Here’s the full interview with Tim Rodier B.M. ’00, founder of Omni Music Publishing, conducted and transcribed by Tim Hare B.M. ’11:
What was your musical education like at Berklee?
At Berklee I was a dual major, composition and film scoring. I was also a pianist—I took jazz piano lessons. One wasn’t more important than the other, everything influenced each other. I never thought of myself as just a film composer, or a jazz piano player. My goal was to learn as much I could. Learn as many jazz tunes as I could, how to improvise. I was studying 19th century and 20th century composition techniques, the art of orchestration, and writing for the orchestra. On the film scoring side I was being exposed to different film scores that I hadn’t been exposed to before such as Cinema Paradiso. I had to write papers on Far and Away and To Kill a Mockingbird, different types of scores I had never really heard before. These academic exercises like writing papers helped me become a better composer and writer.
My favorite aspect of putting these scores together is doing the analysis of the score and putting that into the notes for the reader. Writing analysis at Berklee helped me take my thoughts and put them down on a piece of paper. It allowed me to compose my thoughts and what I felt was happening musically in a particular scene and why. It put you in the mind of a composer, much like a screenwriter will put himself into the mind of a character, I tried to put myself in the mind of the composer and attempt to figure out why they were making certain musical choices. From an analysis stand point, much like anything, the more your practice it the better you become at it. The more I analyzed scores the more natural the repertoire became and that was incredibly valuable to me. A good anecdote I have is from a film scoring class the first time we analyzed a scene we played it all the way to the end and the teacher turned to us and said, “Where did the music come in?” We were all dumbfounded and couldn’t remember. He said, “You were too busy watching the movie, weren’t you?” As composers, you have to be aware where music comes in, where it comes out, what’s it doing, and why. When you sit down with a director to spot the film you have to be thinking of all of these things. What you are going to write is as important as when you are going to write it into a scene.
When you are creating a complete score what does your day to day look like?
It’s not as much a day to day as it is a beat to beat, but when I am going to start putting together a new film score the first thing I have to do is pick a good film score. After that I need to try and figure out how to get the rights to it, and then obtain access to a physical copy of the score. If I have all that I will do an engraving and then a very thorough proof reading. Then I worry about writing the score analysis, coming up with the lay out, getting the book cover art done, finally getting the book bound and printed. Doing a complete score usually takes me about 3-6 months from start to finish. So once I have all of my eggs lined up I spend a few hours each day doing the engraving and working on the analysis. Sometimes the analysis ideas will come to me at random times. Usually I try to look for patterns when I am doing the engravings so I can jot down notes for the analysis.
How do you choose the scores you want to publish?
Really it’s a matter of what is most popular, what I feel I could learn the most from, and what I can give to the customers based upon their requests. So far the scores I have released have been big summer blockbusters. I’d like to start moving into more quiet, introspective films so customers, students, and composers, can get a sense of what else Hollywood has to offer in terms of film scores.
What are the biggest pitfalls when you start engraving?
For the most part everything is already in the printed copy of the score I obtain. If it’s not I have to use my ears to transcribe the rest which is maybe 1%-5% of the score. In some cases, like with Willow, the end sequence was not written down. For the sake of completeness, I didn’t want to release only 29 out of the 30 cues. Same with Back to the Future—there was one short stinger cue that I had to transcribe. The other pitfall is layout. I need to make it as easy as possible so when I try to make one big PDF it will all fit which can be very difficult (laughs).
Are there pitfalls when you try to acquire a score to engrave?
Having worked in the industry for a long time, working at Universal, and just being connected to the film scoring community, I have access to a lot of the materials already. I would never start a score where I didn’t have access to the materials. If I did it would just be one more hurdle I’d have to get over. In the case of Silverado, Bruce Broughton the composer had heard about what I was doing and was very interested in getting a score done. He reached out through a mutual friend and he got in touch with the Sony archives to get the score pulled and photocopied. It’s always nice when the composer can be on board. In every single case the composer has been aware of what I am doing and given it their blessing. With Don Davis, the composer of The Matrix, he gave me a couple hours of his time to sit down and go over things I noticed that were different from the printed score to the score audio so I could get his input. Bruce Broughton also gave his input to the differences between the score and the recording. Bruce recalled many instances about changes that were made while they were recording, reasons scenes were changed or weren’t changed, fixes they had to make in the parts at the studio so that was really intriguing to hear. Danny Elfman is very happy to have me do this, but once I get the materials he doesn’t want to have a hands-on approach, but he always wants a copy of the score.
What skill set should someone focus on to be a Music Copyist?
Details. Attention to details, the devil is always in the details. The most detail oriented part of my job comes in when I am proofreading. I do a very thorough proofread and I make notes about what sections are playing in a passage. When I am listening back, I don’t look at the whole score, I look at it in sections so I can avoid as many mistakes as possible by paying attention to the details. When I open a Sibelius file I will solo a section, such as the woodwinds, and listen back to see if there was a mistake. If I have my notes I can quickly look and see that this was a copy and paste from the string section so I’ll immediately know I need to go back and change the strings part as well. The details of my engraving are more personal touches. I am sure a lot of my customers will notice the particular way I space out scores. I have a preferred layout that I use, and I have over 7,000 fonts on my computer I will go through. I go through a lot of them when I am putting a score together. If I can find one that is very representative of the score, like for Willow I wanted something medieval, I will use a custom font. It really comes down to details.
What advice did you receive at Berklee or in your career that really stuck with you?
Number 1, don’t take no for an answer. Number 2, to make it in this business you need to wear a lot of different hats. After I left Berklee I noticed that work in Hollywood as a composer and orchestrator was becoming scarce. More recordings were taking place overseas to save money and only a few composers were getting most of the jobs. I realized that I needed to have many different skill sets if I was going to survive and make money in this business. A lot of people in town will know me as someone who can do music preparation, orchestration, and transcription. From my jazz piano background at Berklee I spend a lot of time transcribing pieces and that opened doors for me as I was called upon to transcribe cues for scores.
I did an entire transcription of E.T. by ear and shopped that around town. I went to Universal who owned the rights to the score and I showed them what I did and I asked them if I could come in and compare it to what John Williams had written. The person who ran the music library at the time was curious to see what I had done and they were quite impressed honestly, that someone who had that deep of a love of film scores would take the time to transcribe an entire score. In transcribing E.T. it taught me a lot of discipline about writing a complete score. It took me a couple of months sitting at the piano, but after in some arrogant way I felt like I could step into the shoes of John Williams. I wasn’t transcribing from his brain (laughs—it is much harder to hammer out original ideas—but it taught me a lot of arranging and orchestration, composing and pacing, and his sense of drama.
What advice would you give to a Berklee grad or student?
Film music is a highly-specialized job to being with so every job is going to be very competitive. With that in mind you must beat down every door. You can’t be a pest about it, but you also can’t take no for an answer or be afraid to knock on the same door several times. Composers like everyone else have families and different interests so you need to learn to give people space, but also gently remind them that you are eager and willing to take any job in the field to get your foot in the door. Send an email with a sample of your work and follow up every couple of months down the road. You do that with a few different composers and you’ll have some eggs in your basket that are going to hatch. They will hatch at different times and you don’t know which is going to be the right one, but stay on top of it. That’s the best way to get your foot in the door.