Tuesday, 12 August 2014 00:00

Composer Spotlight: Brad Hatfield 

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Brad Hatfield

We here at MSC have an enormous amount of respect for Emmy Award winning composer, award winning lecturer, sometimes music supervisor, and all-around great guy, Brad Hatfield.

Brad has worn many hats throughout his thirty-five years in the music business. He’s performed with, composed for, as well as arranged for the world famous Boston Pops Orchestra for over twenty years (starting under the direction of the legendary John Williams). Brad has also developed myriad curricula in songwriting and music supervision, serving as faculty at several different institutions including Northeastern University, Berklee College of Music, and Berklee Online.

As if that wasn’t enough, he additionally freelances as a composer and sometimes music supervisor, on top of heading an equally-as-gifted busy family. His music and/or performances can be heard in feature films such as Mystic River, Borat, Iron Man 2, and television programs including CSI, The Sopranos, and Rescue Me.

Amidst Brad’s busy schedule we were able to catch up with him and picked his brain on an often unpublicized perspective of music licensing — the composer. He shared with us the best (and worst) caveats to working with a music supervisor, as well as how he got into the business, what motivates his creativity, and his favorite sync, check it all out below!

I discovered I wanted to be a film-music composer when…

Like many musicians and aspiring composer/songwriters, I was fascinated by the role music played in a dramatic setting.  The overall feeling of a dramatic moment that is either supported by the music, or informed by the music is such a mysterious thing that you want to look under the hood a bit.  Although I did study film scoring briefly at Berklee College of Music, it wasn't until I started working at Soundtrack Studios as a staff composer (in Boston) that I had a chance to really apply the skills.  I also found out pretty quickly that my vision of music to picture might not be the best vision - in other words, folks like directors, producers and advertising clients were the visionaries!

As I continued performing and recording as a sideman, I started to broaden my skills as a "composer on demand" - listening to the needs of the clients and creating something I felt was artistically pleasing, but also met their project requirements. Eventually a call came in from a publisher that pitched to film/TV shows to collaborate on a project for a network show. I went for it, the song got in, and shortly after that I was asked to put something together for a scene in the feature film Cop Land, and that song made it in as well.  I enjoyed the challenge of writing songs and short compositions in a variety of styles and genres - and 20-ish years later with hundreds of placements, I haven't looked back!

One of my favorite music supervision moments ever is...

I'd have to say as a fan of Six Feet Under, the series ending scene with Sia's Breathe Me was an absolute killer.  The slow and steady build is just fantastic, and I can't imagine a better fit. What a challenge to sum up a series with one song! (See Below)

One of the biggest challenges to working with a music supervisor is...

Listening to and interpreting their needs.  As someone who speaks the "music vocabulary," it's easy to get caught up with details (major, minor, BPM, orchestrative colors etc.).  When working with a music supervisor who can speak details, it's a bonus - but ultimately you need to find common ground for communication. Listening to everything the music supervisor says (and taking notes or recording the call) is a must.  Asking the MS relevant questions is also helpful.  Lastly, a very typical scenario for what I do as a source music composer, is to ask for examples of music they have temp'd in, or the kinds of artists that the director or show runner likes. It's also important to check in with early drafts of the song you are working on to get approval for basic content.  Playing demos can sometimes do more harm than good (this doesn't sound like it's finished!!), so be sure the MS can hear past the your current production level with a draft.  If you don't think the MS will feel comfortable playing it for a director or show runner - better make the demo pretty slick!!

One of the significant advantages to working with a music supervisor is...

I'm sure the relationship between director(s) and MS(s) can vary widely, but one would hope that the MS was on the same page as the creative director. As I have mentioned, an MS can use the "velvet hammer," and be super truthful to the composer/songwriter and let them know when they are off target. I think there is nothing worse than sending a quick demo for approval and being shot down by some element (mix, vocal lead, tempo, instrumental performances etc.) that could have been easily tweaked by a word from the wise MS. As a composer that is "remote", there is so much to be gained by working with a music supervisor who is more attuned with the day-to-day post-pro goings on.  Communicate, and don't take things personally - you are doing a JOB!

The thing about great film music that will never change is...

Great film music will always be that intangible thing that helps us get sucked into the scene and the story, sometimes without us even knowing it. Clearly there is a difference between composed music specifically for a project, and licensed music - but the end result should be the same - continuity in story telling.

The thing about film music that’s changing fastest is...

There is a trend in film scoring of moving away from any real melodic commitment (leitmotif) and using mainly textures and pulse.  To be honest, I love a melody that works - but boy is that hard to do!  To that end, using licensed songs allows skilled music editing and/or re-records to be a great addition to the soundtrack by selectively using intros, vamps and other sections of the song that are also texture and pulse oriented (allowing the subtraction of distracting melodic or lyrical components). The availability of stems in songs as well as score (breakdown of tracks on a composition/song) is also becoming a really useful tool for music editors to deliver to the director just the right texture(s) as needed. The use of stems puts more creative control into the hands of the director in the post-pro process.  That could be a good thing - or a bad thing - it depends on how attached you are to your music!

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