By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
HAVING A MENTOR
During our Skype interview, Denver-based composer Jonathan Price spoke affectionately of his music mentor, R. J. Miller. Rightly so, as Miller is a master of orchestration and scored music for the digital re-release (1993) of the original (1920) The Last of the Mohicans, among other films. Miller is also author of Contemporary Orchestration: A Practical Guide to Instruments, Ensembles, and Musicians (Routledge Publishing/Taylor & Francis Group, 2014). Price’s already respectful, friendly demeanor grew exponentially as he described how his friendship with R.J. Miller developed.
Their discussions sprang from a mutual love of film scoring and soundtracks. Later, Miller developed what is now the film scoring program at MSU. He taught Price how to “present melodies with harmonic structure, options and the orchestration that enhances them.” It was Miller’s confidence in him that motivated Price to leave college to pursue his career as a composer.
When asked what was in his initial marketing arsenal, he laughed, “a smile and a good personality.” He had no website, CD or IMDb credits. Price applied the honest feedback from his family and friends to develop himself. When they commented that his music demo “didn’t feel right,” he would rework the music until it was “something they could understand.” He knew audio production “from running sound in bands,” but it took him 3 years until he “felt comfy with audio production skills for film.” He gained experience scoring student films and other zero or low budget projects.
Boosting Production Quality
He further honed his production skills by preparing MIDI mockups (manipulating digital parameters of virtual instruments to emulate a recorded orchestral piece) of John Williams’ scores. Tampering with instrumentation, EQ, compression, reverb, and panning to emulate Williams’ music enabled him to develop both orchestration skills and a faster workflow.
Price discovered that his sound improved as he invested in “decent speakers (not just headphones) that showed all frequencies, reverb, bounced off walls, air. I first started on…Bose speakers that were factory-preset for mixing. But my mixes didn’t sound right.” When he upgraded his studio with abundant RAM, hardware, a good audio interface, analog speakers, plugins, and sample libraries, it dramatically boosted his production quality.
Pitch Like A First Date
As a rookie, he found that pitching to potential clients for music work was the same process as a first date. “If a guy shows up in PJs on a first date, you don’t wanna go out with him…Appearance, packaging, body language and psychology are critical in pitching to directors.” He determined to never offer anything less than his best quality.
A Hollywood scriptwriter/director Price met through a friend told him his music was “too good to not be paid for it.” The director had just finished a Hallmark film, and told Price he wished he’d met him earlier so he could have hired him as the composer. That encounter, coupled with his mentor’s confidence in him motivated Price to begin charging for his work. “Once you start charging full value, directors start taking you seriously.”
Price threw himself into networking at local meet-ups, film network functions, and social media groups. In particular, he launched with a vengeance into attending face-to-face filmmaker events. He rarely pitched his composing services. Rather, he focused on creating friendships to learn as much about each person’s work and passions as possible. He paid attention to the body language and psychology of the filmmaker. Anything he delivered, pitched or said to clients was “very calculated” toward matching his music with their vision.
His networking paid off as his demo qualities improved. Price sent his five-track demo of 15-second music samples via emailed MP3s or Soundcloud links to his growing network. He has enough composing work now that he doesn’t bother marketing anymore.
Film Scoring Career
Since 2003, Price has been scoring professionally, including projects ranging from production house music clips, web-series, audio dramas, podcasts, to short and feature films. Although he has scored everything from drama to horror, romantic drama is both his favorite genre and specialty. His IMDb credits include the comedy, Army & Coop (Director Dennis Hefter), and the sci-fi, River of Time (Director Gss Santosh Kumar). Price enjoyed the variety of composing 10 different styles for Army & Coop.
Some of his IMDb credits are waiting for the directors to complete festival or YouTube campaigns. Many of Price’s clients just wanted to make a film for family and friends, as a hobby. As a result, some films scored by Price never saw the light of day, due to those filmmakers being uninterested in publicly promoting their work.
Recently, Price composed two short films; Pure (Director Stephan Eigenmann), the sweet story of a young cancer survivor, and Exit (Director Stephen Mathis), a story about transferring consciousness to another to help the mentally ill or someone with sensory problems by replacing and reprogramming the troubled mind with a healthy brain.
He is currently composing for a web-series turned episodic TV show meant for distribution to university film schools. The 10-episode PBS-style documentary uses a cinematic storytelling approach to teach scriptwriters.
