January 5th 2018: A new year is upon us! The last 6 months has seen the completion of the Gutterbound album project which turned out way better than any of us (myself or the band) had imagined. Creativity can take many forms, and for a couple years, due to the GB project and a few others, my creative energy was very much involved in the production and mixing of music rather than the composition of it. There were so many times during that particular journey where I felt my skills weren't being utilized and that much that I had tried so hard to achieve in my work as a composer, were probably slipping away due to lack of exercise. I suppose I could have spent a LOT more time composing, but the truth is that I came out on the other end of the GB project as 4 x the mixer I was before it started. I worked so incredibly hard on that project, that it was immediately obvious that, as a financial endeavor, it wasn't really worth even minimum wage, perhaps not even half of that. However, the skills, and really even more, just the "feel" I got for crafting a balance in a mix, are really invaluable to all of the music I will produce in the future, film scoring included. My point is that, sometimes you feel like you have embarked on the wrong journey, but it may be worth finishing the trip anyway. This was certainly the case in this situation.
In the meantime, I did indeed have a few other scoring gigs pop up! After Pens to Lens 2017 wrapped, I continued working for multiple directors involved in a variety of side projects. I scored the short horror film "Trapped" for director Andrew Gleason. You can view Trapped on my Videos page.
Director Thomas Nicol hired me for a 30 second Lego Halloween-themed spot "Candy Thief"which turned around easily and was much fun.
Directors Andrew Gleason and Thomas Nicol teamed up to produce commercial spots for fellow filmmakers and entrepreneurs Anne and Chris Lukeman who own the Champaign/Urbana Adventures in Time and Space, an escape room. One commercial was an epic adventure theme and the second, a horror-based theme, still yet to be released but the music has been completed.
Most recently, the Howard G Buffet Foundation commissioned Heroic Age Studios to provide a series of promotional spots for a new Agricultural Science Center to be built in Decatur Il with funds donated by the foundation. Heroic Age Studios has hired me to provide music for the spots, with one 12 second spot completed and a 30 second spot currently in production.
On a final note, and perhaps most noteworthy, the short film by director Mike Boedicker, "The Sheriff's Children", was released onto the festival circuit this past summer and has picked up multiple awards including "Best Music"! at the "Prairie State Film Festival"!!! This is a first for me and very VERY exciting. The film was about 20 minutes long with maybe half of it scored. It was the first score I had produced with live players complimenting the score. We commissioned Nicolaj Nielsen of Denmark to play violin and provide live cello as well. It obviously had a profound effect on the score and I am so thankful for his amazing work at making my music come to life.
July 19th 2017: Well it would seem by the date, these updates are only coming annually. I will do my best to remember the major points since the last entry.
I am currently working on the 2nd batch of Gutterbound songs. I almost didn't want to post this, as it might seem that this project has dragged-on far longer than it ever should have, but there is a happy ending to this, and a good reason for this long, weary road to completion. The main truth of the matter, is that it is never easy to get the schedules of 6 adults, all living individual personal and professional lives, to work together in a collaboration. That has been the main time killer. At times, I was chomping at the bit, trying to get the various band members in when their schedules just couldn't fit it in. Other times, they were ready but I was the one tied-up with other projects. The happy part of the story at this stage, is that for one, the newer batch of songs that Chris Lourash brought to the table are above and beyond the first batch. We are talking about 14 songs in total when this project completes. The other extreme positive, and a harder one to admit, is that I am far better prepared this time for the mixing stage. It's never easy to say that you aren't the definition of professionalism, but I have mixed and studied mixing very diligently over the past three years. Two of those years have occurred since the beginning of this Gutterbound project. A preliminary mix I started last night resulted in a very fun, powerful listen. Gone are the ghosts of the past mixes that haunted me. Here to stay are the newly fought-for skills and a certain mixing maturity that I just hadn't earned yet before. I am very much looking forward to presenting this project later this year as a finished project and also as the new pinnacle of record production in Central Illinois.
Also completed in the last year was a new demo reel for Heroic Age Studios. It presented a lot of challenges by virtue of it's variety. That said, Eric and Tim of Heroic Age seemed to love it. It was also another example of how far along the mixing and arranging skills have come. It is a life-long pursuit that I know will never end, but it is indeed nice to have my earlier work to compare it to. It tells me I've come a long way.
Most recently, as every year for the past 5 years, I have contributed to the Pens to Lens writing competition film production process. Again this year, like last, I decided to take a reasonable approach to the amount of work I was willing to do. I scored two films. One is "Writer's Block" for Thomas Nicol and Andrew Gleason as well as Standing Rock 19,000, Mascots 0", directed by Rachel Berry. Both films allowed me to express my love of Thomas Newman's style. I have listened to Newman's work a lot this past year, which is not difficult at all. He has become one of my all-time favorite composers. I am certainly NOT him, but a composer can try, right?
