Posts filed under Field Notes

MarmoConvos: Exploring the History of Place + Sound

As a creative agency full of musicians, sometimes we like to geek out about the history of our trade. Recently, our Senior A&R Advisor + New Music Scout, Brandon Day, shared his knowledge about the regionalization of music and genre with the Marmoset family and sparked a mind-blowing conversation about place and sound. We thought it was pretty rad, so we’d like to share with you, too. Enjoy.


How would you define music regionalization?

Brandon Day: Regionality in music has always existed in some form or another. Whether on the macro level, by creating a new genre or subgenre, or on the micro-level, by creating a specific iteration of a current movement, there are often differences based around physical or social geography.

What locations in particular are best known for producing a specific sound?  Is one more influential than the others? How do they differ?

BD: While I'm not an expert on cultural movements in music, I've always enjoyed exploring scenes that surround different places. For instance, Elephant 6 in Athens, Georgia was a scene in the mid ’90s for acts such as The Apples in Stereo, Of Montreal, The Olivia Tremor Control, The Minders, etc. Although the collective was started in Denver, Colorado, the identity began being tied to Athens when more bands started developing in that community. What tied these bands together wasn't only location, but shared ideals. If you listen to the bands that identified with the collective, you can hear everything from experimental rock to bubblegum pop that brings to mind ‘60s era psychedelia. However, there is an audible tie that connects these artists, because they were collaborating with one another and were interested in a similar ideal.

The idea of regionalism was more extreme pre-internet and pre-sound recordings as well. Traditional songs were passed down through families and communities and sometimes never written down. These songs (American, British, African or otherwise) were extremely regional and were tied to a physical place because of the people that lived this music.

When it comes down to it, regionalism in music is all about the people that interact with one another in a community. Just look to the development of Trap music in Atlanta, Georgia, or the burgeoning roots/rock scene in Durham, North Carolina, and you’ll see modern examples of regional collaboration.  

Do you think the artists that are drawn to these areas would have been able to achieve the same sound elsewhere? Explain.

BD: When a physical place becomes tied to a sound or movement, people outside of that community want to experience the place to revel in the atmosphere -- whether perceived or actual -- that created that sound. For instance, Muscle Shoals, Alabama was a sought after place to record in the ‘60s and ‘70s because of the sound it became known for. There were two studios in that small Southern town, both of which cultivated a gritty groove that people began knowing as the "Muscle Shoals sound." While there was nothing particularly special about these studios (besides the producers and session players), bands from all over wanted to record there to get that specific gritty, southern sound. From the early days of Etta James to later Brit rock band, The Rolling Stones, artists traveled to rural Alabama to be a part of the place that they perceived as bringing out those particular qualities in a sound recording.

Could they have created those songs at a different studio in another town? I'm sure. However, if you've traveled much, you can attest to new culture, sights, sounds and smells having a dramatic impact on your senses. If you've dramatized a place in your mind, sometimes it takes going there to feel what you've been romanticizing for so long.

Posted on October 18, 2016 and filed under Music, Field Notes.

Field Notes #99: Ray Tsang, Filmmaker

Invest in yourself.

Craving a career that would help change the world, Ray Tsang uprooted life as he knew it and made the switch from finance to filmmaking.  Despite this unconventional entrance into the film world, Tsang has trail blazed the industry, along with his wife Joyce, and made a mark for himself as an extremely successful filmmaker.  In the hopes that some of his wisdom would rub off on us, we asked h Ray to speak to developing relationships, making films you’re passionate about and how he spreads compassion through storytelling with his new film company, Only Today.


Think back to the beginning of your career. How did you get into the filmmaking industry?

Ray Tsang: Filmmaking was a big career change. I have a background in finance, and my wife and business partner, Joyce, was an engineer. But both of us craved careers that would let us use our creativity to make a larger impact on the world.

We serendipitously stumbled upon filmmaking as a means to do that. While searching for videographers for our wedding, we found a production company called Stillmotion, and were struck by their captivating work and dedication to always putting story first. We thought, “We want to do that, too.”

After returning from our honeymoon in 2009, Joyce and I were ready for a change. We immediately left our careers and jumped into filmmaking with no formal training, but a lot of passion and a willingness to learn anything and everything we could!

What’s the most valuable self-taught skill you have? How did you teach yourself to do it?

RT: Over time, I’ve taught myself how to connect with people. I’m a natural introvert. But if you want to tell stories and make a living as a filmmaker, you have to engage with others. I pushed myself into uncomfortable scenarios to grow, doing everything from leading filmmaking workshops, teaching at universities and speaking at large industry conferences.

