Michael Price

Sherlock theme composer Michael Price gives us his tips on getting ahead in screen composition...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 5 Mar 2014
  • min read
The BBC’s Sherlock is one of the most popular TV dramas of recent times.

While the series has won plaudits for the tense plot and characterisation of the famous detective, the soundtrack from composers Michael Price and David Arnold has also been much lauded.

Michael has received a dazzling number of accolades for his work including a Royal Television Society Award as well as BAFTA and EMMY nominations for their work.

His more recent projects include scoring the new season of Sherlock, producing and scoring a new British indie film, Delicious, and writing a new album with Erased Tapes.

In between this hectic schedule, Michael found time to answer our questions on his career and offer some tips for getting ahead in the incredibly competitive world of screen composition…

When did you first start composing for the screen?

I was assistant to the wonderful Michael Kamen from 1996 to 2001, so was surrounded by film music, and then scored my own first movie, Ashes and Sand, in 2003. It seems like a lifetime ago.

When did you get your big break in the film world?

I guess my 'Sliding Doors' moment was meeting Michael Kamen all those years ago. Most of the other projects I've worked on could be traced back to the experiences I had during those five years and the friends I made. Mostly at the Abbey Road studios bar if I remember correctly.

You’re well known for your work on Sherlock with David Arnold - how did you get the gig?

I'd known and worked with David since 2002. He'd known Mark Gatiss from the League of Gentlemen days, so when the Sherlock production team was looking for a fresh take on the music, Mark asked David, David asked me, and we took our best shot at it.

Can you explain the creative process behind writing music for the Sherlock series?

Because David and I initially originated the musical world for Sherlock, it feels like we can be quite free with where to take it now. We both throw our best ideas into the hat and shake them up until someone tells us to stop. And then the show is on the telly.

What drew you to the project in the first place?

When we watched the first pilot episode, it was clear that there was something extraordinary brewing, with both the writing and the performances. I don't think anyone knew what it would turn into though. I certainly didn't.

What are the different challenges with composing for TV when compared with film - do you approach these different medium in different ways?

I think it is a fundamentally different sport. Even though the means of watching both films and TV is converging fast, I still feel that TV has a more personal connection with an audience who are predominantly watching the show in their own home. With cinema, you're writing for a big screen, in a dark room with huge speakers, where people have paid a fortune for their coke and popcorn. I love both. But they're not the same.

What are the biggest challenges you face when writing for film?

Films (apart from sequels) tend to be unique worlds of their own. So trying to create a distinctive sound that feels like it naturally flows from the story can be a challenge, in a world of temp scores and test screenings.

What do you regard as your best work?

I don't think that's really for me to say. I tend to have little corners of scores where all the stars have come into alignment for a minute or two, which make me smile. For the rest of the time, I'm as riddled with self-doubt and loathing as every other composer.

Which contemporary composers do you rate, and why?

I'm a huge admirer of all my film/TV composing colleagues just for getting something on the screen, but I tend to get more awestruck by the contemporary classical people. I had the privilege of working with John Tavener on Children of Men which was a massive highlight, and I'm always attracted to composers like Arvo Pärt, where there is more behind the music than album sales or download stats.

What are you working on at the moment? What does the rest of 2014 have in store?

I'm writing and recording an album of my own work for Erased Tapes records in Berlin at the moment. Easily the most fun I've had in years. I may not come back. And David and I are working on the sequel to a terribly popular comedy film for the summer. And there's a three part TV thing for Australia and a big action film. But mostly I'll be hiding in Berlin.

What advice would you give to a new and emerging composer?

If it's going to be 10 years before you get your first proper paycheck, you might as well work out how to enjoy writing music and working with people. Find your tribe of film-makers and enjoy telling stories.

Michael will be appearing at a BAFTA Conversation on 31 March. Find out how to get your discounted tickets for the event.

BAFTA Conversations with Screen Composers is sponsored by PRS for Music, and supported by The Academy Circle, a small group of influential supporters who make a significant donation each year to support BAFTA’s charitable activity.