- Stephen Hicks
This is all too easy!
Let’s be honest, blogging is essentially just setting down for someone else to read the internal monologue we have constantly running through our heads. Well, I say internal - those who know me personally are painfully aware that these things are rarely just internal with me…. but for those of you who are yet to have the dubious pleasure… here goes!
It has been a slow process for me, reconciling the short cuts, compromises and creative ambiguities of making music to picture. Back in the early noughties, I was incensed to the point of considering a change of career to IP law when an enormously famous film composer unashamedly stole – yes, stole – a piece of Wagner to score a grandiose scene in a rather successful, erm , gladiatorial movie. How could he just nick it without even a mini mention in the CD (!) booklet? Of course, I have since learned of the pressure of temp tracks, directors’ whims, silly project timelines and, perhaps more importantly, that the soundtrack that inspired me to be both composer and trumpet player contains rather a lot of barely disguised clones of 19th/20th century “models”.... (still love it)
But this is not what this first blog is about – this is a complaint by me about me. I try to write every day if I can, even if I have no particular project or deadline to hit. If I am in an orchestral mood, I know what to do: a theme pops into my head, I whack some chords or a counter melody with it and, with the magic of the beautiful samples someone else has lovingly recorded and programmed, you know, it sounds pretty good. And I feel happy. Does it embody Ezra Pound’s modernist mantra? Of course not. Is it probably a touch derivative? Yes (see above). But it is well constructed and orchestrated from scratch.
But if I am in a “hybrid” mood - this is where the problems start. It is no-one’s fault but a consequence of the march of technology. I open up a synth or new exciting sample set and stop thinking about chords, structure, harmony, line and just make it sound great. Dynamic, professional without too much messing about with the mix or endlessly adjusting reverbs – this is all too easy. Except I have a nagging doubt that I am not thinking enough. The chords are rudimentary, I’ve not even slaved for hours over a modular synth coming up with some unique pad sound.
And I think to myself: THIS IS JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Except, it is.
For the punter this is all great. In fact it’s often just what they want - two recent clients have asked for the music to be “more modern”, “lower”, “darker” and I worked out that what they essentially wanted was the film to all be scored like a modern trailer. Is it my ideal aesthetic? No. Is it subtle? No. But in many ways it works dramatically, it sounds “epic” and serves to accompany and accentuate the narrative. And I can do it! This is just another short cut at the end of a different decade.
Am I going to go back to my previous life as a more academic composer to try to push the boundaries of musical expression? Probably not. But I think what I do need to do is find a balance between what the punter needs to hear and the compromises I am prepared to make, whilst forging a career.
And that is not going to be too easy.