Becoming a Composer

Composing

Around 1998, I started writing music for my stories.

Before filmmaking was a fully-formed desire – computer animation intrigued me more – I had started writing mini-novels. They were just rip-offs of Star Wars and Star Trek, but I found myself enjoying the process of discovering characters and getting to know them through their thoughts, words, and actions.

(Throughout this post, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to various works I’ve created. Many of these were for fellow Boise filmmakers’ projects. I hope to be able to compose for more filmmakers!)

Several years prior to that, my father’s love of movie soundtracks had passed on to me, but I found that there was something unsatisfactory sitting with my characters while listening to music meant for someone else. My mother had tried to orchestrate piano lessons for me as a young teen, but they hadn’t interested me, and I never learned how to read sheet music.

The music was in my head, though. I grabbed an old tape recorder and would hum the melodies, then take the tape to the piano and find the notes. For a while, I tried recording music from an old 80s midi keyboard into that tape recorder, but it wasn’t enough to scratch the itch.

To the internet I went, and found my first midi sequencer, the freeware program “Anvil Studio”. I didn’t care for the General Midi sounds, so more late 90s internet searches brought me to a program called “Wingroove” that would allow me to play my MIDI compositions through a slightly improved (but still terrible sounding) instrument library.

As I began to make short films in the early ‘00s, I wasn’t interested in ripping CDs for the soundtracks – I’d already been hooked on the idea of my own music in my own films. Several years and several programs down the line, I now work in Logic Pro X, and use EastWest’s Composer Cloud service for my instruments.

I never have enough time to write music. If I were able to split myself into three people, one of those people would be a composer full-time. As a writer/director, a significant part of my process in developing my characters remains the composition of conceptual music. I’m not as married to the idea of my music being the final track – in fact I thoroughly love collaborating with more talented musicians – but the act of writing the emotional truth and presence of the story is something that informs everything for me.

Music is crucial for my understanding of a moment, a line, a motive. Once I hear it, I can live without it, as there is such a thing as too much music in a soundtrack – characters and events on a screen should stand on their own before the music gets there – but composition remains thoroughly embedded in my pre-production processes. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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