What was the working relationship like with Mike Chance? What made it successful?
The greatest parts of working with Mike are his trust and enthusiasm. From the very beginning his attitude was always “this is going to be amazing!” and that energy really rubbed off (which is no accident, I’m sure). But even more important is how much trust he has, not only in listening to suggestions but also that even if an idea isn’t working yet, it’ll be OK.
Sometimes there were cues that just weren’t quite working, or weren’t conveying the feeling that Mike wanted to convey. That’s just what happens when a composer with a fresh perspective comes in and starts writing music for a project. Unfortunately a lot of directors will panic if it isn’t perfect right away and start having doubts. But every turn of the way Mike’s attitude of “we’re going to make this great, even though we aren’t there yet” never wavered. That is an extremely anxiety-reducing aspect for a composer to have in their director, because it allows you to loosen up and just try out weird ideas. You know that if you send over something that’s a bit unusual the worst that will happen is “hmmm let’s try more ideas” and not “this is the wrong guy for the job!”
And of course it’s worth mentioning that every time he’d make me go back to the drawing board, version two would always trump version one by a mile!
Did you find any inspiration within other films of this genre? Tell us about who inspires you.
For this score in particular we tried to stay away from too many of the genre cliches. For that reason we also stayed away from being too specific about what other scores this was going to sound like. In more ways it was discussions about what Project Arbiter was NOT going to sound like! I think there was really only one score we would occasionally reference for ideas, for texture, and dark tones which was The Mothman Prophecies soundtrack.
In general I’m inspired by just about anything, I have pretty eclectic taste. Mostly I go through phases, so one week I might be really into Miles Davis, the next I’m all about Beethoven. Unlike a lot of film composers that pride themselves on a certain “musical elitism”, I have no shame admitting that I love pop music as much as everything else. So you’re just as likely to find me listening to Katy Perry as Shostakovich, depending on what kind of mood I’m in.
What other exciting projects are you developing?
I’ve just begun work on my first cello sonata, which I’m pretty excited about. Since graduating from Berklee I’ve been so focused on Film and TV projects and I haven’t worked on any serious “art projects”, so this is going to be a chance to geek out a bit compositionally.
I have a pretty eclectic mix of projects going on at all times. I’m about to start my twelfth feature, an independent film directed by Dan O’Hare. It’s about a man who wakes up one morning and decides to write a play, and it’s going to be a fun score because I think we’re going to head towards a very cool-jazz sound. I recently completed the music for a commercial for the MTV Video Music Awards, as well as various documentary shorts. And I am continuously writing music for libraries that find TV placements, mostly in reality shows like Hoarding: Buried Alive or Keeping up with the Kardashians.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about being a working composer, it’s that you have to have a lot of projects going on at once if you want to survive.
What are the common issues or obstacles that film composers experience? What sort of advice would you give other composers looking to build a career in your field?
The toughest part is finding consistent work, which is why it’s so important to have a lot of things going on at once. People always say “LA is a five year town” (Replace LA with Nashville, New York, etc. and someone out there says it!) and I found out from personal experience that that’s pretty true! I would say it took about five years, at first working as an assistant to a composer, and then after that building up my own career, until I reached a point where I was working steadily and reliably.
The two most important things an up-and-coming composer should focus on are writing and marketing (which encompasses networking, etc). The writing part takes care of itself if you just write constantly. The marketing part is much harder, and requires a lot of self-study and initiative. You always need to be seeking out your next gig, even while you’re working on the present one.
What trends do you see emerging with scoring for film & television? Is it headed in the right direction?
The biggest trend I see is a move towards more and more library music, meaning music that is previously written and licensed as opposed to music specifically composed for a project. I don’t think we’re going to stop having custom scores entirely, but the competition is going to keep getting fiercer as the library music gets easier to use and of a higher quality. Perhaps it’s because I’m relatively young, but I don’t see the rise in library music as an inherently “bad thing”, just a sign of modern times. You can cry for the good old days or you can keep up, so I have no problem being personally involved with music libraries. But I would choose scoring to picture over writing a library track any day.
Here is an exclusive sample of the score from Project Arbiter on Sound Cloud. The track is titled “End Titles”.
~David Bettencourt, Co-Producer