COMPOSER SPOTLIGHT - Adam Grigg
Welcome back to our latest edition of composer spotlight, the blog series where we talk with emerging film and game composers around the globe about their creative process.
In todays interview we sat down with UK composer and Audio Post-Production professional Adam Grigg.
Check out the full interview below!
1. How would you describe your creative process?
When composing music for film, I personally never have any luck grasping inspiration from a script, and therefore I've always needed visuals in order to channel ideas. I tend to watch the film from beginning to end, without really thinking too much about music and just try to enjoy the footage organically. Only then can I know how to correctly spot the moments that could be enhanced by music.
The Instrumentation and style required, tend to become apparent to me quite early on in the process but knowing which perspective the music should be coming from in each scene is a little more tricky, it's not always clear from the offset whether or not the music should follow what a character is physically doing in a scene or if it should underline the emotion that the characters are feeling instead. A great example of this is in the movie Glory. Matthew Broderick's character is looking out to the ocean just before he and his men go to war and the music tells us through a beautiful rendition of the main theme what's going on in his head at that moment, rather than the use of dialogue. So the perspective the music should take within a scene is paramount to me.
So with this in mind, I will painstakingly go through each scene again, jotting down ideas for rhythm, emotion, instrumentation, colour etc. Once I've done this I will sometimes take a scene and then look for similar cues from other scores that I own, which I think have similar qualities to that of my ideas and drop them over the scene’s, just to see if my ideas actually work well against the picture. Then I go to my piano and get to work.
2. As well as music, you also work in audio post-production. How does your experience in this area influence your work as a composer?
I guess the easiest answer to this question would be to say that as I grow in production, my music becomes better produced. Sadly it's almost impossible to become a film, tv or game composer today without being proficient in a DAW and knowing how to produce your music to at least a base level. Gone are the days of composers writing solely at the piano and jotting down sketches to pass to an orchestrator, unless of course you're extremely lucky and you have both the budget and a very trusting director.
But if I was to look more closely and try to analyse if other aspects of audio post-production now influence my writing, then I would have to say both yes and no. Having a good understanding of how important the other audio elements are to the final product certainly better informs you of when to take a back seat to the sound design, foley and dialogue. The music should obviously work to the benefit of the project as a whole, not the other way around. But I wouldn't say it affects how I compose the music itself per se, as the music needs to be what the picture tells us it needs to be, the cues should be written so as to work solely as pieces of well-constructed music on their own. If you listen to any of the greats, all of their music works as well outside of the picture as it does within. It shouldn't really be until the final mix that everyone needs to come together to decide upon which element of the audio shines at any given moment within each scene.
You are currently receiving mentorship from Ben Palmer. How do you find the experience and do you think that having a mentor is important for junior composers?
I have found the experience to be incredibly beneficial, to be honest. For years I wondered why I would hear fellow composers talk about mentors. I also didn't really have any idea how to go about connecting with a mentor. It wasn't until I decided to compose my first concert piece that a mentor's importance became apparent to me. I pitched a piece to Dominic Moore, the musical director and leader of the SGCO Ensemble in south London. To my surprise, he was keen on the idea and turned out to be extremely open and incredibly generous with his time. It was through this process leading up to the concert, that I realised the importance of having someone like Dominic in your corner. His willingness to impart his knowledge and guide me through the entire process was a godsend and knowing he could see my potential really lit a fire in me.
Years later, I spent time analysing and being self-critical about myself and decided to look for a mentor who could fill those gaps and be honest with me about where I'm at, and what I could do to improve. At that particular time, I felt that I was trying to surpass certain creative barriers and bad habits that were holding me back from reaching my potential. Ben being the chief conductor of various top-notch orchestras around the world as well as a successful composer in his own right made him the perfect candidate and so I reached out to him online. Being able to sit at the piano and get direct, in-person feedback from someone who has already garnered so much success has been truly invaluable.
