It’s safe to say that not many 7-year-olds grow up with the idea of making music for picture in mind for their career -- but Georgia-based composer, Matthew Morgan, did. Collaborating with his filmmaker brother from a young age, Morgan found himself inspired by the scores to films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Rudy, discovering his passion for crafting scores that not only elevate the films they accompany, but that tell stories themselves. While he pursues this passion, we see the talented pianist, songwriter, sound designer (the list goes on), compose music for a variety of different projects, from indie movies to brand campaigns and more.
As a soloist, Morgan produces ethereal instrumentals featuring piano and string accompaniment. His orchestral songography provides for pensive moments of beauty that build in energy for intense conclusions, as exemplifed in his breath-taking composition “Sun Through the Clouds.” Morgan’s collaboration projects -- the dreamy indie pop of Planets and the nostalgic folk rock of Stella Stagecoach -- also highlight his ability to create dynamic music with other musicians, even remotely.
We met with Morgan to learn more about his creative ambitions, the challenges of music licensing, and how the right music can impact film.
Marmoset: When did you realize you wanted to make music as your job?
Matthew Morgan: I mean, I wanted to do it from a young age, but I didn't actually think I would do it until my late teens, maybe early 20s, because I didn't really have a plan of how I would monetize. My brother is a filmmaker, so even from a young age, we'd make movies. I guess I was more like a music supervisor, because I didn't really have the tools to make the music myself back then. So I'd just find all these soundtracks and put them in. We'd go through them, and we'd pick the best ones that fit the project. I wasn't just into music from a young age, but into music for film from a young age. In some ways, that side almost excites me more. I haven't really been in the band scene -- I've played live before, but it's always more like a one off. I never really thought of doing a tour because I've always thought of the film world. I want to do music for film and be more involved with film in general, even beyond music. With film, I think I just love story and emotion, and conveying that.
Is there a certain film that you can remember that really stuck out to you from a young age?
I guess one film where the music really stuck was probably To Kill A Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein's music in that. There's just some really, really cool moments...certain melodic moments in there that I just really, really love. Him and the guy that did Rudy. I remember watching that when I was young. In that era, everything was just real. Real instruments, real orchestras. It's almost classical in a way, but a lot of that is what got me excited. Early James Horner, and James Newton Howard -- those guys, the older era.
On your website, you talk about wanting to tell stories through music. What does that mean to you, and how do you do it?
Going back to film, we think so much in imagery and sound. Recently I was walking through a local town wearing earbuds, and you realize so much changes just by inserting the music into it. It takes something that's pretty normal, pretty mundane, and the music almost pulls out the story elements. It always has some sort of arc, some sort of tension. It's that human element that just kind of pulls you in. I think the best songs you write, or the best art you create, comes from really personal projects -- not necessarily emotional, but whether it was a tough time or a really joyful time, it was an arc in your own life that came across through the song you wrote.
What is something you wish all artists or composers knew about music licensing?
I feel like a lot of artists and composers don't know about it at all. Everyone gets in a band or starts doing music, they assume it's all in digital sales. Like, "Okay, I gotta sell this CD,” or whatever. They don't realize you can probably make more licensing them to companies, because they're willing to pay more. I feel like most composers and artists should learn about that method of monetizing their music and also, learning to compromise a bit. There's nothing wrong with learning to customize or tweak your music to better suit someone's needs, to serve another cause.
On the flip side, what's something you wish all filmmakers or agency producers knew about creating music for picture?
Oh man, so many things. I wish they knew you couldn't just click and drag the length of a song. It's not like an Apple loop, where you just click and drag whatever length you need. But I guess in a broader sense, I would say maybe don't be afraid to let the composer be a bigger team player in the overall project. Sometimes the custom music is just an afterthought, and if you make the composer a team player from the beginning, you're going to get so much better results. Because they're going to have input in the story, they're going to actually care about the overall story, the visuals, everything that's being told. With the directors that I've worked with that actually give me that input, I feel like I give them a much better result.
What's your favorite part of composing?
Say I'm given a project that I'm really excited about, or I'm really captivated by this idea that they're trying to capture. That stage -- when there's nothing, when I have nothing, and I have to capture this beautiful moment that they're trying to capture. I already have a story, I already have a visual or something to inspire me. So you have the starting point, but it's like, "Okay, I've got this, but I've gotta take the audience to here, with this." And the pressure with that, but there’s also the reward of, "Man, if I can accomplish this..." The thing is, so much of creating music is listening. For me, it's experimenting until I feel it or hear what I know it's supposed to be. Okay, is that taking me to here yet, and if not, what can I do? And you just keep experimenting until you hit that high note.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
I would say probably twofold. You know the saying "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life"? Basically that same idea. If you start off your life with that mentality, where instead of having money as a goal, or success, or whatever, your goal is just, "I'm going to do what I'm passionate about." And especially if I can affect others, I think that's something that excites me, inspiring others. If I can write something that I feel is inspiring, hopefully it can inspire others, too. But back to that idea of, "Do something you truly are passionate about, that truly inspires you, then you're not going to work a day in your life."
The other prong to that is learn to work hard. It's one thing to have the idea, but usually you actually reach it by some level of commitment. And maybe “work” is a bad word, but you're still committing time to accomplishing whatever. It doesn't have to be this grueling, terrible thing. You may love it. In fact, I think a lot of the people that are the best at what they do, the reason they're best is they put so much time because they love it so much. I'd say do what you love, but also the second part of that is just do it a lot. Do it even when you don't feel like doing it.