A Day in the Life of Composer Alexander Rudd
Alexander Rudd is an award-winning British composer,
based in London and LA. He has composed scores for plays at the Royal National
Theatre, the Old Vic and the Barbican, winning awards at the Edinburgh Festival
and a Musical Theatre Award.
Having been awarded the highest prize for composition at Trinity College of Music, he won a Fulbright Scholarship to study film scoring at USC under Bruce Broughton and Christopher Young. While there, he met Randy Newman, who became his mentor. He has written widely for film and TV including co-writing on the Liam Neeson film “Unknown” and working on the final season of “Lost” with Michael Giacchino. Alex gives us an insight into the mind of a composer
Q> How did you get to where you are today as a composer?
Alexander Rudd> The short answer is never taking no as an answer and
being persistent. If you knock down enough doors, eventually something will
When I was a kid, my best friend Graham could play the
piano – even better, he could tap dance really well too! Fortunately for me, my
parents agreed to piano lessons (in retrospect they probably decided that the
sounds coming from the piano playing of an uncoordinated ten year-old was the
lesser of the two evils….). God knows what tap dancing sounds would have come
from my ten year-old, uncoordinated self. I hated practicing, yet I loved
writing tunes. And before I knew it my dreams of becoming a tap-dancer like
Graham took a distant second to becoming Ennio Morricone.
My real break happened after I met the great English
composer Howard Blake (i.e., “The Snowman” and “The Duellist”) who heard me
playing and singing jazz standards in a piano bar. He said I could have a great
career composing for films and should go to Hollywood. So I did. I got a
Fulbright Scholarship and British Film council award to study at the University
Of Southern California. I’ve never looked back.
Q> What was it like to be mentored by Randy Newman and has he influenced the way you work in any way?
AR> Randy Newman has been my hero since I was a teenager when
I saw a great clip of him singing “Political Science” on the Old Grey Whistle
Test. I think he is one of the greatest American songwriters.
I first met Randy when I moved to Los Angeles to attend
USC. Randy is probably one of the nicest, and most humble people I have met.
Randy has influenced me in so many ways. But I would say his unique approach to
creating characters in his songs has been his biggest influence on me in both
my scoring and songwriting. He also told that I should never become more of a
critic than a composer… “finish the damn thing first… judge it later.”
Q> What’s a typical day as a composer like?
AR> Given that I am my own boss at the moment, I always try
and start in the morning. Where I am in the creative process dictates what
happens on any given day. My intention everyday is to get the work done early
that day so I can get to the pub for a pint…still working on that bit. But
honestly, either I spend the day searching for inspiration, or, if I don’t find
it, I keep drafting and editing the notes before me until it comes to me – in
essence I always try to keep pencil to paper (or Logic if it were). I know I
have stumbled upon inspiration only when I look at the clock, it is 3 a.m., and
I haven’t moved from my desk all day long. That is the ugly beauty of the
Q> Do you have a particular creative process?
AR> No matter what I’m writing, whether its something for
film or theatre, I always try and iron out the concept first. I always try to
visualise the sound and the mood. If I figure that out putting the notes down
Q> Do you follow any special routine when you start a new project?
AR> I’m always idealistic. No matter how much time I have,
its just the right amount to get the job done.
Q> What do you do when you are stuck with a composition or you’ve run out of ideas?
AR> My composer friends say you should go for a walk, I always seem to crave sweets and chocolate which ultimately means a walk as I need to leave the studio to find my sugar fix. I always find that taking a short break helps or listening to some music. For me, listening to something in a completely different style to what I’m working on always provides ideas.
Q> What was the most enjoyable project you worked on so far?
AR> Recently I’ve been working with Hugh Hughes on a theatre
project for the National Theatre of Wales. It was a fabulous job because I got
the chance to compose music for some films, some radio plays, a live theatre
show and an audio installation walk which took place on Angelsey in north
wales. We will be making some more films next year.
Q> What is the most exciting part of being a composer?
AR> Hearing your music come alive through an amazing
orchestra on a sound stage, or feeling your music move a theater audience are
the two reasons I do what I do. For me, thats when we go into the studio and
and either replace or add real performers to the mockups (musical demos). I
also get a kick when you’re watching TV (or a random Korean game show on
YouTube) and you kind of recognise a piece of music and it turns out to be
Q> What’s the worst part of being a composer?
AR> Writing music.
Q> What does your production kit look like and what’s your favourite piece of hardware and software?
AR> My favourite ‘bit of kit’ has got to be my piano. Its
just a regular Yamaha upright but I love it and its great to ‘noodle’ on it and
come up with ideas. Its an extension of me. I make mockups and program with
logic pro, and I use all the well known samples (plus a few custom treats here
Q> How do you find a work-play-balance as a freelance composer?
AR> Its hard. I believe that you’ve got to maintain a healthy balance. Just recently I had back surgery. My doctors suggested that it was bad posture. Since my op I’ve made a conscious effort to take regular breaks which is tricky for a workaholic but I’m a better composer for it. I writing better and more music than ever these days.
Q> You’ve done quite a bit of composing for the theatre, including scores for plays at the Royal National Theatre, the Old Vic and the Barbican. How does it differ from creating a film score?
AR> Its a completely different animal. With film, the actors’ performance and breath has been fixed by the film editor. In theatre, I find there are more opportunities for the music to influence both the actors and mood in real time as they create their characters in rehearsal. With both film and theatre music can affect the mood – startle, soothe or create tension. Yes only in the theatre can there always be an element of surprise in how the actors respond to the music on any given performance. The audience can also have a massive impact, affecting the pace of a show, for example, so getting timings right with theatre can be especially tricky, but the challenge is fun.
Q> Do you prefer one over the other or do you like the variety of being able to score for both art types?
AR> What I love most about my job is the variety and the wonderful journey music takes me. Composing can be quite a lonely existence, its hard and you need to spend lots of time alone getting it done. For me, working on many different projects spanning different media means I continually get to meet lots of different people with diverse ideas. It keeps me excited about writing, I’d never want to be one of those guys that feels that they are just “churning out stuff”. I feel really lucky that I get to compose every day. The day I stop feeling that is the day I stop being a composer.
Q> What advice would you give someone who is just starting out as a composer
AR> Keep working at your craft. People say you have to be lucky, so create your own luck. If you want to compose for film, go to parties where there are directors. Once you get a gig, you should be easy to work with, nobody wants to work with a diva – god knows we have enough of those Hollywood. And most important, take care of yourself… eat and drink in moderation and get regular exercise. As John Cage said: “When I die I want to be in perfect condition.”
Cavendish has worked with Alex on three albums; Dramatic Moments, Drama Themes and Minimal School, which you can listen to and download at www.cavendishmusic.com.
Cavendish is currently working with Alex on a project due for release in the Autumn.
Genre: Music & Sound Design