Interview – Mark Smythe

Composer Mark Smythe

Mark is a composer from Nelson, New Zealand. He moved to to LA in 2013. I first met him at a composer / director show-and-tell and was dazzled by his gregariousness and amiable personality. He has been an important contributor to the success of the Society of Composer and Lyricists and is a swell bro to share a glass of European lager with.

Where did you move from? What did you leave behind?

I moved from Melbourne, Australia. Or Mel-bourne, as Americans like to say. I left behind stable employment and a marriage. And a lot of good friends. 

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A Most Happy “Fellow” At the LAFCI

Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Bros.

One of my main objectives when I set up this blog was to chronicle my journey as a film composer in LA. Because of my chronic procrastination, this is my first post on that subject. (I will revisit some earlier experiences in later posts.)

Like many composers here, I am always looking for opportunities to expand, to forge new relationships and to learn. Earlier this year, I submitted my application to the Los Angeles Film Conducting Intensive, an annual workshop founded by conductors David Newman and Angel Velez, “designed to create an opportunity for media composers to further their skills as conductors.” This sounded like the perfect opportunity for me to expand my skill set. I’ve conducted small recording sessions in the past, but have always chosen to hire conductors for large orchestra sessions. I’ve experienced first hand how valuable an experienced conductor’s skills are when recording a feature film score, especially when you only have a few days to record an hour’s worth of orchestral music. But it makes sense for the composer of the music being recorded to hold the baton. Who else is more passionate about the outcome and more knowledgeable about how the music should sound?

I was thrilled when I was accepted as one of twelve Fellows for this intensive which will be held at the iconic Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Brothers Studios. To be able to work directly under the tutelage of several of the most decorated conductors and orchestrators in Hollywood is a dream come true. (Day four will include conducting one of my own film score cues with a 62-piece orchestra.) I had the privilege of meeting two of the instructors of the LAFCI earlier this fall, Conrad Pope and William Ross. I’ve known about Conrad for years as the man John Williams calls on to orchestrate his iconic scores. A top composer in his own right, he has collaborated with a pantheon of composers that include Alexandre Desplat, James Newton Howard, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. I met William (Bill) Ross at an ASMAC event and attended the 2016 Golden Score Awards where he was being honored alongside Alf Clausen. You know you have achieved greatness when luminaries such as film critic Leonard Maltin and composers David Foster, Alan Silvestri, Kenny G and John Williams attend the ceremony and testify in praise of your accomplishments and qualities as a human being.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to this workshop and will be posting  updates…

Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Brothers Studios, location of the 2016 LAFCI

Finding Work as a Composer

by Jeremy Borum — author of Guerrilla Film Scoring: Practical Tips from Hollywood Composers

Borum-Headshot-alt-620x400The methods of finding work are constantly changing, and the type of music that sells is changing even faster. No matter how long your music career lasts, the difficulty of finding work will persist throughout for all but a lucky few. If you want a career as a composer, you need to be prepared to spend considerable energy finding work, and you’ll have to do most of it guerrilla style.

1. Build a network that endorses you

If the director of a film, television show, or video game needs a composer and doesn’t have the right one, he or she will almost certainly begin the search by asking colleagues for recommendations. It’s very rare that people will begin by cold-calling agents or putting up advertisements. People seek personal recommendations because their options are vast. There are tens of thousands of composers to choose from; the process of starting a composer search from scratch is daunting, and nobody has the time for it.
For directors, asking friends and colleagues for recommendations does two things. First, it reduces their options from infinite to finite numbers that they can probably count on their fingers. Second, their colleagues act as a trusted filter and they can be confident that the short list is a good one. When people can simply ask around, follow up on some recommendations, and get exactly the right composer for the job, then that is the approach they will take every time.
That moment of personal recommendation is gold to a composer. If you can be the name on the top of somebody’s mind, the website they happen to remember first, or the inspired genius that somebody raves about, you will be head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. It doesn’t mean you’ll get the job, but it opens a door for you in the most flattering of ways. The moment in which your friend recommended you is the moment in which your art is monetized, or at least gains the potential for it.

2. Be generous and genuine within your musical community

Those recommendations will never come if you actively try to sell yourself all the time, nor will they come from “networking” in the common sense of self-promotion and handshaking for the sake of furthering your own needs. Using your relationships for active marketing strains them and diminishes them. It doesn’t matter if somebody has your contact information and knows your work. What matters is that they like and respect you and that they know of your abilities. The best way to monetize the relationships you have is to consciously not try to monetize them at all, because genuine relationships are, without fail, the most reliable conduit to work opportunities.
The kind of networking that works most reliably is drawing connections for other people, not for yourself. If you know one person who has a need and another person who can fill that need, connect them with each other purely for the sake of helping two of your friends. When you are the voice giving the personal recommendation, you are strengthening your relationships with those individuals, building your community, and forming new bonds that hold it together. Your contribution to the success of others will not be forgotten. The absolute best way to propel your career forward is by pouring yourself generously into your community.

3. Surround yourself with strength and support

Composers’ careers grow organically. The growth may be fast or slow, but it’s never random. New growth and opportunity springs out of what’s already there. If the music stands on its own and speaks well for itself, and if the composer does the same, then opportunities and relationships grow naturally. Over time, a career increases in size and substance. At some point a snowball effect begins, and it can begin to roll on its own, picking up size and speed without too much effort. The key to the growth and the snowball effect is that the core has to be strong, because it can’t hold together otherwise.
The key to finding work as a composer is unquestionably the relationships you have with people. You cannot take them for granted, nor can you draw on them in a way that makes the give-and-take unbalanced. The relationships that will lead to the most long-term successes are loyal ones based on mutual respect, generosity, common interests, and shared passions. When you build a real community around yourself and pour yourself into it, you will find yourself in fertile soil where your career can grow freely and with support.

Jeremy Borum is the author of Guerrilla Film Scoring.
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