Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?
I grew up in New Zealand and moved to the US to pursue a career writing music. I compose for a wide range of projects including TV shows, films, trailers, commercials and games.
What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?
I’m getting a lot of work these days writing epic trailer music – really huge sounding orchestral tracks mixed with synth, guitars, percussion and choir. I think my main strength has always been writing (tapping into) melodies that move people. It’s something I’m very grateful for!
Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?
My set up is very simple, just a Kurzweil SP2X 88 key controller, one 8 core Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM in it, and about 12 drives. The external drives are hooked up via Firewire and eSATA. I try to separate the sample libraries as much as possible. I love how simple it all is, but I can’t wait until the day when I can put all the libraries I use on just a few big thunderbolt SSD drives!
What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)
I use a big stack of libraries including: Hollywood Strings and Brass, VSL, Symphobia, Omnisphere, SD2, Ozone, and a ton of smaller libraries from 8Dio and SoundIron.
When do you find you are most creative?
It doesn’t really have a predictable schedule for me, it depends on a lot of things, but when I feel inspired I try my best to make the most of those moments. Sometimes when I’ve felt like the muse wasn’t there but had a pressing deadline, I’ve sat at the keyboard for a few hours before stumbling upon an idea I could run with. Just one chord or voicing can lead to an entire track unfolding. Having a great project to work on always helps inspire creativity.
What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?
Once I’ve discussed the project with the directors / producers, I go back to the studio and start working on themes and palette – the ‘sound’ the project will have. I try to allocate as much time to this initial discovery process as possible, as I’ve come to learn that having all the thematic material ready to go from the beginning is a huge time saver (avoiding lots of revisions later).
Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?
Once I’ve come up with an idea I’m happy with, one thing that I like to do is take a break and go for a walk with the idea bouncing around in my head. After an hour or so I come back to it with fresh ears. The musical idea get refined through this process – I’m basically singing it in my head over and over for an hour, smoothing out the wrinkles!
Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?
I like to try running synths through guitar effects plugins like Guitar Rig, the results are often insane.
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
When I was just starting out as a composer, I did a lot of projects for free, or next to nothing.
I think that doing a project for free is actually ok, because I can trace many of my gigs today from films I scored for free back in the day. What’s very important is that you keep all the rights to the music (which you can later make money from by putting in non-exclusive libraries). This applies even if you get paid a little. You really need to price out how much that music could make you over the next 10-20 years for you to decide whether or not you want to hand over the rights to a production company, because they’ll probably do nothing with the music once the film is released.
One other lesson is to be careful when giving your music to libraries and music licensing companies. There are lots of companies out there that will gladly take your music. It’s not a good idea to give your music exclusively to a library unless they’re paying for it, or if there’s very good chance the music will get used. I have 100’s of tracks collecting dust because early in my career I gave a lot of music to libraries for free who didn’t do much with it all. That said, I’ve also written for libraries exclusively (and still do occasionally) who are great at getting the music aired and licensed. Overall it seems like exclusive libraries have an easier time getting music used, although that’s just from my experience. It might be because they have less tracks to compete with than some non-exclusive libraries that amass 10’s of 1000’s of tracks. Bottom line: do your research before giving your tracks away to the first library that offers to take them.
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
When I graduated from music school I didn’t even have a computer. A lot of my classmates had fancy gear but never ended up making a living from music. The difference was that I worked every day to get a step closer to being a full time composer. If you already have the necessary gear, you’re 100 steps ahead of where I was at 10 years ago! It pretty much comes down to:
1) try to write every day
2) finish what you start
3) constantly strive to write and produce something better than your last piece.
Work on improving your production / mixing as much as your compositional skills… it’s at least half the job these days.