Dublin based composer/songwriter, Dean Valentine, has scored the US trailer for Ridley Scott’s eagerly awaited sci-fi horror, “Prometheus”. The trailer has already notched up over 5 million YouTube views to date. Not many Irish composers have broken into Hollywood this way so naturally there is a lot of interest at home and abroad. Dean has had a steady stream of compositions picked up for film and TV in recent years including music which has featured in the trailer for “Ringer”, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the new Disney series, “Tales of Friendship with Winnie the Pooh” which will premiere on Disney Junior UK and be broadcast in twenty-two countries worldwide.
Taking time out from recording for Disney, Dean kindly offered to answer some questions from aspiring film and TV composers which were posted on the IMRO Facebook page last week – as well as a few questions from ourselves.
· Is there much work for film composers in Ireland or is it all happening overseas?
Both – most projects are co-productions between Irish and overseas producers so there is work here if you make your mark and work very hard for it. In the past, most of the work (in my experience) seemed to be pre-school animation series and short films but recently a lot of big producers, like Disney, are looking to Ireland as we have an amazing pool of talent here. There’s also tax incentives involved in producing projects here which means a certain amount of the people involved must be Irish and based here, and this usually includes the music. However it’s very difficult to land one of these huge co-production gigs as the (overseas) investors/producers usually want to work with a composer they know or a named composer. Even with an agent in your corner you have to fight tooth and claw for those gigs! There are absolutely no short cuts – you have to earn your stripes the hard way.
· What are the first steps composers should take when trying to pitch music for TV or film?
In my opinion the music should be the most important thing to get right first – always strive to be the best composer, musician, producer, mixer you can possibly be, stick to what you’re best at and find your own voice. One nugget of wisdom from an AAA game producer that has stayed with me is ‘don’t try to cover all musical styles or potential clients won’t know where your strengths lie’.
*Compose the best tracks you can (composition and production wise).
*Try to get work on student projects/game mods build up some credits.
*Get your composer website together and put your best music up. Potential clients prefer links to tracks or a website with tracks at first.
*Google for info/network/go to music seminars/game seminars. Find out who the seminar speakers are and contact them by email – there’s nothing to lose. Try to get a response or some interest before you send any music or it will most likely be ignored.
*Check producers’ websites for projects in pre-production, such as IFTN (http://www.iftn.ie/post-production/) and tailor or compose bespoke tracks for that project – it’s also great practice!
*If you get beyond the intro email stage, have a folder of WAVS/MP3s of your best tracks ready and only send 2-5 tracks that are appropriate to the client or project.
· What is the best route into the industry?
That’s a tough one – my route into the industry was like this: I’m a self-taught musician, played keyboards in various bands, always loved film and in particular film scores. I started out workwise as an animator while playing, writing and experimenting with music at home and in bands. A friend who I worked with in animation went on to be a script writer and when a project he was working on required two composers, he suggested my name. This was a 26 x 1/2 hour series! – hadn’t got a clue,…in at the deep end! So I lied my ass off to get the gig, borrowed money for some pro music equipment and pretty much blagged my way through the whole thing somehow. The other composer, who was already attached was a very well known and established German composer who eventually didn’t make the grade and got the boot. To my amazement I got the gig with another Irish composer who is still having great success today. Thankfully one gig led to another, but I also had a year or so where I couldn’t get arrested. I strongly believe that success is what happens when all your hard work and talent meets an opportunity – like making your own luck.
· Are there resources for composers to find contacts in the industry?
I think there’s a new Irish game composers’ database being put together. There’s also IFTN and IMRO of course! I’ve never really networked because I was absolutely rubbish at selling myself – thankfully one thing led to another.
· How did the trailer music deal for Prometheus come about?
It all started with IMRO,..my friend Mark and I had joined forces about two years ago. He would represent me and he’s also a song writer (we recently co-wrote a song for Disney). Anyway Mark contacted one of the guest speakers at an IMRO music seminar (a UK/LA agent), to see if he had any advice or interest. Long story short, he signed me up purely based on the music he heard and not my credits, which really surprised me! (In a way not networking and composing music instead really paid off!).
He immediately put me together with a film trailer company in LA and I began composing music for trailers. Little did I know that trailers have a very exact structure/formula. I pitched on a bunch of trailers and nothing landed for a good while, but eventually it all clicked and the music started to resonate with a lot of clients. I had submitted a number of trailer style tracks by this stage and one of those tracks was being considered by a client for “Prometheus”. I heard nothing back and assumed it was dead in the water and then suddenly it landed! The fact that it is “Prometheus” is incredible. (What has happened since is even more so but I can’t mention anything yet.)
· What have you found to be the most rewarding networking avenue?
It’s not really the same thing, but recognising my main weakness, (networking!) and working with other people who could really help like Mark and my agent. Co-ops are great – there’s strength in numbers,..is that also networking? For me the most important thing was my decision to shift all the focus onto the orchestral/electronic music that I was composing which was more suited to live action projects than pre-school animation. I also changed the website to reflect this music and suddenly everything started to click – landed an agent, landed Disney series (and song with Mark) then “Prometheus” and more.
· Are there any pitfalls you could advise aspiring composers about?
Just because you love composing doesn’t mean you should do it all the time. The pressure is always on composers, as one of the last links in the production chain everything is wanted yesterday. When you work for yourself, clients will assume that you work 24/7. Try to set boundaries, (if you can) and have a life too.
Don’t get lost in the gear and gadgets – it’s about the music.
Don’t emulate your favorite composer – they’ll always do it better than you.
Don’t ignore your instincts – every time I’ve followed a creative brief and ignored my instincts, I’ve never landed the gig.)
Beware freebies! They’re only good for credits and practice. I have NEVER got another gig from a client after doing a freebie for them. “We have no budget but we’ll give you a credit and a copy of the finished film” – (you’re going to hear that sentence a lot!). It’s a load of bull – a credit is standard anyway.
If you’re going to work for free, first draft up a simple contract, keeping the rights to your music, if the project is a success then the client can buy the rights afterwards. If the client refuses the deal, don’t do the gig.
“Prometheus” gets its Irish release in cinemas on 1st June. You can check out Dean’s website and listen to some of his music here: http://www.deanvalentine.com/ .
IMRO will be running various seminars for composers and songwriters this summer.