This week Film Music Magazine interviews Deane Ogden, composer and founder of SCOREcastOnline.com, an interactive online community of networked professionals working and serving in the film music industry that features daily commentary, instruction, and discussion about the business and craft of music for film from the perspectives of veteran and emerging film composers, orchestrator, copyists, conductors, players, and assistants. The long-running SCOREcast podcast, co-hosted by Ogden and composer Lee Sanders, is one of the most popular film music podcasts on the Internet.
First, let’s talk about you as a composer – please tell us a bit about yourself, your background, credits, etc
I’ve played drums since I was five years old, but I became addicted to film music during middle school and I knew immediately that this is what I would do. I’ve been composing ever since, and I’m also a session drummer and percussionist around town for artists on recordings and on stage. I’ve scored over twenty feature films and have worked extensively in episodic television. Last year, I wrote the themes for the US Swim Team during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That was the thrill of a lifetime for me. This last summer, I scored a Dean Cain film called “The Way Home” and an award-winning thriller. I also had the great pleasure of working on “Surrogates.”, a Disney film. I’m currently in the middle of scoring several independent films and am finishing up a surprise project that will be unveiled at the MacWorld Expo in January. I’m also working on a round of pilots for network and cable television that are due out next year.
Can you tell us a little about the beginnings of the Scorecast website and podcast – what was your inspiration?
The idea for SCOREcast came out of that unanswerable question that all composers get asked: “How do I get started in the film music industry?” They path by which I found my way in is unique and the question is answered differently by everyone I’ve ever talked to. There is really no “right answer” but there is “right information”, and I think that is what started me thinking about SCOREcast in 2006. Los Angeles is interesting. Everyone has something to sell you, and when I was starting out I bought into much of it. As I became more successful, I remember wondering to myself, “How can I keep other aspiring composers from making the same mistakes I have?” Lightening struck and I began recording SCOREcast episodes. They began as podcasts with my assistant and I riffing about the business of writing music film and TV. At the same time, Apple was just beginning to roll out podcasts on the iTunes Store and asked if I’d be interested in becoming a content partner. That’s when it really took off. SCOREcast’s popularity grew to the point where I began getting more than thirty emails a day from composers all over the world asking to have their questions answered during our episodes. That’s when I realized, “Man…people are really paying attention to this. Maybe I should get serious!” I talked to my friend Lee Sanders, composer for “The Amazing Race,” and invited him to co-host the podcast with me. Three months later, the companion website, www.SCOREcastOnline.com was launched. The website caught fire, and we now have a listener base and readership in the tens of thousands. The big bonus for everyone has been getting to know all the incredibly talented people that are working and coming up in the film music industry. It has become a wonderfully diverse community!
Scorecast is updated daily and draws from a pool of talented composers – is there a method to all of this?
There is. Our goal with SCOREcast is to keep the contributors limited to a small few who are actively working in the industry, save but for two or three. I think it is important to keep a balance of veteran voices and emerging ones, giving people a full 360 degree view into the business. We don’t just have composers offering their viewpoints, however: there are contractors, mixers, music editors, players, executives, copyists, attorneys, agents, managers, orchestrators, assistants…you name it. Every facet of the film music business is represented. It’s for the community, by the community. Every contributor publishes an article once a month and writes from their perspective on the theme of the month. You can expect several surprises coming soon as well as some featured guest contributors that Lee and I are very excited about. We are continually adding content and features — expanding the site to make it more of a benefit to the community — so it is really a daily dose for most of our readers.
The world of score composing has changed a lot during the last 10 years, and with falling composer fees and increased competition from libraries, some would say it has not changed for the better, as far as composers go. What’s your view on the direction the industry is going?
