Method to the Madness

It has been about 6 months now since Nate and I really got this company rolling. We decided that the best way to “kill two birds with one stone” (and in this case more like 3, 4, or 5 birds...sorry birds) was to compose a new piece of music each week, record it for video and audio, and throw it up on several social media outlets. This accomplishes many things.

First off, it develops a discipline to write each week, which is essential to treating this like a job even though we love it. Much like a staff writer for a newspaper would show up and have to write each day whether they were “in the mood” to or not. We can’t always sit and wait for the muse to reveal itself. Composing is a craft.

Secondly, it allows us to find our sound not only in terms of what gear we use, (hardware, software, instruments, recording techniques, etc) but also the “sound” of Nate and I’s composing together. Often times we show up with no ideas and start improvising until something comes out that we both like and then follow it to its natural conclusion. I’m still in awe of this process and grateful to be a part of it. To start with nothing and then have a song seemingly out of thin air is kind of astonishing and exciting to me every time.

Thirdly, it allows us to explore our writing chemistry. How do we communicate ideas to each other? How do we tell each other we don’t dig what the other guy is doing in a constructive way? How do we foster creativity in a work space? How do we keep things fresh and not repeat ourselves? How do we keep true to ourselves and write what we love? These are all questions we’ve explored in great detail.

Next, it allows us to market ourselves using various social media outlets to promote ourselves, our music, and our brand. Each week we upload a new music video to Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. This is a vital step in making people aware that we exist and so far we seem to be growing at a steady rate.

And finally, it allows us to build a music library. After all, we are a music house with the goal of producing music for all types of media. Over the last six months we have written more than twenty five pieces of new music, not to mention the short film, short documentary, and podcast we scored last year. All of this content adds up to a growing music library that is ours to show to potential clients and use for licensing.

In closing I’ll say that we’re really having a blast doing this. I know I can speak for Nate too when I say that we’re so grateful to be composing together. Finding someone whom you have great writing chemistry with and also like to hang out with is kind of precious. It doesn’t come along too often.

We’ll keep writing and we hope you all keep listening! Thanks for your love and support as always.

 

- Matt 

Studio Renovations Part 2

The studio is officially done (give or take some furniture) and Matt and I have been using it for about 2 months now. It was a pretty slow process but it sped up once we hired a crew to get things going. 

The last step in the studio's progress I wrote about was putting up the drywall. Underneath the drywall we used insulation and we layered the drywall with green glue sound proofing to get the most sound isolation we could. This is, after all, my house with my living room directly below the studio so all the sound proofing we could get would be invited. 

So with that done, it was time to cover up the corners, use mud to level out the walls and cover the edges of the drywall and add texture. 

Me holding my baby and speaking to a contractor. You can see the corners and drywall ends have been leveled using the mud.

Me holding my baby and speaking to a contractor. You can see the corners and drywall ends have been leveled using the mud.

Texture and paint have been added to make it a seamless room. 

Texture and paint have been added to make it a seamless room. 

With that done it was time to tackle the floors. We decided to use an engineered wood floor since it was the closest to actual hardwood we could find and it looks pretty awesome too. Before laying down the wood, we laid down a layer of rubber underlayment who's purpose is to dampen and absorb impact noise (such as footsteps) and airborne noise (such as audio coming from my speakers). We didn't get the thickest underlayment and we didn't get the thinnest, we got the middle-of-the-line one. 

Underlayment rubber-side-down. 

Underlayment rubber-side-down. 

Now you can start laying down the wood floor. 

The room is finally starting to look like a room with the wood floor!

The room is finally starting to look like a room with the wood floor!

My dog Finn and an almost completed room. 

My dog Finn and an almost completed room. 

Once the wood floor was completed, I was finally able to start moving in my gear. 

Moving in!

Moving in!

With everything finished, the very last step was the dreaded wood wall. My wife and I started it and my farther-in-law finished it for us since he did so much work on the room anyway. Once it was finished, you couldn't help but think it was all worth it. 

