Ric Mills, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

It sounds weird to say this but I always felt I was a composer even before I realised I could do it. My earliest musical experiences were with school choir and group guitar lessons – something about the fact that a human being could produce this lovely thing called music and that you could also get a ‘warm feeling’ from it was awesome. I went on to sing in church choirs and began to learn the organ – I still remember shocking older member of the choir by playing the theme from the Pink Panther in the church one cold evening. Playing in church taught me much about score reading, improvisation and the shapes of melodies as well as western harmonic direction. It wasn’t until University that I really caught the composing bug – I knew composing was for me. Whilst everyone else went on to teacher training I had my eyes firmly on the magic of music making.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

A few notable composers definitely had an impact (and continue to do so) as well as she not-so-notable but in many ways these composers I have known personally, well they have impacted me far greater than others. I still feel awe and inspiration from Hans Zimmer and his team at Remote Control mainly due to the sonic boundaries they push; I was a big fan of the late composers Michael Kamen and Jóhann Jóhannsson – both gone way too early. I also love Philip Glass for simple yet beautiful and dramatic scores. I also really enjoy the challenge of playing and understanding the music of British composer Herbert Howells, and really enjoy great improvisation – currently listening to the amazing Daniel Roth his improvisations are works of art at his enormous French cathedral organ! My children Matilda and Charlotte are major influencers on my work now – they continue to inspire me and fill me with renewed wonder and they teach me to look at the world in a different way.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

I think the biggest challenge for any artist in the world now is the sheer frustration of the music industry: beyond the creation of music, this is by far the hardest thing to traverse. It’s a mixed blessing with the advent of digital distribution and more and more impressive software allowing finer recordings and virtual instruments than ever before, yet at the same time the influx of competition from around the globe makes it that much harder to stand up and be heard. There is a lot of musical arrogance around – so many people like to pigeonhole style and artists and don’t see (or hear) music creation for what it is: a brilliantly talented and intensely personal thing to do! Making the music is the easy bit.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on film score?

I have scored three feature films and numerous short films and the special challenges about writing to picture are regarding the practicalities of writing. There are two main issues a film composer must face and be ready to work with (as well as being talented enough to create music that is of high quality and that which the director likes). The first is time. Music is the very last thing added to a movie so when you are assigned to a project you have a lot of nothing time whilst it’s being filmed and then post production time whilst it’s in edit during this time you generally don’t see any picture/video, until the call comes to start writing when you see the final cut – that’s generally between 2 weeks and a month (but mostly we are talking weeks). I’m sure A-List Film Composers get even less time. The other challenge is being able to write for the film in a functional way, by this I mean it is already established that you ‘can’ write, but writing for film is exactly that – your ability to be able to score for the action, the movement, the themes, the dialogue, the SFX on screen actually as it happens. This is a unique skill and one that does not wait around for the motivation or ‘inspiration’ to come – you have to hit the ground running (see point 1)!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Much of my work is virtual – so I can tell you when I get to work with a string quartet or orchestra it is very highly valued. The sound of real instruments always blows my mind. I also love to work with producers and orchestrators that really understand their craft – I have a few highly specialist guys that have such commitment and passion in what they do, they keep working above and beyond until they hear the sound you are after.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I always seem to think ‘accessible’ as an answer to this question but it’s not my favourite word as it’s very vague but when I contemplate the composers I admire – the ones that create a lot of emotion (not all) but most use very familiar starting blocks in terms of harmonic movement and keys – they don’t go out of their way to be deliberately dissonant; they work extremely hard on the simple ideas and fine tune them. I like this and I feel I compose like this also. In my most recent album (Profoundly Piano – a Personal Sketchbook) I very much adhere to this ethos especially with pieces like Fundati and Quasi Niente; however I have also gone against this with more exploratory serialist pieces such as Ubi Es. It’s all pretty ‘accessible’ though and I think this really means it doesn’t need a context or an explanation (or even a pre-existing love for specialised piano scores).

How do you work?

I compose on one of my three pianos – I like to originate ideas from my baby grand Yamaha (the real one) and then often transfer the ideas to my digital P-45 whilst working in Apple’s Logic X. I sometimes get ideas at odd times and I try not to let go of these so I would make notes in my iPhone and bring them home to my studio to play in and then leave the session open until Im ready to complete it. I used to be a technophobe and wrote scores by hand over the piano and over time gradually embraced it and now probably read midi better then traditional notation!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Great question. I’m sure success means money to most people and that is probably true for many musicians, but I think if you are a creative person you genuinely wish and hope for an existence that merely allows you to create music or whatever you do and only do that; not be lumbered with having to ‘get a day job’ that basically allows income for your life but doesn’t fulfil you and take you away from getting better at the artistic thing you love so much. So, I think to be able to be creative in your life and make some wonderful works and do only that; is my definition of success. The money will no doubt follow if what you do resonates with people.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think to be very open to new ideas, learning about composers you don’t know and being willing to do as much as possible for the experience and not for money is the key. I don’t even remember what I earned before I was 26, I just said yes to everything – attending concerts, helping set up sound at someone’s gig, helping with a recording, playing your instrument for free at a major event (or even a small event). There’s plenty of time to be ‘paid what you deserve’ – this shows you are willing to learn new things and experience as much as possible in your early years.. Oh yes, be on time too and be lovely to everyone. No one wants to work with a genius who is an arse.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha DDK7.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Listening to music (yup I know sorry) or training – I’m a Hapkido Red Belt.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistically frustrated.

Ric Mills latest album Profoundly Piano – Sketch Book is released on 26 April 2019.

Ric Mills is a British born award-winning pianist & composer residing in Sydney, Australia. 

His powerfully emotive piano and strings scores and undisputed talent as an orchestral, electronic and piano composer, have kept him in demand between TV and Film projects as a highly sought after production music composer working with trailer music giants such as Universal Australia and Universal UK, Colossal Trailer Music and more recently BMG (Beyond LLC), Sound Pocket and Warner Chappell.

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