INTERVIEW: Julian Montgomery
Julian Montgomery is a Composer for Film, Television, Video Games and other visual media. He is based in Los Angeles, CA.
1)When did you first know that you loved music? What drew you to composing for the screen?
I’ve been learning and making music since my childhood. It was as a teenager that I really discovered I actually loved making music. I went to a high school that had a program called Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). I was initially in the Science, Math, and Technology program but either in my 2nd or 3rd year I switched to VPA. There we learned about the arts which included music, dance, and acting. I was the kid that didn’t do very well in school because all I wanted to do was make music. So, I would skip class regularly and find a booth with a piano and just sit in there and play and write songs, then I would go to my VPA classes. I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone because I barely graduated high school but that was the time in my life when I really discovered I loved making music.
It wasn’t until later in life that I started being drawn to composing music for film. I did a lot of studying of the power of music. I was a Minister of Music at various churches for many years and had read a lot about music in the Bible as well as such writings as The Republic by Plato. I not only wanted to make music but gain an understanding of how music affects people and shapes society. I started becoming very aware of how music when combined with visual media could have such a great affect on people. I started paying close attention to how music was shaped around what was going on on-screen and began to imagine myself doing that. I eventually decided it was something I really wanted to pursue.
2) What is one of you favorite films that gets the composing right? What is it about this film and its score that makes it so appealing?
It’s very hard to pick just one but I think I’ll go with Inception. I LOVE the score for this film. It’s a great mixture of orchestral and electronic elements. Purely from a compositional standpoint it’s probably not the most sophisticated but it’s perfect for this film. While John Williams is the G.O.A.T. I feel like too many film composers try to emulate him. This score is NOTHING like John Williams, of course, because it’s Hans Zimmer (which too many of us try to emulate as well). As a composer I find myself drawn to music that combines orchestral and electronic elements and this does a fantastic job of doing that. When I first watched the movie I was so captivated by the story itself. A dream within a dream (within yet another dream). It was so well thought out and a such a fascinating concept. Along with the story, the music just seemed like such a perfect fit. I’m not sure how many revisions they went through with the music but what they ended up with was the perfect compliment to what was happening on-screen. I only hope that I can someday compose a score that works as well as this one.
3) Can you describe the process that you go through when starting a new composing project for film?
In an ideal world I am brought in before production. When that happens I talk with the Director and get introduced to the film and start dialoguing with the Director about any of their visions and thoughts about the music. I read through the script multiple times to learn about the arc of the story, the characters, important interactions that jump out at me, recurring themes, etc. I then start working on musical concepts. These could be leit motifs for various characters, situational themes, or just general concepts to capture the feel of certain moments. As I create concepts I share them with the Director to get feedback. The main goal of is to get on the same page as the Director. Do these concepts make the Director feel emotionally the way he/she wants the audience to feel at various points throughout the film is the real question. It’s also to build a palette from which we can pick and chose once we spot the film.
Once the film goes into production, if possible, I will attend some of the sets. Seeing the movie being filmed gives early visual that helps to provide musical inspiration. Once the film goes into post production and the we have a locked picture then the Director and I have a spotting session. Here we go through the whole film frame by frame figuring out where we want music, where we don’t want music, are there any concepts we want to use, so on and so forth. From there I go to work scoring to picture. This may be coming up with new material or taking a concept and making it work to picture. If there is the budget for it I will bring in live musicians, although, generally speaking, the films I have worked on so far have been very low budget and so there is no money for live musicians.
4) What software DAW do you use to score? And Why?
I am currently using Cubase Pro 10.5. Last year I switched from Pro Tools HD. I also have Logic Pro X. I decided to switch DAW’s because I was introduced to the concept of large orchestral templates. I tried to set it up in Pro Tools but I started running into several issues. I decided to give Cubase a look because I was already familiar with Logic and wanted to try something different. Also, many of the more established composers who I had come across and who were using large orchestral templates were using Cubase. I found that I was able to setup my template with no problems and many of the features like folders, expression maps, track finder, and many others were better than what I was used to. It definitely has its own flaws as well, however, I decided to go with it and I’m happy I did. After using Cubase for about 3 weeks I actually created a video explaining why I switched from Pro Tools to Cubase and what I saw at the time as some of the pros and cons of both Cubase and Pro Tools. Here is the link to the video: https://youtu.be/RqyN2TZiuFE
5) What about plug-ins and libraries
I have a TON of plug-ins and libraries. I can’t go through them all but here some that I will highlight:
Orchestral Sample Libraries:
Other Instruments Plug-ins
Regarding Omnisphere, I have created some small sound packs that people can download for free. They can be accessed on my website at https://www.julianmusicprod.com/soundpacks.html
6) What is the best pieces of advice you could give someone who wants to start writing music for film?
Don’t pursue it if you think it’s the quick way to make a lot of money. Becoming an established film composer is a long and difficult journey that takes an enormous amount of talent, hustle, and patience.
Develop your own sound. Too many composers try to emulate John Williams or Hans Zimmer. I strongly believe in learning from the best but far too many of us end up sounding like those guys. While they are two unbelievable composers you are not them. You have your own experiences and qualities that make you and your approach to music unique. Be YOU!
If you only have a classical/orchestral background, learn how to make electronic music. If you only have an electronic music background, learn to compose orchestral music. If you know how to make both kinds of music and can develop ways of combining them you will have more opportunities.