Matthew Llewellyn interview

Matthew-Llewellyn Find more about Matthew Llewellyn @
Official website

Brief list of credits

The Murder Pact, Wishin’ and Hopin’, Deep In The Darkness

Hi Matthew, thank you for taking time to do this interview. Let us start with the basic questions first.

It’s great to be here, thanks for having me.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get your start as a composer?

Growing up I was a math and science kid, taking part in Math Club and Science Olympiad. Math always felt like a puzzle to me and I loved the challenge of solving a problem with a specific set of rules. I started playing piano around age six when my family moved from California to Minnesota. I eventually picked up the guitar as well but at that point music was still something that I did in my own time. I never really considered going into music as a profession until I started looking at colleges when I was a junior or senior in high school. While my parents and I were researching various colleges around the country we came upon Berklee College of Music. The facilities and faculty looked amazing so we took a little trip out to Boston to check it out. Needless to say I was hooked in about five seconds. I applied and was thrilled to be accepted.

When I started Berklee I had it set in my mind that I was going to study Music Business/Management and Music Production/Engineering in hopes of working at a record company or recording studio one day. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I saw how much fun one of my roommates was having writing music to picture. I had an epiphany and knew right then what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I quickly declared as a Film Scoring and Music Business/Management dual major and I think that was the moment when my life as a composer started. I’m a bit of a late bloomer as far as writing goes; most of my composer friends in the industry started writing at a much younger age. I try not to think about that too much and just focus on perfecting my own craft. What I love about film scoring is that not only is it emotionally satisfying and therapeutic but it also brings back the problem solving aspect that I loved so much about math and science. I approach every project as if it’s one giant story-telling puzzle and it’s my job to figure out how to put that puzzle together.

Looking at your resume, which is quite impressive, how did you start working with Brian Tyler and what was your main role in the scoring process?

I started working for Brian in 2011 after I got a call from a friend of mine, and former USC classmate, Bob Lydecker. He was Brian’s assistant at the time and they were slammed with work so he asked if I could come in and help. I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing or how long I would be there but it turned out to be one of the best things that have happened to me in my professional career. My role at Brian’s studio varied quite a bit over the almost three years I was there. It completely depended on the project and what Brian needed of me. One of the big parts of the job was to oversee all of the projects and make sure everything is getting done when it’s supposed to. Meeting deadlines is crucial no matter what it takes; trust me, I did a lot of all-nighters. The most important part of the job was to maintain Brian’s rig and make sure it was running perfectly at all times.

Any anecdotes or learning experiences from working with Brian Tyler?

It’s hard to even put into words how much I learned while working at his studio. Every composer has their own way of writing music and being able to see how he does it really has given me a whole new perspective. His mockups are the best around and part of that is due to the fact that he incorporates as many live instruments as possible. His live room in his studio is set up in a way that everything that he could possibly want to record is already mic’d up and ready to go. It’s an extremely efficient way of working and something that I’ve adapted into my workflow. He also writes his scores in Pro Tools, which was very surprising to me at first. More and more composers are starting use it now because at the end of the day you’ll be delivering your final music in Pro Tools so it makes sense to cut out extra steps. I’d also never seen anyone manipulate audio quite like how he does it; he works at a lightning fast speed and it always sounds great.

This one is for the gear heads. What tools and technology are you currently using and why?

I currently write most of my music in Cubase however I sometimes use Pro Tools depending on what kind of music it is and what kind of project it is. I was a Digital Performer (DP) user for a long time since that what was taught at Berklee (2003-2007); I believe they teach all of them now. I always struggled with it crashing and losing its audio bundles, which is essentially the routing or i/o (inputs and outputs) of your session. The disappearing audio bundles was the straw that broke the camel’s back because my sessions tend to be very complex and when they would disappear I would have to manually re-route the entire session. My good friend Sarah Schachner, who I went to Berklee with and who has also done work for Brian in the past, had the same problem with her sessions. I tried working with MOTU to figure out if there was a way to re-create the problem but unfortunately it seemed to happen randomly. I use Vienna Ensemble Pro (VEPro) to host all of my virtual instruments (VIs) and I have every instrument set up as a multi-out so I can add audio plugins to any corresponding VI aux track in Cubase. This may sound complicated but it’s fairly simple once you understand the routing. MOTU was convinced that VEPro was causing the problem but the audio bundles would still randomly disappear even when all of the VIs were hosted in DP’s V-Rack.

