“The Dancing Pumpkin” on Vimeo on Demand

I’m very excited to announce the release of “The Dancing Pumpkin and the Ogre’s Plot”. The Dancing Pumpkin is a 45 minute animated children’s Halloween special. It features the adventures of the title character and his band of pumpkin friends as the set out to prevent the evil ogre Finkgrinder from hosting a monster clinic to teach monsters how to scare children.

The film was written/directed by Eric Pearson and produced by Silver Hammer Studios. It is available now for rent or purchase on Vimeo on Demand.

I wrote a very fun and adventurous orchestral score for the film. It was a rare opportunity to go truly grand and all-out in true animation score fashion, and it was one honestly of the most fun projects I’ve ever gotten to work on! It’s not often you can write big orchestral music without worrying about being over-the-top, but in the case of an animated film like this one, the bigger the gesture the better.

Here are a few excerpts from the score:



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Photo by Nathan E Photography, https://www.flickr.com/photos/thatguyfromcchs08/

Compose Faster By Breaking Up Your Writing Sessions

It seems counterintuitive, but one of the most effective ways I’ve found for writing music quickly is to break my writing up into multiple sessions.

You might think that the best approach to writing quickly would be to sit down and knock it out in one go. The problem with this method is that it doesn’t account for natural lulls in your energy level and the loss of momentum that can occur during a regular work session. Our minds need fuel (glucose) and rest (breaks and sleep). We can’t simply force mentally taxing work, like creating and producing original music, for extremely long stretches of time.

What works best for me is to write a track in two sessions over two days. The first session is the creative one; this is where I come up with the main ideas, plan out the general outline of the piece, and generally let the music find it’s voice. This is when I figure out what the track is going to be. As soon as I feel myself slowing down, when I notice that I’m looping the same sections over and over, or even if I just feel kind of “stuck”, then I know it’s time to stop.

Assuming it’s not due that afternoon, I’ll wait to come back to it the next day. And a miraculous thing happens: the day before I may have thought I was about half way done. But whenever I come back to it after some time away I find that it’s about 90% complete. I still am surprised that this happens even though it is a very common occurrence. There is something about the perspective of time away that makes the piece feel fresh again and make me realize that I was slowing down and getting stuck not because what I was writing was bad, but that I was simply running out of energy! Hearing it for the “first time” on a new day allows me to actually hear what the music sounds like without all the clutter of “what to do next” going around in my mind.

Then the process of getting the track done becomes quite easy. I flesh out the few sections that are incomplete, add finishing touches, and voila. By splitting the writing process up into two days (writing, then editing), I am able to produce music about twice as fast than if I plow through all in one go. And I’m usually much happier with the result too!

What are some techniques you use to make the writing process easier and faster?

I have had students tell me that their number one problem is writing too slowly. It can take them days or even weeks to produce a single track that is only a few minutes long. But in the professional world you can’t afford to be slow; often deadlines are just days or mere hours away!

I’m considering writing an ebook on this topic, How to Write Music Quickly. If that’s something that interests you please let me know!

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“Descendants of the Past..” Premiere

“Descendants of the Past, Ancestors of the Future” will be part of the Shorts series at the 2014 Boston Asian American Film Festival on October 26th.

The film was directed by Albert Chan and stars Albert alongside Golden Globe, Emmy and Drama Desk nominee Tina Chen. Albert and I previously collaborated on “The Commitment” which has had a very successful festival run with over 25 screenings!

The music I wrote for the film received an honorable mention for “Best Original Score” at the Asians on Film Festival. Here is a track from the score, as well as the film’s trailer:

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Insights from the 2014 Production Music Conference

On Friday September 12th I attended the first ever Production Music Conference in Culver City, hosted by the Production Music Association. The event included keynotes and panels by composers, publishers, library reps and network executives. Here are a few interesting ideas or thoughts I picked up from the event.