Lastly, it was a year of upgrades, some forced out of necessity, and others just because it was time to solidify my sound. I smelled spmething burning a few months back while in the studio. That's probably never a good thing. By sheer luck (and sticking my head inside my PC's case) I figured out that my power supply was failing. Fortunately, it didn't harm anything else. But as with so many things I do, I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I ordered a RAM upgrade, operating system upgrade and two new hard drives. Once all of that was installed (a two week process) I was up and running again. Shortly after upgrading the computer, I also upgraded my orchestral libraries by adding the Spitfire Symphonic Orchestra, upgrading my Hollywood Orchestra to the Diamond version, picked-up the Hans Zimmer (HZ-01) percussion library, as well as a few other smaller libraries. All in all, it really helped with the last three film projects I have completed.
This is basically it for now. Enjoy the summer everyone! It's almost over :)
More recently I tackled three short films as well as a film trailer. The "2016 Pens to Lens" trailer has been added to the "Videos" page so please feel free to check it out. In addition to the trailer, I also scored the short film "The Goldfish" directed by Thomas Nicol. The film is about a young girl and her coping mechanism for dealing with the death of her mother. The second film is "Hello Fear" directed by Andrew Gleason. The film is a story of a boy dealing with a monster living in a dark corner of his bedroom. The third film I scored this summer which was for the "21 Film Project", was "Coming Soon" directed by Hugh Sulivan. It was a short thriller based on the haunted Lincoln Theater of Decatur Il. All in all it was just the right amount of work to have for the summer. It kept me hopping but still allowed some time to enjoy my summer with family and friends.
As of this past week, I have signed on for a short film (20 minutes) titled "The Sheriff's Children" directed by Mike Boedicker. It's a great film starring the talented William Kephart as well as several other great actors. It's presenting itself as an opportunity for me to write a score quite unlike anything I have ever done before which is a huge plus straight out of the gate. The film is scheduled to be finished this fall.
At the end of August, I held our first meeting on the techniques and theory behind audio recording levels, equalization, compression, multi-band compression, side-chain compression (ducking) and all combinations of those elements. We watched some video material that I had found to be of great help in getting some of the concepts into my brain. The feedback was very positive. After watching some material and having a lot of discussion, we opened up a recent film project and I demonstrated the techniques I had used to get good levels for dialogue, music, and foley, all at the same time, without struggling to hear the dialogue, and not loosing the feel of the music. It can be a complicated series of events getting to the final product, but as we experienced, not nearly as difficult once a few major concepts are understood.
Then, in the first two weeks of September, we've had two meetings on the techniques/art of writing and producing music for film. This is actually a more difficult subject for me to approach. Although I'd say that I have spent way more time and effort at film scoring, than recording and mixing, it kind of blindsides you for a second when someone asks you about a certain score or passage you wrote and says essentially, "So how did you come up with that"? I don't know that I had really anticipated this really obvious question and direction for the discussion. I can talk all day about how I use Cubase, Kontakt, Play, Omnisphere, and a thousand other electronic or software toys to make music, to design soundscapes, to increase the realism of an orchestral performance, but to explain how there was nothing there before, and now there is something, that's hard to put into words, and even if I could find them, I still think I'd fail to explain, because honestly, when you love the film, and you believe the emotions of the characters that you are underscoring, it just comes from the heart. It sounds cheesy but it's true. Now with that said, I have played piano and synthesizers for years. I have learned many songs that made me feel sad, or happy, or angry. You pick up on what those musical cliches are and you are able to implement them into your own song, piece, orchestration, whatever.
When you decide "I want to write music for movies", if you truly feel moved to do that, it's because you feel that you have something to say, something to add to the collaborative art of storytelling in this medium. If you are saying that, you probably already have some emotions in your pocket that you could pull out at any time, and lay down into a soundtrack. If you are one of those aspiring types (aren't we all) you should honestly just sit down at your instrument, pull up a scene, whether it be in your head, or something already on film, and immediately lay your hands on your instrument and make it happen. If someone on screen is having an intensely, sad emotional experience, what is your chord? Your scale? Your motif? What if they are only slightly sad, or reflective on something sad in the past? What if it's rage you need to portray? What motif then? What sound/instrument? If you use that distorted buzz-saw synth sound now, will it fit within the context of the rest of the score? Then later, when you are actually working with directors or producers, what are their parameters they have set? What do they like? What films? What instruments? What is their take on what the characters are feeling if it isn't obvious?
Food for thought right? So for now, go back to the beginning of the questions and ask yourself, with your instrument sitting in front of you, how do I convey this scene? Just go make that happen right now, and see what you come up with. Please, feel free to tell me (or show me), what you did. Till next time!