Wood wall is finished! 

Wood wall is finished! 

This space is the perfect space for creatives. Matt and I have composed a lot of music here and we're showing no signs of slowing down. We have a short film that we're going to work on soon, a short promo video, and we constantly add to our library and the well of ideas is not drying up at all. To think the room used to look like this: 

Typical cookie-cutter game room. 

Typical cookie-cutter game room. 

And now, with some DIY acoustic panels on the ceiling, this room is a great, inspiring space where I plan to, along with Matt, make a TON of music. 

The studio as of June 27, 2016

The studio as of June 27, 2016

While there are still some things we need to add to the room like furniture, bookshelves and guitar hangers for the wall, this room is done and I couldn't be happier with it. Matt and I always look forward to composing in this studio and we completely lose ourselves in our craft once we're in here. 

Studio Renovations Part 1

We're currently renovating our new studio space and it's been a pretty smooth, albeit slow, process. My wife and I purchased a home last month with the understanding that I get the entire upstairs game room as my studio and she gets to renovate the kitchen however she sees fit. Pretty fair I'd say. So this is what the room looked like prior to any renovating:

The game room to my new house will be converted to Scotch and Coda's new studio. 

The game room to my new house will be converted to Scotch and Coda's new studio. 

The room is about 500 square feet with a pretty low ceiling (about 8 ft) with three windows (which may be problematic in the acoustics category), old carpet and a slanted ceiling near the entrance. The plans for the room are to install wood floors, a booth, close off the entire room doubling up on the dry wall while using green glue between the layers and install a wood wall using reclaimed wood. Once the room is complete, I'll install acoustic treatment like bass traps, diffusers, foam, thick curtains for the windows and gobos. The first step, of course, is to remove all of the carpet and frame out the room with wood studs. 

Frame for studio entrance

Frame for studio entrance

We'll also frame out the booth and install a door. 

From this angle you can see the booth is near the entrance. 

From this angle you can see the booth is near the entrance. 

With the frame, we were able to install the dry wall, doubling up on it from the inside. 

Here's the same angle as before with dry wall. 

Here's the same angle as before with dry wall. 

There's a still a bit of drywall to go especially since we're doubling up on it. We managed to finish the dry wall to the entrance as well. 

Entrance with drywall

Entrance with drywall

The entrance will eventually have a sliding barn door once the walls are textured. You can see that our makeshift studio is right beside the entrance. 

We're making great progress with the framing and drywall. Once that's complete, we'll put in the electrical, a new ceiling fan, wood floors and a fresh coat of paint. During all of this, I'm compiling pallets and breaking them down to use the wood for the far wall. 

Broken down pallets

Broken down pallets

Painted pallet wood

Painted pallet wood

Breaking down pallets is no easy feat, let me tell you! Using a hammer, chisel, and a reciprocating saw, I was able to successfully break down several pallets to use for the wall. But I had to go through several blades, one of which broke off and hit me right under my right eye. It left a narly cut but I can still see, so I guess I shouldn't complain too hard. The other difficulty with pallets is actually finding them. I have no idea how legal it is to go behind a business and just take them but that's exactly what I did. I would have to drive to several businesses just to see if they had any. I fit as many as I could into my truck, trying to be as sneaky as I could and would drive home carefully since I didn't always tie them down. (I know, that's irresponsible of me, but I had so many pallets and didn't have enough ties!)

So you break them down, keep all the usable wood, throw out anything else and then you paint them. The spray paint I used really gave the wood a used, rustic look and it was perfect. After that, you screw them to the wall trying to be as artistic as you can in your placement. I, unfortunately, have no type of creative eye especially for this kind of thing so my wife, Kristi, is lending a hand and I think it's looking very awesome so far. 

This wood wall is by far the hardest part of the project. I don't anticipate this wall will do much for the acoustic properties of the room, but wood does add a little color to the sound (that's why violins and guitars are made of wood!)

