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The Rock Stars You’ve Never Heard Of: Composers
The Rock Stars You’ve Never Heard Of: Composers

By Chris Horvath

Any musician, songwriter, or composer who tells you they’ve never had dreams of playing shows to huge crowds, travelling on private jets, and living the Rock 'N Roll life is just plain lying through their teeth.

Whether it was seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, attending their first big rock concert, or playing along with their favorite artist’s recordings, every musician was at some point struck by the thunderbolt of Rock… or R&B… or Hip-Hop… or Classical… or Jazz.

It’s like the Big Bang of one’s creative life: the moment you hear; see; and feel music in a way that you never had before.

When you’re young you only see the fun and shiny things, and the most fun and shiny thing in music is to become a Rock Star: on stages; screens; and magazines. But it rarely happens for many obvious reasons, and also some less obvious ones.

Among the less obvious ones is that when faced with the reality of the “rock star” life, it’s not uncommon to re-evaluate one’s choice. Living out of suitcases and on airplanes every day isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds and sleeping in your own bed is nice.

This is the point where most people committed to a life in music make the choice: Rock Star or Musician. And believe me while there plenty of super talented Rock Stars, there can be quite a difference in the lifestyle.

If the choice is “musician”, a great area to focus on is music for multi-media (TV/Film/Music Libraries), which is arguably one of the most creative musical paths anyone could choose.

It is here, creating music to support drama, action, comedy, and a range of other moods that a musician/composer has the chance to really stretch and grow on musical level.

But you know what the trade off is? Few people, if any, will ever know their name.

Ask anyone in middle America to name three Film & TV composers and you’ll hear: John Williams; Hans Zimmer; and “Hmmm… I can’t think of any others”. Fair enough.

But what you should know is that the composers behind many of the shows and films you see are Rock Stars in their own right:

Trent Reznor (Gone Girl, Natural Born Killers, Social Network, etc) was a founding member and leader of Nine Inch Nails.

Danny Elfman (The Simpsons, Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, Spiderman, etc) was a member of the New Wave Band Oingo Boingo.

Trevor Rabin (Con Air, Armageddon, Enemy Of The State, Bad Boys, etc) is a superstar guitar player and member of Yes.

Snuffy Walden (The West Wing, Friday Night Lights, Thirtysomething, Roseanne, etc) was a guitar player for Stevie Wonder, Chaka Kahn, and Donna Summer before transitioning to scoring.

There are many others including Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo) and Steve Porcaro (Toto) who went on to become a successful composers. So what’s the point?

In today’s world, unlike previous generations of composers and producers, it’s very likely that the person providing the score for your show or film could give you both orchestral cues as well as songs or cues that sound like the Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Kanye West, Metallica, or Jay-Z. The creative range of most working composers is wider than it’s ever been, which is something that was simply born out of necessity.

But I’m not sure most classical composers could deliver a great 3-chord rock tune or a thumpin’ hip hop track. And I’ve personally seen what happens when actual rock stars try to work within the world of multi-media music and provide the wide range of styles required while meeting the INSANE deadlines, revisions, and pressures that are simply a part of the process.

Can you imagine the bass player from your favorite Heavy Metal band getting a call at 9am that said “Hi… we need you to re-write and record a 2 minute chase orchestral scene by 6pm today.” That would probably leave a stain on the seat.

Composers for multi-media and especially Library Music are often dismissed as creating “music by the pound” that comes more from the head than it does the heart.

While at one time that may have been true, when you listen to the best library music out there today and compare it with big budget film scores or songs on the Billboard Hot 100, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The quality of today’s library music is higher than it’s ever been and it’s only getting better.

So when you hire a composer, or license music from a library, what you should know is that you’re probably getting a super talented musician who understands a wide variety of music, and can give you whatever you’re looking for.

Why? Because while they may have been struck by the thunderbolt and had their rock star dreams, they’ve since traded in their long hair and snake-skin pants for something much deeper and far more valuable in the long run: MUSIC.

And… they get to sleep in their own bed!


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