Price’s marketing arsenal still does not include a website. He has had more success landing work by emailing his resume, music and video samples directly. Due to parenting three children, he turns down certain projects that he doesn’t consider morally acceptable, to focus on romance, drama, and fantasy-adventure.
Studying The Masters
His ensemble experience heightened his grasp of the recorded orchestra sound. “Once you realize how flutes are playing with the violins, and so on,” he explains, the orchestration “fixes everything in the mix.” Listening to a score by great film composers like John Williams, Alexander Desplat, or Alan Silvestri, has taught him both orchestration and production. Through listening and creating MIDI mockups, he learned to pay attention to which instrument or section was being highlighted. He says his favorite film scores “are such delicate, careful orchestrations, that they stand on their own. They don’t need any production—which is why they stand well on concert stage.” His ensemble background gave him the advantage of knowing how instruments are played, interact with each other, and how both those aspects change the orchestra sound. This foundation helps him understand how to emulate the music of his favorite film composers.
Tips For Composers
Price joined the Facebook group, Film Scoring & Orchestration Applied to practice film scoring “for fun and skill development, to learn from other composers and hopefully give my two cents worth. I would love to help out and do whatever I can do to help people get where they need to be.” He has contributed weekly video tutorials to the group, showcasing his film scoring process. He explains that he watches a film “as much as I can til I’m sick of it.” Then he takes a break from it, plays piano, or takes care of his kids. Meanwhile, he is “always thinking through the orchestration in my head, always singing melodies and recording into my phone—so if I get really stuck, I use something recorded.” Later he listens through his recordings to find something to start with, records a piano version of it, and starts transforming that into orchestration.
Price encourages budding music-makers to detach from their work, as “something you created but…not who you are. It’s a product.” He built his rapport with clients on two things; treating his music as a product to serve the client’s creative vision, while interacting with a balanced blend of confidence and humility. Price’s insatiable hunger for learning, coupled with his humble, contributive attitude betrays his vast experience and production skills. “If you stop learning and you think you’ve reached where you wanna go, you are done.”
Price is currently working with writer/director Dennis Hefter on a romantic drama film, and has a screenplay show coming up with director, Rick Ramage. He is also having fun composing and covering audio for an Atlanta church audio drama series.
Price grew up singing, playing piano and trumpet for 10 years. He learned cello and woodwinds. He was determined to learn many instruments, so he could orchestrate them. He studied composition with R. J. Miller at Metropolitan State University, CO. Once he knew the basics of music theory and composition, Price was encouraged to pursue a composing career instead of finishing his degree.
Price on NETWORKING:
DAW: Logic Pro X
2009 MacBook Pro
4T HDs in drive bays
42” 4K monitor
Metropolis Ark 1,2
Olafur Arnolds Toolkit and
Impact Sound Works
Pearl Concert Grand
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Price juggles work with being a stay-at-home parent of three children. He says he gets a good amount of cardio from chasing his “2-year old most of the day.”
6am - Rise early, breakfast and Bible study
8am - Client communications, composing
Afternoon - Composing, marketing, studying, mixed with household chores and toddler-tracking
Family Dinner - NO EXCUSES!
Evening - 2+ hours composing
Night Routine - Quality time with wife
By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Getting Started In Film Scoring
When asked how he started his career as a film composer, Chue said he “actually fell into it.” But his strong work ethic played a significant part, and the rapid take-off of his career is impressive. After graduating from UBC in 1996, Chue returned to his birthplace, Hong Kong. He sent demo tapes to record companies, looking for anything—from performing, recording, arranging to writing.
His willingness to both hustle and apply himself toward multiple types of music work paid off. One of his first jobs was
arranging pop songs for a producer at Warner. “Funny thing though...the producer later said he never listened to my demo tape.” Later that summer, a friend Chue met earlier in Vancouver introduced him to a production assistant at a music production house. A month later, Chue was co-composing his first score with another composer from that production house. “It all happened very fast, and within three months of arriving in Hong Kong.”
