Rael Jones is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist. In addition to collaborating with Michael Price on several feature films he has worked on State of Play, Quantum of Solace and has also appeared on BBC1’s Junior Apprentice, as a composer working with one of the finalists. raeljones.com Rael on IMDB
Where did you study, and do you think it helped you in your later career?
I studied on the Tonmeister course, a Music and Sound Recording Degree at the University of Surrey. It is a course aimed at people who want to get into the audio industry, but with a heavy emphasis on sound theory and pure music. I spent most of my time in the studios there, sometimes behind the mixing desk, but more commonly playing and singing for other student’s portfolios. I quickly found that, whilst I could just about do the job of an engineer, I was most in my element when performing and composing – making noise on the studio floor seemed more fun than moving faders in the control room.
The course is intimately connected with the audio industry in London – many of the engineers, editors and assistants in the major studios are Tonmeisters. By my reckoning, almost all the paid work I have done since graduating is a direct result of contact with somebody from the course. Certainly, I’ve never had any success through show reels and business cards alone – nothing beats a good recommendation.
What was your first break and did that lead directly to what you’re doing now?
It’s hard to answer this question without seeming incredibly sycophantic – as Michael was my first real break into working creatively in music, and we continue to work together today! We first met at the screening of an early cut of a film called “Sugarhouse”. I’d been doing a little bit of temp music editing on the cut, chopping up bits of pre existing scores as a (very rough) guide, to help see if the picture edit was working. Michael was in line to compose for the film, and after the screening we had a bit of a chat, and he invited me to help him out with the score. We ended up going to a marvellous studio in Scotland called The Byre, where we added layers of ugly, distorted noises to the demo cues Michael had made in Logic. In my memory now, it seems like a blissful 3 days of making guitars feedback through a bunch of pedals and amps, and listening back to the brutal score, that must have been a significant part of it!
What technical skills do you use in your work at the moment?
A heck of a lot of different things really. Sadly, these days, the big thing is computer skills, and speed and confidence with audio software. I seem to always write in Logic now, though I used to use Pro Tools, as I find it better for mangling audio and moving things around. The more I’ve worked in Film and TV music, the more I find myself having to use MIDI and sample instruments, as it allows easy tempo manipulation to fit picture, and makes demoing big orchestral scores possible. I still try and use real instruments during the writing process wherever I reasonably can, as it immediately sounds distinctive and is much more fun.
What about the human side and relating to directors and film-makers?
That’s a large part of it too. We often find ourselves sarcastically chanting the mantra “It’s all about the music” when in the throws of a project, as it can seem like the personalities and technical admin dominate when getting to the latter stages of a score. The most important relationship tends to be with the director. Music is an incredibly abstract thing, so there has to be very clear communication between Director and Composer if things aren’t to go off in the wrong direction. Directors themselves can be under huge pressure towards the end of post production, and its understandable that from time to time composers bear the brunt of their frustrations!
How do you see music production changing over the next 10 years?
Ooh, I really don’t know – if I did I would start doing it now to get ahead of the competition! Its clear that increasingly you can generate decent sounding music from a home studio if you know what you’re doing, which is leading to the demise of the studio industry. It’s bit of a vicious circle too, as once the bean counters realise they can get music cheaper if it’s all in a computer, the budgets plummet, and then it becomes impossible to pay for musicians and studio time. I really think the quality is dropping because of this – certainly true of TV music in the UK, where the vast majority of it is sample orchestra, often mixed by the composer. It lacks excitement and emotion as a result. As composers, we need to fight to not let the standards drop – it’s not just the for the “art” – so many jobs depend on it.
What’s your favourite record or film score and why?
So many possible answers to this question!
The Score to “Watership Down” by Angela Morley stuck with me so much when I was a kid; there are so many beautiful melodies. We had a VHS of it and I feel like I must have spent every rainy day watching it. I’m welling up listening to it again now.
I suspect there are plenty of great scores that I haven’t fully registered – a lot of the best film music is that which unobtrusively augments the emotion of the film. It’s a secondary, supportive medium, and sometimes a big beautiful melody isn’t the most effective thing to take the audience through a story!
As far as records go, the list is endless. I find myself embracing an ever wider range of genres. Right now, in descending order of weirdness, my iPod Shuffle contains Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Scott Walker, Meshuggah, Screaming Headless Torsos, Deerhoof, Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Rage Against the Machine, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Jeff Buckley, Kanye West. Quite a lot of Prog and Guitars on high rotation.
Here are some links to the 4 weirder ones:
What advice would you give to people starting out now?
From a career point of view – creativity is not enough, you need contacts and a wide range of technical skills. Try and meet the people you want to work with. Embrace the technology, and learn to make great sounding music with it.
From a creative point of view – diversify. Try and connect with as many genres and different ways of doing things as you can. I’ve yet to meet someone who equally understands the disparate worlds of classical, jazz, rock/pop and dance, but I think trying to is deeply creatively enriching. Actually get out there and see concerts, gigs, films and art. Play new instruments you haven’t been technically trained on. Make your own instruments with household objects. Come and see my band Thumpermonkey play a gig!