Here’s the full interview with Royd Haston, manager for Disney Concerts, conducted and transcribed by Tim Hare B.M. ’11:
Did you have formal training growing up?
Yeah, I started playing piano when I was four. I knew from a young age I wanted to do something in music. I went into my high school guidance counselor’s office at age 17 and said, “I want to work for a music publishing company.”
Really? Wow, what drew you to music publishing?
I knew I wanted to be a songwriter and the type of person I am, I always wanted some type of job and financial security, I didn’t just want to be a songwriter. I wanted a “real job” as well, so I thought, “Who works with songwriters? Music publishers do. Okay, I’ll work for a music publishing company.” That was my mindset at 17. That’s all I knew about music publishing; that is all I had put together at that point. I didn’t know what working for a music publisher entailed; I just knew that publishers and songwriters work hand in hand, so therefore I wanted to work for a music publishing company and I did!
Can you give a little bit of background on your job handling scores at Disney and what your day to day entails?
One of the first things I’ll do is handle orchestra requests. a lot of orchestras come to us asking 1 of 2 things; either they want to do a full Disney concert such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Disney Pixar in concert, or they will want to perform individual pieces they can put into a concert of their own. I will go through each request and find out who needs what, where it needs to come from, and then we begin the negotiations. After [the negotiations], we keep in touch with the prchestra—“Hey it’s a week before the show, how are the rehearsals going? Do you have everything you need to perform the show?” After the show, we make sure all the music and technical aspects are returned to us. Last year we did 400 shows so it’s pretty much a show a day.
One of the best live concert experiences of my life was seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas live at the Hollywood Bowl. I was fortunate enough to go see it both years. Can you take us through the process on your end to put together such a big concert?
The Nightmare shows at the Bowl are a little different because that is one of our “Produced” concerts. We have a hand in putting that together. The other shows we call “concert in a box.” We send the score and the parts to the orchestra and we send a tech guy to put the concert on themselves. We are pretty hands off. For Nightmare and other shows or performances we do at the Hollywood Bowl we are very hands on.
For such a big show playing to picture does that make a difference to the Score Preparation, such as getting to line up to SMPTE code?
We have a team that goes in and takes the original score from the film and makes it into something that a regular orchestra can perform including SMPTE code. What the conductors see is a lot different than what the audience sees. There are streamers, things are blinking, they have to countdown to make sure it lines up to the picture, all of that has to be added to the score. This allows the conductor to know where he is. He isn’t just watching the screen in front of him; he can look at the score and know, “OK, at this code I need to be here and here.”
Do most Disney scores exist in hard copy in the Disney archives?
Do you pull most of the scores from the archives?
Yes, but we also have a team that creates complete new orchestrations from the original based on the needs of the requests so we have a lot of those on file. There are also a lot of new scores being performed, so to allow for that we start working on it right after the film is done, before it even gets into archives. We usually know about a year in advance what scores we want to have available to perform. So, we would work on Moana or a new Pixar movie for instance before it is even released.
What is the biggest pitfall you’ll have at work and how do you work your way out of it?
The biggest pitfall is communication with the orchestra. A lot of times they think they know what they need and when they need it, but we have to step in and tell them, “You really should have the scores at this point so your conductor can start looking at it and know where the problems are going to be. You should really start talking to the tech team now so you know when they are going to be there, and how it is all going to get married together. The tech team needs to be there for the rehearsals so it can all flow so let’s start that process now.” Once we have worked with orchestras a few times, they get it, but orchestras we are working with for the first time, or smaller orchestras—they may not be prepared for production and scheduling so it can get rough. Luckily, we’ve been doing this for a long time so we know when to jump in and give them guidance.
Do you know a lot of the problem parts in a score because you work with the material so closely? Will you let the orchestra know, “This can be a problem spot because it is a difficult passage, or this part is complex?”
Yes! We are even wary of letting certain orchestras perform certain concerts. Of course, in theory we want to let you perform anything you want, but let’s say you’re a college orchestra and you want to perform Pixar in Concert; that might not be the best idea because it’s really hard. The music is really difficult to perform. We try to guide orchestras to what we think will be the best performances for them based on skill levels, how big the venue is, what audience expectations are. Some concerts cost a lot of money. If we think you won’t bring in the ticket sales we suggest you do this concert instead, we think this will work better for your orchestra. Again, if they want to do something we want to let them do it; we just mention that based on our experience this is probably what is best for you.
Some concerts are more expensive based on the fee to license the score from Disney?
Licensing and Tech. Tech includes audio mixing, lights, and the tech person who travels to the show to help put it together.
Does each show have its own tech specifications in terms of how the show runs?
Yes. We have a guy, Ed Kallins, who has been building the technical aspects of the shows for years.
If someone wanted to get into your field, working with scores and orchestra productions, what skill set should they focus on?
Knowing a lot about music is a plus. A lot of people I deal with or work with don’t know how a score works. They know a lot about licensing or marketing, but when it comes to a score they don’t have it. They can’t read the score or listen to the score and make a mental note [such as], “The conductor needs to watch out for this.” If someone understand the business side of it and the musical side of it they are a pretty powerful force.
How much of your week is looking at scores doing score analysis?
Not as much as it used to be—because of our department size we have a team now, but it is good to be able to grab a score and be able to look at it and think “They need these parts for this piece,” or, “This will be a trouble spot when they perform it.”
What advice would you give to a college grad who wants to get into a role like yours?
Find people who are doing it; network your butt off—it is all about networking. Don’t be afraid to temp or intern someplace to get your foot in the door. Don’t shoot for the glory job right away; it is good to get your hands dirty. After that, do what you have to do to go where you want to go, and keep networking. Temping was great for me. I temped for a couple months, but in that couple of months I met so many people that helped me and my career.