Painted pallet wood on the wall

Painted pallet wood on the wall

I'll keep writing about the renovations and keep you posted on the project as time progresses. I don't anticipate this project going past April but you never know! In any case, the progress alone has me giddy! I can't imagine the feeling I'll get once this room is done! We have so many plans for the studio so we want it to be a space that inspires creativity. I think we're on the right track! 

Why am I a Composer? (Part 2)

When I was about seven or eight years old my mom bought me a Muppets keyboard. It was little and only had about two octaves. It taught you how to play songs from The Muppets using lights as training and then you could try and play them without help. It wasn’t long until the onboard songs got old and I began making up my own songs and figuring out familiar melodies by ear.

When I think of playing that keyboard the first song that comes to mind isn’t one of the built in Muppet songs, and it isn’t “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Happy Birthday.” The song that comes to mind is the main theme to Jurassic Park, a beautiful melody written by the brilliant film composer John Williams. Being able to play that song by ear and hear it whenever I wanted gave me a lot of joy. And although I didn’t realize it then, it also paved the way for my curiosity as to why I loved film music and how it served the movie it was intended for.

It was evident early on in my musical development how important music was to any form of media, be it a commercial, radio jingle, television show, or feature film. That moment you hear the rush of a string quartet and feel a lump in your throat during a love scene, or the sound of eerie intermitant piano notes in a horror movie right before the victim is attacked. Imagine watching the Rocky training montage without hearing “Gonna Fly Nowby Bill Conti, or any Mission Impossible movie without the main theme by Lilo Schifrin. In both cases you’d just be left with a lot of sweating and running. No one runs like Tom Cruise though, let’s be honest. That can almost carry the scene on its own.

Until about a year ago I had no serious aspirations of pursuing film composing as a career, but then I met Nate. Nate overheard me playing one of my own original songs on the guitar and said, “hey, you should come record that at my studio.” Well, one song turned into eight, and the next thing I knew I had my second solo record and developed a great new friendship and working relationship in the process.

After that record was done Nate asked me if I’d like to start a business being a composing team. I was thrilled and said, “YES!!”. Actually I probably said more than that, but this is a G rated blog. And thus, Scotch and Coda Productions was born.

Nate and I have a great way of working together. Our personalities mesh really well and we share a lot of common musical influences. There is a lightness and comfort level that allows for inspiration to bloom without the fear of judgment or rejection. This kind of creative chemistry is very hard to find and I am grateful for that.

We have already done several projects together now and I can honestly say it’s one of the most enjoyable things I do as a professional musician. It is so creatively satisfiying to compose music to a scene and see it come to life when it works. We had the priveldge of seeing a short film we scored play to a full audience in a theater a few months ago and it was quite a revelation. I’m very inspired to grow as a composer and serve whatever project I’m working on the best I can. I can also rest easy knowing I have a supurb composing partner and engineer to work with in Nate. I’m excited about the future of Scotch and Coda and where the music will take us.             

Why am I a Composer?

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I have a family full of incredibly social extroverts. Whenever there was a family reunion, we would always stay up late talking and laughing and being merry. Me, I'm not so much of an extrovert. Most people drain my energy and if I spend enough time with said people, I start to zone out thinking about sleep. Once that point is reached, I become a parody of a social person and start answering with one-word responses in hopes that the poor soul I'm speaking with gets the hint.

Even as a kid, if there were too many people around, I'd find a tranquil place. During our family reunions, I would sneak away from the commotion of happiness and go away to either read comic books, listen to music, or play video games. It was during one of the these reunions and subsequent sneaking away where I found my love for film music.

