by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
[My interview with creator Kristen Baum posts in four 30-minute YourCreativeChord Podcast episodes.]
I had the ease and joy of interviewing LA-based composer, writer and poet, Kristen Baum. We had a 2-hour conversation that felt like we'd only just started. Baum is highly energetic, articulate and on-point, and evidently a mover-and-shaker in the creative worlds of film composing, poetry, and writing.
Baum is a (Composers Lab) Sundance Fellow who frequently collaborates on diverse film and live theater projects. She “creates custom scores for films in genres including fantasy, character-driven drama and thriller.”
Baum has “composed music for many projects, from award-winning features and short films to music for studio motion pictures.”
Working With Hollywood Great Film Composer Christopher Young
In addition to orchestrating her own projects Baum has also orchestrated for Hollywood-established Film Composer, Christopher Young. For those who may not be familiar, Young’s film scores include those for: Priest (2011), Rum Diary (2011, starring Johnny Depp), Spiderman 3 (2007, starring Tobey Maguire), The Uninvited (2009), Entrapment (1999), Hellraiser (1987), Nightmare On Elm Street (1985).
Baum “has worked closely with Christopher Young and carries his influence forward in her composing and collaborative approach. She wrote additional music (source) for Book of Eli and orchestrated on Priest and When in Rome. Kristen wrote the score for the dramedy As High as the Sky, which won several audience choice awards on the festival circuit in addition to winning Juror’s Choice for Best North American Feature at Sonoma International Film Festival.
Multiple Creative Outlets From Music to Poetry to Fiction
She also composes and records art songs. Her musical works have premiered in Hollywood, Nashville, Tennessee and Marquette, Michigan. She is a frequent contributor of articles about film composing for HD Pro Guide Magazine and Student Filmmakers Magazine.”
Earning Awards As A Film Composer
Baum also has received Awards and Recognition, including:
2013 BMI Conducting Lab
2011 Sundance Composers Lab Fellow, Feature Films Lab
2011 Park City Film Music Festival, Gold Medal for Excellence in Original Music for the score for The Things You Lose In The Ocean.
I spoke with Baum just after she’d returned from a 2-week writing retreat near the Oregon rainforests, where she and her writing partner began outlining a new novel.
We talked about her creative background and training, and her many creative projects, ranging from music to poetry to writing a fiction novel. She shared how she took the passionate leap to move from Arizona to L.A. to pursue film composing, and then took advantage of being in the right place at the right time to absorb all things film scoring from established Hollywood film composer, Christopher Young.
We also dove into her experience as a Sundance Fellow. Baum shares what that workshop learning process was like, working alongside 5 other Sundance Fellow composers, with guidance from mentor composers Christopher Young, Harry Gregson Williams, George S Clinton, Ed Shearmer, and Alan Silvestri.
Moving The Needle Toward Positive Creative Women Role Models
We discussed the relatively newly-formed group, Alliance For Women Film Composers, addressed the issue for more women composers to emerge, and how women creators of all varieties may proactively move the needle toward more positive creative women role models.
On Collaboration And That Little Inner Critic
We discussed Baum’s approach for collaboration with a director on a film project, both technically and through her personal creative process. She shared what empowers her creativity as well as how she actively deals with that little inner critic or voice of ‘resistance’ (in a nod to author Stephen Pressfield) to keep her creativity flowing.
Baum shared how the variety of her creative outlets is pivotal to tapping inspiration for her work. Her creative works range from composing and orchestrating film scores, art songs, poetry, and fantasy fiction.
Her poetry has been published in several literary journals, and those links are below. I asked Baum to share one of her poems, and she obliged me with her recitation of her beautiful poem, “And No One Hears It.”
But I assure you, you will hear Baum’s powerful creative voice throughout this amazing interview, and if you checkout her music or writings. You’ll find those links below.
I love featuring women creators like Kristen Baum because her powerfully passionate energy, coupled with her ability to articulate her impressive intellect and her pure intentions are a compelling voice for the joy of exploring creative life.
My interview with creator Kristen Baum will post in four 30-minute YourCreativeChord Podcast episodes.
1. Baum was selected to participate as a 2011 Sundance Composers Lab Fellow, with mentorship from Hollywood film composers Christopher Young, Harry Gregson Williams, George S Clinton, Ed Shearmer, and Alan Silvestri.
2. Baum took the leap from Arizona to L.A. to pursue film scoring, springboarding her film composing career from the fortune of working with film composer Christopher Young.
3. Baum shares how her multi-outlet creative works, from orchestrations, film scores, art songs, to poetry, and a fantasy novel work-in-progress, thrive on ebb and flow.
4. We dive deep into a look at Baum's technical and creative process for a collaborative film project.
5. Baum shared how she addresses the inevitable inner critic that creators must encounter.
6. Baum shares her understanding of how Alliance For Women Film Composers originated and the role women creators have toward increasing the number of creative women professionals.
7. Baum recites one of her short poems.
Where to find Kristen Baum’s creative work:
Kristen Baum’s Composer Website
Listen to Kristen Baum's Music on Soundcloud
Director Mike Bonomo’s YouTube Channel
Kristen Baum’s poetry is available here:
Contrary Magazine, Issue Winter 2020
Voice of Eve, Issue 15
Blue Heron Review, Issue 8
Other Resources From This Interview:
Alliance For Women Film Composers
War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Walking In This World by Julia Cameron
Possibilities by Herbie Hancock
Film Scores by Christopher Young
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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 Evolutions
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