Archive for March, 2014

March 23, 2014


Mixing music on the computer has been around for a very long time. When I first started using “Performer” in the 1980s, I was utilizing MIDI commands to do simple volume level changes. As Performer turned into Digital Performer, which added digital recording capabilities, it added much more complexity.

There are always tactile advantages to having physical faders, buttons and knobs that feel and react like analog mixing consoles. So about a dozen years ago, I began using a physical mix controller called Mackie Control (Mackie). This brilliant piece of hardware gave me the ability to control my mixes in a very natural, intuitive and responsive way.

Mackie Control

But just as hardware samplers and synthesizers have given way to virtual instruments, I knew that the mix controller would probably be next to go virtual.  In the past few years, I began to see touch-screen control surfaces appearing on high-end recording studio mixers.  Just like on your smart phone, everything is controlled by touch.  But the price and space needed to utilize these boards made this solution out of the question for me.

Even when I upgraded my home studio last year, I kept my Mackie because it has always been a great tool for music production.

I also have a Mackie Control in my studio at IGT.  Last week, while composing, my Mackie began to fail.  Faders would mysteriously move on their own, even when the sequencer wasn’t running.  My focus on composing was completely derailed, which is clearly unacceptable.  The Mackies from both work and home are about a dozen years old and have served me well.  But it was time to research alternatives.

I found that new Mackies cost over $1,100.  While other options were both more and less expensive, none really fulfilled my needs.  While doing this research, however, a user review of a much more expensive controller referenced that “you would be better off with the Neyrinck V-Control Pro.”  (Neyrinck is a software developer that specializes in high-end software for professional recording studios.)  Further research revealed this to be an iPad app that is downloadable from the App Store for $49.99.  While I was very skeptical at first, the program does exactly what I need it to do.


So I bought an iPad and the V-Control Pro app.  The entire purchase, including the iPad, iPad case and the app, amounted to a little over $500.  About half the cost of a new Mackie.  It communicates with Digital Performer via Wi-Fi, so there are no cables— and you can control the workstation from anywhere within Wi-Fi range.  It takes up a fraction of the space that the Mackie did.  It eliminates all the controls that I never used, while making the things I use all the time very accessible.  And since it’s virtual, there is no noise from the automated faders moving up and down.  While having faders move by themselves has always impressed visitors to my studio, the noise they made was distracting while composing.

Today, I realized that the Mackie was the last piece of hardware that I used in my studio.  Everything else is all virtual, running on the Mac Pro.  All of the rest of my hardware now sits in silence as kind of a museum of music technology.

We live in a time when technology moves extremely fast.  And it always astounds me that there are always new ideas that solve problems and improve work flows.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  While music will never compose itself, the tools we use just keeps getting better and better!

DDMLLC Studio 2014

March 9, 2014


The nature of composing music requires that you are able to focus on creating something that is never seen, touched or tasted — only heard. The results of your work impart emotions that can touch people around the world. While there is a technical side to the craft, the process of baring your soul to create music is a very solitary process.

As such, a lot of composers tend to be people who “fly under the radar” and let their music do the talking. They don’t seek to be in front of the audience constantly, relentlessly promoting themselves within the industry. But that can cause them to miss opportunities.

One way to overcome this dilemma is the internet. Social media is a great way to reach out to fans and communicate on a more personal level. I have found that this blog, Facebook and YouTube are all excellent ways to reach out, as well as gain exposure.

But having your own personal web site imparts that you are a professional and that companies can rely on you to deliver professional material. You create a brand that people can relate to and can find if they Google your name.

A composer web site should contain all the pertinent information that both companies and fans are looking for. The old journalists’ saying, “Tell who, what, when, where, why,” is a good reference as to what your web site should contain.

Your welcome page needs to introduce you in a very visual way. It usually shows a singular image of your brand and has links to other pages on your site. If you have stirred the curiosity of the reader, they will start clicking on those links to gather more information. But be sure to categorize links so that the reader can see or hear what they want, quickly and easily.