I think having anyone in your life who has experience and knowledge in your given field, willing to impart that information is an invaluable asset to your growth. So if you are a junior composer considering a mentor, then I implore you to reach out to people and start a dialogue with people you already know in the industry and allow yourself to remove your ego and really listen. There is so much to learn about music that there really are only benefits from having a mentor. I certainly wish I had done so at a younger age.
3. Acknowledging the previous question, is it important for composers to break away from their mentors and find their own way of doing things as well?
This is a great question! In my opinion, you will always benefit from having a mentor in this business, but with each new stage in your career, you may require a new mentor. For example, in the beginning, you may just need someone who can help demystify the industry a bit for you, explain the vehicles you have at your disposal to connect with other creatives, guide you through a good workflow etc. But after a few years, you may need someone with a different skillset who has maybe a deep understanding of production techniques and/or midi mockups etc.
The career path of a composer is a continual learning journey, especially now that you're not just a composer, but a sound engineer, producer, orchestrator and arranger. So having knowledgeable people around you that act as a sounding board is a priceless commodity, as long as they serve the purpose of filling whatever hole you believe to be missing in your arsenal.
4. You are currently working on a couple of compositional projects. What can you tell us about these?
I have always enjoyed writing outside of film, I find it to be the best way to grow as a composer. Sample libraries are a fantastic tool but I find them to limit your imagination at times. It's hard to cheat on a piano, it almost unveils your compositional weaknesses for you. So sometimes challenging yourself to do something that forces you to become stronger in certain elements of your craft is a smart decision, and it can also be extremely exhilarating.
At present, I am working on an orchestral album to be recorded once the funds are secured. I decided I am at a place creatively where I am ready to invest money directly into my art and use the process to learn valuable lessons. I juggled with the issue of whether to create a concept album or a compilation album made up of various styles in order to showcase my range, to which I landed upon the latter. As a composer, you are lucky if you get the opportunity to work on a variety of genres which give you the freedom to switch things up. So I thought I would use this as an opportunity to test myself and work on a collection of pieces with opposing styles. I'm also looking to delve further into writing concert material and have begun composing a piece for solo cello and piano duo, which I hope to premiere in late 2022 or early 2023. Writing for a small outfit like this really tests your ability to keep the interest of the audience and forces you to keep things constantly interesting. Weak writing becomes glaringly obvious when played by solo instruments, so it's a great way to train yourself to write within the constraints of predetermined musical structures, whilst learning about an instrument's individual qualities.
5. Finally, any advice for composers who are just starting out?
I always find it hard to answer questions like this, most people tend to rattle on about how hard it is to break into the industry and how there are only a couple of avenues to success, blah blah blah. But of course, that's true of any industry. So I would say that if anyone reading this is anything like me, and had a similar experience to me, as a clueless teenager, sat at the back of an empty movie theatre watching a little movie called The Perfect Storm, with James Horner's immensely beautiful score blasting into my ears. Thinking to myself, who on earth wrote this incredible music and how do I learn to do it? Then you're probably doing this for the love of it and less so to become rich and famous.
That being said, of course, we all want to be part of something incredible and to be given the opportunity to show what we can do. So my advice would be first to stress the importance of making connections. For example, Hans Zimmer started as a musician in a synth-pop band, Junkie XL was a DJ, Danny Elfman was the frontman of a new wave band and John Williams started as a jazz pianist, wrote pieces for an army band and later worked as a session pianist. All vastly differing channels into the industry, yet these are some of the biggest names in film music. So What did they all have in common? Connections. That's what it tends to always come down to. So make many of them and maintain them as best you can, but remember, just as demonstrated above, there are many avenues to those connections. Also, be aware of music trends in film, but make sure to allow your individuality to come out in your music. Almost every director wants you to sound like something they already know, whilst also sounding unique, so keep that in mind. Do it because you love it but manage it like a business. That wraps things up for this article! If you want to find out more about Adam and his work then follow the links below: https://www.adamgriggcomposer.com
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