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Composer: How I got my job and where I'm going

Bryan talks about his path to become a composer and his goals for the future.

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Video transcript

If there's similarity between myself and other composers it's that we are definitely interested in a lot of kinds of music. Kinda of un-judgemental in that respect. We put it upon ourselves to study and to study those different kinds of music. I mean, obviously I come from the background of classical music, so you know, I already had known a lot about Bach and Mozart before I was 20. So for me I had to kind of go back and do it the other way, or a different way than a lot of other musicians I know did it. But then, you know, you get interested in the rest of popular music. And then you try and learn how that music is actually made and how that music's actually constructed. And the better you are at that, I think, the better equipped you are to be a composer in the film space, certainly in the advertising space and maybe even as a composer in general. Even if you're doing something specific like classical music, because you'll pull those references and those influences into your own music and hopefully make yourself a unique voice. For somebody starting out who wants to get into composition, I think it's really important to start listening to as much music as you can. And then start to deconstruct in your mind how that music actually works. As you start getting better at that, you can start applying that knowledge. You know, start to write songs, start to write pieces on piano, pieces on guitar. And as you start getting better at that, you then will decide to pick up probably some software, and kind of learn the mechanics of writing music. Either from the point of classical composition which is, you know, notes on paper, or through production as a pop musician would do or as popular music does. Which is taking out Ableton, Logic or Pro Tools and start recording things and then layering different recordings on top of one another. But I was a classical musician since I was a little kid, I was a violinist, started age three then started piano at age nine. And also played saxophone and played a little guitar, too, while I was in high school. But I studied violin very seriously and I studied with this violin teacher at Manhattan School of Music. But at that point, by the time I was graduating high school, I didn't know if classical music was entirely what I wanted to do, or violin, rather, wasn't entirely what I wanted to do. So I thought composition was really cool. So I decided to go to Carnegie Mellon to study classical composition and then at the same time, studied business. So then I got a minor in business and then I think I was in Argentina studying abroad when it occurred to me it would be really cool to get a masters in arts management and maybe that would give me some sort of understanding of how the business of music worked. And I'm happy I did that. I went back to Carnegie Mellon and did an accelerated master's in arts management. While I was at Carnegie Mellon at grad school for arts management, I started to feel like I was losing my artist card and so I kept writing classical music. And I spoke to a professor of mine. If he thought that, you know, I'd be a good fit for grad schools in composition, and he thought that I would be. So I interviewed at Yale School of Music and the Royal College in London. And also at Northwestern for a PhD. And then decided to be as close to home, my parents lived in New Jersey and I had gotten into Yale and a few others and so I decided to go to Yale. And Yale, fortunately enough, was free that year. Somebody have given it a huge endowment. I mean, Yale's cool, it's an honor to go to Yale, but when it's free, you can't really say no. And so I took a semester off from Yale. And I went to live in LA to work as a fellow with the composer on Law and Order. And it was honor to work with him. I kind of got my first experience of what it was to write to picture, actually. And I also fell in love with Los Angeles, so now I'm here like 10 years later. While I was working I grad school at Yale I got this opportunity to be an assistant. It was the first time he had ever written an opera. And from then it was essentially a two year or two and a half year project, flying around the world, setting up computers wherever we were and I would help him make this opera of his. It's called Prima Donna. And I think at that time I was paid 1750 a week, which was enormous. Just simply enormous to be able to work with him. Of course it was like, 12 hour days at the whim of a pretty colorful artist. He knows that. But yeah, no, I mean, it was an honor. So I had that great gig and, you know, eventually it became time to kind of leave that gig. I got back to New York and then realized that my phone wasn't ringing off the hook after that. So I think for a while I was still doing some score things for him, some like, orchestration assisting for him, freelance on my own, but very soon after I realized that I needed to get a job. And not really knowing what to do and kind of feeling not entirely in the classical music space anymore. So by that point I was kind of disillusioned as to what I wanted to do musically. So I fell into, you know, the primary business in New York, which is Madison Ave Advertising. So I got a job at HUMAN initially as a contract reader, which is kind of funny. I had taken one law class in grad school. They felt like that was good enough to be able to read their music contracts. So I learned a lot about music contracts doing that. And the partner of there asked me if I wanted to be a producer. And it sounded really, really interesting, so I jumped on board. And I think my salary from then, I wanna say it was either 67 or 73 thousand a year. So when I got offered the job as a producer at HUMAN I was able to learn the skills of negotiation. Essentially, what things cost in the advertising music world. I also got to learn the ins and outs of all the unions, both AFM, which is the American Federation of Musicians, and SAG-AFTRA, Screen Actors Guild. I learned a lot there. Then after that I learned how to manage composers. Being a composer doesn't mean that you necessarily have the gift of managing other composers. Because composers are their own colorful personalities. But anyway, you know, working at HUMAN kind of prepared me to learn how to speak to composers, also learning how to give them creative direction, in addition to learning how to talk to them about finances and money. Because invariably on a given job, we'd have to talk about who they were gonna hire for outside talent, how much money they were gonna spend, also if they needed other gear, if they needed other plug-ins to execute a certain brief. So I learned how to handle that. And then, of course, I learned how to deal with clients. Both to deal with their personalities, how to to kind of read in between the lines on a creative brief. Because typically a lot of clients aren't musicians themselves, so they're giving you more notes as to feelings they wanna feel in music, rather than specific notes like, I think that should be done with a guitar versus piano. And then, of course, how to navigate and pivot between discussing with a client a creative direction that they want and pivoting to how much money that creative direction is gonna cost. As a composer, when you're starting to think about what your next step is, and this touches upon things that we mentioned before, you kind of think of what you wanna do really creatively and then kind of figure out a way to be creative financially to make whatever goal that you have possible. Would I wanna be doing is, I would love to get a TV show. I think TV is become just an incredible medium. It also provides kind of a stable lifestyle. You get paid per episode or, you know, you get a package deal. And you know, there's certain stability in that. You know, whereas you can do a really incredible film, even films that are up for awards, that you'll get $30,000 for that film and, you know, probably not enough to live on, especially if you have a family. But a TV show would be really exciting. In a perfect world I would right now, I think, it would be maybe a four bedroom house in the same neighborhood I live now. Hard to do. Where I have like, some annex little studio there and I have maybe two kids. And I'm doing the same thing I'm doing now, but maybe just slightly more profile work or, you know, or maybe just a little bit more lucrative. I don't know, I guess it's have to be a little more lucrative in order to have that house.