Marc Jovani, film composer

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

It’s been a series of things. My parents started me on this road. I started playing guitar at the age of five. My mum had my uncle teach me! Then I started piano in the conservatory at the age of seven.

The 1994 “Lion King” soundtrack changed the way I looked at music and made me realize how music can play a dramatic role in films (I was six at that time).

But if I’ve got to pick one thing that actually changed my direction was a cue by Marco Beltrami … I think it was the end credits for the movie “Live Free or Die Hard.” It was an action high-intensity track, fast tempo, 7/8, thick orchestration, very dissonant, with lots of hits and percussion. It made such an impact on me.

I was studying composition at the conservatory in Spain, and I wasn’t finding purpose with the contemporary composition techniques that I was studying… until I saw Marco’s score and I saw all of these techniques put in such a simple way… yet it was so musically and dramatically effective! Right there I saw it, and said, “This is it! This is what I wanna do!”

One of my teachers saw my passion for film music and suggested I should go study at USC. “They have a great film scoring program!” he said. I applied, I got accepted and got a scholarship that covered some of the expenses… and off I went.

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

Moving to LA. I moved here twice. As a composer, there are peaks and valleys. The good things that moving to LA has brought me actually come from my struggles in particular moments.

In 2010, I went back to Spain for family reasons. As a composer, it can be hard to keep working if you’re not physically in Los Angeles. Back then, producers weren’t as keen to do Skype meetings.

The second time I tried was very different and it showed me I was meant to be here. It’s still been a struggle, but in the end, it has brought so many good things to me and my family!

When my wife and I decided to move back to LA, we both started teaching in Spain to save extra money and I was also teaching at Berklee Online. When we returned to LA, things were very tough. I was still teaching at Berklee, but I had a few months where I just wasn’t getting composing projects. I had lost the momentum I had had when I was here previously.

Meanwhile, I had developed a new course for Berklee but wasn’t immediately able to implement it. With the cost of living in LA, our savings wasn’t going to last forever. It seemed like everything was going wrong.

It was at that moment that my wife and I decided to launch our own online course. We invested the very last of our savings into developing and launching the course, knowing that if we failed, we would have to go back to Spain.

We launched it and enrolled 32 students on day one. That’s how Cinematic Composing came to be and we now have over 1,000 students learning and growing their careers with us.

At some point, projects started coming again and I was back actively working.

Being able to serve this amazing community of composers, while continuing to work on projects is the biggest gift I could ask for.

What are the special challenges and pleasures of working on film and tv scores?

Trying to provide that project with a unique musical voice is the biggest challenge initially. It’s tough. Once you have it though, everything becomes easy and it’s so rewarding.

When the music is working, cues are getting approved, the director and producers are happy, and the music schedule is moving as planned… that’s pretty awesome and it feels great as well!

How would you characterize your compositional/musical language?

The music that I feel most comfortable writing is the big orchestral, melodic, emotional type of music. Sort of like the old school thematic trailer music, supernatural/majestic type of sound. But I almost never get a chance to write in that style! Most of what I’ve done up until now has been in the thriller and drama genre. I’ve done so many of these that it comes very naturally to me now.

How do you work?

I start with a 20-minute suite. I’ll work on it for a week or so and then I’ll send it to the director. This sets the tone of the music for the movie, but it also gives the director options. Most of the time, this happens before the spotting session. The schedule after the spotting session is usually very tight. But once they have listened to the suite, then during the spotting session we can actually talk about themes for specific scenes.

In general, it simplifies the process and takes the pressure out because, with the suite, the director doesn’t have to tell you what they want, but rather what they like or don’t like from the suite and what they want more of.

I use a Trello board to upload the music and the video clips for each cue so whoever has to review the music can do it in a friendly environment. That way, they can see the overall progress of the music. They can see how many cues are in progress, done, needs revision, or needs a rewrite. Plus, they can put the comments right there, which helps avoid confusion when there are comments coming from different people. Also, they can review cues from their phone.

Most of the time the director wants to hear the music in a good room and the editor will synch the cues, but sometimes, during production, things need to move fast. The director may be traveling and listening to your music with headphones minutes before taking off on a plane, or who knows where. This helps things move faster.

I generally send two versions for the most important cues. That helps to bring down rewrites and speeds up the process. The rest of the process is pretty standard. Once the mockup is approved, we do prep for the recording session, then mixing, and finally deliver Pro Tools stems for dub session.

No matter the budget, I always assemble a team for each project. You can literally double your composing speed if you bring someone on board. I’m blessed to have Cinematic Composing that pays my bills and that gives me a chance to reinvest most of the budget on the production of the soundtrack itself.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is feeling joy every day to be doing what you love doing. Success happens when the daily making of music – the labor of composing – becomes the reward to you. An award, a big budget, recognition, etc. can bring short moments of happiness, but real success, to me, comes from enjoying the process every moment.

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

As a film composer, there are a couple of paths people tend to take. One is to start by being an assistant that helps a composer who’s already ahead of you. At some point, if you’re lucky, they may give you an opportunity. If you go this route, I would recommend assisting someone who is miles ahead of you, not just a few steps. The kind of project you’ll hopefully get as a loyal assistant will be much better and worth the invested years of your time helping them grow their career.

The other path could be growing your own career from the beginning and taking smaller projects that will lead you to bigger projects. This is what I did. But with this path, you’ll have some ups and downs, so you’ll need to have an additional income stream (aside from composing) for 5–10 years. It may sound like a lot, and maybe you can do it in less time. But be sure to secure your life and not to just make ends meet, but also save for the future. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to lose momentum in your career, so plan ahead and have some savings.

No matter which path you take, treat yourself as a real business from day one and put all the systems together. Not just your website and music, but your communication, branding, your elevator pitch, and how you present yourself.

Here are some suggestions:

First thing is that if you stop working for a while when you go back you’ll have to start from scratch. Be careful not to get burnt out and stop, because it will take twice the amount of effort to come back.

Second, I wish someone had told me to treat myself as a business and not just as a composer. The sooner you start presenting yourself as a professional, the more work you’re going to get. It’s about building trust. The bigger projects you want to get, the more trust you need to show.

Third, start seeking opportunities as soon as possible — maybe before you feel ready! It’s going to exponentially increase your success because of the compounding effect. The first years can be slow, so the more projects you have, the more experience you’ll have to leverage.

The fourth thing would be don’t be afraid to build new beliefs. My old belief used to be that I need to be working all the time, and if I don’t, other composers will get more projects than me. But if you take moments to think and be present, you’ll come up with better ideas. It may not be about putting in 10 extra hours. It may just be slowing down and getting inspired to reach out to someone that ultimately moves you ahead 10 times faster.

And last, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You know, sometimes we don’t think it’s polite to reach out to a friend and say, “Hey I want to work on xyz project — can you connect me with this person?” We don’t want to be too direct or intrusive. But this can help you and you just have to ask — before someone else does.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Feeling joy every day by working on projects that I’m passionate about, that inspire our Cinematic Composing community to do the same, while being a good father and a good husband.

For nearly ten years, Marc Jovani has been working at the highest level of film, providing music for many major studios such as Lionsgate, Syfy, FOX and most recently NETFLIX. He has also composed music for television shows and movies distributed on leading, nationally broadcasted television channels, including Lifetime (USA), TF1 (France), the Hallmark Channel (USA), Canale 5 (Italy), Antena 3 (Spain), HBO (USA) and more. Having received international recognition for numerous prestigious productions, Marc’s desire to work on quality projects is only surpassed by his desire to create the most engaging scores.

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