Nick Ryan

Sound designer and Screened Music Network Masterclass presenter Nick Ryan works in the most innovative areas of visual media. We asked him what new composers need to do to break into these art forms…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 1 Nov 2013
  • min read
Nick Ryan is an award winning sound designer and composer whose experiences as a music writer for visual media have seen him go far further than just composing for film and TV.

His CV includes a vast amount of musical experience working with interactive games and apps while he’s also busied himself with writing sounds for audio installations and exhibitions.

Papa Sangre is one of the most exciting projects Nick’s being involved in. This game is the first ever to be made in real-time 3D audio and implemented on a handheld device. It was created entirely in sound for the iPhone with players challenged to navigate all 27 levels using only their sense of hearing. Elsewhere, he's received a British Academy Award for The Dark House, a groundbreaking interactive radio drama that was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 in September 2003 and was the first BAFTA ever to be awarded for radio.

When Nick isn't in the studio, he acts as a mouth piece for the Screened Network masterclasses. Composers gather every couple of months to discuss the challenges faced by their industry. So in many ways, he’s uniquely placed to provide some insight into the composer industry and where it’s heading…

What are the main challenges for film and TV composers in 2013?

Getting paid is certainly the number one challenge. I haven’t scored a documentary for four or five years simply because there isn’t any money in it. Many of the leading documentaries have started using library music as opposed to original composers due to their vastly reduced budgets.

Which visual media areas are full of opportunity?

Well I would say that all forms are suffering as much as each other. Film is a nightmare. TV drama is impossible to get into. Documentary is badly paid. However, without sounding too negative, the video games industry is potentially an interesting area. And the opportunities to get into games are greater. There’s a really high turnover of games in this sector. It’s a growing market.

Handheld games in particular are promising. This where you can create content yourself. You need to find people who are perhaps at the beginnings of their careers in the gaming industry - producers and directors. Getting in with them and following them on the way up is a good thing.

I did the audio for a game a few years ago called Papa Sangre. It’s an audio only iPhone game which I did all the sound for. There aren’t any graphics. It’s entirely communicated through 3D sound. We sold a lot of units. It's because the market space is global with apps, so you can sell something with relatively little marketing.

Is the composer market place over saturated?

I’m a panellist at Screened Music Network. From my work there, it feels like there are a huge amount of people competing for projects. My perspective is definitely influenced by my involvement in the network. But there are seem to be a lot more people doing this than before which I’m sure is to do with the accessibility of technology. On the one hand, this is a really good thing and I’m all for increased access to tech. I’m a great believer in software as a means of enabling people to be creative but it’s a real pain when you’re competing for work. Everyone has got Garageband.

The capabilities of something out of the box like Logic or Protools are so high, you really can make music which sounds great without knowing anything. So the lines are blurred between an experienced composer and a novice. I’m ambivalent whether that’s good or bad. It’s great that young people have access to these tools and don’t have this apprenticeship thing where you start at the bottom and you work your way up.

What are the routes in for new composers?

Luck can play a part but I think for someone starting out that’s really unhelpful. You can’t act on that advice. It’s a bit demoralising.

It’s persistence. If you are good and you hammer away, you will eventually get an opportunity. It’s inevitable. It’s time to demystify the ways in because there’s this real mystique about it. In the music industry they used to call it ‘making it’. I was in my band at school wanting this epiphany. I didn’t know how you did it but I knew that I needed to achieve it.

It’s actually bollocks. It’s simply if you’re good at what you do and you bang away at it you’ll get a chance. There are opportunities whatever I’ve already said already about the market. People need a lot of content to be made. The tech which is creating more composers is also creating more content at the other end of the chain. So there are more channels on TV, interactive channels online, games. So you could argue there are many more opportunities. The money is just divided between them rather than more money being available.

I would say to anyone starting out they have to know whether they’re good – that’s important. Obviously everyone thinks they are but there is a difference between someone who is good and someone who is not. If you train yourself, and improve, you will get work eventually. I’d also say making relationships with people who aren't composers is sensible. I keep in touch with short film directors who went on to make bigger films. And I scored those. You can easily get opps with new directors and they will grow with you. That’s the top solution to getting involved.

Importantly no one should ever work for free. You should refuse to do that. Even on low budget things.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working in advertising at the minute. I can’t say what it is. I’m also working on a feature length documentary starting in October/November. It’s about a girl who suffered a massive stroke and it’s about her life recovering. She’s absolutely amazing. That’s exciting. I’m also building a studio in the middle of nowhere. Which will take me up to Christmas. That’s the plan.