  • There was some disagreement about now specific your music should be. One person said that the best way to compete was to do something very specialized, that you do well and no one else does. However another person said they hated receiving submissions that were “too specific” because that meant the uses were limited. What to make of that I’m not sure.
  • It seems like the best money for placements is in trailers. Reality TV tends to be back-end only (ie. no license fee for the music but you will see it in your performance royalties) but trailer music still pays very well up front. One person mentioned that a major studio film trailer could pay anywhere from $80k – $300k for the music. You’re expected to record a live studio orchestra for that kind of money, but you will still have a decent payday after all expenses are handled!
  • A music library’s role is to provide the music that the show’s composer can’t do. The composer can handle underscore, but producers come to the library when they’re looking for hip-hop, rock, etc. that is outside of the underscore realm. This seems to conflict a little with my experience in reality TV, which is a lot of underscore, so perhaps this panelist was referring more to network and promotional music. It is worth keeping in mind though that there is much more use for contemporary styles and songs in a library that does that sort of thing.
  • You should submit music to libraries that already have works in that style. This seemed counterintuitive to me, because I would have thought if a library already has a lot of jazz they don’t need any more. What one owner explained to me, though, was that if you see a library has released several albums of a certain type it means it must really be working for them. If they have released two “Big Beats” albums, there is a pretty good chance they are going to want to produce a third.
  • The last tidbit comes from composer and Police drummer Stewart Copeland, which echoes a lot of what I say and write about here. Someone asked him for advice on getting through creative blocks and coming up with new ideas. His answer was that you just show up and work. Doesn’t matter if it’s bad, you just write from the beginning to the end. Then you move on to the next cue. By the time you’ve made it through all of your cues you’ll have come up with some interesting ideas, and then you can go back to the beginning and work those back in. But never just sit there stuck and “blocked”. Just write through it. If you’re interested in reading more about this type of process I highly recommend “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott and “On Writing” by Stephen King.
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“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport

I have only just finished reading Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and I’m already recommending it to people. I’m a big fan of Cal’s blog and have always been impressed with his productivity, work ethic, and both the quality and quantity of his output. I wish I had read his other books when I was still a student! Perhaps I would have actually done my homework instead of spending all day playing guitar and video games… (not that those ended up being complete wastes of time!)

Anyone who has ever struggled with “what do I do with my life” should give this book a read. Or anyone who is considering giving up on their current career and trying something completely new. He goes into great detail on why the idea of “I’m going to quit my 9-5 and go start a cupcake shop because I love baking” is extremely flawed thinking, and instead explains how to turn that 9-5 job into something you are excited to do every day.

In my case, I would especially recommend it to people who “think” they want to become a professional musician but haven’t really put in the decade + of serious study. Just because you like to listen to music or you used to play guitar in high school doesn’t mean you can just quit your day job and start scoring films!

The best line in the book is “You have to get good before you can expect good work.” So many young composers write to me asking for advice and almost all of them focus on how to get their career started. How do they get an assistant job, how do they get a feature film, how should they market themselves, and so on. Instead they should be asking “How can I write music so good that people will be approaching me to write for them?”

You obviously can’t live in a bubble; you have to put your work out there. But unless your music is speaking to people, it doesn’t matter how many business cards you print out or what font you choose for your website. What matters is how good you are at your craft.

Another great line comes from near the end of the book: “Working right trumps finding the right work.” This is especially useful to someone who may already have a career in music but isn’t getting the projects they wish they were. The ultimate lesson is that when you do whatever it is you’re tasked with extremely well, the right people will take notice. Better to spend your energy making that corporate video sound amazing than to seek an elusive dream project. Because that amazing sounding video is the thing that’s most likely to lead to your next great gig, not a chance encounter at a networking event.

Check out the book. It’s an easy and quick read, and you’ll either realize you’re on the wrong path or confirm for yourself that you are headed in the right direction. And if you’re in the latter camp, Cal’s insights and advice will help you shape your career path into something meaningful and fulfilling.

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Interview with Chris Oatley about Project Arbiter

Project Arbiter director Michael Chance and I were recently interviewed by my good friend Chris Oatley for his podcast. Chris is a former animator for Disney and now runs the incredibly inspiring Oatley Academy.

Michael talks about his background as a filmmaker, the development and making of Project Arbiter, and together we discuss how we conceptualized and produced the score. We also talk about how to develop as an artist and survive a career in Hollywood!