Challenging myself to do those talks and workshops made me a better filmmaker, because I had to make sure I knew my stuff and practiced it regularly. In the process, I developed my communication skills, which are invaluable for building businesses and developing relationships.

What challenges do you feel filmmakers are often faced with? Do you feel you’ve successfully determined a method to overcome them? If so, what is your method and how did you come to this conclusion?  

RT: After meeting thousands of filmmakers around the world, I find that most face one of two challenges. There are those with the skills and drive to excel, but they can’t find work. And there are others who are great at finding work, but they aren’t interested in the projects they’re landing.

If this rings true to you, here’s my advice: First, determine the stories you want to tell. Make a list of your dream projects. Second, share those dreams with the world—let people know what kind of work you want to do so you can attract the clients and projects you want. Third, know your numbers. If you’re going into filmmaking full-time, learn what it takes to run a business, from knowing your bottom line to making solid contracts. Fourth, invest in your clients. Landing the rates and projects you want comes down to developing a relationship with your clients. That means setting clear expectations about the filmmaking process and being an excellent communicator. If you fail to do this, you’ll get resistance on your bids and proposals.

Lastly, invest in yourself. Film school and workshops can only take you so far — you need to get your hands dirty and shoot, edit, fail, and shoot again. Find stories to shoot and work on as many productions as you can. Seven years and more than 300 projects later, I wouldn’t say I have it all figured out. But applying these principles has helped me consistently work on meaningful projects and keep our pipeline full.

Tell us a little more about Only Today. What inspired you to start the company? What surprises did you come across when starting your own film company?

RT: Only Today is a result of refocusing my purpose as a filmmaker. About two years ago, I was burnt out from a  four year run of non-stop shoots that, even though they earned our team over a dozen Emmys, just weren’t fulfilling. I left my career in finance so I could use creativity to help make the world a better place, but I wasn’t working towards that goal. I saw and still see the social problems that surround us: poverty, inequality, lack of healthcare and so many more.

To try and tackle these global challenges, I started Only Today with my co-founder, Alex Alvarado. From the very beginning, I was taken aback at how many people, brands and companies connected with our vision. In fact, Facebook was one of our earliest clients and they trusted us to produce a series of films that focused on spreading social good. To date, we’ve filmed over 30 stories for them that very much aligns with our mission and goals as a company, which is pretty amazing.

Just Say Hello: A story about the power to create change with just one word. 

What’s your one most important company values?

RT: We place a huge value on the people we bring on board. It’s important to us to work with people who believe in our mission and care about authenticity. In this industry, the team you send out to interact with your clients and talent is the strongest representation of your company values.

In your opinion, what makes a good story? How do you find new stories to tell?

A good story hooks you with a conflict to get the audience invested in your characters. It might sound cliché,  but it’s the key to all of the great stories of our time. It can be really difficult to identify a conflict -- they don’t have to be negative, but they should at least pose a question to the audience to get them rooting for your characters.

Finding a good story starts with knowing what kind of stories you care about in the first place. Are you inspired by a social issue? Maybe you want to share a personal struggle and triumph? You can even concoct a fictional sci-fi narrative. No matter what story you want to tell, figure out what you want to say to the world. And when you find the right story, go after it! Tell an amazing story, share it and it will increase your chances of finding more projects along that line.

Thinking back to when you started all this, is there anything you wish you would have known? What advice would you give to someone who is starting their own film company?

Looking back, I wish I had put myself out there more often. I’ve realized that no matter how talented or gear savvy you think you are, it’s really difficult to continue learning and running a sustainable business unless you can share your ideas, work and passions with a group of like-minded filmmakers.

To build up a great network, find two or three forums or online groups and join in on conversations. Attend in-person meetups, and invest in workshops and conventions. You don’t have to make 300 friends, but you might make five or 10 -- and those people will help you grow your craft and your business.

What’s coming up next for you and Only Today?

RT: Only Today is just six months old, but I’ve spent the last seven years working to get to this point. Now, we have a great team, amazing clients and a clear company mission: to create and share stories that will make a significant impact in the world. This is also guided by two of our principles: Put people first. Use storytelling for good.

Brands such as Facebook, Lyft, CBS Sports, Apple and Showtime have believed in our work and mission early on, and we love working with them to spread compassion through through storytelling. Moving forward, we’re excited to connect with and work with foundations and initiatives that are tackling pressing social issues domestically and on a global scale! We think that if we can make even one film that changes a life, then all that effort is worth it -- but our goal is to help hundreds, if not millions, of people around the world.

Posted on October 3, 2016 and filed under Field Notes, Filmmaking.

Field Notes Interview #98: Kerwin Kuniyoshi, Producer + Filmmaker

A still from Kerwin's independent film,   Roman's Way  , premiered at the 168 Film Festival, 2012.

