s really hard to say that composing stops when we go into recording and even mixing. Those steps in the workflow allow me to have my hand on the creation, the creative aspects, to make sure I’m really getting across what I want to get across with the music,” he explains.

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Jeff Beal at his mixing board.

Beal loves conducting because it gives him a connection to the music. He can guide the musicians’ performances with visual cues. For example, for Chapter 32, Beal notes there is a style of string playing that is unlike what they usually do for the show. “It’s much more romantic, with a big sound and a big vibrato,” he explains. “I remember when we were doing those cues for the solo cello and the viola with the orchestra coming in over them, I was gesticulating with my right hand over to the cello, giving him the big gestures that said, ‘Don’t hold back.’ That was helpful to do because usually we’re a little cooler and more reserved — it’s a more contemporary type of playing that we typically do on the show.”

Beal’s workflow also cuts down on inefficiency. By keeping every aspect of creating, recording and mixing the score in his studio — large enough to accommodate a 26-member string section — he’s not losing time on moving his session to another studio, or wasting time on setting up a different recording space to his tastes. “I have it all set up and ready to go. It’s miked just the way I like, and I’ve tuned the room.”

Early on in his career, Beal’s workflow was a factor of economics, but that process has helped to shape a sound that’s unique to Beal. “It’s now a factor of style and the way I like to produce my scores. I like to think that my scores don’t sound like everybody else’s. Producing in my own way has helped me get to that place.”

Composer Brian Langsbard comes up to bat for baseball docs

Television and film composer Brian Langsbard scored his first opening theme for an MLB broadcast 15 years ago, and he hasn’t looked back since. While he has provided musical scores for non-baseball-related content — from the sound of Snapped on the Oxygen network to the backdrop for Batman: The Animated Series to serious documentaries — baseball has been a continuous theme for him.

“What I like about composing for baseball, and for sports in general,” he says, “is they want the music to be big and up front, but they want a lot of detail in there, too.”

Most recently, for MLB Productions and in conjunction with A&E, Langsbard finished up a four-part doc series called Rushmore — narrated by Martin Sheen and profiling the lives and careers of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. Those documentaries are slated to air in 2016.

“Each documentary was different,” he explains. “For Lou Gehrig, we had a very traditional score because the director was using Wagner excerpts to emphasize the story of Gehrig as a tragic mythological hero. For Ted Williams, the director was more interested in a modern sound, something you might hear in a David Fincher movie. I used more synths for Williams and stayed away from sweeping melodies and motifs.”

Langsbard used the temp tracks provided as his main guide. “I had to ride the fine line of following a preconceived style while also adding my own signature style, which has become the sound for MLB over the last decade or so. Fortunately, the producers on all the documentaries did not suffer from what we call ‘temp love’ and were happy with the tracks I was provided.”

For this doc project, Langsbard worked out of his studio in Laurel Canyon, California, where he produced and mixed through his 8260A Smart Active Monitors (SAM) from Genelec. The studio hosts other gear including Logic and Pro Tools. For plug-ins he calls on Slate and Matthew Lane’s DRMS. He also likes Summit’s EQ, Avalon 747 and Manley SLAM, which he uses for occasional outboard sweetening on samples and mixes. There is also the Bricasti M7 and Lexicon 300 for reverbs. Langsbard says “the Yamaha S90_EX is my keyboard of choice. I also have some Dave Smith synths and a MOOG sub37. Oh, and a Roland V-synth, love the controller pad and D-beam.”

Regarding those 8260As, Langsbard says, “They let me zero in on particular frequencies and other details that make a huge difference in the end.” The Genelec 8260As give him that kind of specificity across all of the genres he works in, he says, which actually improves the tracks and the mixes he creates.

Behind the Title: Game and film composer Stephen Baysted

NAME: Stephen Baysted (@stephenbaysted)

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Composer and Audio Director, based in England.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As a composer my job is to create original music for a range of film, TV and game clients. As an audio director for games, my job is about conceptualizing, designing and overseeing all audio content and assets in a game.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably the sheer number of audio assets that go into a AAA (Triple A) game title.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Can I have two favorite parts? The first is the excitement of receiving a new brief from a client, spotting the cues with the director and beginning working on the project. The second is working with a score mix engineer, finalizing the music and recording live musicians. I also love seeing the film or game really come to life with my music.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SCORING? HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
I have a very large orchestral and electronic template so I have the entire range of orchestral instruments and numerous synthesizers and percussion libraries at my fingertips. This means that I can shape the sound world of a project very efficiently and quickly, responding to the client’s objectives. I begin by thinking through the narrative and the emotional context of the game or film, researching the subject matter in detail and then interpreting the director’s vision and translating it into music and sound. I tend to create the main themes first and then follow the sub-themes and character variations that are needed.

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR TOOLS AND WORKFLOW?
In the past year, because of technological advances, I have been able to reduce the number of computers in my studio from seven down to two. The workflow between master computer and slave computers is now much more streamlined, and my system is also much more powerful.

I always try to record live musicians even at the demo and mock-up stages of projects — it brings the music to life — and I always like to create custom sounds for all my clients. The output of Steinberg Cubase runs directly into Avid Pro Tools, which makes it far simpler to create Pro Tools sessions ready for the mix stage in the recording studio and ready for working with live musicians.

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Baysted composed the score for “Project Cars” out of Slightly Mad Studios in the UK.

In the studio itself I like to use outboard gear and I’m a great fan of analog. For the Project Cars score, for example, I worked with engineer Nick Taylor at Air-Edel Studios in London and the entire signal path and mix was done in analog — from capturing vocals on 1950’s Neumanns through Neve preamps into a Cadac digital mixing console.

DOES YOUR PROCESS CHANGE DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF PROJECT? GAME VS. SPOT, ETC.?
The process for film and game is substantially different. Film music is linear, and as a composer you conceive the score as a continuous narrative structure accompanying every nuance of the film and reflecting the director’s vision.

In games, especially when the music is interactive and dynamic, the music is largely nonlinear and the composer must conceive of the music in terms of a complex network of loops and layers or stem mixes, and how they might all fit together to create coherent music in all their myriad combinations. However, you need to bear in mind that in games, the objective of the composer is make their music appear to be linear and to appear to be accomplishing the same role as film music.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d like to think I’d be trading shares on the back of a boat in Monaco!

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
There was never a choice for me — music chose me. I know that sounds corny but for as long as I can remember I’ve been either performing music or composing music, and I could not imagine doing anything else. I’m on holiday right now doing this interview and to tell you the truth I’m itching to get back in the studio.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Project Cars (game) for Slightly Mad Studios, The Impressionists (feature film for Phil Grabsky), Deep Cuts (TV Series), The Walking Dead: Assault (game) and Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed for Electronic Arts (game).

The Impressionists film

The Impressionists film for Phil Grabsky.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Project Cars for Slightly Mad Studios without a shadow of a doubt — I’ve worked with the founder and head of studio Ian Bell for almost 15 years now on a string of award-winning games, but this is the game that we’ve really managed to achieve the ludic, artistic and sonic vision that we’ve always talked about even way back when we were both impoverished Ph.D students.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My MacBook Pro, Universal Audio’s Apollo and my wife’s grand piano.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I try to take regular breaks and get some fresh air to clear my head by walking on local beaches. I also love cooking.