2019 Manifesto: Less Cape, More Apron.
Happy New Year!
“Be brief”, they said. “People don’t read anymore”, they opined. …so, naturally, here are a bunch of words!
I always understood that a landmine for media composers was to become a jack-of-all styles, but master of none. Probably around the time of the last recession (irony), I fell prey to this syndrome; losing a connection to my personal musical voice in the service of branded-content. I had become more of a craftsman, less of an artist.
Little did I know that in 2014, when my love-affair with modular synthesis started, that it would set me on a new, exciting, scary, yet deeply satisfying journey. During these last five years, I’ve obsessively pursued new ways of creating sound and new techniques for composing and performing music. I went back to school. In doing so, I regained my voice. The surprising outcome is how these new techniques—though rooted in electronic music—have influenced every style of music I now tackle. From a deeper understanding of waveforms and sonic construction, to algorithmic and minimal composition techniques, even when I approach an orchestra it’s now with an appreciation and love of the power of music, but mostly the personal nature of music.
Put another way, it’s the composer version of: it’s ok to be me. Or rather, it’s vital to be me. To speak the language of music from my own perspective.
Since setting off on my own in 2017 (a story for another missive or to be shared over a beer), I’ve had the pleasure of working as a ghost composer for many of my former competitors. This too has been an eye-opening and educational undertaking. I did not anticipate what a rich experience it would be to get to know and collaborate with so many talented composers and producers. And when I say ‘so many’…wow; from my days at Comma I always knew that the field was stacked with fierce competition, but I had no idea how stacked it really was!
On top of this impressive field of talent, the last decade has brought the steady rise of the Agency Music Producer alongside it’s corollary: the increasing influence of the Music Supervisor methodology. In many cases, these roles and the new processes they’ve spawned have been used to great effect. To these forces one can add the appearance of countless, relatively high-quality Music Libraries, and we can begin to understand the intense fragmentation within what was once the oddball, niche backwater of Music for Ads. The former do-it-all mentality of ‘my music guy’ has been supplanted with a bifurcated process that is now either hyper-specialized (“find me the world’s absolute best didgeridoo/acid house producer”) or…a mere commodity (“let’s do a pull and put 550 tracks against picture!”). Add to this bifurcated cake (bifurcaked?), a layer of frosting made from the intense desire to latch on to the brand-equity of a known artist. That is, the cultural power of having a project associated with a name talent. There are many choices and many, many fine ways to cook your music. To bake your cake.
Despite these ongoing trends, I always knew where I fit in within this new dynamism. (Continuing the cake metaphor, I’d like to be the butter…but that’s also a story for another time.) But I don’t think it’s been easy for everyone else to understand where I fit in.
As work on my own music, aka Dudadius, has steadily grown, I’ve also gained a passion for long-form scoring and made some interesting connections in that world. I hope to share some projects with you in the coming months. As for Dudadius, my latest pursuit has been figuring out how to perform my electronic music live. And by that I mean, truly live. No computer, no DJ system. A bunch of analog synths, a keyboard, and a hardware sequencer. Go! It’s improvisational and scary and I love it. I got a few test performances under my belt in 2018 and I was chuffed to be asked to perform at this year’s big electronic music expo to be held in March in Burbank, called Synthplex.
As for the long-form scoring, that’s an adventure that I suspect will be a years-long transition, as things—appropriately—move slowly in that arena. But I’m off to the races (even though it’s a race of turtles) and excited by where that road may lead.
Given my personal evolution and the evolution of the industry, how might you think of me? Where do I fit in within the branded-content space?
An analogy. Just as a movie might call for a Music Supervisor AND a Scoring Composer, I see a crack within our crowded universe for the role of a specialized, personal music voice. I recognize that the projects I will describe require particular creative needs and particular personalities (if your reading this, you’re probably a ‘friend’ and a ‘particular personality’). I believe that there are productions that can benefit from a more highly-personalized, nimble musical voice; when you want a Scoring Composer on the other end of the line, instead of a Music Producer or Supervisor. Put another way, think of me as less of a synth or electronic specialist (though guilty as charged) or an old-school orchestrator (check), and more as a **Musical Collaborator**. When fearless experimentation is called for, or nimble scoring is the order of the day. When you want to cut through the layers, and get right to the crux of the biscuit…or the cake. Whatever. That would be my jam. Or my butter.
Consider these recent examples: the music direction suddenly changes the day a project is set to ship, and you need a new, tightly-scored track composed and produced overnight. Or similarly, you wake up with a brainstorm to ditch the big orchestral score we’ve been refining for weeks and want to explore a percussive approach featuring spoons (an older example, but also on the ship day, also award-winning!). Or you need someone who learns a couple days before the recording date with a 55-piece orchestra on the other side of the world that the planned orchestrator was not booked, so he happily orchestrates and preps all the parts himself. Someone who can pivot and deliver changes or whole new ideas in a matter of hours or minutes instead of weeks or days. Those are real situations in which direct communication and ego-less jumping into the void produced amazing results! Those are the scenarios when I’d like you to think of me!
I appreciate now more than ever: my friends at the traditional music companies are great. These days, to compliment the activities of the Agency Music Producers, I notice the music shops tend to play the role of Curator and Producer. This can be an apt service for many productions. Same with Music Supervision. I am neither a Curator nor a Supervisor. I don’t own any capes. But when a project calls for a more personal role—scoring composer meets sonic experimenter—that’s when I’d like for you to think of me!
Given this new model, I’ve organized myself as more of a label, Beeker, the two artists on my label being me and my close associate, Dudadius (also me). That said, naturally I have many artist and composer friends, and when the need arises I happily call on them to either collaborate, provide a different point of view on a project, or contribute a specialty not in my own wheelhouse (e.g. hip hop). But going back to my movie composer metaphor: I’m still the Head of Department (apologies to @chensonmusic) and I maintain a ‘down in the weeds’ mentality with the details of the music. Or to dredge up the cake metaphor: I’m the one weighing and mixing the ingredients. That’s where I like to live. Usually wearing an apron.
As for 2019, it looks like I’m kicking it off by working on a nice campaign for a technology company. I’m currently booking a new round of shows for Dudadius (Synthplex in March!). I’m cultivating some interesting opportunities in the film world, including a collaboration with singer/songwriter friend Claire Holley (headed to LA in a couple of weeks for more work in that area). Building the plane, baking the cake!
I hope this missive finds you well and that these words help you understand how to think of me and Beeker and Dudadius. I wish you a happy, fulfilling, challenging yet rewarding 2019!