Check out the full interview and don’t forget to watch Project Arbiter if you haven’t already seen it!

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App Recommendation: Timeful

I recently discovered a very cool app called Timeful. It’s a hybrid to-do list/calendar that learns about your daily schedule and uses an algorithm to suggest times for different tasks.

Author Dan Ariely, who wrote Predictably Irrational, is one of the main people behind the app and is trying to put what he has learned about human psychology and motivation to practical use.

I’m a big believer in working smarter, not harder, and this seems like a useful tool to help make that easier. So far it’s been fun to play with, I’m looking forward to seeing how it improves with use.

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Orchestral Fantasy Adventure Release by Reserve Music

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Reserve Music has released an album of orchestral Fantasy Adventure music I recently composed.

The album is called “Priscilla” and can be found on their website for licensing.

Here are a few tracks from the release:


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music.tutsplus.com

This has been a productive year for my tutorial and article writing over at Tuts+. I wrote 11 new tuts on compositions, orchestration, film scoring and music theory. I’ll be taking a break from writing for the site for a while, but it’s been a fun year and I love receiving feedback from composers and musicians who are able to put my ideas to use!

Here are all the 2014 articles:

How To Write An Effective Knockoff… Legally
Being asked to copy another song is just an everyday part of the gig. Here are some tips for both tapping in to the original’s essence while still keeping the music inherently your own.

Film Score Harmony: Chords by Thirds
How to use non-diatonic chords for a cinematic harmonic vocabulary and create any mood you desire.

Enhance Your Music with a Subtlety Layer
Adding a layer of subtle elements can bring your music to a new level, just like the right garnish and spice can turn a main dish into a gourmet entree.

How to Write Theme & Variations
In this tutorial we’ll show you how to apply simple variation techniques to a simple ABA theme to create a wide range of moods and styles.

Arranging for Strings: Part 2
In this tutorial, we’ll cover how to turn a simple four part harmonization into a complex string arrangement.

How to Modulate to Remote Keys
In this tutorial, we are going to learn a few different techniques for modulating to distant keys. The two techniques we’ll discuss in the tut are using advanced harmonic techniques and using bridge keys. Warning: There’s some deep theory in this one. Not for the faint of heart!

An Introduction to Form in Instrumental Music
Musical form is the structure and logic of a piece of music. Under the heading of form you can consider balance, symmetry, proportion, pacing, and other topics related to the overall presentation of your piece.

How to Arrange 4-Part Harmony for Strings
In this tutorial we’re going to look at six different ways to adapt four-part harmony to a string orchestra. Four-part harmony is a traditional way of harmonizing a melody for four “voices” (either literal human voices, or instruments). Many introductory harmony courses teach four-part writing because it is a straightforward method for learning chord voicing, good part motion, and proper treatment of dissonances.

How and Why to Modulate to New Keys
In music, modulation is the process of changing from one key to another. If a piece of music starts out in the key of F major but then changes, either immediately or gradually, to they key of Bb major, we would say it modulates from F major to Bb major. A piece is considered to be in a “key” if the root of the key is the tonic, also called “home” or the “gravitational center”.

How to Give Life to Instrumental Parts
“If it’s not moving, it’s dead” is a line that applies as much to life as it does to music. Yet all too often composers write background or accompaniment parts that are lifeless and dull. They might have a beautiful melodic line, but then stick a big chord made up of whole notes behind it and call it a day. The result is music that is lifeless, boring, and feels like slogging through mud.

Contemporary Techniques for Ending Your Song
In How to Write Effective Introductions, we learned about the importance of giving your song a powerful beginning. We also examined various techniques for writing one. In this tutorial I’ll discuss one specific trend in contemporary songwriting for ending a song: ambiguity.

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Kid President – Declaration of Awesome

Kid President has his own TV show! The inspirational YouTube star now has his own show on Hub Network, and the premiere was on June 17th.

For a special segment of the show, director Ben Shelton (who I work with on The FlipSide) created an action trailer for “Kid President: Commander in Chaos”. I wrote original music for the trailer, which features MMA star Urijah Faber.

Congrats on the new show, Kid President!

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