Making Library Music With Gareth Johnson (BBC, Sony, Audio Network, BMG)
In today's interview, we have the very talented, producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist, Gareth Johnson. Gareth has his own studio at the famous Metropolis complex in London where he runs his music production company, Stand Alone Productions (http://www.standaloneproductions.co.uk).
Gareth has made music for BBC, Sony Entertainment, Audio Network, Sony PlayStation, Toyota, BMG, Def Jam and worked with artists such as The Who, Them Crooked Vultures and Noel Gallagher to name a few.
So, without further ado, here is Gareth.
1. How did you find your way into making library music?
After playing in bands through my teens with a group of mates, I landed a record deal and began recording EPs with producers. It was whilst spending more time in recording studios watching them work that I developed the bug for music production. This led to me developing my skills to a point where I was able to start exploring lots of different areas across the musical spectrum. I always found writing music really easy, so as my production chops improved I was able to realize my musical ideas without relying on booking time in studios and having other people engineer my stuff. I soon realized that I didnʼt want to be solely focused on playing in a band format and saw a future in developing my writing and producing. A few years down the line I was lucky enough to begin releasing my solo work alongside my work in the band. My work was getting noticed and eventually, a friend put me in touch with the founder of a music library who was interested in hearing some of my work. Iʼll admit at the time I didnʼt really understand how the business worked as I had been working in commercial music up to that point. As soon as I grasped the business model and realized the exciting opportunities available for my musical output, I jumped in with both feet.
2. What made you start your own music production company, Stand Alone Productions, in 2000?
Iʼd began working with a range brands, artists, record labels, publishers and library companies in a range of different areas and felt that sometimes the perception of a company providing music, rather than an individual was helpful. Sometimes it helped me take on bigger jobs from bigger clients, without them feeling like I was a small outfit. Often Iʼve found that corporate clients and brands, in particular, feel more confident to put their trust in another company rather than an individual. In an ideal world it should all come down to the music being good enough, but sometimes people need a little help to understand that. Also, having a company allowed me to work in lots of different fields without being pigeonholed into one particular type of work. Iʼve done library music, movie trailers, mixed 5.1 concerts for huge bands, released records under artist names and provided games soundtracks. Sometimes the company name helps with being versatile.
3. What would you identify to be the three most important things to focus on to start your own music production company and make a living doing music today?
Donʼt stop learning: Keep your production chops up. Learn new techniques. Work in areas that will challenge you. Youʼll take valuable lessons away from each project you work on. Theyʼll all work together to feed into your other work.
Be Organised: Keep your backups and drives safe. Iʼve often had to go back to a track I worked on years back to grab some stems or do a remix for someone who loves one of my tracks, but needs a bespoke edit for a campaign or movie. Sometimes a great opportunity could be lost just down to a missing multitrack. This also applies to timekeeping, keeping your contracts safe, invoicing people on time, replying to emails and just keeping your studio in some sort of order. Trying to find a working patch lead or effects pedal for a specific sound when youʼre in the middle of a creative burst can be a total vibe killer.
Work Hard and Be Nice to people:
People like to work with people they like. Be nice. Collaborations can be great and fruitful for all involved. However, bad attitudes, flakiness, rudeness can ruin a vibe and mean that people donʼt offer you opportunities. If you are lucky enough to have some successes along the way, share the knowledge and also give others help and encouragement. Theyʼll remembers it and reciprocates somewhere along the way. Iʼve been lucky enough to have been offered some great chances and opportunities over the years and have worked hard to deliver the goods.
4. Do you approach making music for films such as Elle the same as for video games?
I honestly just make music I love personally and hope that others connect with it too. The approach is just to write something you enjoy listening to. I usually write having no idea where the music is going to be used. Often, the sync a track gets has more to do with itʼs emotional impact than anything else it seems. If itʼs a fast energetic piece with lots of impact, it may be sports or action. More introspective pieces may find their way into movies etc.
This is not the only approach, but it is mine. Some people work very well with detailed briefs etc. Iʼm just not that kind of writer personally. Iʼm much more of an instinct-driven writer. Iʼll go into the studio with no ideas of expectation and see what comes out on the day.
5. Do you have a routine or any technique you follow to maintain your creativity to keep writing music?
Try not to get caught up in the production side of things too early in the creative process. It will kill your creativity if you get bogged down in the sound of a kick drum for 2 hours at the beginning of a session. I am a firm believer in getting ideas down quickly, even if you make mistakes when recording as this is the best way to capitalize on capturing the moment of inspiration. Often your first ideas will be the best. Once the initial idea is down, I can then get into arranging things and tweaking parts etc. The production and mixing elements come last. Try to separate your brain and your sessions into those parts. Get down a raw killer Idea, then refine it and polish it.
6. What advice would you give your 20-year-old-self today, having gone through setting up your own company and writing all that music?
There is no shortcut. It will be hard work, you will have to motivate yourself to continue. You will be broke for longer than you hope. You will want to give up. You will doubt yourself and revere your awesomeness on a daily basis. It will take a while to break through to get an opportunity to show the world what you are capable of. You will recognize the opportunity when it comes and you must be ready rise to the challenge. Youʼll think that it is beyond your capabilities and will probably want to turn it down. Donʼt. Say Yes. You can do it. It will be worth the wait. Youʼll be on cloud nine for a short amount of time. Then youʼll realize that you need to do it all over again. It gets less scary over time. Keep writing. Keep improving. Donʼt spend all your time locked away in the studio. Some of your best ideas inspiring moments will come from just living life in everyday situations. Go!
7. Instrumental music or vocal music? What do you focus on?
Both. Good Music is all that matters.
8. How important is it to be able to write in many different genres or is it better to be an “expert” in one?
Iʼm no expert in any area, but Iʼm always learning. Know where your strengths lie and put those front and centre in your work. However, try to improve on your weaker areas and also try new things. Iʼm a guitar player first and foremost, but Iʼve learned bass, drums, keys, programming, strings and a touch of brass. And percussion! Tambourine and shakers are so important! I have grade 1 in piano but Iʼve written and recorded with full orchestras. Theory is great for some people, but Iʼm self-taught and I write by ear. It doesnʼt matter what your level of expertise is if the idea is good and the will is there to make it happen. I believe in musical osmosis, so ideas from all areas feed into my work.
9. What tip would you give someone who wants to land a deal with a publisher?
Send them no more than 4 tracks, which showcase the absolute best of what you do. Write what you know, write what you love. People will connect with it. Also, check out the kinds of stuff they are already publishing. If you feel what you have is better than what theyʼre currently representing then get stuck in. If not then find somewhere else that you feel you can stand out. There are lots of places your music will find a home.
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