To write music quickly, grab the low hanging fruit first and keep moving. Don’t get hung up on anything. The thing about moving fast is that you’re having more fun, and if you’re having more fun the creative sparks are gonna fly. If you’re stuck on a problem and you can’t move forward, if you’re beginning to self-doubt or get bored, move right past it. Stick to the fun stuff. Go for the low hanging fruit and gather it all up, because that high hanging fruit somehow gets closer. When you start solving those easy problems, other things that you thought were going to be a problem end up solved.
Film music budgets have come down, which is a tragedy, but the technology has gone up, which is a great leveler. There was once a time when the equipment to make a film score was very expensive. The fact that you can now do the same thing and more, much more, on a laptop is a great leveler, which means that that kid with the cool ideas has the same wherewithal to do a score as somebody with all that gear.
The budget has never been a restricting factor for me. A lot of times a constriction, an obstacle, is a key to a great revelation. If I have a shot that doesn’t work I need to do something. If I’m in G and I need to P minor, how am I going to do that? If you can’t hire an orchestra, what can you do that’s going to be sonorous and sinuous and does what an orchestra does? You solve that problem, and the solution to that problem is going to be revolutionary and really cool. You scratch your head and you come up with something, and that’s called inspiration. So whatever the limitation is, limitations are often a good thing and increase creativity.
A director who is considering hiring you as a composer is not going to evaluate you based on your education. He’s going to listen to the music. A demo reel. A show reel. That’s it. I can say I was a member of The Police and that might move my music to the top of the pile so they’ll listen to it first. But they don’t give a rat’s ass what your credentials are, they’re listening to the music. If it rings for them, you’re in. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter what your credentials are.
If you understand that film composing is a craft, not pure art, you’ll be more effective as a composer. Even though it’s only craft the film composer can hold his head up high, because the film composer has a wider skill set than any other kind of musician. More than a rock band musician, a songwriter, a symphonic composer, you name it.
The skills to score a film can be arrived at very quickly. You just have to be good with computers and you have to do a lot of it, and you’ll pick it up really quickly. I don’t think you need to go to college just for that. What you need to go to college for, the next level, is where it gets really interesting, which is what you aspire to. You want to keep growing, you want to do more than you can just do with a couple little toys. If you get good at it then you want to get really good at it and you want to expand your vocabulary. That’s where training comes in, and growth, and learning. Actually that stuff that they put on the page is really cool. It really is a wonderful thing to put music onto a page and tune it and tweak it and decorate it in such a way that the orchestra really hits with impact.
I am someone who is mystified by procrastination. I don’t even understand how that works. The process of procrastination seems like something so against human nature. To be able to watch TV, or stare out the window, or do anything other than address the mission is incomprehensible to me. I get home from a spotting session and I have the thing half written. I can’t eat, breathe, drink, do anything until I’m on it, and that’s where the obsession hits.
When it comes to demos my philosophy is no excuses, no explanations. I don’t want to be doing caveats or apologies. I just say "Here, check it out." You might have options, that’s another way to go. Options are a good thing to have when the director says "I don’t like it" and he’s trying not to make eye contact with his producer yet. If you give them a couple great demos then you have a conversation going rather than a rejection.
People with orchestral chops to write for orchestra, the John Williams of the world, will never be threatened because there are certain types of movies that will only use that kind of music. But this is about guerrilla composing. Setting orchestral scores aside, the industry is actually a great place at the moment because you can survive on the basis of your talents and your skills, not on the basis of the head start that you have.
There is no other musician in the world of music that has more of a skill set than the film composer. He has to write music for every instrument, every genre, every time period, every cultural environment. Wild western, space fiction, period drama, ethnic adventure, the film composer has to go into all types of music that a pure artist would never go into. The film composer has to address a director’s very specific emotional message and to be able to create that, exactly that. A film composer needs a lot of skills.
Production value is the sum of what you can afford and what your imagination can create. If you're creative, you can create a very fat rich sound on crap equipment. It’s very handy to have a 90 piece orchestra in a big studio, but if that’s not in your budget you’ve got to do something else. Looking for production value can be getting one great player and one great microphone. That should be within the budget.
Production value will come from having a good base, and having a good base is setting it up right. I suggest to people that they just slap some music on every scene. Decide where music starts, add a rhythm, something, anything, and move on. Without much thought, work your way down the movie from beginning to end and then go back to the top. Add more detail informed by what you did in other sections, and keep going back around in a circular workflow. This business of whizzing through it sounds like just a dodge, but in fact you’re giving yourself a much better foundation because when you address 1m7, the scene where he meets the girl for the first time, you now know where everything’s going to end up. You’ll address that scene informed by the whole movie rather than just looking at that scene. The basis of what’s going to be your production value is much more solidly founded.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Stewart Copeland has spent three decades in the forefront of contemporary music as a rock star, acclaimed film composer and film maker, and a much sort-after composer in the disparate worlds of opera, ballet, world music and chamber music composition. His list of achievements is indicative of an artist that has truly done it all, including being a founding member and drummer of the multiple platinum selling super group The Police, composer of music in films, such as Rumble Fish and Wall Street, and composer for TV shows, video games, movie trailers, ballets, symphonies, operas, and more. His awards include six Grammys, two BRIT awards, and nominations for a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Globe.