• Jack Hughes

GUEST POST: 5 Reasons to Work with a Co-composer - Two22music.

Welcome back to the Northern Film Orchestra blog.

Today we are pleased to share with you the latest in our series of guest-written articles. This article is written by the London-based composer duo Daisy Coole and Tom Nettleship of Two22music, and explores the topic of working with a co-composer. This is a really great subject and something that we think will become more prominent over the coming years as progresses in technology make remote collaboration ever more seamless. We hope you enjoy this post!



Earlier this year Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Baptiste picked up the Oscar for Best

Original Score for the Disney Pixar film, ‘Soul’. Universally recognised by audiences and critics

alike as a loving and beautifully crafted film, it marks Ross and Reznor’s second Oscar triumph

and Baptiste’s first time working with them, albeit as the writer for the onscreen jazz arrangements and the musician behind the piano playing for lead character, Joe Gardner.

The success was another win for composer collaborations and, for us at least, begs the question why, when we (Two Twenty Two) find ourselves in a room full of film composers, are we still the only composer duo? We’ll be more specific: Joint-billed composers. Two composers who have chosen to marry their abilities. A partnership with an equally shared responsibility.

When we’re asked by other composers what it’s like working in a partnership, we can’t answer

for those rare A list collaborators. But after seven years of developing our craft as a duo, we can

certainly give you our perspective on why everybody should have a writing partner.


1. Inspiration


First and foremost, working as a composer duo stimulates inspiration. When you hit that wall of

writer’s block, having a partner who can sit down at the desk while you go and make a cup of

tea is a godsend.


Co-composing can take many forms but primarily it is recognising each other's strengths and

encouraging them to work to your combined advantage. Often that means allowing them plenty

of space to do their thing. One composer may have a better handle on the brief than the other

and the best thing you can do as a collaborator at this point is offer verbal encouragement and

support.


It’s pretty common for composers to become aurally desensitised the longer their writing or

playing session goes on without a break. This is less likely to be the case if someone else in the

room is working on that track with you, or if that same person walks into the room a few hours

later with fresh ears and says, “Whoa, that’s beginning to sound a little muddy there, let’s see

what’s up.”


The best moments often come straight after the writer’s block. Writing with a partner who has

different skill-sets and ways of creating means that there is always room for unexpected

inspiration. Their smallest addition to a cue can be like a key unlocking a door. Perhaps if you

were working solo, you would never have known that the door existed.


Tip: Ask if your partner is ready for feedback or needs more space before sharing your thoughts.



2. Ego


When we tell other composers we work as a duo, the most common response is “I’m too much

of a control freak” and “I’ve got too much ego to allow someone else to tamper…”. While we

applaud their honesty, having that sounding board before a film cue, demo or mock-up reaches

a decision-maker’s ears is invaluable.


The line between a composer’s intention and execution is not always straight. Working as a

partnership, you analyse and refine each other’s work, calling BS when necessary. It's an

exercise in leaving bloated egos out of the studio; the aching artist and their magnum opus may

have to be delayed for another day. The only agenda that matters is that of the film and the

director or writer whose vision you serve.


Trust and communication are key, and we know that we both have the best interests of the

project at heart, however much we may disagree on that chord progression. We’re only human

so there are going to be disagreements but would you really want to partner with someone who

didn’t care deeply about your work? Passionate differences have often led to surprising new

musical directions.


By the time we are getting feedback from producers and directors, we’ve already been brutally

honest with each other – there’s no room for being precious in this job!


Tip: Choose a ‘project manager’ - this person holds the ultimate veto power (to be used carefully!)



3. Balancing music and the music business


It may be portrayed as a great artistic, visionary career but let’s be honest: half of your life as a

film composer is spent sending emails, creating invoices, setting up meetings, updating your

website, posting on social media… none of which is the slightest bit musical or artistic (unless

you’re a dab hand at Canva).


There is a lot to be said for dividing and conquering the inbox. We often connect with filmmakers individually, and this relationship continues by taking lead on communication throughout the project.


Although we’ll both be present for spotting sessions and all creative conversations, only

one of us needs to discuss deliverables and schedules. Meanwhile the other is already setting

up the template and cue map or booking the musicians.


As with your musical creativity, play to your strengths. Does one of you have a great eye for

graphic design? They’re probably best placed to update the website and create social media

content. Or perhaps you are incredibly organised and love spreadsheets (no comment on who

that person is in this partnership): inevitably they will end up sorting the cue sheets and tracking

the finances. But - and this is really important in all areas of being a partnership - keep

communicating.


Just because one of you is stronger at the organisational tasks doesn’t mean it

should be their sole responsibility. Decide on a process in every area and share the workload.


Tip: Have a shared workspace for tasks or schedules like a physical or virtual noticeboard



4. Mental health


The most-used trope about the life of a composer is that it is a lonely road. In this post-pandemic world, when we’ve spent over a year of our lives communicating via video, many

composers have told us they have really suffered from working alone. Perhaps the most

important aspect of co-composing is that you can share the emotional load: the highs, the lows,

the awards and rejections. You are a united front in the face of feedback - positive or negative.


Writing music for someone’s story can require a deep connection and this is not always easy to

leave behind at the end of the day. With two of you working towards the same goal and the

same deadline, at the very least you can track your partner’s state of mind. Are they taking

regular breaks? Getting fresh air? Eating properly? These are the first things which vanish when

you’re on a deadline. If they are not prioritising their wellbeing, then it’s almost certain that the

same can be said for you.


Tip: Celebrate every small win together to keep your mindset in the right positive space



5. Rising together


Should you find yourself working with a co-composer, you have probably chosen a partner who

matches your high standards creatively and morally (don’t overlook this one!). You trust one

another implicitly, you both have a strong sense of fairness and would never dream of showing

any disrespect. The knock on effect is that, if you hold such a high value in your composer

partner, it tends to bring up your own game. Musically, you won’t find yourself resting on your

laurels.


Publicly, you won’t be so blasé about your professional reputation, especially on social

media. You are representing both yourself and somebody else’s interests now, and that is not to be scoffed at.


Tip: Choose someone who fits you like a jigsaw puzzle: your weakness is their strength and vice versa so you can learn from each other


For more from Two22music you can check out their website and socials via the links below: https://www.twotwentytwomusic.co.uk

http://instagram.com/two22music

https://twitter.com/two22music We hope you enjoyed reading this article!


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