View from the Podium
by John Welsman
It’s more important now than ever that Music Creators worldwide are talking to each other
As I write, I’m on my way home from Mexico City where Marvin Dolgay, Tonya Dedrick and I attended a three day International Council of Creators of Music Forum (CIAM – http://www.ciamcreators.org/) along with over 75 delegates from 33 countries worldwide.
The conference had a packed agenda, beginning with a keynote address from Elizabeth Matthews, CEO of ASCAP, and continuing with presentations and updates from each of the CIAM Continental Alliances. There was a great deal of emphasis throughout on how critical it is that we achieve gender balance and diversity and how important it is keep a firm focus on these goals.
There was a great deal of emphasis throughout on the benefits derived from achieving gender balance and greater diversity within our creator organizations. By keeping a firm focus on these goals, we’ll have better informed results and more enlightened policies and initiatives.
One of the main preoccupations of panels and work groups was the challenge of engaging our younger generations of up-and-coming music creators. They’re growing up in a very different world, where there are no obstacles to getting one’s work out there and in front of an audience. They’re using Soundcloud, Youtube, Bandcamp, CD Baby etc. to upload to and showcase their work, but what happens when it comes to downstream revenue from these services? Very few services pay the composer, songwriter, or musicians for the use of their music on their platforms, and most of us agree that the amounts coming from those that do pay are far below the value of the music, especially when compared with the financial benefits these companies derive from our works. A few small payments here and there may seem OK for those who are just starting out. But they’re likely not aware of the larger system of Collective Rights Management Organizations (CMO), including SOCAN, that we’ve all come to depend on to successfully administer our performing and mechanical rights, and to collect and distribute royalties on our behalf. These CMOs provide so much more than just downstream revenue! We, as music creators, have a voice and ownership in most collectives and they represent our interests to the outside world – businesses, broadcasters and governments – negotiating tariffs and blanket licenses, making deals for us from a position of strength that only the collective system can provide.
There is great concern that, if the collective system loses a generation of creators to this other model, their very existence could be in jeopardy. If all Netflix has to do is repeatedly wave largish amounts of money in front of composers in order to purchase their music rights outright as a full buyout, and those composers accept those offers, those films or series will fall entirely outside the collective system. No cue sheets (for the score anyway – keeping in mind that any licensed songs of any stature would likely not be able to purchased outright) and no royalty revenue passing through the CMOs and out to copyright owners. The more of these types of deals that are out there, the more worrisome it is for the future viability of our CMOs. We hear that Netflix is fairly aggressively going after full buyouts from composers, especially in Asia and developing markets. ASCAP’s Matthews stated that Hollywood is starting to move towards a direct licensing system with no back end for creators. The FAANG companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) are propagating this – the trend is increasing, and starting to travel.
If these trends continue, we may well end up without collective societies.
Imagine a world in which CMOs are a thing of the past, one in which music creators negotiate one on one with these monolith companies that want their music. A world in which we have no collective voice, no longer the strength in numbers that the collective system gives us. Who has all the power then?
Those at the conference agreed that we must channel great energy into addressing this problem, and do all we can to support our CMOs. That music creators must all be loyal to the collective system, and that the collective system must be loyal to us. We spent hours considering ways in which we can engage those young musicians who are just starting out, somehow making them aware of the great value that the collective system will bring to their creative lives if they are to enjoy any measure of sustainable success.
The CIAM members have pledged to implement the many strategies discussed to reach those young creators. There are many that I don’t have space to go into here, but one important initiative is to explore launching a Fair Trade Music aggregator platform, as a service provided through our CMO system, that would offer that showcase to young creators and pay properly for their music streamed.
I come away from the conference both heartened and daunted by the challenges before us. We’ve talked extensively, and feel we have a handle on what’s needed, but the challenge will be to follow through on all the initiatives and their details. Funds aren’t unlimited – we’re going to have to be creative about putting our talents as creators to work for us.
In the meantime, you may be asking ‘what can I do to help?’ It’s simple. At every opportunity when you meet a young up and coming composer or songwriter, take time to tell them about the wonders of SOCAN and the strength and value of the collective model for royalty collection and distribution. And how it gives music creators a voice in their collective future. This is your own future we’re talking about here too.
The Lie of the Composer Chameleon
By Mikel Hurwitz
When I was 15 years old, I had the incredible fortune of being invited to an orchestral film scoring session at the now extinct Manta Sound, on Adelaide. I had no idea at the time that this afternoon session would plant something within me that would change the trajectory of my life.
