12 March 2014
Q&A With Composer Benson Taylor
Written By John Presley
When do you know you've arrived as a composer?
For Benson Taylor, it was probably the moment he recorded 12 snare drums in a stairwell for the NFL's Super Bowl broadcast.
It's often that kind of "out of the box" mindset that sets apart composers in today's competitive field. Benson's drive to develop a signature sound has paid off, leading to work scoring international advertising campaigns for Sony Playstation, British Telecom, Walmart, Ford and others.
Although Benson has made his mark as the resident composer for the Super Bowl from 2009 to present, his score to "Fear of Water" recently won Best Original Music at the Monaco International Film Festival.
Tell us about your studio. What hardware and software do you use?
"My studio is based above a bank in Yorkshire, England and is pretty humble to be honest. I run Logic & Pro Tools, and a 28 channel Euphonix control surface with too many plugins, most of which I don't even use because I'm just a sucker for all those marketing emails with the 'extended holiday discounts'.
For me, you can't beat just sitting at the piano to come up with melodies and structure, so I try and stay away from the computer until it's absolutely necessary. In terms of software, I probably use the same as everyone else for orchestral works, Sibelius/Finale, East West, Project Sam, NI's Komplete, Spitfire Audio etc, but I like to record live where I can, as do we all.
For electronic works, anything goes soft/hardware wise, as I can quickly get wrapped up in tweaking and creating sounds until the early morning. The last Super Bowl broadcast I worked on back in February had a track in the opener where I'd recorded 12 snare drums in the stairwell of my studio, then layered them up on top of each other with a ton of processing. I remember hearing them come in as the show started and just sat there laughing to myself at how ridiculous the process was, but I think it was worth it."
You've had the opportunity to compose for many top television shows. What has been the secret to your success?
"Thank you. Yeah, I've had a pretty decent run so far. I managed my expectations of my writing from a very early age. I think it's crucial to sound fresh, unique, detailed, and make your final production stand out whatever genre you're working on. Sounds like a massive cliché, but just jump on SoundCloud, everything sounds the same.
I don't really have a 'secret' as such, but I always knew exactly what I wanted and still do. So when I first started out, instead of working in a crowded market place here at home, I took my music to a more crowded place and what I considered to be the source, Los Angeles, hoping that producers, supervisors, and directors would like my British accent, and they did. I built a strong team around me, like my agent and others, and it kinda went from there. It's important to have the right people working hard for you too. Bill Gates didn't build Microsoft on his own, right? I'm rolling out the clichés today."
How has the "business" of composing changed since you started working professionally?
"From the business side, more and more companies like to own a share of the music nowadays as they know they can make money from it, but I guess that's probably always been the same for me in the years I've been working professionally. So it's not really changed as such, more changing.
I'm sure with the way media is consumed right now the business will change dramatically in my generation, but I'm excited to see how that shapes up and grows. Everything has to evolve. I embrace it. As 'music makers' I think it's how we move with that, that's important.
From a technology side, the changes are huge!
It's pretty crazy to think how far all the orchestral software has come over the years. The sounds are incredible across the board and the flexibility inside the engines is giving us more opportunity to embellish those sounds with real technique. If you spend the time and focus in on your orchestration and programming skills (which is where all the detail lies), you can achieve amazing results. People always ask me where I had the tracks on my website recorded, London/Berlin/Budapest? They nearly fall over when I explain they were done inside the box."
Can you give an example of a challenging project and how you overcame those difficulties?
"The most challenging side of any project for me is getting it going. I have so many wonderful projects that I get asked to work on, but it can take months before things get going, sorting the business side out, contracts, etc, and that can be really frustrating as I have the attention span of an 8 year old boy.
I just want to get stuck straight in, live it, and not sleep until it's finished.
You also know the longer it takes to start up, the less time you have at the other side which can be annoying when you know other people involved have had longer on the same project to hone in their art (although I'm sure those guys would tell you the same thing).
Working closely with directors and producers is the only way to manage that. Building trust between the two of you so everyone feels comfortable is necessary from the get-go."
Who's on your playlist right now?
"I listen to a lot of different stuff to be honest. In the movie world, John Williams' recent score to 'The Book Thief' is just beautiful. But from a more commercial point of view, James Blake's new album is up there along with Jacques Greene & Sampha.
I can't lie either, Taylor Swift always features."
For more information about Benson Taylor visit his website at BensonTaylor.com.
John Presley is a composer and founder of Future Composer. Visit his website at JohnPresleyMusic.com.