A still from Kerwin's independent film, Roman's Way, premiered at the 168 Film Festival, 2012.

You are not defined by your output.

Behind every moving picture lies a producer who spent hours and hours putting the pieces together to ensure the best possible outcome. Kerwin Kuniyoshi is one of those people. A producer and part-time filmmaker, his work ranges from short films to major advertisements for the likes of Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter and has included time at agencies like Avocados and Coconuts and Eleven, Inc. We chatted with him about what it’s like being the person (behind the person) behind the camera, and how social media is changing the way to look at music in advertising. Enjoy.


What’s your story? How did you get into producing?

Kerwin Kuniyoshi: In high school when I went to pick a major for college, film seemed like the best thing for me, and once I owned that I was going to do this path, I was super passionate about it…Eventually, when I was doing my own short films, I needed someone to produce it and no one would step up to the plate, so I had to do it myself. Suddenly I had this new skill set and there seemed to be more of a demand for a producer than an editor or filmmaker.

Would you say there’s a specific skill or set of skills that you learned that have served you well as a producer?

KK: Yeah…. I can use an analogy. I used to play chess. The objective in chess is to be thinking at least ten moves in advance -- and that’s the essential element of producing. You sit at a project and you think it out until you’ve exhausted every possibility. A really solid producer is someone who is a Swiss-army knife; they do whatever they need to do to get the job done.

What would you say are some of the main differences between working in advertising and working on a film?

KK: In advertising, there’s a creative aspect, but you have to think about what’s best for the client. At the end of the day, it’s the client and the ad agency that have the final cut….With film, you’re making it for yourself and with commercials you’re making it for the client.

Are you working on any films currently?

KK: I had a script I wrote that advanced in the Austin Film Festival competition and I thought I was going to make [the film]… at some point I decided it’s time for me to move away from short films.  I’m ready to hop into the big boys, so to speak.  The short was a complementary piece to a feature that I’ve been considering making for a while and am ready to start working on soon.

Can you think of any projects or situations that stand out for you as a learning experience?

KK: Every project -- I’ve learned from every project, no matter how big or small.

You recently worked for a spot that was only broadcasted on Twitter. Do you think that the rise of social media has changed the way you produce or look for music?

KK: Oh, absolutely. It’s actually changed the fabric of advertising.  Before social media and YouTube, typically commercials were in the $250-500k range on average. The main outlets for video were broadcast, so a ton of resources were put into it to make sure it was the best quality. And then all of a sudden, we had this boom in the Internet, and you had a free platform to show your client’s work… But what happened was clients were like “Why are we spending money when we can do this?” and simultaneously we had the DSLR revolution that drove the cost down to producing high quality video content. So these two things together have driven down the price of video and content creation. As a producer, I typically get a lot of low budget projects…going back to that thing of being a swiss army knife,  [I’ll] go out with a DP and a PA and I’ll come back and edit the whole piece myself, because financially it makes more sense.

"As consumers of content we’re not that phased anymore -- there has to be something really interesting or unique to catch our attention.  I feel like a big way that’s done is through music."

Would you say this low budget mentality influences what music you use?

KK: Totally -- what seems sadder is some clients will suggest online, royalty-free music sites, because they know how much money they’re giving you and it somehow shapes the mindset of “well-this works” – but like, no.

I think the biggest challenge with all of this is there is so much content being put out there on a daily basis that a lot of it is just white noise. As consumers of content we’re not that phased anymore -- there has to be something really interesting or unique to catch our attention.  I feel like a big way that’s done is through music.

Speaking of music that catches your attention, do you have a process for finding that perfect track?

KK: In advertising, I’m like a waiter in a fine dining restaurant -- my job is to give the client the best experience possible. Yes, I bring my talents and capabilities, but what I really need to bring is my ear. I need to listen to what they want and need.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever been given?

KK: That I am not defined by my output.

Posted on September 23, 2016 and filed under Field Notes, Filmmaking.

Adobe Creative Residency: Bringing “Ghost-signs” Back to Life

Nothing screams “dream job” for an artist quite like the Adobe Creative Residency. Being the artist-driven company that it is, Adobe has established an annual Creative Residency, which enables selected artists to spend a year focusing on their passion project while documenting their process to share with other creatives. This particular installment is near and dear to us -- literally. This year’s Adobe Creative Residency artist, Craig Winslow, is combining the digital and physical worlds by using projections of light to bring “ghost signs” -- washed out advertisements on the sides of historic buildings -- to life in our hometown of Portland, Oregon. The New England-native and experience designer has traversed the country to bring his passion project, “Project West,” to life and immerse himself in the creative, quirky, and whimsical community that defines Portland.

