The joy of creation...and the hidden work behind it.

I’m working on my GDC talk about the music of Rapture at the moment and that led me to thinking what a huge step up creating the score was for me. I’m not going to have the opportunity to go through this stuff in detail during my talk so I thought it may be useful for fellow composers who have taken/are about to take that next big step up to know what the process getting from page to stage entails.  Please feel free to bat me over the head with a rolled up newspaper if you know all this already but I didn’t so you can just settle on feeling all knowing and smug at my innocence. 

For you non-musos, I think the post is still worth a read. I’m grateful and delighted that the soundtrack has received beautiful reviews and comments from thousands of listeners across the globe. I wanted to let you all know how much work goes into creating music for a game like Rapture and to give credit to the crack team that worked with me throughout the process.  I couldn’t have done it without them.  

First of all the brilliant fellas at Sony Music suggested that I pair up with orchestrator Jim Fowler.  At the time I had no idea how vital this role would be and how important it is to work with someone who you get on with on a cellular, possibly even MOLECULAR level.  It felt like Jim was sent from heaven to be honest- not only was he funny and extraordinarily easy to get on with but he was also talented, encyclopedically knowledgeable about music and also really sensitive.  This last point may not seem important but it is- you are working with someone who is sticking their hands in the guts of your music.  Jim’s suggestions for changes were put forward in such a gracious and sensitive way that I still suspect that his former career was in the diplomatic service.  What did Jim do?  Well, to put it simply he sprinkled fairy dust over the score.  (There is a far longer explanation but I will require a gin and tonic as payment if you want the long version.) A good orchestrator will make your music sound better and he did. 

Jim also introduced me to the mother-load of all spreadsheets.  He laughed in the face of thinking I could keep it all in my head, as I had done on previous gigs.  Rapture was just too big.  I pretended to loathe these spreadsheets but like with all good Stockholm Syndrome stories I swiftly learned to love my captor.  Without these documents I would have been truly lost- the spreadsheets tracked music composed, instrumentation for each cue, the running order of the session, the microphone layout, schedules, mix notes…by the end of the process I was half expecting Google Docs to be able to make my cup of tea in the morning.  Once composition was complete then Jim then prepared all the stems to send over in readiness for the sessions and this was of great help to me.  Organisational skills will be your biggest friend as a composer – there are so many dependencies.  Everyone is waiting for the next person to finish their bit before they can start theirs so it’s really important to make sure that you’re not holding anything or anyone up.

The Rapture spreadsheet

The Rapture spreadsheet

Monty Mudd, Senior Music Editor at Sony very ably proof-read the scores that we were sending over and this ensured that all questions had been answered before the scores got sent to Dave Foster.  Until Rapture I had always written out my own scores and parts and handed them out at the sessions.  I think I was secretly convinced that I didn’t really need anybody to do this for me and then I saw Dave’s work. They are the most beautiful scores I have ever seen – they are actual works of art. Dave’s consummate skill meant that the number of questions that the players had to ask during the session was reduced almost to zero.  The players need to be able to focus on what they’re best at and putting them in a good mood by presenting them with beautifully laid out scores makes good sense.  I also quickly came to realise that librarian does NOT mean just handing things out! Dave was there at all of the sessions and dealt with several last minute requests with such calm and good humour!  He, me and Jim also did a little bit of extra music creation on the day and Dave was just amazing.  Hire this man immediately.

Dave's beautiful work

Dave's beautiful work

 

During the writing of the score I also worked with the Sony Music Group, namely Keith Leary (Music Manager), Peter Scaturro (Senior Music Producer) and Joel Yarger (Senior Music Engineer)– the relationship with these three gents was a real pleasure and they were very generous in sharing their extensive knowledge. They also have pretty flawless project management skills and when you’re working transatlantically this becomes even more vital. Their role as I see it is to enable the composer to concentrate on the music- they whisk all the other day to day problems and tasks away. They are really committed to excellence and care incredibly deeply about getting the best possible result and this focus on every tiny detail is evident in the final recording.  Joel was invaluable before the sessions as his experience meant he could do a brilliant running order - something I was really nervous about actually. Joel took into consideration things like the choir warming up with easier cues at the beginning of the day, putting tonally aligned tracks together, maybe doing shorter cues just before a break. At first having so many people in the booth took some getting used to as it just wasn’t something I have experienced before- in the past it’s just been me and the engineer. But actually having expert ears, each with a different focus was incredibly useful.  So, one person was perhaps more concerned about background noise, one with intonation and another with timing, whilst I was focusing on the overall feel of the cue.  Dream team!  Keith, Pete and Joel are the archetypal swans- whilst they are gliding over the water gracefully you suspect that they are actually paddling furiously to make sure that Every. Single. Thing is going to be right for the sessions.  They are a hugely experienced, well-oiled operation and feeling in such safe hands was a great relief. Perhaps my best moment in the booth was getting the much talked of but rarely seen double thumbs up from Mr. Leary after one of the takes. 