Multiple Skills, Networking
Forging relationships that open doors to paid musical work is a similar thread offered to both aspiring and professional composers. Establishing a reputation for doing other types of work is also a familiar theme among successful composers. Those who create multiple avenues using a variety of skills, such as arranging, performing, teaching, orchestrating, transcribing, etcetera, often get hired for something else. Chue has arranged songs for record companies, performed and toured Asia, North America, Australia and New Zealand as keyboardist, and/or served as music director for Hong Kong pop stars Jacky Cheung, Coco Lee, Sammi Cheng, Aaron Kwok and Vivian Chow. His work as arranger and performer led to opportunities for film scoring. Chue has scored or co-scored 15 films since 2001, including most recently, three of director David Lam’s action/crime films.
Film Scoring Versus Composing
Delving into the unique challenges of scoring to picture, Chue says that the most important thing is the film. “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your music is...or even how awful...it has to serve the scene in the film. When you’re ‘just’ composing...you can write anything you want...only you have to like it.” But film scoring, is “all about the film.”
Chue has scored action thrillers, romantic dramas and a few comedies. One of his favorite film scoring projects was Divergence , directed by Benny Chan, starring Aaron Kwok. “It is my favorite because I was able to write a beautiful romantic piece for it, as well as an exciting action theme, and also a short piece with a choir that sang in Tibetan.”
Tips For Film Scoring Composers
Chue considers “a good arsenal of sounds (sample library), a good video sense, and good communication skills” as tools necessary to become a film composer. For aspiring film score composers, Chue suggests learning harmony, orchestration, and how to write good melodies, “All of those are... important, but don’t forget, it’s all about the film. You don’t necessarily need a beautiful melody over a nice orchestration to successfully score a scene in a film. It can be a simple ostinato...a single gong, or...a bar of pizzicato violins, happening at the RIGHT MOMENT.”
He suggests listening to or composing music and asking, “What kind of feeling does that piece conjure? What is the difference between happy and hope? Sad and upset? A fight and a scuffle? Or watch [a] scene in a movie, and ask...what if a string quartet replaced the piano cue? You’d be surprised how the music totally changes the mood and feeling of the scene.”
He suggests being “a happy and easy-going nice guy/girl! People don’t like working with people who are negative, grumpy, or complain all the time.” He also stresses the importance of appearance, emphasizing the need to appear trustworthy by dressing smartly. “Smile when you meet people — including hairdressers and waiters. Be approachable and gregarious...Prepare business cards and music clips online where you can show your music to people.”
Collaboration with others balances Chue’s weaknesses and strengths. He can perform, record, and play the keyboard quickly. But since he doesn’t feel that he finds musical ideas quickly, he joins forces with a friend who does, but cannot play keyboard as well as Chue. “We’ve worked together a few times and we make a great team!”
Chue is currently arranging songs for artists Janice Vidal and Shirley Kwan, while preparing for Aaron Kwok’s world tour. He is looking forward to the debut of his latest film score for L-Storm, a crime thriller by director David Lam, set for release in 2018.
As a child, Anthony Chue began piano lessons, and played clarinet and trombone in school band, which provided an understanding of how instruments work together. By high school, he was arranging and composing for the school band and orchestra. Chue majored in music composition at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Although he doesn’t consider himself a jazz musician, he gained experience with jazz harmony by playing in Fred Stride’s big band, and later studied jazz piano with world renowned John Novello in Los Angeles.
BEST FILM MUSIC AWARD NOMINATIONS
Golden Horse Film Awards:
*Men Suddenly in Black - 2003, TaiwanDivergence - 2005, Taiwan
Invisible Target - 2007, Taiwan
Asian Film Awards:
*Reign of Assassins - 2011, Hong Kong*Nominated with composer Peter Kam
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Chue starts work at noon, dealing with:
setting up recording sessions
communicating with producers and
listening to music
looking for sample library sounds
composing on keyboard and computer
Chue keeps healthy with a 20-minute daily jog or bike ride each afternoon, and works into the early morning hours.
DAW: Digital Performer Sound Libraries:
Native Instruments Spectrasonics Peter Siedlaczek
East West Kirk Hunter 8Dio
By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Lexington, Kentucky-based Rob Pottorf has been composing and arranging for years. He spent 11 years working for Paramount Parks, ‘composer and arranger bootcamp,’ where he established his production skills, and a solid regiment to meet tight deadlines. “When I started out...I didn’t have the luxury of saying, ‘I...don’t feel creative today.’ ...Others were constantly waiting for me...so I had to...start creating immediately.” Having to deliver a different project every four hours, working from 8am until 10:30pm to get demos out, he “became very disciplined.”
