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!