Paul Englishby interview

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Brief list of credits

Luther, An Education, The Musketeers, Skylight, The Audience

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?

I’m a UK based composer working in Film, TV and the theatre. I studied composition at Goldsmiths’ College, London and at the Royal Academy of Music. I’m also a jazz pianist and run my own band.

You may have just caught my music for “Luther” on BBC America, starring Idris Elba, or the movie “A Royal Night Out”. I’m currently writing the score for the BBC’s “The Musketeers”, as well as working on a full length ballet.

What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?

I like to mix up what I do in the sense that I couldn’t be just a TV composer, or just work in the theatre, as some do. I may be writing a movie score one month, then be in an opera house for a dance piece the next, and then gigging with my band. It’s important to me that a composer is active wherever there is call for music, not just one medium.

Also, each medium informs the others for me. I’ve begun introducing film scoring techniques into my theatre scores, for example. I scored the play “The Audience” starring Helen Mirren, which ran on Broadway last year, in a very subtle filmic way employing lots of flexible underscore. I’ve learnt a huge amount about dramatic structure and character from working a lot with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and that seeps into the way I approach screen work etc..

Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?

I use Cubase 8 Pro, with an Apollo Quad interface. A Focusrite Control 2802 desk, which can switch between audio and DAW; I have a Doepfer LMK4 weighted keyboard and a pair of Pre Sonus Sceptre monitor speakers.

I’ll often start at the piano – I have a Yamaha upright – as I’m a pianist, or sketch on paper; so I should add : a pencil and manuscript paper.

What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)

It depends on the project, but at the moment as I’m doing a big orchestral score, my starting point for a demo setup would be Project SAM’s Symphobia, Spitfire Audio stuff, The Hollywood instruments, and various Kontakt percussion instruments depending on the requirements of the cue.

“Luther” is a different set up altogether. I use more synths, my own voice, some live, heavily processed strings, electric guitar and industrial sounding percussion. On this last Season I used Guitar Rig a lot, iZotope’s Nectar 2 on my voice, Signal by Output, for Synth Pulses, and I’ll always have Omnisphere 2 at hand.

When do you find you are most creative?

It’s difficult to say, because we are all constantly open to the flow of ideas, so I’ll often wake in the night with a solution to a problem; or sometimes one has to work through it at the keyboard until something comes.

If I’m lucky, a bunch of ideas will come after reading a script or seeing a piece of film for the first time, or having a productive creative meeting, and I can’t wait to get them out into the sequencer or onto paper.

What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?

We do a spotting session first of all, which is where director and editor, composer and producer sit and watch the film and decide where, and what kind of music there should be. What it’s function is; where it should sit in the background or be allowed to soar.

I then work from a QuickTime .mov file of the film or TV episode laid up in my sequencer. I’ll usually do a pass of the whole thing before I play it to the director. So that means all the music cues in demo form, using virtual instruments, so I can get a sense of the whole thing rather than tackling one cue at a time and getting into detailed discussions. I can see where I’m aiming for at the climax that way, and ease the score out to create a musical arc.

We then go backwards and forwards a bit with creative notes on what I’ve come up with until everyone is happy. Then any midi tracks that are to be replaced with live instruments get recorded, which could be anything from full orchestra to just a couple of soloists, and the whole score is then mixed, to be sent to the final sound mix of the film.

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?

I learnt early on that you have to come up with something! Don’t wait around for the perfect cue to happen. You can always revise and improve, but there needs to be something to work with. Sketch something in and come back to it. You’ll be surprised what you can create without the fear of making a mistake.

Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?

I have sung on quite a few of my scores, and the results are sometimes pretty unrecognisable as a voice, because I use the notes I sing as a basis for heavy experimentation with effects.

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

Generally at the start of a project, don’t hand anything over too early in an effort to impress at how quick and efficient you are. Give it another day and listen again.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?

Write every day. Build your musical muscles and gain musical vocabulary. I always equate composing to Jazz improvisation. You need the tools and the structural know- how, then you are free to fill in with your creativity.