Two years earlier, I’d determined that the Royal Conservatory, the piano, puberty and I would no longer fit. Like some (most?) of you that are reading this, I decided that I didn’t want to be confined to notation, so I started improvising, and, fell deeply in love with the challenge of musical creation in the moment.
But as I sat on the couch in the booth of Manta looking at the composer conducting music that came out of his head, music that added emotional depth to the story on the screen, I asked myself: This was his Job? Could this be a way to build a career with music where I would get to make music for a living?
And so my lifetime of study began of everything Music: history, harmony, acoustics, orchestration… you name it, I wanted to learn it. But, how much did I have to learn in order to be a Film Composer? Well… as it turns out… quite a lot.
But when my earliest teachers, whom I deeply admire, would guide me about how to be a film composer, they would constantly reiterate, “Learn how to write and play in every style”. So, I did… or at least, I tried to. I didn’t know it at the time, but this advice, though important in the formative years, developed into toxic composer chameleon-itis.
So why all of this autobiographical pondering, you ask? Well, years after leaving Toronto for Los Angeles, I write this as somewhat of a cautionary tale.
Sure, we’ve all heard ‘Art begins where technique ends’, and that we must all strive to be artists first and technicians second. And yes, a contemporary film composer’s life can be an endless sea of technical work, thought, and execution. But instead of striving to write music in ‘all styles’ and be the ‘sound-a-like expert’, we must all strive to be unique and different! It is an ‘art of life’ thing: How do you become more yourself every day and strive to represent that knowing through your artistic output? What is your unique creative voice?
Aside from learning the ‘craft’ of Film Scoring, even from a business standpoint, the uniqueness of your sound is your greatest commodity. Now, more than ever there is a saturation of content and recorded music, which ultimately means that if you are trying to sound like anyone else, you might aim yourself into a giant sea of ‘same-ness’. We must understand deeply that our intellectual property is everything, in art and in business.
Sure, the temptation is clear: I hear ‘X’ type of music on television, films and games right now so I have to learn how to make that type of music to get hired. True? Maybe to an extent, but for those of us who don’t have royalty cheques paying our mortgages yet, ask yourself this: if you are making sound-a-likes to get hired or simply copying the temp track, when that film making team that you have been struggling with and help build for next-to-no money gets successful in 5-10 years and has a real budget, what makes you so sure that they will come back to you and not hire the person that you are trying to sound like?
So what does all this mean in reality as we sit down at our DAWs? I think there are a few simple meditations to consider: Build your template with room to grow. Use the libraries that you already have as your palate and mix them, as a painter would, with gain staging, EQ, reverb & that special sound that only you can get from your template. Learn what you musically resonate with: chord progressions, harmony, modulations, rhythms, orchestrations, mixes, production techniques, and passionately learn how to make those things yours. Let a melody come to you from the ether, then work it until it is a chiseled archetype that can thematically drive endless variations in your score. Deliver your mixes, hate them two weeks later, then remix them for the soundtrack album. But, most importantly: Move on. Grow. Keep learning and keep striving to make great art. It’s the only thing that we seem to have too little of these days.
I believe that our role as artists is to stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, all while progressing the art. Our role is to write musical ‘love letters’ to the composers that came before us, so that if they heard our work, they would feel flattered and enthusiastic, not depressed and plagiarized.
From the time I got bit with the compositional bug, my struggle has been to shrink the temporal space between improvisation and composition while having a unique template that will let me be more me than I’ve ever been. We could say that as composers, our computer is our instrument, or the orchestra is our instrument, but I believe that it is our template that is our instrument. It’s the house we build that we sonically live in. Does it change over time and from project to project? Sure, as any home does, but if it has a solid foundation we might be able to look back on our artistic trajectory years down the line and see some common thread that ties us together, instead of having hard drives full of stylistically disparate material.
So why, ultimately, should we spend all of these hours studying, template building, practicing and developing our unique musical identities? Because, I believe, that it will shrink the gap between improvisation and composition, and perhaps through that process, we will get back to that moment when we first heard something that made the hairs on the back of our neck stand on end and shook us to the core.
ARTICLE REVISIT- SUMMER 2017:
AI AND THE AV COMPOSER: IS YOUR JOB NEXT?
by Collin Ankerson
In 1956 Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Issacson used the Illinois Automatic Computer to compose String Quartet No. 4, also known as the Illiac Suite. Utilizing different algorithms for each of the suite’s four movements (titled ‘experiments’), Hiller and Issacson generated random musical elements (pitch, rhythm, dynamics, etc.) and filtered them through some classic rules of composition.