See his full journey in the project featuring Marmoset tracks, "Paceface" by The Brow, "Green Fingers (Instrumental)" by Jupyter and "Sunday Morning Shopping With a Stroller (Instrumental)" by Lullatone below:

Behind Craig’s journey is a whole other team of creatives who helped share his story with the world. We chatted with Christian Bruno from Electric Park Films about working with Winslow and his process when choosing the music.

Did you have an idea of the general music direction that you wanted to take prior to filming, or was that something you developed throughout/after the film/production process?

Christian Bruno: Much of our work at Electric Park Films is in the documentary spirit -- meaning that we go into places we've never been before and allow ourselves to respond the milieu. It requires a little bit of improvisation and a whole lot of paying attention. In this case, really listening to Craig's thoughtful insight into his creative process and paying attention to his physical world, Portland.

What mood were you hoping the music would help bring forward?

CB: Stepping into Craig's world -- his workspaces, his city and to some extent, inside his creative process -- sparked so many ideas about how we wanted to present this story. Craig's work is about exteriors -- walls, surfaces, environments -- but when you meet and talk with him, you learn how thoughtful he is and how much he is conceptualizing all the time. We had some ideas about the types of music that would portray both the exteriors and interiors of Craig and his art, but it wasn't until we saw the footage we gathered, piecing it together, that ideas of sound and music began to take shape.

Why did you decide to go with the songs/artists you did? How do you feel the songs elevate your story?

CB: I'll let our editor, the talented Julie Caskey, answer this one: “As an editor, music is my best friend, and critical in creating the feeling of the story. Typically, I’ll first digest the footage, which, when well-directed as the Craig Winslow piece was, really informs the vibe. Then, I lean on music pretty hard as the piece finds its legs. The Brow, Jupyter, and Lullatone were perfect for helping set the stage for the urban, fun story we were telling about an interesting, creative person.”

But I will chime in to say that after seeing Julie's first assemblies of the video, I feel like she zoned in so well with her music choices. Pretty much all the final tracks were the first ones she picked. And though his interview drives the final piece, we would mute the narration, and man, the music and picture married perfectly. Music does a lot of work, but so do the images. But ultimately, it's the rhythm of the edit. It's the totality. Seeing it all come together like that? It's totally why we make movies!

Posted on September 19, 2016 and filed under Field Notes.

Composer Spotlight: An Interview with Kerry Smith

Do your thing, and do it well.

There's a lot of music out there -- so what can one do to stand out from the crowd?

Over years of work as a both a freelance and in-house composer -- not to mention time as a partner at Massive Music -- Kerry Smith has figured out how, and it’s by developing his own, unique catalog of music. Smith applies his knack for crafting cinematic, dramatic scores to work for brands like Old Spice and Secret, as well as TV shows like Raising Hope and short films by local filmmakers.

We chatted with Smith about how he gets through writer’s block, creating music with an image in mind, and his advice for anyone coming up in the field. Enjoy.


What inspired you to get into music? More specifically, how did you get into composing music? Tell us your story.

Kerry Smith: I didn’t come from a musical family, and I had a few failed starts along the way, but I remember the fire being lit in my heart when I saw a folk singer at a Christmas party when I was 10 years old. I tried to take guitar lessons soon after, but they were too formal and not much fun for a 10-year-old. Eventually, through the easy teen angst of the ‘80s DC punk scene and a great year of guitar records being released in 1984 (notably Purple Rain), I was convinced to take music more seriously. I took guitar lessons that were more fun, started bands and eventually decided that music was the thing I was most interested in (and coincidentally had no real guidance in, so therefore it was my favorite!). Amazingly, I auditioned into a Music Program at VCU and got a scholarship somehow. I had always liked lots of different kinds of music,  so composition did appeal to me. However, when I tried to “major” in composition, I was told I’d have to take five semesters of a foreign language, which at the time, would put me one semester past my scholarship running out. When I asked why I needed five semesters of a foreign language, I was told, “So you can write Opera Libretti.”  Uhhhh… not high on my priority list. I ended up taking all of the composition-focused classes (despite not being very good at reading sheet music) and the recording and technology classes (oh, and accounting! Very useful, actually) and figured out my own curriculum.  

