In this edition of Word of Mouth we talk to TV & Film Composer, Jim Hustwit, about his career to date – creating scores for major broadcasters, understanding the director’s vision, and writing for the bin.
What is a typical working day for you as a composer?
The expected response might be, “lounging around in my pants procrastinating”, but I start the day more like an entrepreneur than a creative layabout. Exercise, meditation and a hearty breakfast before I hit the studio to get creative.
I like to do my idea generation at the beginning of the day. So I’ll just sit at the piano or with a guitar and play around with ideas. Hopefully inspiration strikes and I start to hear an idea in my head so will try to translate that in to a rough recording. I believe in writing for the bin. i.e. being prepared to throw away ideas. It takes away some of the pressure and fosters a more creative environment.
You have a background in investment banking and marketing. What made you want to pursue a career in music production?
I’m an idealist. I believe that if you are going to spend 80% of your life working, you have to do something you love. Banking and marketing left me somewhat unfulfilled.
Music and film have always been my passions. As standalone art forms they are incredibly powerful. When effectively combined they are even more so and for me that is a way of connecting with people and hopefully moving them in some way. Combining the two professionally became my focus.
You’ve worked on shows for the BBC, Sky One and Channel 4. What are the challenges that come with writing music for high-profile broadcasters?
The main challenge is understanding a director’s creative vision. Sometimes people know what they want but don’t know how to articulate it. Other times they don’t know what they want and my job is to help them define it. Either way the first step, before any music is written, is to understand and define that vision.
That is true of any project whether it’s high profile or not. With the big channels one of the biggest challenges is not being in communication with decision makers at the top.
What has been your favourite show to work on and why?
I think my first commission for Channel 4, Strictly Baby Disco. Obviously, it was my first, but the producer knew exactly what she wanted and we created a soundtrack that had a consistent tone and character. The Week The Landords Moved In on BBC One is another example of that and something that I’m immensely proud of.
If you are going to bring in a composer rather than use library music it’s because you want a unique musical personality and tone. So, shows where we achieve that are the most fulfilling.
You’ve composed and produced music for both TV/Film and Theatre; how do they compare? Are there any big differences?
The principle is exactly the same. You are using music to tell a story and compliment a director’s creative vision. The big difference is that with film the picture is locked so synchronization of music and image is easier.
Composing for theatre is much more social. For TV I spend all my time in a soundproof windowless box. For theatre, I get let out to interact with other human beings…which is so important.
What would you say is the best part of the creative process?
I love the idea generation part. I enter a creative frenzy and come up with ideas and often have happy accidents (musically speaking). As part of that process, I often expose myself to music that I wouldn’t ordinarily listen to, which is always a journey of discovery.
I also enjoy the mixing phase. This is where I polish everything up and make sure all the elements of a piece sit together sonically. I can then sit back with a cuppa, listen and think: “I made that.”
Do you have any advice for someone passionate about creating music and wanting to break in to the industry?
That’s the big question. The reality is, there is no secret formula. It’s the same as succeeding in anything: Hard work and determination – each piece of work should surpass the previous. Self-awareness – learn to critically analyse your own work. Always be learning – if you stop learning you stop progressing. Networking – meeting and talking to people creates opportunities and relationships.
Are there any TV shows you have seen recently that you would have loved to have worked on?
I love the Netflix series, Fargo, and the score across all three series is phenomenal. Musically speaking it shows how daring to be different creates something unique and compelling. I also loved Happy Valley – I think it’s brilliantly written, incredibly acted and I tend to love dark dramas. The composer did an amazing job but I’d love to have added my own unique spin to the proceedings.
Jim Hustwit is a Composer, Music Producer, Musical Director, and a ProductionBase member. You can get in touch with him with via his PB Profile or his website. If you’d like to be featured in a future Q&A, let us know!