Film Composition Folley

Recently, I was hired by a director to score a short film. This is the story of how I try and make a living.

I meet a man at the gym in the sauna where both of our members are exposed. It’s a little awkward for a first meeting but I feel confident that we’ll hang just fine. He agrees to listen to my soundcloud account and I agree to watch his most recent film. A couple of days later we speak again and express enjoyment at each other’s work enough to talk further about working together. He brags something about “commissioning” a composer to write a song for his last film. I think to imply that he has done this before but it’s a strange thing to say. Almost as if he is defending himself against an attack on his experience that isn’t being made. The “composer” turns out to be his niece, which is strange but like my grand daddy always said, “there’s no such think as a naked liar”. Well, I don’t know that he ever said anything like that but I’m confident that he would have if the opportunity presented itself.

This new director, which I will from now on refer to as Dick, is a retired architect so my assumption that he is a man of politics, structure and aesthetics is strong. I see Dick as a man with enough money to retire in his fifties and pick up film making as a fun adventure in his new life. This makes sense as it allows him to still be the boss and flex his creative muscles. He hasn’t made three films and is novice to the process of film making but confident in his ability to create. He sends me the script of his newest film in progress. It is good. (Surprisingly good compared to the dribble he sent me when we first met). He prefaces this latest email with “I’m not sure if I told you or not but everyone on my films work on a volunteer basis, that is to say, you won’t be getting paid”. (Thanks for decoding that for me Dick.) The film features a panhandler that plays a clarinet and has no voice to speak of so the character’s emotion is extremely dependent on the melodies he plays.

In response to Dick’s email, I tell him that I love the script and will work on his 10 min short for the same price as the clarinetist he will need to hire for a days work: $100. This is a severely deflated price but I believe in the script and the potential for more money in the future. He declines me using flattery and repeating that the entire staff is on a volunteer basis including the professional clarinetist he has already contracted. I begrudgingly accept no money in exchange for lending my services to his film. Dick is thrilled at having a real composer working on his film for free. I am ready for the challenge of writing solo clarinet music.

His latest email talks all about his “vision” and uses contrasting, generic descriptors for the music. “I envision jazzy blues pop clarinet infused with upbeat dancey type sounds. Then it gets more sad and I need a sonata.”

It sounds like this Dick has been marinating in a sauna of his own cerebral juices for too long. A sonata is a classical form in music not a style or genre. This might not seem so bad to anyone else but in my experience, a director is a lot like the manager of a business and when your job is telling stories, language is too important to be squandered. A phrase like “I envision” or “I need” is maybe a little pretentious and assuming when talking to a professional who is working for free.

For a little perspective, imagine if you will, me hiring Dick to design a small guest house for my property but asking him to do it “for the love of a creative endeavor” (as he so eloquently put it in his email to me). Dick agrees because he wants to get his name out as a young architect. Then I describe what MY vision is for the creative side of the guest house by using similar descriptive words: “I envision a woody modern classic look for the structure of the guest house. Then I need it to be a Frank Lloyd Wright”.

Working as a film composer is highly rewarding on many levels, generally speaking. Working hand in hand with a director who has many more obligations and a larger span of vision makes my job as a facilitator very inspiring. This is all to say if the director knows how to do the one job that is required of a person in that position. The main responsibilities of a professional who oversees every facet of a project is to convey the ideal direction in which to head and delegate the tasks to professionals who head each department. In other words, they should use whatever tactics necessary to help the cinematographer understand the shots desired and then let him find the best way to get it done. This is a great business model. This is how creativity flows.


2013 in Review

I’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year, like I’m sure most of us have. But when looking back on 2013 and writing down the memories that popped up, I found myself incredibly relieved at all that I had accomplished, humbled by my peers accomplishments and grateful to my family and friends for an overwhelming amount of support gift wrapped in love.

I was a little hesitant when creating this post but I have a lot of family all over the country, and even right here in Minnesota, that I don’t get to see or even catch up with that often (something I would like to change). So I’d like to share some of my memories from this year with you.

More than last year, I played and conducted in gigs. I left my job at Psycho Suzis and went to another serving job at Icehouse for about a month before I left that job and started three jobs: By far the most job searching I’ve done in many years. But reading these things without visual aids is boring so here it is: A review of my life in 2013.


January “Paul B” look

January: I didn’t do much, maybe prepared for winter

February Kings game

February Kings game

February: Went back to California and got to see some old friends.

Snowy Day in Minneapolis

Recital In Progress

March: Came back to the cold and recorded the overture for the musical I co-wrote last year. “Coffee Pot Overture” ^

Recital In Progress

Recital In Progress

March: Held the largest amount of people on stage for a senior recital (48 people). You can download the recital above ^

Tech Week for Treasure Island

Tech Week for Treasure Island

Set of Treasure Island

Set of Treasure Island

April: This was a busy month. I wrote original music to a play for the first time.