Sony Music also booked the studio and liaised with fixers Isobel Griffiths and Lucy Whalley to get the best possible musicians for the sessions.  Contractors have the most comprehensive little black book of players and they will also be there at the sessions making sure that both you and the musicians are happy. I will never be able to express my gratitude to these two amazing women as they found me the most beautiful, talented and kind players.  I won’t ever forget when the musicians started up on the first day- the sound they made and the sheer quality of their playing totally blew me away and continues to do so every time I listen to the soundtrack.  Lucy saw how nervous I was on the first day and the reassurance that she gave me was so appreciated- she’s just a top lady in every respect.

The Leader of the orchestra is the principal first violin and I was incredibly honoured to work with Clio Gould.  She is a savagely good player and combines that with a lovely, warm personality. She was in such command of the orchestra and her quiet strength was just a pleasure to watch. We talked after the sessions and Clio was kind enough to tell me that she and the orchestra had enjoyed the gentle tone that I’d introduced to the sessions. I hesitate to say that it was less macho than usual but I’m going to say it anyway.  I think that one of the ways that we got the beautiful, warm, rich tone was the mood of the sessions that we all fostered, which was supportive, relaxed and pretty calm. I think as a composer it’s worth thinking about how you want your sessions to run and the Leader, engineer and the conductor you choose are going to be fundamental in this respect. Clio was a joy and I hope I get to work with her again.

I asked James Morgan to conduct the sessions- I didn’t want to conduct myself as a) I’m rubbish at it b) when it’s done well it’s not just a functional exercise in timekeeping but it truly elevates music to the next level c) I wanted to be in the booth to be able to really listen to the musicians. James and I had a meeting before the sessions where I handed over the reams of Dave’s gorgeous scores and I talked about what I wanted to achieve during the sessions. James’s experience and advice during the sessions was invaluable to me – his willingness to share knowledge, his extraordinary ability and his unwillingness to suffer fools gladly all made him a joy to work with. 

In the booth at the wonderful AIR Studios were Jake Jackson and Tom Bailey – I was in awe of how hard these guys worked on every level.  They are absolutely passionate about getting you the best result and the hours they work and the commitment they showed was just crazy.  They are Mastermind specialists on microphones and sound and acoustics and mixing and everything else that goes with it- the work that goes into the set up before the musicians even arrive is mind-blowing.  The process of recording would take up a whole blog post in its own right but what I will say is choose the wrong studio and engineer at your peril! I can’t recommend AIR enough- it’s like a big, extended family.  Everyone is just so lovely there and they made me feel welcome from the moment I stepped in through the door.

The incomparable AIR Studios with James M at the helm

The incomparable AIR Studios with James M at the helm

I can’t not talk about the divine voice of Elin Manahan Thomas- as I’ve said before, for me she is simply the voice of Rapture.  I heard Elin sing in a concert and the moment I heard her I had to stop myself from screaming out a huge yes! I think I may have seemed like a crazed fan when I approached her but fortunately she was gracious enough to listen patiently to my breathless enthusiasm and she agreed to sing for me.  All I can say is what a voice.  I have never heard anyone like Elin and I doubt I ever will.  The purity, the beauty, the sheer soul that bursts from her when she sings- it’s incomparable.  She’s also really lovely- you’re probably getting sick of me saying this but 'tis true.

This post is getting really long so soon I'll write a post to talk about what happens after the sessions are over and the process of creating the soundtrack begins. I carried on working closely with Joel, Pete and Keith as well as the lovely Justin Field and Jason Swan over at Sony.  I’m so thrilled with the final soundtrack and I’ll look forward to sharing how that worked in the next installment. I know all this sounds like it was a weirdly wonderful time but for me it really was a dream come true.  Each person that I’ve talked about today was a vital piece in the puzzle- everyone was doing what they’re best at to achieve something really special.  I will never forget the experience of writing and recording the music for Rapture, it’s very possibly my Rosebud moment! Every single person who was involved in the production of the music shared something very fundamental in common- they all made their jobs look easy and they all carried out those jobs with great modesty; despite their prodigious abilities they wore their talent so lightly.

I suppose what all of this post has been leading up to is that I’ve found my home.  Music is what makes me happiest and the people that work in the industry feel like trusted allies.  It was very powerful to feel that commonality of purpose- each and every person giving of themselves to make it the very best thing it could be-  that’s what music is good at, bringing us all together, unifying the disparate to create unity, creating harmony and joy and that’s why I absolutely love it. 

 

The reason we were all there...the music.

The reason we were all there...the music.