As I was getting ready to graduate, I realized I had no path after college, and the teachers weren’t giving any career guidance because all of the extra music gigs in Richmond were ones that THEY were doing already and they weren’t keen on giving up their gigs. So I bailed on Virginia and moved to NYC with the intent to start a band and “work in a studio”. I spent nine months working odd jobs before answering a tiny classified ad in the Sunday New York Times (print edition being the only thing that existed then) for “Assistant” in a recording studio. They mentioned something about “creativity," which seemed odd to me in 1994. After a bunch of interviews, I and three others landed the gig out of 300+ candidates to be studio assistants at Elias Arts, which, I realized on my first day, based their business on writing music for commercials. This was great for me because the huge range of musical styles that would come through the door every month was really appealing to me. I had bands I was playing in at the time as well, but the point of having a band “sound” kind of limits your ability to go all over the map stylistically, which also very much interested me. So I stayed at Elias for 10 years, becoming a “staff composer” after the first year. This was back in the days where your video was on 3/4” tape, running via timecode off the 2-inch 24-track tape that had your audio, also syncing the Synclavier workstation that you were writing on, all outputting through a full-sized analog console with no recall. It was a whole new world for me, but you had to be in a  room with nearly a million dollars in equipment just to do that work. Now I’m sitting here 22 years later, hundreds of spots or media and a few awards under my belt, amazed that I’ve managed to support myself and my family and make a career doing this all this time. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

What's the main difference working as a freelance composer and working for a music house?

KS: I can’t speak equivocally for the range of every place out there, but in my personal experience, when working in-house, you have to work on everything that comes through. This is a great educational experience, but it can also wear you down if the sales team and brand aren’t bringing in work that inspires you. Also, you have to write tracks that sell to keep your job security, and some of your success with that may be tied to what’s coming in the door. On the flip side, you have a place to go to every day, a salary or regulated compensation model and a team of colleagues who support you with a sense of community. I can’t understate how helpful that community is in the beginning stages of your career… and every stage after.

When working as a freelancer, if you can make connections with people that are a good match to your sensibilities, who have work, you may find a wider or more suitable range of opportunities open to you than you would being tied to just one house. It can be really strangely validating in that way. Plus, you’re responsible for your own “gear” and can tailor your own environment and schedule to how you like to work. But the finances are wildly unpredictable, the periods when clients don’t call create terrible anxiety, trying to schedule a vacation can be a nightmare if a job is ongoing (since there’s no one to cover for you), and the stress of pressure and competition is a lot to bear.  

Tell us more about your experience at Elias Arts and MassiveMusic. What was the biggest thing you learned working at these respective places?

KS: At Elias, I was just a Composer (and Sound Designer). I did some “Creative Directing” in the last couple of years, but really I was just writing music, and I was kind of in a bubble. A partly self-induced bubble, but still fairly oblivious to “the business” end of things.  But it was fantastic immersing myself in this soup of creativity. There were other outstanding composers there at the time, and I still maintain that the best and easiest way to learn to do a job well is to work with or for the best.  

With Massive, I was a partner. I was running the show from the get-go, and I learned everything about the business. I saw the industry changing and models being up-ended. You might say “disrupted” now. Everything had moved to being produced on DAWs and the stigma had been lifted from licensing artist tracks for commercials. I gained a much greater appreciation for what everyone in every stage of production and sales does, and it was a whole different education that really rounded me out for what I’m doing now. I also discovered that I didn’t particularly enjoy or excel at managing or selling music. I’m ultimately happier and more successful at writing it.  

How do you feel music adds to film and picture? What do you find most challenging about composing music for picture? Most rewarding?  

KS: I personally like music that tells a story, takes you on a journey, or evokes a strong feeling (even if it’s a feeling of peace). I don’t get much time to just LISTEN to music anymore, so I don’t really enjoy spending my time on something that is, at best, just a background. I want to be stimulated in some way by the music I am listening to.  

When you write music to video, that’s already part of the mission -- at least it is for the jobs that I tend to work on. I help set the mood or tell the story. I finish the creative sentence and flesh out the picture, and if music ends up being distracting in a scene, maybe there should be less or none. Whereas, If I just sit down to write music without a specific assignment, I have to think about what I feel strongly enough about to create a piece around. I know there are some people who can easily churn out 2-3 minute musical beds “in a style”, but I’ve always been very conscious of “What’s the story I’m telling?” when I write. I find that if I have an image in my head as I’m working on a piece, other people get a picture from it as well, even if it’s not the same picture. The challenging part is when the client or filmmaker I’m working with can’t express what they want, and I mistakenly head down a wrong path. This can be a good and worthwhile exercise when there’s time to work through it, and a sense of trust that you will, but in tighter timeframes it can result in a lot of stress and second-guessing all around.

You were recently nominated for a couple of awards for your work on the Old Spice spot, "The Truce." Can you tell us a bit about working on that project?