April Haricut

April Haricut

April: Cut my hair.

Panhandler Score

Panhandler Score

April: Wrote and recorded the first film score of the year “Panhandler” for local film maker Kevin Horn. Music was written for Bassoon, Clarinet, Upright bass, Violin and Piano. My favorite is number 5.

Graduation Ceremony from my seat on stage.

Graduation Ceremony from my seat on stage.

April: Graduated with a B.A. in Music Composition and was commencement speaker for my graduating class!^ Start watching at 22:00 for my speech.

Spaghetti @ 2 weeks

Spaghetti @ 2 weeks

May: Drove down to Iowa and picked out the dog I wanted.

My 2005 Honda Element

My 2005 Honda Element

May: Drove to Wisconsin with Ben to pick up my first car in 9 years! Here’s Ben and I in the car on the way there ^

Bowling League

Bowling League

May: Joined a bowling league and bought a bowling ball.

Setting up for Northern Spark Festival

Setting up for Northern Spark Festival

Ben and I in front of "Gossip Orchestra" crowd.

Ben and I in front of “Gossip Orchestra” crowd.

"Gossip Orchestra" jammin at the Northern Spark Festival

“Gossip Orchestra” jammin at the Northern Spark Festival

June: Got into a local art festival: “Northern Spark” and got asked to come back in 2014 cause it was a hit!

The first day home for Spaghetti

The first day home for Spaghetti

Spaghetti's first meal at home

Spaghetti’s first meal at home

June: Drove down to Iowa with Chelsea again to pick up my new little puppy boy, “Spaghetti”.

No beard, definitely weird.

No beard, definitely weird.

June: Shaved off my beard.

Mystery package

Mystery package

Awesome street art of Otis Redding

Awesome street art of Otis Redding

July: Received some incredible art as a gift from my cousin Brandon.

Kodiak with Spaghetti

Kodiak with Spaghetti
Miles thinks he's good looking...

Miles thinks he’s good looking…

August: My little brothers Kodiak and Miles came to visit.

1st Gen campers

1st Gen campers

Biggest catch of the trip

Biggest catch of the trip

August: Camped in the Boundary Waters for 5 nights with family.

September: Scored a film by Mason Makram, “The First Date” for 12 players. It won first place in the Twin Cities Film Festival!

My girl...

My girl…

September: Celebrated 1 year with my girlfriend Chelsea Unold.

"Improvestra" at The Ritz

“Improvestra” at The Ritz

September: The supergroup improvising orchestra that I conduct, “Improvestra” was a headliner for a weekend tribute to improvising in the twin cities.

Lots of people "enjoy" running

Lots of people “enjoy” running

Chelsea and I

Chelsea and I

October: Ran my first race. 10 miles is a long way and about an hour and a half of running.

Finished Product

California redwoods and bears on my lower arm.

Paul Bunyan and Minnesota on my upper arm.

Paul Bunyan and Minnesota on my upper arm.

October: Finished my first tattoo sleeve.

Let's sell some houses in 2014!

Let’s sell some houses in 2014!

November: Got my Real Estate license and started with Keller Williams.

November: Raised $700 for my first flag football team and took them to the playoffs where we got crushed! Ha!

November: Got into a sponsorship with a non-profit, “Free Arts” as a mentor for young “troubled” kids.

Conducting "Coffee Pot Orchestra" for a new composition by my co-founder Bill Finn at "Potted Meet Mondays"

Conducting “Coffee Pot Orchestra” for a new composition by my co-founder Bill Finn at “Potted Meet Mondays”

"Potted Meet Mondays" is a social hang for anyone to come and enjoy live art in many mediums. We have 6 different featured artists who "perform" every month.

“Potted Meet Mondays” is a social hang for anyone to come and enjoy live art in many mediums. We have 6 different featured artists who “perform” every month.

December: Started a “not for profit” monthly residency with Bill Finn, Chelsea and Improvestra where we feature local artists and create a “hang” or open rehearsal/gallery space and donate the proceeds to different non-profits every month.

December: Was featured in a Schuyler Peterson’s Podcast, “Life Like” and got to talk about everything you just read.

All in all, I wrote a bunch of music for CD’s, theater shows, and films this year and got to create a well-rounded life in Minnesota. I’m one year deeper in the snow of the midwest and hopefully one year wiser. I love all the opportunity I am blessed with in my life and most of all, I love the community created by family and friends I have surrounding me. Without them, nothing I do is worth a damn thing.

Senior Recital

Thursday, March 21st Il performed my senior recital for my school, family, and friends. This seems like an easy enough task, but like most things I do, it had to be large and grab the attention of everyone in a twenty mile radius.

