As a composer, I hear (or maybe am subjected to) a lot of strange comments. For instance, after a long day in the studio of recording new music with an orchestra, a client of mine says, “you just whip this stuff out don’t you?” I had just spent several long days and an all nighter composing, orchestrating and doing the music prep for the gig. Another time I had just received DVDs by Fed Ex from a director to start working on his movie. A half hour later I got a call from him and he said, “I saw you received it by Fed Ex, will I hear the first cue tomorrow?” I hear comments like this from composer friends, some funny and some completely off base even from people who should know better.
Actually, there are several issues that can be dealt with in those two comments, but the questions I am often asked are, “where did you get those ideas,” “can you explain the creative process,” and sometimes, “what were you thinking?” Attempting to answer this is not something that you can just give a formula for and in reality, impossible. However, here are some of my answers.
Inspiration is unexplainable-I believe it is a combination of being God given and at the same time a lot of sweat and hard work involved. There are times when out of nowhere an idea comes, sometimes a chord progression and/or mood enter my mind first and then I develop a theme or melodic lines. Sometimes it comes all at once and it’s so fast I can’t seem to write my ideas down fast enough.
I tend to be a “visual” composer, so when I am doing movies the very first part of the process is to watch the movie over and over. I like to watch the movie in it’s entirety 2-3 times (or more depending on the deadline). After the first 2-3 times I go thru it with a pad and music paper and jot notes down on what should be here and there, even after I’ve had a spotting session with the director. When I have watched it several times ideas and inspiration begins to solidify in my mind as I start writing the first cues.
There are times when I have to sit down to write because I have a deadline and feel completely blank. What do I do then? I brainstorm, improvise, or rely on experience hoping not pirate from music I have composed for other projects. There is no one answer you can give, because each situation is different.
The years spent listening and observing other composers, and musicians, analyzing and spending time observing how they structured their music is important. Over the next few blogs I will be writing on inspiration, a composer’s heroes including some of mine and issues that composer’s deal with in their craft and profession.
Jonathan David Neal