KS: The funny thing that you have to understand about that job is that, originally, I REALLY didn’t want to do it [laughs]. I was in the middle of another crazy project, and I had family visiting from out-of-town. There was no video to work to, and the direction was one that I’d never had any real experience with. Although, I would sit at a piano sometimes, and pluck out obvious chord progressions with cheesy improvised lyrics for a laugh every so often. So I almost passed on it.  Then I sat and thought for a minute, and decided to see if I could make something that was just really simple and effective, without any production trickery in the very limited time I had. So I wrote the track in 20 minutes, sent it to the singer, Hugh Wilson, who popped his vocal in the mix the next day, and that’s pretty much what aired. I wasn’t expecting to win the pitch, but I’m extremely glad I did.  When I finally got to see the video (which they filmed to the song) the idea made so much sense and I “got it”.  It had me cracking up. It worked out wonderfully, but  this is where a good conversation with the creator would have really helped nail the idea in my head at the beginning. Luckily, I managed to stumble my way into it anyway by virtue of not having enough time to overthink things.  

What qualities or traits do you think makes a good composer?

KS: Obviously you need to have your musical skills down. That’s just a  given. Everyone has to do that, whether it’s being fluent in just one or two styles, or possessing a broad knowledge of many. You have to be able to deliver on time and on-brief. You need to have a feeling of when to stretch and experiment, and when to be quick and decisive. But you also need to be a good detective. You need to be able to analyze the part the music has to play, and what the client is asking for. It’s often easier when you’re working directly for a director or TV producer than on an idea filtered through a few layers of clients, but the principle is the same. Ask questions. Look at what the story is saying. Decide when less is more. Have a point of view. Remember that you’re part of a team, and (hopefully) everyone on the team is trying to achieve the same goal.

You also need to manage having both a thick skin, and an optimistic sense of artistic vulnerability. You need the optimism to create great work, and to have the drive to do this every day. You need the thick skin when a client flippantly passes over your work. Because even if you were a great detective on the job, it still happens. A lot. You won’t be the right fit for every job, no matter how hard you try. You have to accept that. It’s not personal.

A metaphor that helped me accept creative rejection is the idea of platinum records. Think of platinum records before downloading and streaming and summer festivals, when buying records was more common. A platinum record means that you’ve sold a million records (in the US). That was (and is) a huge benchmark for success. Think if you go seven-times platinum -- 7 million records. You’re a friggin’ superstar. But… that’s still a smaller number than the population of New York City. So, even if you’re this mega-super-successful star, the majority of people in the world either A) don’t like you B) may have heard your song somewhere but don’t associate you with it. C) haven’t heard of you D) don’t care. I’d still be very happy with the 7 million sold and career it spawned, but you still have to be aware of points A-D, and balance your confidence with humility. The people with long-term successful careers usually manage pull this off.

Are there any soundtracks that have blown your mind? What was it about them?

KS: If I’m considering soundtracks, I have to go in chronological order: The Star Wars soundtrack (well, all of them) first opened my mind to what a score could do -- how it could be powerful and really be a big driver of the story. Next, the score to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (by Wojciech Kilar) really stuck with me as a way of using dynamics and repeated motifs to build drama and create colors, without having to rely on dense melodies and busy underscoring. At this point, I should mention that I later realized that both Dracula and Star Wars borrow heavily from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” Kinda makes you wonder about temp tracks, even in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Moving on, Edward Scissorhands defined a style, and has dogged all composers since. I found Daft Punk’s score for Tron: Legacy really surprising and enjoyable, being a really effective blend of the best parts of analog synth music and orchestral colors. Probably my singular favorite for awhile now has been the score for M. Night’s Shymalan’s The Village, which really turned me on to James Newton Howard and his knack for being able to incorporate real beauty and romance into his scores. My influences range toward the more dramatic, which doesn’t put me in a great mainstream position for a lot of advertising work. But I have been fortunate in attracting things that I enjoy and excel at.

How do you find inspiration when facing a writer's block? What are your first steps?

KS: Writer’s block isn’t a luxury that I can afford, so my first step is to just start. Start with some part -- a rhythm, a melody, a chord progression, an instrument sound. Maybe I’ll trash that part later, but if it can get me to the next part, then that will lead me to the next part, and eventually I’ll have a finished piece. As long as the schedule isn’t too tight, I don’t really worry, because I can fiddle around, go back, take a fresh listen, and revise and edit before I turn something in. If the schedule is ridiculous, like 24 hours for 60 seconds of heavily scored and arranged music, I have to hope for some solid references and clear direction on what part the music is playing in the story. Once you build the sandbox, your imagination can do some wildly creative things, but you kind of need to make the sandbox first, whether it’s tempos, sounds, stylistic references, etc... 

What’s next for you?

KS: I’m set to score a short film names The Manual by Portland filmmaker Wil Magness this fall. It’s a great story about a boy all alone after the end of the world, and his robot caretaker. It’s a fantastic script for a short, and there are lots of stirring moments that I’m looking to help realize through sound.

