Watch Jennifer Saunders Episode 2, 9pm ITV1 Thursday.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?
I’m a composer/music writer working in television and occasionally film. My music is used on British television channels and my clients have included ITV, Channel 5, Spun Gold Productions, Tiger Aspect, BBC3, Channel 4, Sky Television and one or two independent film makers. I am also a theatrical director, improv performer and session musician.
What is your niche or specialty, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?
I just try to be ‘me’ on every project I take on. There are much better musicians than I, far better composers. Television can be quite pressurised, quick turnarounds – working in collaboration with a director who really knows what they want is a hugely satisfying process. I enjoy storytelling and making the programme as excellent as possible, and am not afraid to get my hands dirty with any style. I think my speciality is in not hanging on to a bad idea for a second too long. Always be ready to adapt to the ever changing creative environment of editors, exec producers, directors..the elements in play at all times. As David Foster said ‘there’s only twelve notes and Beethoven said them all better than you’.
Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?
My core system for music production is an Intel i7 2600K with an SSD system drive, 32GB ram and a host of sample libraries across several drives running Cubase 6.5. I use an Axiom 49 for most musical inputting, with an Yamaha S90ES weighted board for more expressive work. I play guitar and bass too, and use a James Tyler Variax or it’s amazing versatility and a Yamaha BB614 bass.
What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)
Omnisphere, Albion, Symphobia, Orchestral Essentials, TONS of Kontakt stuff, from tiny libraries to all the well known stuff. Love the Abbey Road drums too. Kontakt 5’s own library has some interesting hidden gems.
When do you find you are most creative?
When I am under pressure. This, I believe, is the usual disposition for a media composer!
What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?
I talk in broad brush strokes with directors, editors or producers. I’ll do my best to quickly find a reference point for us both so that I can avoid any ‘musical’ language. Maybe a song they like, a film they like, sometimes talking in emotions rather than literal reference points. If picture is available, I’ll start generating rough ideas in Cubase, get them to a satisfying sound and send over for feedback. Sometimes I’ll ask for a little longer to make a few mistakes and try a few radical things. Always dependant on the type of show. The most enjoyable process by far, and not always the most readily available in television is sitting down scoring straight to a locked or nearly-there picture. In this instance I will generally write either a piano melody or a rhythm first, then I’ll move onto the harmony (sometimes the other way round). If I’m approaching something anti-melodic, then I might start the process with textures, almost like a sound designer would.
Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?
I think that having a deep understanding of what everyone is trying to achieve is essential. I will always push the director or whomever is in the driving seat for as much background on their intentions as possible. It’s no good spending three days building a symphonic template and slaving over it’s mix only to realise I didn’t listen to the director when he was trying to tell me the bloke in the scene was only going to be eating his corn flakes without a scrap of hidden meaning or emotion. In terms of kick starting the process, I feel it generally comes naturally to me when I know what the direction is. Pressure helps. I do procrastinate and stare out of windows a LOT!
Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?
I sampled spoons into a drum kit once, that was fun. I find NI Guitar Rig is a great filter for making boring sounds great. I will sometimes duplicate a simple Fender Rhodes or piano track a couple of times adding really destructive effects on the later channels to see what comes back, then sweep them in and out during the gaps. I also made a kit out of horse sounds I made with my mouth for my latest project. I seem to have a bespoke drumkit fetish, don’t I?
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
Back everything up twice. And then back it up again.
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Composing for media is a high pressure job. It requires creativity on demand, on somebody else’s deadline, and you need to make it sound as near to perfection as possible. Directors, producers, and even editors won’t always understand how you do what you do, but will still likely expect you to do it in half the time, for a third the money (not always), with twice the friendly attitude.
Be prepared to take a lot of shit about your precious work – sometimes you will need to draw the line, so do it positively. Always be smiling, and always be moving their project forward for them, in your words and your actions.
Stay good humoured. Remember that your boss might be having a bad day. You are not the only person on the team and the world doesn’t revolve around you. If you can be a ray of light when the pressure is on, deliver great work and be a person that people want to be around, you will almost certainly be hired again. Unravel the mystery of composing for them in simple terms, don’t ever discuss Bb diminished or 16khz or plug-in latency. Absolutely always do your very best work like your life depends on it because you never know who is listening to it. And learn how to charge money for things, you will be valued more for it in the long term.