Pottorf says the best and worst aspect of being a professional composer is that he is always working. “It’s not a burden, I love and have a passion for it...But I do get burned out so I take a few days’ off for a needed break.”
Olympic Mental Strategy
What’s impressive about Pottorf is his practice of bold, daily affirmations to combat the typical self-doubt of the artist experience. He acknowledges vulnerability is par for the course for professional composers working against tight deadlines in a fiercely competitive field. Rather than being distracted by that, Pottorf launches a laser-focused determination to bring his total A-game to each project. When competing for a job, he has trained himself to go to a solid, mental zone, convincing himself he is “better than they are.”
He has to feel this at the onset, "But at the end of the project, I feel the doubt...half the battle is dealing with yourself. The neurosis... is needed because that’s what gives you that creative spark...But everyday you have to get up and do affirmations and reaffirmations, to be sure you don’t let that voice that wants to destroy you inside tell you that you’re not good enough...that’s a constant thing...It’s part of being an artist. You’re never as good as you wanna be...so you have to battle that everyday...I go into it with maybe a little fear, but also with the fact that I know I can do this ‘cause I’ve done it before.”
He doesn’t allow writer’s block as a notion; he combats any inclination of it by taking fast action. He knows his strengths; and uses them to get the job done right. Pottorf says doubts come when finished, but refuses to entertain any of these thoughts while working on a project. His positive mindset has worked; out of 17 songs he’s pitched in competition for Disney projects, only two weren’t accepted.
Experience and Discipline
He became a good judge of character using intuition and years of experience. His experience with multiple productions as a performer, composer, producer and arranger, gives him a broader perspective. Now he can read his clients’ needs, and instinctively knows the right thing to contribute musically.
“I’ve been lucky to experience so many different aspects of the industry...Primarily that’s why I get hired by Disney a lot...
Because I have experience as both a performer and producer/writer...I get it and they don’t have to spoon-feed me. They can call me and say they need this, and I can jump on it.” He looks at each project “from a production standpoint, as far as...how it will work for them.”
Pottorf wears two hats for Disney; producing midi orchestration mockups, and composing original music. Recently, he composed and arranged for Disney’s Toy Story Land’s opening and dedication ceremony. Pottorf scored a marching band medley of Randy Newman’s Toy Story musical themes. For the opening, his original music weaved into his arrangement of Newman’s Buzz Lightyear underscored theme, while in “typical Disney lavish-production-style, nine Green Army men were propelled over a huge cardboard box over the stage.” He composed several original themes, including music for character entrances and exits, soaring to an
ending with his arrangement of Newman’s You’ve Got A Friend In Me.
The ceremony was a ‘one-off,’ and they didn’t want to spend $200K” for an orchestra. Pottorf programmed all the music, except for a live trumpet section recorded at Disney that he attended via Skype. Pottorf is honored to be part of the small circle of composers hired by Disney. For Tokyo Disney’s My Friend, Duffy 2-act live stage show, he composed the entire show for live orchestra. Pottorf’s 2010 original score and songs were recorded with an orchestra in Nashville. The Duffy Bear (formally Disney Bear) character’s popularity in Japan made the show a hit, so Pottorf was asked to create music for a third act in 2012. The show introduced new
characters; Duffy’s girlfriend, Shellie May (2012), and an Italian cat artist, Gelatoni(2016). In 2016, Pottorf composed a fourth act to introduce Gelatoni and continue the story. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Pottorf achieves successful negotiating by accommodating client demands. He adopted the Japanese phrase, ‘Mon dai-nai’ meaning, ‘No problem’ to navigate difficult client requests. While this lets them know he’ll do anything to satisfy his client’s needs, he intentionally spells out what that entails, including added expense. He makes it clear that everything is “No problem,” and quotes the essential cost. Clients usually forfeit their requests. This negotiating strategy both satisfies the client and gets Pottorf off the hook without being the bad guy. “The last thing they want to hear is we can’t do that.” He believes every client “likes to have fun.” Knowing that producers and directors are in high stress situations, he aims to make the process as enjoyable as possible.
