Programme director Yati Durant is a classically trained composer who has lived and breathed the film music industry for the last 15 years. His course offers students advice on routes into an industry that is constantly changing.
Outside film and TV, rapidly evolving technologies are creating more opportunities for composers away from traditional media platforms. But it can be hard to pick a path through a world which is in a constant state of flux.
M quizzed course lecturer Yati on why video games are leading the way and the best ways for aspiring composers to get that crucial foot in the door…
What makes your course stand out?
I know other programmes are changing a lot so it’s a little presumptuous for me to say I think we do stand out. However, I was born America and lived in Europe for 15 years. I studied in Germany so can bring a really international context that’s very practice and composition led and less theoretical than others.
I’m also trying to represent new mediums. So we’ve got a lot of collaborations going on with different film makers and animators. Software designers trying to represent emerging media, internet trends, things like that. At the same time I try to keep a compositional outlook. So it’s creatively, practice led.
What are the most innovative areas for new composers are?
It’s an industry which is changing at break neck pace. The media field from today to tomorrow is almost a different creature. So the practices we were using in the states and analogue tech back in the 90s almost seem archaic these days. The way things were being broadcast and the client composer relationships were completely different.
I’m part of a network of people involved in the Soundtrack Cologne symposium. They run it every year and bring composers involved in media together. There are 100s of participants each year and is a great place for composers to meet up, rub shoulders and talk about what’s new.
What’s the biggest new area?
Something that has literally exploded in the last year or two is video game music. This is probably the most outstanding important and emerging field for a film composer to be involved in. Because the narrative and dramatic demands combined with the technological capacity of consoles are asking composers to really create outstanding scores. It’s no longer eight-bit, mono synth melodies that they’re recording. It’s full orchestral scores with massive budgets. Giant dramatic projects with complicated narrative. It’s interactive music which changes depending on how you play the game. This is by far the most on fire industry to watch at the moment.
Orchestras and composers who are looking to develop careers in film music need to take a re-evaluation of their options here because video games are going to be a stable of their career alternatives. It’s something to watch but it’s changing so fast it’s almost impossible to take a snapshot of the current picture because tomorrow looks so different.
Why are video games doing so well?
The budgets are expanding to wild proportions as the games sales get bigger and bigger. Games like God of War are selling 150m copies. They have budgets of tens of millions of pounds. Film music composers are still eating the crumbs of these budgets but that’s something media composers are familiar with. As the budgets expand to the same size or more as feature films, composers can afford to have a team, orchestras, get good studio time and producer ever better soundtracks.
Are other sectors bubbling away?
Well I feel short films are a gateway drug if you will. The necessary route for new composers to whet their whistles and get dramatic experience is on these ventures. But there’s not such a big industry for short films. It’s bit of an exotic thing. Usually people are trying to get to feature film length.
Internet music is by far the most potentially lucrative field but at the same time, it’s very difficult for composers to make money on the internet. It’s hard for anyone to make money from the internet. No one wants to pay for anything.
Young composers need to build their own studio, develop their own reputation and run their own business. They have to know how to make contracts, sales and invoice people. In the past you would have been able to work on salary. There is now a lot more self employment.
Do composers need to deploy different skills to work with new media?
My opinion is often changing because traditionally composers had to adapt in making music. Versatility was extremely vital. A lot of them had to be good pop, jazz or classical musicians in order to have the reactivity in their music that their clients require. I think that’s changing so the skill set for composers these days is different. As hard as it is for me to say as an academic and classically trained composer, you don’t necessarily need that anymore. You will suffer from problems if you don’t know what you’re doing but that’s always been the case.
More than anything, composers need to get really good at something. Versatility and completeness as a composer was how it worked in the past. Now you have to your ace card. You should specialise in one sound or one type of thing which makes you stand out. That will be your most important way to get work.
Visit the University of Edinburgh's website to find out more about their film composition course.