I will say that Cubase has a bit of a steeper learning curve if you’re used to the other DAWs. It took me a little bit to get acclimated to it but once I did my efficiency at least tripled. My main audio interface is a Universal Audio Apollo Quad. It’s a great “all-in-one” unit that has really clean sounding microphone pre-amps and nice AD/DA (analog- > digital, digital -> analog) converters. The MIDI interface I use is a MOTU MIDI Express XT. Honestly, it’s most finicky piece of gear I’ve ever owned but since I have a handful of instruments (DSI Pro-2, Arturia MiniBrute, Elektron Analog Rytm to name a few) that can be controlled via MIDI it seems to do the trick. One of the best purchases I’ve made is a Behringer BCF2000 MIDI fader controller. I use it mainly to control the level of dialogue, sound effects, temp score, and my own score. Having the ability to quickly control the mix of all of those things is especially important if you’re doing live playbacks for directors and producers. Acquiring a lot of gear may sound great in theory but the more things you add to your rig the more potential technical problems you may have. There’s definitely a sweet spot for the amount of gear you should buy; if a piece a gear isn’t going to make your workflow more streamlined or your music sound better you probably shouldn’t buy it.

Are there any tools you simply can’t work without? If so what are they and why?

Other than Kontakt, which is an incredible piece of software, VEPro is one of the most revolutionary programs to come out in recent years. It’s a must-have if you’re looking to work as a film composer. Now that most software is 64-bit you can load a massive amount of VIs into your RAM. If you’re working on one computer like I am and you’ve got a decent amount of RAM you’ll most likely run into processing issues before RAM issues. Pro Tools is extremely important for everyone to learn, even film composers.

It’s the industry standard in all of the recording studios and you simply won’t be able to avoid it. That’s okay though, out of all of the DAWs it’s probably the easiest to learn. I would also add Cubase to this list; I highly doubt I’ll be going back to another DAW unless a project specifically demands it. In my opinion, between expression mapping and its ability to create multi-outs with one click of a button it’s by far the best DAW for a film composer. There’s a reason most of the composers at Remote Control Productions (Hans Zimmer’s studio) use Cubase. Lastly, real instruments. Every composer owns the same sample libraries so I feel the best way to make your sound stand out amongst the crowd is to incorporate as many live instruments as possible into your writing.

Let us talk about The Murder Pact. What was your role on the project and how was the collaboration with the SPELLES?

I was hired as the composer for the film so it was my job to not only score it but also write an original song that one of the actresses could perform on screen. Writing “Deadly Romance” with Kathryn (SPELLES) was a great experience because I’m so used to turning off the world and going into my cave when working on a project. We worked on the song together for about a month sending ideas back and forth; she worked on her vocals and the lyrics while I focused on the music. It was the first time I’ve gotten to write a song for a project and I’ve got to say it was pretty fun. “Deadly Romance” appears three times in the film. First, during the main titles when Alex PenaVega’s character Camille is performing on screen. It then appears in its actual recorded form that you hear on the soundtrack during the choreographed masquerade dance during the climax of the film. Lastly, it plays in the end credits.

You were also working on some game projects (Modern Warfare 3, Far Cry 3, Assassin’s Creed: Black flag). What do you think was the major difference between working with games and motion picture?

I think the biggest difference is the amount of music you have to write. Big game franchises like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed can require over three hours of music, which is a hefty amount of work. This is why it’s common to see more than one composer on a game. You also may be required to write music that is “loopable”. It’s not always the case but some game companies do ask for that, it just depends on how they implement the music into their game. The process is actually quite different as well. Typically in film you write the entire score and then record it. In video games they might have milestones, meaning you’ll need to deliver a chunk of music at a certain point then focus on the next chunk which means you’ll have to do multiple recording sessions.

Even though picture editors will cut film until the very last second of delivery you’ll have to be even more flexible with games. Games are constantly evolving so you might even need to go back and revisit certain things. Far Cry 3 is one example of that; the game went through a handful of different iterations so with each new direction of the game we had to take the score in a new direction.

Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?

I will say the thing that will get you in the most trouble is procrastination. Deadlines are deadlines and should never be missed. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals for yourself and if you stick to them you will be successful. My only other thought is that anticipation is everything in this industry. This is especially true as a composer’s assistant; you have to be able to stop problems before they could ever happen. If you can do that, you’ll have no problem finding and keeping work.

Any hints, tips or motivational speeches for the readers?

Be patient, have thick skin, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you really need it. Pursuing a career as a film composer can be frustrating for a lot of reasons. It takes a lot of time to not only perfect your craft but establish working relationships as well. It’s a very political profession and you’ll see people get lucky and score a giant project right out of the gate but don’t let that get to you. There are basically two paths you can take when you make the move out to Los Angeles. You can either assist an established composer, pay your dues and work up the ranks that way or you can try your hand at making your own relationships and scoring your own projects. If you’re especially crazy like me you can try to do both. Even though this profession will drive you mad at times it’s extremely rewarding; there’s no better feeling than hearing an orchestra play your music. Always remember to value your own work and take pride in what you do.