The first experiment was conducted to obtain a simple diatonic melody that would serve as cantus firmus for the subsequent movements. The second and third experiments centered on the creation of four-voice polyphony, and variation of rhythm and dynamics respectively. The final experiment abandoned purely musical rules in favor of Markov chains, based on the idea that new events in a sequence can be predicted based upon those previous. The resulting suite is a fascinating demonstration of the power that organizational rules have in shaping the sound and style of musical compositions.
In the 60 years since Hiller and Issacson’s experiments, there have been massive breakthroughs in the field of artificial intelligence, including the development of deep neural networks. Artificial neural networks are roughly modeled on the biology of the human brain with layers of interconnected ‘neurons’ and ‘synapses’ that process data. The network becomes ‘deep’ as more hidden layers are added between the input and output. This technology is currently being used to develop autonomous vehicles, create machines capable of mastering the game of Go, improve preventative healthcare systems, and write music.
A new company called Jukedeck recently used their machine learning technology to compose and synthesize 8 bars of piano music. On their research blog, they write that ‘to the best of our knowledge, it’s the first time a computer has written and produced a complete ‘song’, from start to finish, using purely machine learning-driven techniques.’ Since winning TechCrunch Disrupt London in 2015 the company has attracted mainstream media attention in outlets like the New York Times and NPR. Users have already created nearly one million unique tracks using the site, and major brands like Coca Cola have signed up for monthly subscriptions. The Jukedeck platform allows the user to select genre, instrumentation, mood, tempo, duration, and climax point. The AI then creates a new, unique piece of royalty free music available for download. While the current version is limited to a handful of genres, and creates music that seems most suitable for the background of a YouTube video, it is easy to imagine wider, more varied usages as the technology improves.
While Jukedeck is focused on creating completely machine-generated music there are other companies working to build applications that function in tandem with human composers. One such technology is the FlowComposer tool created by the Flow Machines project at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris. The software can be used as a ‘personal, intelligent assistant’ generating chords and melodies based on parameters chosen by the composer. The user can specify the input or ‘songset’ to direct the style in which the AI will generate music. The composer is then able to modify pitches/durations, reharmonize melodies and remove or regenerate pieces of the composition. The team at Flow Machines used a set of Beatles lead sheets to create what they call the “first structured AI pop song, Daddy’s Car”.
The capacity of artificial intelligence to shape the future of human society is not limited to engineering, medicine, and scientific research. Clearly it will play a role in our artistic endeavors as well. The development of new technology has always had a part in directing artistic movements. When painters of the late 19th century like Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka were confronted with the advent of photography they turned inward to create paintings that were less ‘realistic’ but captured elements of the human psyche that a photograph could not. Art historian Ernst Gombrich put it this way:
The photographer was slowly taking over the functions that had once belonged to the painter. And so the search for alternative niches began. One such alternative lay in the decorative function of painting, the abandoning of naturalisms in favour of formal harmonies; the other in the new emphasis on the poetic imagination which could transcend mere illustration by evoking dream-like moods through haunting symbols.
As machines continue to improve in their abilities to compose music perhaps we can draw inspiration from the painters who searched for new, deeper forms of expression in their art.
Illiac Suite: www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0njBFLQSk8
Flow Machines Project:
Compiled by Janal Bechthold
& Elizabeth Hannan
Events and Appearances
– Adrian Ellis interviewed Hans Zimmer for DGC Visionaries at TIFF.
– Haniya Aslam was a featured artist, guest musician, and audio engineer at Coke Studio.
– Antonio Gradanti spoke on the Q&A panel at the official screening of the film ‘Dead Layer’ in NY, at the Anthology Film Archives.
– Darren Fung held the master class “Inside the music of Equus: The Story of the Horse” with director
– Niobe Thompson and moderator Adrian Ellis.
– Chad Blain spoke at the University of Calgary as part of the creative team for the theatrical production ‘The Virgin Trial’.
– Paul Novotny and Ari Posner are appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage concerning its study on
– remuneration models for artists and creative industries.
– Lesley Barber attended the premiere of ‘Nappily Ever After’ directed by Haifaa Al Mansour.
– Ari Wise spoke on a panel at the Vancouver International Film Festival AMP Summit.
– Gagan Singh, Glenn Morley, Ryner Stoetzer and Amy Fritz spoke on the ‘Scoring Your Film’ panel at the
– Forest City Film Festival in London.