I’m not really one to dwell on the negatives because there are always going to be things that are in need of improvement as we move forward with our work. I see the last ten years as a decade of major strides forward in several areas of our craft, and I get excited thinking about where we were ten years ago as opposed to where we are now. The truth is that throughout history, “change” has been the only constant in the film music industry. Composers who have adapted to the ebb and flow of that change are the ones who have not only survived, but thrived. I don’t subscribe to the theory that there are more composers than work, and in fact, I reject it completely. You cannot take an unfiltered look around at what is happening right now in the creative arts and maintain that opinion with a straight face. The need for music is everywhere, especially with the explosion of independent film and console gaming in the last fifteen years. In terms of sheer content, people need composers more now than ever. Webisodes, TV, theme parks, independent film, logos, documentaries, video games, studio films, trailers, libraries, concert music, industrials — even the iPhone App Store. Again, it is all about your attitude and how badly you want to succeed. The other thing I’m excited to see is that we’re finally recognizing the incredible talent and contribution of women in film music. My mother was the drummer in a rock band, so I have an inherent personal interest in seeing women have a loud, clear voice in this community and take their rightful place at the front of the line. In addition, we now have women featured heavily in orchestras here in town, contracting, and running music departments at major studios. These women are not sitting around and waiting for their opportunities — they are taking them. As far as I am concerned, the strides we’ve made as a creative group far outweigh any setbacks we are still dealing with in regards to Creative Rights issues. I don’t take those issues lightly at all, but I also think those things are still so young that it is tough to tell where they will land in the grand scheme. Creative rights issues will always be something we’ll have to contend with and fight for. We couldn’t call ourselves “struggling artists” without some struggle, right?
From your perspective, what would you say the most important things a composer in the first 1-7 years of their career can do to be successful?
I think you can have all the education in the world and all the talent in the world, but if your attitude is negative, you won’t get out of your own driveway in Los Angeles. This is a tough town. There is always going to be someone with more talent than you, more schooling than you, with a better plastic surgeon than you have, so your secret weapons have to be your attitude and your ability to play ball with the rest of the team. Attitude and Longevity. Persistence. Those are qualities that cannot be taught in school, but instead are cultivated while we are still children playing in the neighborhood sandbox. You either have them or you don’t. They say it takes a typical business five to seven years just to break even. I see so many composers give up right before they are due for their break. It saddens me. I often think to myself, “If they only had a little more stick-with-it-ness, they probably would have done it.” You really need to know who you are and what you were born to do to be out here doing what we are doing. If you don’t know yourself at that level yet, it’s probably best to stay where you are until you figure it out, or do something else. I’m not being pessimistic, just the opposite. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will either. You have to know that you know that you know, in your heart of hearts.
Also, my father always told me growing up that there is “no such thing as a self-made man.” The moment will arrive when it will be painfully evident that you cannot do everything yourself. You really need to do great work and do it consistently enough to attract management or representation of some kind. That’s when things can really start hitting on all eight cylinders for you. My manager is exceptional and she takes great care of my business so that I can just focus on writing music and making movies. My incredible girlfriend takes care of our household like a pro and helps me maintain a healthy balance between home and career. That is something that you cannot put a price-tag on. It becomes increasingly valuable as the stakes get higher to have solid partners gunning for you twenty-four seven.
What advice would you give a composer who’s been in the business for 20+ years but is now seeing their business decline?
When I lecture in learning environments, I often tell music students “You aren’t in the music business, you’re in the magic business.” To me, that is an important thing to remember. I think it is easy for someone who has been at this gig for a long time to forget why they got into it to begin with. After a while of dealing with the day-to-day business of film scoring, it becomes easy to forget your “first love” — that magic of creating a musical place of escapism for an audience. That is really your job and it’s easy to forget that.
I say, “Risk more.” Reinvent yourself. You can’t blame it on circumstances, because those won’t change. You have to change yourself. Color outside the lines a bit and you might find yourself with a renewed purpose — a better understanding of where your music is going to lead you for the next season of your career. Be bold and get dangerous. Move out of your rut and do something you have told yourself for years you would never do. That’s really what grows an artist. I have a “risk-addiction” and it drives my team crazy, but I’ve made a commitment to myself to never become complacent. It goes back to that thing of becoming adaptable to change that we were talking about earlier. It’s okay to be afraid of uncharted waters, but you have to just hold your breath and dive in anyway. It’s either that or sail off into the sunset of the forgettable.
Technology plays a critical role in most composers’ work, from assisting the creative process to enabling full-scale realistic mockups, to playing a substantial role in the final produced music. What technology do you use as a composer, and what advice do you have for composers who are trying to figure out how to best invest in technology for their studio?