He approaches marketing ‘chaotically’. He posts a work sample of a finished project to his Rob Pottorf Music social media, and sends a Mailchimp message to inform industry contacts. When he sees something online about a potential gig, he follows up directly. He looks six months ahead for work, so that he always has “that next project.” Once he gained a track record, he started to get more work. His compares his career to a chess game. He moves “a pawn ‘cause you know your bishop needs to get out...”, meaning that everything has to be strategic. He finds projects that can develop into more work, like the film he’s currently scoring that has potential visibility with strong cast members. “My Dad told me every opportunity is an opportunity. Everything you do leads to something else. That path, those opportunities lead to something. If you’re doing a project and a guy needs a car commercial that only pays $500, make sure you do it like it’s $5 Million. When people find out about it, people pay attention to your quality. You are only as good as your last job.”
Tips For Composers
Pottorf suggests the “most important thing is to hone your skills...because you get a level of expertise, not only with creating music, but also how to put that music to picture...drive something...stay out of the way.” Pottorf stresses film scoring is like a language that takes practice and time to master. He views today’s composing software or DAW of choice, as a musical instrument. He says it’s as important to become proficient with the technology as it is for musicians to master an instrument. Using a DAW is “like practicing an instrument to get the best sound. If you had a Stradivarius, and you don’t know how to play it yet, it will sound like a $14 instrument.”
Pottorf’s Composing Process
Pottorf explains his film composing process with an anecdote about Michelangelo’s creation of David; When asked how he created the artwork, Michelangelo said David already existed inside the stone, and he just had to chip away to release him. Similarly, Pottorf feels the music is already in the film, and his job is to release it.
Pottorf composes about two minutes of music per day. “It takes the first few days to... work on thematics, flush out things...get a feel...for the film..fool around with things... get in the groove.” He watches the film, listening until he hears something. “It might be one thing. You might hear an oboe. Put that oboe line there as a foothold!” Or he may “hear something, like a chord, or a progression, just put that one piece in there.” If nothing comes to him, he listens to the end of the film. “Then fill in the middle. Once you have something, you can build on it. Like modeling clay, just massage until you figure out what works. Find pieces that work together, play a bit until you’ve got components within the cue to tie and mold together to become something.”
Pottorf is scoring Brent Christy’s action-drama feature film, Legal Action. It took him two weeks to complete the opening 10-minute action scene. Consisting of many visual starts and stops, it was a challenge to score it without musically chopping it up. He’s also scoring an L.A. comedy, Magic Max, and two of Jeffrey Day’s Kentucky-based films, Joy Cart and The Barefoot Boys. Pottorf’s goal is to “keep working for the rest of my life...that’s the name of the game.”
Originally from Ohio
Played music from age 5
Composed from age 9
Musical family members
Studied at Ohio University and University of Cincinnati
Music Director and Senior Music Composer at Paramount Parks for 11 years
Composer for Film/TV and Live Entertainment since 1999, based in Lexington, KY
Warner’s Bugs Bunny composer, Carl Stalling is Pottorf’s musical hero. Emulating Stalling’s music is “how I learned to write animated scores.”
A DAY IN THE LIFE
7am - Coffee, dog walk
8am - Work on Projects
Lunch with author wife or while working
Afternoon - Compose/Arrange, Marketing/Communications
5pm - Daily 2.5 mile jog
Dinner & Family Feud with wife
9 -11pm - Composing
Film/TV: Live Entertainment:
Mountain Top Disney
County Line Tokyo Disney
20th Century Fox’s The Trial Nickelodeon
Lions Gate's Unrequited Dollywood
GMC Channel's Trinity Goodheart
CBS’ Danger Rangers
Little Dogs On The Prairie
Christmas on The Coast
NEW DAW: Cubase
(After 30 years using Digital Performer)
NEW Notation Software: Dorico
(Switched from Finale, serial #00566, since 1988)
Controllers: 2 iPads
One with a meta systems meta grid, tailored to any specific DAW, the other with Lemur (which Pottorf programmed himself)
Universal Audio’s Apollo
Roland A88 controller
Tap Tempo app
LA 2A compressers
Pottorf had a custom-designed console built into an executive desk by a local artist. The desk has a built-in rack mount instead of drawers, the Roland A88 mounted underneath the desk, and pneumatic lifts—for placing wires underneath.
Summer Film Institute
Since 2015, Pottorf spends a few days as a guest lecturer at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music’s Summer Film Institute. He shares his knowledge, and talks with students about his composing process, music theory and how to write for media. Students score a short film clip using CCM’s (Logic) DAWs, and Pottorf listens to each short score, offering his professional viewpoint.