My theme was collaboration and my goal was to get as many people on stage as I possibly could. I started with strings since they have the smallest sound and the coolest group sound. After I figured out about how many string players I could get, I started asking other instruments to join so that I had a nice balanced sound. Here is what I had for players:

6 First Violins
5 Second Violins
No Violas
6 Cellos
2 Contrabass’

3 Trumpets
2 Bones

3 saxophones (one of each)

Total of three drummers
Electric bass

10 singers

Not all violins showed up so I had to compromise with 7 violins instead of 9.

As far as the set list goes, I performed 8 songs and one piece from Improvestra, the improv orchestra I conduct and lead. Each song, features a different person that I have collaborated with during my time at McNally Smith. I didn’t write any new tunes but instead used songs I wrote or that influenced me over my three years at the school:

Friends (Ben Kelly)
All The Way (Grandpa)
CoffeePot Scene 2 (Jay Fuchs & Ben Kelly)
Planet Earth -Amazon (Sam Sparling & Mike Holloway)
Brandy (George Krikes)
Petty Fights (Ben Kelly)
Improvestra (Billy Franklin & Chris Cunningham)
The Well (Cory Grossman & Leah Siltberg)
Coffee Pot Scene 3 (Ben Kelly)

The night was a huge success in many ways. Most songs went well with only small hiccups in “The Well” and “Petty Fights” and that day and the next we’re filled with praise and inspiration from both myself and the show. Ben and I were in sync most of the performance and I felt extremely comfortable on stage and wearing my passion for the music on my sleeve for the players and audience alike to latch on to. I felt I carried an auditorium of 230+ people on my back in a guided tour through my aesthetic experiences.

That night was filled with nothing but positivity from the people I cherish most. Yet as the next two days came and went, I felt hollow. Through my countless attempts to mask the feeling as “exhaustion” the illusion finally faded and harsh reality revealed itself to me tonight:

I work hard towards large goals, and am capable of seeing them through with help from some of the fantastic relationships I have made, because I am unhappy with something inside of myself and am somehow under the impression those goals being met will cease my unease. I cried almost uncontrollably during my performance and was ashamed when I did, as if my clout would lose merit if I were weakened to the point of tears during a creation of my own. Incredibly ironically, the only relief the performance created for me was in the creation of my own tears.

I’m not sure what invisible daemons are lying underneath this veil of ego but I am sure to continue the search for them in hopes that I can either cry uninhibited or shed the affliction of balling in front of copious amounts of people in the future.

On the positive side, both my loving girlfriend Chelsea, and the teachings of Leonard Bernstein are helping me in different ways. Chelsea doesn’t understand but leaves me alone with my thoughts while she makes an excellent dinner, and Leonard once again inspires from the grave in the form of a book and some pictures given to me by Ben’s girlfriend Xena at the conclusion of my recital. Through it all, I have the best support group of friends I can possibly ask for. I am always grateful.

Conrad Recital 2Recital Program



My little brother saw my tattoo of Paul Bunyan and asked why I would get something that silly and large on my arm. Suffice it to say that many people have asked me that same question or something very similar.

The only answer I have for him and any others might be a little coy or cynical; what is a tattoo but a scar that we get to choose? I have many scars and each has a story attached. It is my decision to choose what memories and feelings I associate with those scars. Shouldn’t I have the right to chose my scar as well?

When I was about seven years old, my dad took me in many bike rides and on me particular ride, I hit a root coming out of the ground and protruding its way into my trail. Needless to say, I ran over it and flew into the air letting go of the large mechanical metal two wheeler that was, unknown to me doubling as a catapult. I landed on my face, but not before being slowed down by my right elbow. Still to this day, there is a scar on my right forearm from that short internship as a bird.

My point is, that its my choice to “get on the bike” again or to only remember the fall. Instead, every time I look t my arm and think of that spill, I remember my dad laughing at his view of the situation and realizing that it was only a scar and a memory. I liked riding with my dad because it meant time with him and getting stronger and better. The scar is an ugly reminder of that wonderful memory. Paul Bunyan is a beautiful scar of my incredibly lucky life as a twenty eight year old.

And to the question, “what happens when you’re eighty and your tattoo isn’t beautiful?”, I respond with, “it will be fifty two years old and only as beautiful as I am twenty eight years older.”

Today I get my next tattoo to get closer to finishing my entire right arm, a giant California redwood tree to commemorate my childhood and early development with my dad.

a.Process Finished Product



One of my closest friends, Brian Collins introduced me to a high school friend of his in 2006. She instantly lit up the room with her energy and her connectivity. She was so engaging that when we didn’t see each other again for a couple of years, I remembered her perfectly.

