LONG READ: INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER HOLLIE BUHAGIAR
We catch up with composer Hollie Buhagiar, to talk about process, collaboration and to get some industry tips!
Can you describe your working method and process?
My working method is really quite fluid and instinctual I would say, I tend to begin by taking a look at whatever cut or information I have of the project in front of me and then consider what my collaborators have asked of me and how I can truly support and enhance the piece in a complementary and unique way. I have quite a basic set up really: iMac, MIDI controller, interface, two sets of monitors (one active and one passive), a studio amplifier and two additional screens (one for the visuals and one for whatever part of the session is required at the time, be it the mixer/piano roll/etc), a Nakedboard, a Big Knob, various sample libraries and plug-ins, a couple of microphones as well as a reflection filter, pop shield and - most crucially of all - I have an ever multiplying plethora of instruments.
How did you get into working as a composer? What have been your influences?
I got into composing quite unexpectedly really. Whilst doing my Bachelors they hosted a module on composition for film and I decided to try it out for a change as my previous projects had been far more geared towards pop/electronic styles of creation. Once I had got a taste for it there was really no looking back for me, everything immediately fell into place in my mind and I had a career trajectory. My influences are a hard one to pin down really, I enjoy quite a vast array of musical styles and genres, I’d say that everything I’ve heard and watched up to this date has influenced me in some shape or form — from the works that I absolutely adore to the pieces that are not in line with my tastes. There’s something to take away from everything and I think that has shaped my sensibilities and the decisions I make as I write. That being said I never try to sound like something I’ve already heard.
Do you mix and master your own work?
It very much depends on the project’s requirements and budget really. I occasionally send work out to a select few trusted engineers when I can, as their perspectives and skills are invaluable to me. I was quite lucky to have a degree that gave me quite an intense crash course on mixing and mastering, and through this I found that it is immeasurably useful to know the rules before you break them! There are countless tutorials online and workshops out there that can really help you build up that foundation of knowledge, but beyond that a lot of it comes down to taste and trusting your ear.
What is your favourite bit of gear?
I’m not sure that this entirely counts but my favourite pieces of ‘gear’ are my instruments. For me, nothing replaces the use of live instrumentation. As a multi-instrumentalist, I’ve found my approach to creation is very different depending on what instrument I pick up and that can be so refreshing when writing new pieces (especially when it comes to vocals). It’s so very easy to get limited to working entirely in the box and end up writing to accommodate the limitations of your samples, which of course isn’t incorrect, it just doesn’t fulfil me on a creative level as much as manipulating and processing audio that I have created in my studio. I find there’s something extremely genuine and bespoke about this, from the instrument I pick up to the sound of the room and the mic I use, all of these details I very much believe contribute to a truly unique score.
How important do you think it is to have top-of-the-range equipment?
I think it’s important to have the right top of the range equipment. Investing in several items that will enhance the quality of your output is always advisable. That being said I’d say that limitations can really inspire creativity and you may find that the manner in which you compose because of this has a direct impact on the work you create, and although this could seemingly be a negative, these are the details I’ve found lead you to develop your own unique style and voice.
What is your personal ‘top tip’ for producing or mixing?
My top tip would have to be without doubt to trust your ear. Easier said than done, I know, but it is absolutely crucial. Only when I began to recognise this did I really start producing the work I was extremely fond of.
Do you have any tips or advice for those starting out on how to succeed in the industry?
I would say the initial stages are most definitely going to be the most trialling but they can often be the most rewarding. You will certainly have to pay your dues — most likely for longer than you’d expect to (or believe you deserve to). Be open and kind to the creatives you meet along the way, as you never quite know where a relationship may lead you. Some of my earliest encounters have become my greatest collaborators and friends.
You’ve worked on everything from film to documentary, adverts to theatre. How different is your process for working in each different area?
It tends to vary quite extremely really, there’s a vast spectrum of possibilities between the different art forms and yet there can be so many similarities too. I have worked on a theatre show that has had more in common approach-wise to a stop-motion animation than two fiction films, for example, that have required entirely different skillsets. Every project is rather unique in and of itself, which for me personally is what makes the job so thrilling. Each day poses a different set of challenges.
What has been your biggest challenge? What have you found easiest?
I think my greatest challenge was the initial move from Gibraltar across to London, as well as having to start from absolute scratch when doing so. That and building up a network of such wonderful collaborators over time that have allowed me to now work full-time in film and TV. I’m not too sure there are many easy aspects to this career, if I’m honest! But I would say the most welcome moments are the ones where I meet other creatives and immediately feel as though we have an affinity — that our creative outlooks are in sync and we get along brilliantly on a human level, which then allows for an honest working relationship. Film is so reliant on collaboration and although viewing a screening of a piece that has come together brilliantly is a greatly fulfilling part of the work I do (though still never easy!), the success of these pieces has most definitely come out of these wonderful connections and it’s incredibly exciting when these start to form.
What are you future projects?
I’m scoring a plethora of projects at the moment — everything from feature films through to a theatre show that will be available to see in the coming months. I can’t give too much away at this moment unfortunately, as is the nature of the beast but most definitely watch this space, there’s some very exciting pieces in the works!