I’ve been a lifelong Mac enthusiast and I use Logic Studio to track with simply because I know the platform like the back of my hand. Even still, I think it is important for a composer to know how to use all the technology that is available today. It’s especially critical from a collaborative standpoint. You really need to know ProTools, Nuendo, Logic, and DP, and you need to know how to use them in tandem with one another. As far as hardware goes, your first line of defense really has to be the most powerful computer you can afford. Period. Get the biggest, baddest processor, the most RAM possible, and the fastest hard drives you can get. It might be painful on the pocketbook at first, and you might lay in bed that night and think, “What have I done?”, but that one step will save you so much time and agony down the line. I’m also a firm believer in using the social media technology that we are enjoying right now. I don’t use it to play around and “poke” people, however! I use it to multiply myself and to utilize my resources as a composer. Get a Facebook account and network with people who are killer orchestrators and can mock-up an orchestra blindfolded. That way, when you are on a large project with a tight schedule, you can do what you were hired to do: Write. It’s all about the writing. If you are doing anything other than writing, you technically are NOT doing your job. Everything else, short of interfacing with the principals, can be delegated, and should be. Technology can help you facilitate that.
Mac vs PC? Does it matter any more?
I don’t think it does anymore. I think most people would agree that what really matters most is what you are comfortable with. Again, you are hired to compose. To write. If your gear is keeping you from doing that, find out why and change it. I also think this goes for the arguing in forums and places online where you run into these people bantering back and forth — PC versus Mac, OSX versus Windows 7. It’s not a productive debate anymore. Besides, if you are spending time arguing, that means you aren’t writing! I have my reasons for choosing Mac, and as long as Apple continues to play well with others, I’ll stick. If being a Mac user ever keeps me from getting my job done, I’ll look at other options in a heartbeat. My computer is a tool of my trade, not a religious experience.
Getting back to Scorecast, where do you see the website and podcast 5 years from now? What are some of your goals in terms of what you’d like to accomplish with the site?
Honestly, I envision an interactive community of resourceful film music industry people — a centralized hub of knowledge where anyone can know and be known. I believe that in order for our craft to really succeed down the line, our community needs to continue working together to achieve more. We need to stop being afraid of one another and figure out a way for our community to grow smaller as it grows larger. That is my goal with SCOREcast. I’d like to be an old man and hear some composer say in a Film Music Magazine interview that they got their start “by meeting someone on SCOREcastOnline.com.”
What are your thoughts on the current effort to align with the Teamsters and form a composers’ union?
In all candor, I have mixed emotions and I’m not sure where I stand yet. I do know that I trust and respect the group of people who have researched and labored over it for the last three years, trying to figure out how to best serve the community with a guild. On the other hand, I also know that I have a ton of questions. Why “The Teamsters”? How will this benefit independent composers? How will it benefit top-tier A-list composers? What kinds of contracts could we negotiate so that everyone… EVERYONE…can keep working?
What do studio executives have to say about the effort? Honestly, the answer to that question will tell me a lot. Those are the people who sign our checks and approve our budgets, so their opinions are of great importance to me. It will be interesting to hear the opinions of everyone as we move forward with discussions.
So those are my immediate questions. My overall concerns lie more with how we are going to handle ourselves as pros in the industry, more than anything. I would caution the community to not jump onboard a bandwagon just because you want to “pick a side.” This is not a popularity contest — it’s our livelihood. Now is not the time to “need to belong.” I think composers must take special care to really listen and research this issue independently, not accepting anyone’s word for anything. Do your own homework and put your own time and effort into finding the right answer. Don’t be lazy and allow yourself to be an automaton that is just being dictated to by any singular group of opinions.
My ultimate bottom-line is that this issue of unionization is YOUR issue as a composer. Every facet of your business as a composer will be affected either way — union or no union, agreement or no agreement. So NOW is the time to get up on your feet and, at the very least, participate in the conversation.
Finally, what’s your favorite film score, and why?
My usual answer to this is “The last one I heard!” In all seriousness, “The Mission” is one of my all-time favorite scores. We just had a very rigorous discussion at SCOREcastOnline.com about what everybody thought the most influential scores of the last decade were. You should have seen the fireworks! People went nuts! For me, though, it is a contextual thing. I’m not a composer, I’m a film composer, and I think it’s because for me the marriage of the two mediums is where the magic happens. I like film music that takes me back to that place. “The Mission” does that. On a smaller scale, Snuffy Walden’s score for Stephen King’s “The Stand” is also a favorite. It just sounds like dusty roads and old flannel shirts to me, and that’s what I’m talking about…the cerebral teleportation to another place and time, even if it’s situational. If that magic isn’t in the soul of the sonics, I’m going to be a tough sell!
For more on Deane Ogden, visit his website at http://deaneogden.com
For more on SCOREcast Online, visit the site at http://www.scorecastonline.com