Links should include:
“About” — Offers readers insight into who you are and what you do. This includes a bio, credits, your company information, references, reviews, etc.
“Studios” — Shows how and where you work and the equipment you use.
“Demos” — Provides visitors a place to hear the music you’ve done.
“Contact” — Makes it simple for visitors to contact you directly, as well as click on links to your social media pages.

You can hire a professional web designer for great results, or there are web hosting services that provide templates for you to design your own site. Be aware that designing your own site is less expensive and you can update information yourself at any time, but it is very time consuming to do this well. If you take this route, I would recommend learning some basic HTML coding to allow you to customize your site.

Obviously, be totally honest about your accomplishments. While you may think that embellishing your resume would get you more work, quite the opposite is true. Clients and employers will not hire someone who can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

While I have never gotten a job directly from my web site alone, it has influenced clients and employers to hire me. When they research me by doing a Google search on my name, there is no doubt that I am who I say I am.

If you are a composer and do not yet have a web site, think about creating one. While it doesn’t replace personal contact and relationships, it can provide great exposure and possibly help you land your next job.

March 2, 2014


Tonight is Oscar night and people all over the world will be glued to their TV screens to see what the movie stars are wearing and who’ll take home the coveted Academy Awards.  But is anyone dying to know what Thomas Newman will wear?

Newman is one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Original Score, for the film “Saving Mr. Banks.”  Also nominated for Best Original Score are John Williams (“The Book Thief”), Steven Price (“Gravity”) Alexandre Desplat (“Philomena”), and William Butler and Owen Pallett (“Her”).

Film composers aren’t the most glamorous or visible celebrities at the Oscars.   Yet they play a critical role in setting and sustaining the mood of a great film.

In a completely unscientific survey, my wife asked some friends and family members to name movies that were especially memorable because of their original scores.  What famous film music excited or moved them and stuck in their minds after they finished watching these movies?

Not surprisingly, “Home Alone” was mentioned by more than one person.
The legendary John Williams composed the original score for “Home Alone” and I’ll speak more about this music in a moment.

“Ben-Hur” (with an original score by Miklos Rozsa) also received multiple mentions.

A few additional movies and composers named in this informal survey were “Braveheart” (James Horner), “Rob Roy” (Carter Burwell), “Rudy” (Jerry Goldsmith), “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (Ennio Morricone), “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Danny Elfman), “Somewhere In Time” (John Barry), “Amelie” (Yann Tierson), “Polar Express” (Alan Silvestri), Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Nino Rota), “The Last of The Mohicans” (Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman), “King of Kings” (the aforementioned Miklos Rosza) and “Vertigo” (Bernard Herrmann).

Each of the people who responded to this question obviously had his or her own reasons for loving certain films and the music from those films.  But their enjoyment of these movies — and the lasting impressions that these movies made upon them — were undoubtedly influenced by the music that propelled the action and/or captured the emotions within the story.

Getting back to the subject of “Home Alone,” my wife’s niece found this quote from Wikipedia to go along with her nomination:

Home Alone is the soundtrack of the 1990 film of the same name. The score was composed by John Williams and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score; the film’s signature tune “Somewhere in my Memory” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
“Somewhere in my Memory” was actually written to “run alongside the film” by Williams.[citation needed] It can be heard in numerous sections of the film, either in full length or fragments, forming the backbone for the film’s soundtrack. “Somewhere in my Memory” is performed in many Christmas concerts in schools or professional orchestras and choirs alike across the globe.[citation needed]

It is common for successful film composers to use a main theme as the backbone for a film’s soundtrack, slightly altering the tempo, key or arrangement to coincide with what is happening in a particular scene.  That theme is what often runs through your mind, long after the movie had ended.

One of the strongest impressions that instrumental music can make on a person is when it is heard while watching a story unfold on the screen. Our minds process the visual presentation and events in the story, while our hearts react to the emotions that the music score imparts. When a great story, acting, cinematography and music score combine, it is long remembered in our hearts and minds and worthy of an Oscar.

Now let’s find out who the Academy has chosen for its highest musical honors.