Archive for September, 2012

September 22, 2012

CHEMISTRY – IT’S WHO YOU WORK WITH

I’ve been thinking about this subject for months. No one is an island. We all rely on each other for support and to move forward. But when a friend sent me a link to Jonathan Antoine’s audition on “Britain’s Got Talent,” I realized how important it is to recognize that your family, who you associate with, work with, and befriend can make all the difference in the world.

Jonathan is an extremely talented 17-year-old who has been a victim of the way he looks all his life. If you watch this video, it becomes painfully obvious that the judges and the crowd have made their decisions about him and his partner as soon as they took the stage.

The wonderful part of this … is how they got to that stage. His singing partner, Charlotte, knew that he was incredibly talented. She is a cute girl with talent of her own. Her pop singing style might have propelled her into a solo spot on the show. But she chose to be with Jonathan on the stage. For the 17 years he has been on this earth, Jonathan has dealt with people judging him on first impressions. Charlotte knew that despite that, they could show the world what they can do and ensure that Jonathan would have a chance to be heard.

In my experience, in addition to my own family, I have learned so much from the people I’ve worked with. Even my bad experiences have taught me volumes about my craft, who I am, what I’m capable of, and the person I want to be.

You need to value times when you get to work with people who have a common goal. Each person has something to bring to the table. My times as a freelancer were wonderful. I was my own boss and my schedule was much more in the creative lifestyle. But I was always wondering how much better it would be if there were a team around me to give me honest feedback and fill the gaps in skills that I’m not so good at. I now have that.

Thankfully, Jonathan has Charlotte. Their chemistry together is what made it possible to show the world their talent. I’m sure we will be seeing more of both of them in the future, no matter what happens on a TV show.

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September 15, 2012

JAMES BOND GOES DISCO, BUT THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

John Barry’s “James Bond Theme” music is instantly recognizable and has stood the test of time. The British composer, who died in early 2011, wrote the scores for 11 Bond movies between the 1960s and ’80s and the opening theme songs for “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball.” Other non-Bond film projects for Barry included “The Lion In Winter,” “Born Free” and “Out of Africa.”

In a 1999 interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Barry commented, “Every time [Sean Connery] says, ‘I’m Bond — James Bond,’ it laid [the music] in all over the damn place. And it worked. I mean, with film there’s no middle ground, you know. It either works or it doesn’t. There’s no, ‘Well, it works a little.’ A good score is a score that really works 100 percent, where you just hit all the buttons.”

Well said! While recently watching the 1977 blockbuster “The Spy Who Loved Me” (starring Roger Moore as James Bond), I was amused by the opening scenes with a rather cheesy disco version of the familiar Bond theme. It was based on Barry’s original composition but this time, it was called “Bond 77.” Listening to this in 2012, it was a bit odd, but there was no mistaking that this was a re-working of the original Bond theme — which still worked!

I was also surprised to discover that Marvin Hamlisch, who has always seemed to me like more of a pop songwriter, composed the score for this particular Bond movie, although he certainly incorporated John Barry’s iconic theme music. Hamlisch also co-wrote, with Carole Bayer Sager, the film’s theme song, “Nobody Does It Better” (famously performed by Carly Simon) which includes the line, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Other scenes from “The Spy Who Loved Me” incorporated classical works by Bach and Mozart, as well as Maurice Jarre’s haunting “Lawrence of Arabia” theme. When you think about it, this was one wacky film score. Disco, pop, classical, “Lawrence of Arabia,” etc. And yet it worked!

This type of variety is something that I have been studying and practicing lately. Throughout my career, I have composed music in several styles. But the past two years at IGT have really forced me to learn how to compose and arrange music in almost any style. That challenge is one of the reasons why I love my job.

At its core, music needs to set a mood, support the story being told and take you somewhere. I usually start with a single instrument and sketch out a direction that will eventually become the basis for the entire piece. As with any creative endeavor, this process can take anywhere from a few minutes to many hours or even days. But this is the most critical part of composing. If you have something that translates and resonates to the listener, even if it isn’t fully produced, you’ve succeeded. Once happy with the direction, I’ll continue to arrange, orchestrate and produce the entire final piece.

As an experiment, I recently took one of my cues and created separate orchestral, rock and acoustic instrument versions. Surprisingly, the original musical idea was still intact and had the same emotional effect, despite being presented in three dramatically different styles. Because of this, I’ll be doing a lot more brainstorming about how this idea can be used to entertain.

John Barry’s Bond theme is one of those incredibly well-written pieces of music that can be arranged and produced in a lot of different ways. Even when turned into a disco version of itself, it still imparts adventure, intrigue and action that is undeniably James Bond. With regard to “the music either works or it doesn’t,” this music is a shining example of what works.

September 8, 2012

ORIGINAL SCORE VS. POP SONG

Does the name Bernard Herrmann ring a bell? If you’ve watched the classic Hitchcock movies “Psycho,” “Vertigo” or “North by Northwest” or the TV series “The Twilight Zone,” you’ll recognize his music.

I recently watched another film with a score by Bernard Herrmann, “Fahrenheit 451.” It was based on a best-selling novel by Ray Bradbury, about a society where all books are banned. In a special feature on the DVD, “The Music of Fahrenheit 451,” it was revealed that the director considered inserting a pop song into the final climactic scene, where people were overcome with emotion as they quoted aloud from their favorite books. It was shocking, to me, that anyone would consider ruining such a moment in the film with a song that would trivialize or distract from the importance of the scene.

But in my work as a composer, I’ve also run into situations where I had to argue with producers about the value of music that would represent or sustain the mood, as opposed to a pop song that not only wasn’t relevant at the time, but would date the piece of work later on. Would my “Civilization Revolution” soundtrack have been better if you heard “Hey-Ya” by Outkast when you win the game? Silly example and Sid Meier never asked me to do this, but you get my point.

An original score is written to perfectly match the mood and support the story being told. It provides a unique sound that can always be associated with that story. The director and/or producer have the freedom to develop the story line with complete control of the pacing. In great story telling, that pacing includes peaks and valleys of emotion. The music immerses you in the story being told and takes you to another place outside of your own life.

I’ve been asked to adjust the timing or mood of cues in many of my projects. This is often a very complex thing to do, not only from a musical standpoint, but these changes often come at the very last minute before deadline. Recreating the cue in my digital audio workstation is not that hard, if the same exact workstation is used. But even then, there are elements in the performance, mixing and mastering that can be problematic. If live session musicians were recorded for the cue, a whole new recording session would need to be done, which is a very costly proposition.

Pop songs are crafted in a very different way and have a very different effect on how we perceive the music. The typical three-minute pop song is written and produced to tell a story or simply to create a mood within the time allotted without any visual reference. The result is a musical experience that people relate to differently than a music score. When you hear an older pop song, it takes you back to a different time in your own life. That time may or may not have been good. If you were happy when the song was always playing on the radio, you probably like the song. If your life was not so good at that time, the song may bring back some painful emotions that you’d rather not think about.

Music videos are produced in the opposite way of film, television or game scores. The song is created first and has all of the positive attributes of the pop song format. It stands alone and does not need visual representation of the story being told. So, instead of the music supporting the visual story, the visuals are created to support the music. The phenomenal success of MTV is a testament to how well that idea has worked.

And yes, there are projects that combine visuals and pop music very successfully. Who can forget the countless Elvis movies where he would break out into song when there were no singers, musicians or instruments in sight?

I have been both a songwriter and a score composer in my career and I appreciate what each form has to offer. The decision to use pop music is one that will continue to be argued. Will the project benefit from licensing a pop tune or will it derail the immersion and story it’s trying to tell? Every project is different.