17 July 2013

Q&A With Composer Adam Gubman

Written By John Presley

Q&A With Composer Adam Gubman

Adam Gubman is a versatile composer who has scored over 500 videos games, dozens of television shows and many national commercials.

Adam has written and produced music for important NBC broadcasts, like the 2012 Winter Olympics, the 2012 Presidential Election and the 2010 Royal Wedding.

Recently he composed a new theme for NBC's Today Show, which was previously composed by John Williams. 

What is your musical background?

"I started composing music at 7 years old, the same year I started playing piano. My grandfather put me on the Amiga computer with Deluxe Music Construction Set, and I was clicking in compositions instantly. Horrible, disjunct, silly music, but so awesome to have that power at my fingertips! My love for midi and music grew together, and as technology got better, so did my ability and knowledge. I produced my first record at 16 years old. It was called Sunday Rain, and I got a bunch of friends together to play live instruments over midi compositions I created on Cakewalk 3 and dumped into ADATs. Some of those musicians went on to become quite famous - Andy Dodd played guitar all over the album, and now he's a very well known producer and songwriter, with platinum singles. Singer Kevin Odekirk sang on the album, and now he's doing well in the musical theater world on and off Broadway.

I produced bands for fun in the 90s (during high school) and shortly after I graduated went to work for producer CJ Vanston in Hollywood and assisted on projects with Michael Bolton, Carole King, and the Christopher Guest film 'Best In Show'. I got to see Spinal Tap rehearse and jam, as CJ was producing them at the time. It was a great time to be an assistant!

After struggling as a pop producer in the early 2000's, I decided to go back to school and finish my degree in music, which was the best decision I ever made. Not only did I learn loads of theory and analysis, but I gained the ability to write in more varied styles and with different approaches. This helped me incredibly with my first gig, 'Pirates of the Burning Sea' for SOE/Flying Lab (co-composed with Jeff Kurtenacker), which if it weren't for my knowledge of baroque and classical styles, I wouldn't have been successful with.

Shortly after that I went to work as a contract composer for SomaTone Interactive and Non-Stop Music, and started to build credits. I've written scores for over 500 video games, lots of TV commercials, TV news packages, etc. I've done work for Activision, Ubisoft, Square-Enix, SEGA, EA, PlayFirst, PlayDom, BigFish, Dreamheart, to name a few."

Tell us about your studio. What hardware and software do you use?

"I've been a Logic guy since 2006, and have used it and all subsequent upgrades. I love Kontakt, and of course the slew of libraries available for it through amazing content developers like CineSamples, 8Dio, Spitfire Audio, etc. I have a Mac rig, and I run a parallel PC with a VEPro server that handles larger libraries (Hollywood Strings) and some other Play based stuff."

How did you get the gig for the Today Show theme? What can you share about the writing and production process for that track?

"I had done a fair amount of work for NBC through Non-Stop Music over the past few years, and that demo opportunity came about through those other gigs. In 2010, Non-Stop hired me to write music for the NBC Royal Wedding production, which was the first time my music was featured on a serious TV program. Hearing my work over the cool graphics with the 'Big Voice Announcer' guy was thrilling! Shortly after that, I was asked to do some sports packages (2012 Olympics) for NBC as well as music for their 2012 Election coverage."

NBC Royal Wedding Theme Composed by Adam Gubman

"When the opportunity arose to demo for the new Today Show theme, I jumped at it. They asked for something new and fresh, and I was a bit concerned because I knew I could never replace the John Williams' iconic 'Mission Theme', but we really didn't set out to do that. With a natural change in the show's demographics, style, and presentation, they needed something that was a bit more 'newsy' and less cinematic. I still approached it lyrically, but needed to bring out some of the urgency and energy of the news format.

The trick to working on stuff with NBC is that you have to maintain the traditional show theme (NBC Logo theme) as well as the Today Show logo theme, so the work is 99% new material, and a bit of arranging of old themes. Aside from that precedent, I wrote a new 'B' theme that has become the center part of the new logo theme.

I write everything in MIDI first, and depending on budgets, Non-Stop records live instruments at LA East studios in Salt Lake City. Most of the time we replace all the strings and brass only."

NBC Today Show Theme Composed by Adam Gubman

How has the business side of composing changed since you started?

"Casual games have essentially taken over the game industry, so the bulk of my work is there, now. Ever since iOs made it so easy and accessible, lots of developers are creating content that requires small amounts of audio (5-10 min) instead of huge AAA titles with 1-2 hours plus of live content. Most everything we do for video games nowadays is in the box, but we try to replace a few solo instruments here and there to sell the integrity of the work and raise the bar a bit. Budgets are shrinking, but there still is the need for audio, so many of us are struggling to keep the rates for audio at an appropriate level."

Who's your favorite modern composer and why?

"This is a challenging question! I think I listen according to what types of projects I'm working on, although I'm a huge music fan and listen to a ton of pop and film scores. Some of my favorite songwriters are Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Billy Joel, and I like a lot of newer bands and DJs as well. I also love listening to music by my peers, as it helps give me a point of reference for my own work and allows me to connect with the industry on a more intimate level.

Lately I've been listening to a lot of horror composers - Joseph Bishara and Jeff Grace, Christopher Young, Danny Elfman, Bernard Herrmann, as I just released an album of orchestral horror music for movie trailers with Switch. Records, called 'Dark Matter'. We recorded 90 musicians (orchestra and choir) and twelve works in one day, after I spent six months composing and re-writing, fixing, front end producing, etc. It is definitely the largest-scope project I have ever composed, and I'm very excited with the results! The record was recorded at Bastyr College in Seattle, mixed by Jake Jackson in London, and mastered by Pat Sullivan at Bernie Grundman." 

For more info about Adam Gubman visit AdamGubman.com.

John Presley is a composer and founder of Future Composer. Visit his music site at JohnPresleyMusic.com.