It was 1996. I was ten-years-old and was already developing my nerdy tendencies. We were in McAllen, Tx staying with my grandparents. The drive to McAllen was 6 hours from my hometown of Baytown, Tx so I absolutely had to have something to keep me occupied during that long drive. The beauty of having nerdy tendencies meant I had no shortage of interests. During a typical road trip in the 90's, I would always bring the current comic(s) I was reading, a gameboy with several games, and any type of action figure I was allowed to bring (usually no more than three or four). But at this particular reunion, as I sneaked away from the commotion, I didn't bother with the comics or the gameboy. I went into my Aunt Rosie's room, who lived with my grandparents, and turned on her television. The channel that popped up was the USA network which just happened to be airing a Star Wars marathon. That was the very first time I saw Star Wars. Not only that, it was also the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I watched the entire trilogy three different times back-to-back.

I was so captivated by these movies. The story enveloped me, the characters interested me, and the music made me emotionally invested. This is, of course, as with so many other composers, where my love of film music began. This is where I started to notice it. This is where I started to ponder, ”who on Earth is even able to create such magical music such as this?” By the third viewing of the trilogy on that particular night, I was humming all of the cues. I even acted out some of the lightsaber battle scenes whilst humming the cues. I pretended to shoot cannons and fly a ship while humming the cues. I can hum (and play) the entire battle of Hoth cue for memory!

As I grew up, I ended up becoming a musician and I can honestly say that it's largely because of that night. Music in a film (or any other media) plays a major role (no pun). That role, of course, is telling the audience how to feel. As a composer, that's one of the greatest challenges to composing for media. You're telling the story in a different medium. You're providing the viewer's emotional response. You're revealing the film's subconscious in an audible format. As a composer, that part of the gig fascinated me.

I've been asked, “don't you at all feel like you're being confined when you compose for a film?” That may be true because you can't compose whatever the hell you want for a film. But it does give you direction. It's almost impossible to have writer's block when you compose for a film because the film tells you what compose. And if it's not the film, then it's a director or a producer! But either way, you follow a musical path that benefits the film.

Composing for film also means you get to exercise your “idea development” muscle. I come from the school of Beethoven where development is king. You come up with a few ideas and see how much music you can get out of those one or two ideas (refer to Beethoven's 9th Symphony for reference). Come up with one hundred ideas, use them all in a film and you'll find that your music will quickly detach itself from the film. You never want your music to peel off of the screen, it's supposed blend in with everything. You take a few ideas and develop them. John Williams compares it to sculpting

Writing a tune is like sculpting. You get four or five notes, you take one out and move it around, and you do a bit more and eventually, as the sculptor says, 'In that rock there is a statue, we have to go find it.'

I love the challenge of composing music to a story that's not yours. I love the feeling of accomplishment when you finish and you see everything come together. I love the process of brainstorming and composing melodies, and then throwing them out because they're good but won't work for the project you're working on. I love the process of spotting a movie. I love it when a director tells you his/her vision of every scene. And since Scotch and Coda started I've loved working with, in my honest opinion, a genius composer like Matt.

Even though I've always been an introvert and try to sneak away when the crowds gather, I've found my deep, inner extravert comes out to play when I compose music. When I work with various people that have one artistic goal in mind I become out-going, I become creative, I almost literally become a different person. I engage in conversation, and I contribute to something that requires critical thinking and artistic creativity when, in most cases, I'll stay silent. There's almost nothing else that gets that out of me. Music does that to me. The Star Wars films and John Williams made me get off the bed and jump around and sing out loud when I was usually a shy, quiet kid. I'm doing the same thing now, just with a professional demeanor.

Why do I compose? Because I feel like I'm myself when I do it. In an industry where most practitioners believe if you don't make it to the top, than you're a failure, I'm finding success, accomplishment and artistic integrity in a group setting and being appreciated for the work all the while I'll probably never make a top 40 hit. In life, all there really is is relationships. Unfortunately, I've always shied away from them. But when it comes to music, I finally long for them. I feel connected and plugged in. Some people are naturally gifted with social skills, and outgoingness and don't need to find they're social crutch. I, fortunately, did. Even though success in the field always has its peaks in valleys, I continue to do it because I feel fulfilled when I do.

Who would've guessed that binge-watching Star Wars as a ten-year-old would lead to me finding fulfillment? Go fig!