Bill Brown is just like a kid in a musical sandbox.
For him, music is not just a job, it’s a passion that is constantly evolving, nurtured and stretched to the limits. His music background began with the piano at the age of four, and developed into a skill that has led him to score thrillers such as “CSI:NY,” Marvel’s video game Captain America: Super Soldier, Syfy’s “Dominion Season 2,” along with testing the newest instruments in music technology.
Recently the celebrated composer spoke to Living Out Loud about his work in the television and gaming worlds, upcoming projects and the dos and don’ts of composing.
Living Out Loud: How did you get into music? Did you have any other aspirations?
Bill Brown: My parents told me that when I was four, I asked them for a real piano because the toy pianos I had weren’t getting the job done! So I’ve been creating music most of my life in one form or another. When I saw Star Wars and heard John Williams’s music for the first time, I knew that was what I wanted to do. Music has always been my passion, my number one dream job.
LOL: How would you describe your style?
BB: I would say my style is cinematic, soulful, cutting-edge and thematic. I love to experiment with new technology, live instruments, custom sampling…anything that takes it to the next level, where everything here in the studio is always evolving. I’ve always believed that music has to have a soul. What I try to create in each project is that additional emotional layer that ties everything together, and something exciting that really connects with the audience.
LOL: Who or what are your biggest influences and why?
BB: The great film composer Bernard Herrmann has always been a big influence, especially his scores for Psycho and Vertigo. When I was a kid, John Williams’ music for Star Wars introduced me to film music, and he’s still a big inspiration. His orchestration and use of themes is continually inspiring. I also remember John Corigliano’s score for The Red Violin being a big influence for me when I was in college. The way his themes were the soul of the film…seeing all of those great films growing up had a big impact on me…hearing those themes, those orchestras playing them. I think that’s why I love film music so much in general.
LOL: What makes you stand out from other composers/musicians?
BB: I approach each project with new experimentation and new tools…every time I start a new cue is like playing in the sandbox. I try to listen for something new and magical, capture it, and then take it to the next level. I also think most of everything I do is rooted in some kind of thematic idea, whether it’s created by experimenting with new instruments, programming in the studio using new technology or writing for orchestra. I try to keep things fresh by having something unexpected happen in the instrumentation or the composition of the cues, creating unique sounds, and collaborating with great musicians.
LOL: Your last work with games was Captain America: Super Soldier. Aan you tell us about that? Can you take us through the creative process?
BB: I met with Next Level and Marvel to discuss the direction of the score, and we came up with a rich, complex thematic concept for the characters and the levels. Specifically that the opening levels would have a more traditional orchestral feel, and then as the Sci-Fi technology was slowly introduced, the score would reflect the mystery and the technology by introducing strange analog/synthetic sounds and textures with each level. I hand-wrote notes during our meeting and brought them back with me, and created a huge spreadsheet that spanned all of the levels and characters.
LOL: Are you a fan of comic books?
BB: I read comic books as a kid for sure. Lately I’ve actually been reading a new series of Star Wars comics, which are great.
LOL: Are you a gamer? How did you get into composing for games?
BB: I love it when I get to write for games, because it gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in them. It’s interesting because I set out to score films right out of college, and never thought I’d be scoring games or television. When I found out about game soundtracks, I was excited because there were opportunities to write for full orchestra and experiment with new technology all at the same time. With my score for Captain America: Super Soldier for Marvel, the fact that I had the opportunity to record this huge, modern orchestral score with a full orchestra and to use all of the new technology here in the studio as well was really a blast.
LOL: What is the most difficult part for you while composing?
BB: Usually, the most difficult part of the process is the beginning. There’s the challenge of coming up with new moods, textures and themes that will take everything to the next level…but that’s also the fun part for me. I’ve done it enough times to know that as soon as you get started, ideas will start to come, and once you’re on a roll, it becomes more of an adventure. It definitely keeps things exciting.
LOL: What can we expect to see in the near future?
BB: There’s a new MMORPG game project that I’m really excited about scoring this year, looks really amazing. And there’s another exciting project that I can’t talk about yet, but will hopefully be able to soon! Check out my website for more info on that.
LOL: What are some highlights of your career?
BB: “CSI:NY” is definitely one of the biggest highlights so far. To be able to work on that caliber of show was incredible and I’m looking forward to doing more of that. The films I’ve been working on have been really meaningful to me on so many levels, and with the games, Captain America, Wolfenstein, Lineage 2, all of the Tom Clancy game projects…I’m really grateful for all of them.
LOL: Do’s and Don’ts of Composing?
BB: I would just say don’t try to be someone else… Just be yourself. Stay true to what it is that really moves you, and know you’re going to have to work really, really hard. Also, try to stay humble, put your ego away, and just have fun with it. Keep listening, learning and innovating. Most of all, I would say just have fun with it and open yourself to collaboration, that’s the key.
LOL: After a long scoring session, what do you do to unwind?
BB: I enjoy hanging out with my family, having fun at home and going to Disneyland or taking the kids to the park, or the zoo. I also really enjoy collecting instruments, and beta-testing new technology here in the studio, which is kind of my main hobby, along with my love of movies and all things Star Wars.
For more information about Bill Brown, visit billbrownmusic.com.