Any advice looking for those looking to compose for ads, TV or film?

KS: It’s a bit of a downer, but you should know that right now, at this moment, the market is more saturated than it’s ever has been. I personally know more than 300 people who are (mostly) full-time media composers, and I am aware of probably a few thousand who are also doing it (or trying to), on varying levels. I’m part of one group online that has over 2,000 members, most of whom seem to be aspiring composers. I realize that in an internet full of positive affirmation it’s not the most encouraging news, but it’s also not something that gets pointed out very often, so I do feel compelled to mention it.  

You can easily find tips on YouTube about how to do anything on the technical end, and you can read plenty of advice online regarding “networking” and the like, but my best advice, which reflects what I’ve seen with people I know who’ve become successful lately, is: Do your own distinct musical “thing” really well.  Establish a unique sound and build a catalog. The catalog may never garner play or syncs, but it should establish your sound. Then, go meet directors, producers, etc… of like minds, and jump when they get a shot to produce something that they think of you for… and know that a lot of times getting ahead is the result of being in the right place in the right time, which is often the result of some intentional decisions, and a lot of luck.  

Posted on September 9, 2016 and filed under Field Notes, Music.

Field Notes #97: An Interview with Music Supervisor, David Hayman

Striving to create undeniable moments.

You know when you’re watching a film or TV show, and that one familiar song starts playing and completely makes the scene? Toronto-based music supervisor, David Hayman, loves being a part of those undeniable moments. A film school graduate and award-winning music supervisor, Hayman founded the music-supervision only agency, The Supergroup Sonic Branding Co., in 2012. The Supergroup specializes in many things -- from music licensing and searches to sonic branding -- and has credits in everything from small indie movies to advertisements to shows like Rookie Blue and films like Born To Be Blue. Outside of his work with The Supergroup, Hayman is also helping to start a branch of The Guild of Music Supervisors in Canada.

We chatted with Hayman about current licensing trends in the Canadian market, the rise of “sadvertising” and working on films with smaller budgets. Enjoy.


Who are you and what do you do in the world?

David Hayman: I consider myself in the entertainment industry, although at the bank I tell them I’m in the advertising industry. I came up as a filmmaker and I got frustrated with the process along the way. Right from the get go, I think I was frustrated by the process, before I even touched film school, because my understanding going into film school... sort of crushed the auteur dream of, like, wanting to “do it all” and just create something for the world. I realized after four years of filmmaking and school that I was a better supporter and connector than I was an actual creator, because I was somewhat bored by the tediousness of the process. I like to come in, drop a cherry on top, drop the mic, walk out. You know, next project. So I did that in film school -- I would help people edit in post and jump on their projects... They would say, “Hey, can Dave help produce this?” but really all I was doing was looking at what they got, or trying to clear a song for them.

So in film school, when I first landed my first-ever placement, which was the Mighty Mouse theme song, and I got the Viacom approval, I thought it was the coolest thing. I’d always sort of... I’ve always loved brands. So even to get the Viacom logo approval of a real Mighty Mouse theme, I was through the roof. I hadn’t really actually felt that excitement on film before, and every time I’d land something that made the film legit, and connect with the audience, it was stellar for me. Because I’d see it in the screenings -- they hated most of the films in film school, but then a song would come on and everyone would have this moment of release, and it was like everyone was in the same headspace as I wanted them to be in.

What created legitimacy of the film through music?

D: For me, to be totally honest, we were the last year the last year to do film. Like film, film, 35mm for our 4th year projects. We were also emerging as filmmakers at the same time as the Blair Witch Project. The aesthetic quality became less important -- it was more about content, what you could do with it, and taking the medium and kind of giving it a sheen with music. So you put a polished song on it and all of a sudden it gives legitimacy to everything. Everything looks purposeful -- that out of focus shot looks on purpose because... that’s a classic song. That really helped. And I think it also brings value to Canadian films, where sometimes, you know, we’re lacking on budget. Our television shows have a little less coverage than an American show... the actors might not be as known or whatever. But when a song comes in, and it’s familiar and it kicks ass, it’s undeniable. So I love being a part of those undeniable moments.

In what way do you find that your experience in Toronto, in particular, has provided you a unique perspective in music licensing?

D: I’ve never gotten lazy. Not to say that anyone’s lazy in what we do -- far from it. But... I’ve never graduated to the films that have that huge budget where everything is going to be possible and anything I want I can get. Or anything the director wants they can get. Which to me doesn’t even sound like fun, because I’m not a paper pusher. I’m a problem solver. So you have a creative problem -- frankly, you can’t afford something -- we’re going to find a better solution. And that allows me to take something totally off the table because you just can’t afford it. As a Canadian, you just can’t afford this song, unless you strip back everything else in your film. So we now have a clean slate and the director has somewhat of an open mind, if they’re responsible. So with that clean slate I can go left. I can go way left. I can go dead on and present alts. But it allows me to then come in and suggest something to elevate the story or character.

