Visiting the Krakow Film Music Festival end of last month we were lucky hearing many legendary composers talking about their movies and lives. Part of it were tips for up and coming composers which we collected in this article for everyone together with the pictures we were able to capture.
Hans Zimmer: “Lock yourself away in a room and write.”
If there is any inspiration for young Composers, it is perhaps the story of Hans Zimmer, because of the fact that he, in his own words, says, “to this day; I can’t read or write music.” For a composer, that is hugely shocking, but also hugely motivating, because someone with the success of Zimmer, who is an Oscar winning Composer, yet he can’t read or write music. That is a story of success.
Zimmer has always been very vocal with his life and work. He always gives a lot to his answers, so when asked for advice, of course he was willing to give all the information he could. “Just write. Lock yourself away in a room and write. Keep writing and find yourself through that.” Many Composers have the same advice because writing music and doing things practically, will set you on your journey. He also goes on to describe the best ways to get noticed once you are established in the business of Composing. “What I’ve always been interested in is finding new musical voices, and have them be programmers for me, or arrangers for me. And sometimes their contributions for people go unnoticed, so I started giving everyone additional music credit, because seconds of their life is ticking away, and I want that to be acknowledged.” Zimmer strongly believes that those in the background that have given their time to a project, should be given credit, which of course gets them noticed by others in the business and can kick-start a career, as he goes on to say, “giving them credit worked out. People like John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams etc, getting that credit, it really helped them to get their foot in the door. They were amazing then and no one knew it, but they are amazing now and everyone knows it.” It is Zimmer’s opinion that genius will be recognised if people have the opportunity to show it.
Patrick Doyle: “Never settle, always adapt.”
Patrick Doyle, a very funny and open man, filled with brilliant stories and of course fantastic music, talks about the secret of longevity. “It is adapt or die. It is vital to work with younger people, even though you might want to kill them all the time because they’re so challenging. But they’re brilliant because they always say, ‘what about this, what about that?’ asking questions, which is the key. Enthusiastic encouragement. Never settle, always adapt.” To which Zimmer also shared that view, “I was so annoying as a child because all I did was question, what if? And people didn’t like that. I was asked to leave nine schools.” So they both seem to agree that if you want to succeed in the business, you must adapt constantly and ask questions, because if you settle and don’t push authority, don’t look for the answers to questions that nobody has even asked yet, then you wont survive.
Johan Söderqvist: “You have to be a really good crew member.”
For Johan Söderqvist (composer of the festival opener Kon-Tiki), he believes it’s about being versatile and having the ability to approach anything with confidence, regardless of the style, subject matter, or genre. “I want to explore all cultures. I’m looking for things that aren’t ordinary, I want something that makes you listen. Things that I love are those which always change, because I have a background in Jazz, I play a lot of different instruments and I’m a skilled improviser. In film it helps a lot if you can improvise.” With such a tight schedule for music, Johan’s ability to be a quick thinker and someone who knows that if you experiment, you will find your way, is very advantageous. He enjoys searching for the perfect sound, as he amusingly jokes, “Hi, I’m Johan and I’m a Soundaholic.” But of course it isn’t all about being flexible, it also is about hard work, “I work like hell. I don’t stop. I’m very dedicated in a sort of sick way.” That is something that all Composers talk about, and complain about as well; the sheer level of hard work. If you want to get a lot out of something, you have to put a lot into it. Once you are a hard worker and a versatile writer, you must always be able to collaborate with others, as Johan describes, “you have to be very good at communication. You have to be a really good crew member, and understand what film is. It is a collaborative art. The budget is not so important. With a small budget you will maybe have a piano based score, and a big budget you would have an eighty piece Orchestra, but it’s more about how you click with the team.” As we have found in the past in Film Scoring, a strong team and strong collaborators can go a long way. John Williams and Steven Spielberg are a perfect example of what a solid partnership can do, whether in a big or small film.
Dario Marianelli: “You need to get used to being by yourself.“
Elliot Goldenthal and Dario Marianelli also spoke about the importance of being able to be alone. Marianelli said that he rarely works with anyone else, “I’m opposite really. I’m always alone, by myself for most of the process. You need to get used to being by yourself, because Composing is a very lonely life.”
Goldenthal echoed Marianelli’s words, but whilst talking about the team he works with, “I’m very loyal to myself. I’m devoted to the people I work with, but mainly to myself and my own process.” Which of course is very important that you believe in yourself, and are able to work on your own, in your own head, and criticise yourself as you work, so as to keep yourself motivated.
Hans Zimmer: “Think of composing as a way of life.“
Obviously everyone fails. There wouldn’t be erasers on pencils if we weren’t prone to making mistakes. People can give up after failure, or after not succeeding the first time, but Zimmer gives a piece of advice for all those attempting to get into Composing, or those who don’t believe they can achieve their goal in the first try, “if you want to be a composer, think of composing as a way of life, not a job, not a career. It is a life well lived. Here’s something that I live by; always execute plan B flawlessly.”