This last Winter (2011) I visited my dad’s house in Palo Alto, Ca and Kelsey drove down from South Lake Tahoe for the night to visit me and another friend of hers. The night was full of dancing, jokes and great food. When Sean McMahon asked me to write some music for a scene and have it played live at the McNally Smith open house, I of course accepted and analyzed the scene of two people getting to know each other in a new city. Kelsey came to mind with her passion for life and yearning for meaningfulness. This music popped into my head and came through my fingers:

After some tweaking, I came to a more secure place and found what I was looking for in a 10 bar phrase that continued onto itself. It works as a way to keep it interesting. With no cadential point, and a motif that shows up only as a bridge between the end of the phrase and the beginning of the next one, the audience is kept at a standstill and waits for the resolution. Here is the next version before it was orchestrated:

Finally, I orchestrated it for MIDI piano, two cellos, a viola, four violins and Ben Kelly playing upright. The rule I gave myself for this project was to simplify everything (including learning and preparation time) by only using unison and octave harmony in the strings. The result was simple and beautiful. Nothing got in the way and I learned that this technique helps make a climax very strong very quickly. By just adding ONE harmony line to the melody or accompaniment, the piece doubles in intensity. If the group crescendos it triples, and if there is a harmonic change in quadruples. Here is the final performance:




The Well

The Well

Just doing a little house cleaning here and writing about some past projects. I’m not sure when exactly we recorded the score for Chris Jopp and my second collaboration but it must have been some time in September, or October. The film is about a young boy- maybe 12 or 13- figuring out the changes that are happening in and on his body. The film is named “The Well” and it is a euphemism to another deep and dark place on a woman that all men- hopefully- will experience.

Writing for this movie was a blast because it was a traditional string quartet that implored three distinct styles. The music was not- like most films- diegetic, but neither was it non-diegetic. It was intended to be played as if it were a calming mechanism for the main character. It was the personal soundtrack of they boy. When he was nervous, he used a more agitated impressionistic sound to relax him (In this case I stole a lot of material from Ravel’s string quartet, as in the case of the scene “What Well” or “Show Me”). If he was confused something more straightforward and romantic was more appropriate like the “Opening” scene where I learned from Mendelssohn’s second piano concerto, first movement (Rudolph Serkin plays it best). And finally at the end, as he relaxes from his new experiences, he enjoys a playful and fun Haydn piece. Conducting and writing this score was the easiest and most fun music yet. Chris trusted me completely and gave me full control. I could not have been happier about the way it turned out.

Before I finish I’ll say something quick about the players. David Sutton, Zachary Scanlan, Erika Burton, and Cory Grossman are an incredible group of musicians that made this score come to life. We are lost as a society when players like this are not recognized for their talents and instead replaced with celebrity entertainers who get confused as singers. I owe everything I am musically to the players I have worked with. Without people like Cory and Billy Schoenburg I never would have stayed a composer because MIDI and computers don’t excite me or give me experiences like real people. I am very lucky to have the life I have and to be able to express myself through little ants on a paper.

Above is Cory’s blog about the session.

Joel Cooper: Music and Relationships

Joel Cooper (6/12/12)

Today I got the rough cut of the teaser for “Buggin'” and worked at school (McNally Smith College of Music) on the score using mine and Ben’s themes. It is a beautiful picture and I am very excited to make some music happen in a new theater with even better musicians. If I get 5% of the films budget to do music, I will spend it ALL on musicians so that I can get great players and make music the way I think music should be made. I listened to a lot of MIDI mock-up tutorials today in hopes to find some inspiration in creating a good MIDI score for Chris and learned some great things from a composer named Nick Murray online. He taught be how to automate mod wheel and volume for strings in a totally new way. He works as a TV composer and makes a lot of tutorial videos online. He has a great demeanor and is very comprehensive.

I never know if these sites are going to exist until you, my grandchildren, are alive, but I hope they are and more importantly, I hope you read this blog so as to know who I am and know what I stood for. There are a lot of things that won’t translate to your day (or language) but with a little bit of research, you will know me better and in turn, know your heritage and who you are.

I made a voice memo of my half drunken conversation with Joel partly because it was the first conversation he and I had had outside of McNally but also because I want you to hear my conversations and my daily thoughts. I want you to know that I am not an eloquent man or a very intelligent man but I am good at talking to people and finding the best they have to offer and helping them realize it. A sense of community is extremely important to me and I hope that in my life I can create a large circle of friends in all different places and still balance having a home life and a wife that I can devote my most inner self to.

I had a conversation recently with Sarah Koster as we were walking around lake Calhoun in Minneapolis the other day. She is under the belief that everyone has multiple personalities that they bring out in different situations (e.i. work, social, family, etc.) and I disagreed with her and said that I strive for one personality that is balanced in al situations. I create dam’s and floods in my personality so that I am myself in every situation. Her defense was, what can you ever give to your partner? It stumped me. Maybe I can figure this out later but it is my instinct to be me all the time and deal let situations change my reaction not my personality.

Im listening to, and have been all week, Randy Newman, “Little Criminals”