With less of a budget, do you find yourself in some ways having a little more freedom to do what you want to do?

D: More creativity. I would say less freedom. No, not less freedom, it just... it is what it is. Sometimes you have -- in the indie budget world -- what you consider a good, healthy budget, but it’s being eaten up by a song. My strategy is to kind of always create tentpoles that your film can rest on. But if that tent pole is stuck on one song, you have a good ol’ Canadian teepee. And that’s what happens sometimes -- just one big pole in the center and then you have to build the rest of the soundtrack with a lot of indie music. To me, when someone recognizes a song, great. When someone falls in love and discovers something new from a film -- that’s the big win. It allows me to put my friends or locals and emerging artists from around the world that I meet into films that are vehicles going into the States or going on Netflix. So that opens up a whole world that allows me to be creative.

So looking at trends in licensing, where do you see that going -- more particularly in the Canadian music landscape? What trends are currently happening and where do you foresee it going?

D: Licensing budgets are stable, you know. Television’s not going up or down right now because the popularity of television is not growing. I think the popularity of the Internet just keeps truckin’ forward, to the point where we’re at the 15-second spot being the darling, and not the 30-second broadcast. So the 15-second pre-roll web is actually more important. We’re out of that space where “can we also do a 15-second version for the online?” and we have to pump the breaks and go “well, is that for pre-roll?” That changes the whole picture, because that’s how you’re getting to people right away. That 15 seconds is impactful, you can still tell a great story in 15 seconds, you can still punch out a good song. Fifteen seconds is a lot less time to live with a song, so at the same time we’re moving out of high-tempo, in-your-face music into what I call “sadvertising music.” Sadvertising music, you know, we’re a part of that and I think some of the most wonderful campaigns are in that genre -- but the music is generally slower, you get piano movements that don’t resolve themselves in 15 seconds, so there’s something happening like, you know, maybe the 30 pre-rolls are going to start being heroes because you’ve got this long, drawn out spots with beautiful music underneath. We do a lot of covers because of that. People want an interesting take that touches people’s hearts, but in a new way. A cover does that immediately. It’s something that you recognize that touches you but there’s a newness to it, and then we bring that celebrity factor where we’ll try to bring someone who’s recording, releasing an album, someone special from the States or Europe or something like that, and try to tie in a celebrity angle to it. Added value, added echo effect and amplification.

From when you started off as a music supervisor until now, what are some definitive ways you’ve had to change your approach?

D: Well, I used to believe there was added value in having an emerging artist do original content for an advertisement, and now I realize that that’s pretty much farting in the wind for everybody. Because for the artist, it doesn’t really resonate if they’re emerging... it usually is just lost. The idea that they can produce as well as someone who is a seasoned composer is not really the truth. Now we’ve pulled back and we really work with artists to do covers. And as much as I’d love to take credit for the covers that are on my reel, what we do is casting -- it’s that film approach that I do, because casting is 90 percent of the film. That’s the job of the director -- you find the right people. And all you do is ask them to be themselves. Let them live or die on this spot based on what they already do, because they’re going to celebrate it at the end of the day, and you want it to fit into their body of work. That’s been very successful to me. When Phrasey4th covered “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”. You can get it on Spotify because she felt like it fit into her body of work. And that’s what we do -- we ask people to put it through their filter and that’s been successful.

Toronto is a very established entertainment city. What is one thing that you would say to the US counterpart that they don’t understand about Toronto? What’s something that makes you think “this needs to be clear”?

D: What needs to clear is that, we’ve just always been doing what we’re doing. And although it seems like we want approval, we don’t need it. So things will continue whether we’re famous, whether the spotlight is on or off. People in Toronto are always going to be doing what they’re doing. Whether it’s because of cold weather... or the freedom of the government to allow us to help support the arts and use that or that money being used for other projects, initiatives and endeavors that then support the arts and give it a platform and a stage. That’s all a wonderful thing. I think it’s a war of attrition in this country and that’s what people don’t understand, is you stick with it and you become legendary. When I sort of put the headphones on Americans and they listen to the legends of Canada, there’s that “wow.” There’s that moment or there are those legends, or those legends are already a part of their mosiac of heroes. Whether it’s Gordon Lightfoot or Leonard Cohen, Neil Young. Jonie MItchell to Drake and Broken and all the great shit that’s happening now. I mean, it’s real. It’s real. It’s not an act. It’s never been an act.

Posted on September 2, 2016 and filed under Field Notes, Music.