– John Welsman, Tonya Dedrick, and Marvin Dolgay attended the CIAM general assembly in Mexico City.
– Marvin Dolgay co-chaired a joint MCNA ALCAM meeting in Mexico City with ALCAM president Alejandro Guarello.
– Robert Duncan held a live stream ‘Ask Me Anything’ moderated by Adrian Ellis.
Awards and Recognition
– Janal Bechthold was featured by Wilfrid Laurier University in an article discussing SCGC’s research study.
– Mychael Danna appeared alongside Jeff Danna in Variety’s Artisians Elite Report for 2018.
– Stephanie Kowal, Spencer Creaghan, and Lora Bidner won SOCAN Foundation Awards.
– Lora Bidner was the recipient of the 2018 Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award.
– ‘Workin Moms’ was nominated for an International Emmy for Best Comedy Series.
– Peter Chapman scored the series alongside Maylee Todd.
– Sergei Lev Kofman was one of the recipients of the 2018 MusiCounts Scholarship.
– Schaun Tozer scored ’Rabbit’. The film won ‘Best Canadian Dramatic Feature’ at the Edmonton International Film Festival.
– The National Academy Orchestra of Canada performed Maxime Goulet‘s composition “United Anthems” at the
– Brott Music Festival in Hamilton.
– Bravest Warriors, scored by Neil Parfitt, premiered on Teletoon.
– Season two of ‘Anne with an E’ premiered on CBC. Ari Posner and Amin Bhatia score the series.
Rose Bolton – ‘Anthropocene’
Jonathan Kawchuk – ‘Clara’
Robi Botos – ‘The Weekend’
L.A. Shorts International Film Festival
Janal Bechthold – ‘Tick Tock’
Stephanie Kowal – ‘Year Zero’
Antonio Gradanti – ‘Dead Layer’
Atlantic International Film Festival
Duane Andrews – ‘Hopeless Romantic’
Duane Andrews – ‘An Audience of Chairs’
Duane Andrews – ‘C Sharp and D Suspended’
Katra Film Series
Antonio Gradanti – ‘Dead Layer’
Edmonton International Film Festival
Steve Cupani – ‘The Garage’
Scary Movies XI
Emily Milling – ‘Impossible Horror’
Reelworld Film Festival
David Federman – ‘Everbliss’
St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival
Duane Andrews – ‘An Audience of Chairs’
Tom Third – ‘What Walaa Wants’
Tom Third – ‘The Woman Who Loves Giraffes’
Janal Bechthold – ‘Brave Little Army’
Forest City Film Festival
David Federman – ‘Haru’s New Year’
Hanoi International Film Festival
David Federman – ‘Haru’s New Year’
Hamilton Film Festival
Janal Bechthold – ‘Brave Little Army’
Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival
David Federman – ‘Haru’s New Year’
Other Releases and News
– Stephanie Kowal’s score was performed live at the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival.
– Rob McAllister released the new album ‘Finding Stillness’.
– Sarah Slean was one of the composers who added to the Ensemble Made In Canada’s ‘Mosaique Project’.
– ‘Guacamelee! 2’ was released for PS4 and PC. Peter Chapman composed the score alongside Rom Di Prisco.
– The soundtrack for Russian Subway Dogs by Peter Chapman was released on Bandcamp.
– Rose Bolton was a part of the AGO’s ‘Anthropocene’ event during Nuit Balnche.
– Erica Procunier’s piece ‘Precipice‘ inspired dancers, animators, filmmakers, remix artists, visual artists and
– others at Seneca College. All of their interpretations of her piece were presented at Nuit Blanche.
– Darren Fung’s soundtrack for ‘Equus – Story of the Horse’ was released on all digital platforms.
– Steve London released the album ‘Love Jacked’ with producer Frank Fitzpatrick.
– Medhat Hanbali participated in a radio interview with FranceInter about a film he scored titled ‘Inside Lehman Brothers’.
– Season 5 of CBC’s podcast ‘Someone Knows Something’ began airing. The podcast includes music by David Federman.
– Lesley Barber discussed film music on ‘The Pop Disciple Podcast’.
– Trevor Morris scored ‘Hunter Killer’ which had it’s theatrical release.
– Maxime Goulet composed a piano concerto as a soundtrack to the legendary chess game played between Kasparov and Deep Blue.
– David Federman presented “The Care and Feeding of Your Composer,” at the Film Scoring and
– Sound Mixing Masterclass hosted by Raindance Toronto.
by Virgina Kilbertus
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