1) SHIE, YOU ARE AN ESTABLISHED MUSIC EDITOR WITH CREDITS RANGING FROM BLOCKBUSTERS TO INDIES TO EPISODIC TV. CAN YOU DESCRIBE SOME OF YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES WHILE BEING INVOLVED IN SUCH DIVERSE JOBS?
As a music editor there can be many different aspects to the job depending on the project and the circumstances. This could take a while, so I’ll try to bullet-point the various aspects of the job as I’ve experienced them. Responsibilities can include cutting temp scores; attending spotting sessions where I’m responsible for the spotting notes and am often part of the discussion, which affects how the film is spotted; updating spotting notes as new picture versions come in; cutting songs, sometimes I’m the one helping find the songs, too; on musicals I’ve had to prepare sessions for the singers (sometimes it’s the actors, sometimes professional singers the actors lip sync to); when working with composers there can be a plethora of tasks leading up to the scoring session from liaising with the cutting room to preparing Quicktime videos for presentations, to attending meetings and presentations with the director and/or producers, to preparing the pre-record sessions, to coordinating with orchestrators the recording and mixing studios, the engineers, and on and on.
During scoring sessions I’m an extra pair of ears, mainly focusing on ensuring the sync looks right; I keep track of the best takes for each cue; I’m ultimately responsible for cutting these takes to get the best possible performance for mix (though often the recordists do this these days); if we’re doing a remote recording I’m responsible for making sure the logistics are all in place to get the files to and from the remote location and that the remote link is setup correctly; at the music mix I’m coordinating with the mixing engineer to make sure I get the kinds of stems I need for the dub and in the correct format; I build the sessions for the dub stage, which often includes conforming mixes to new picture; at the dub I’m the composer’s representative and am responsible for protecting the music, while serving the film, including handling any changes that are requested by the filmmakers; finally I’m responsible for creating cue sheets and deliverables to the production company.
With every project come new challenges and needs and I’m sure I’ve tackled a million things that I didn’t mention above. That’s the fun of it – each project is different with its own needs, dynamics, personalities and requirements. It’s what makes it exciting.
2) YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY CROWDFUNDED A CD RELEASE OF YOUR OWN MUSIC. CAN YOU TELL US A FEW THINGS ABOUT THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE?
Last year I marked 20 years since moving to the United States and realized that I’ve spent my entire career working on music for other people. Whether I’m music editing or even composing my own scores, it’s always to serve someone else, so I wanted to do something for myself – music for the sake of music. Once I decided to go for it I researched the costs involved, created a budget and lined up the musicians that would play on the album. I then researched crowd funding as much as I could. I read articles online, I asked friends who have been through it (I’m very grateful to Penka D Kouneva who was especially helpful having successfully crowd-funded her own project not to long before I did mine), and I was very meticulous about coming up with a plan for the campaign. Once I had all my ducks in a row, I went for it.
The experience was very nerve wracking for me. I found it difficult to reach out to friends and colleagues and ask for money, it’s just not in my nature. I was very disciplined about how many emails, phone calls and Facebook messages I sent daily and kept close track of it all. It was a lot harder than I anticipated, and there was a lot of anxiety, as I didn’t reach my goal until less than 24 hours before the deadline, and I only just surpassed my goal by a little bit. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster. It was also incredibly emotional to realize how many people participated – how many people actually stepped up to help me achieve a personal dream. Over 200 people pledged towards the making of my album and I’m very humbled and touched by their generosity.
Getting to make the album itself was a wonderful experience, and again very emotional. I wrote the final track on the album for my friend Brian O’Connor who was an incredible session French horn player. Sadly his recording of my piece would be his last and a few months later he lost his battle with brain cancer. The album was released on May 20th and sadly Brian was already gone, so that makes the album even more special to me than it was when I embarked on the project.
3) WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER TO COMPOSERS WHO WANT TO MOVE TO LOS ANGELES? YOU WERE BORN AND RAISED IN ISRAEL!
I think the advice is essentially the same whether you’re moving here from another city, another state or another country. One of the first questions I ask students and young graduates who reach out to me is “can you imagine yourself doing anything else and being TRULY happy?” If the answer is yes then I suggest they go do that. I think to make it in our business you need to be one of those people who simply cannot imagine him or herself doing anything else. I think you need to be someone for whom this isn’t a choice, but a calling. Next I ask them how they feel about the word “no” and explain that if they can’t handle rejection and hearing it an awful lot, this is not for them. I don’t say this to try to scare anyone away, but rather to make sure they have the dedication for it and a real understanding of what they’re going to experience. After all, even if you’re super-successful, the focus is always about what’s NOT working rather than what is. You rarely get that much praise for writing a wonderful cue or making a great edit. It gets approved, that’s the praise. Most of the focus is on the things that aren’t working and what is needed to fix them. Even when things are good, there’s a lot of “no.”
I also like to talk to people about money management, which is a topic that in my experience very few people discuss. This is show BUSINESS, being a composer or orchestrator or music editor or supervisor or copyist or whatever you are is a business, and you must be prepared to be a businessperson as well as an artist. And it’s a freelance business, which means there will be times where it feels like money is just being thrown at you, and other times where there is quite literally no income whatsoever. It’s important to save – I recommend building up a savings of at least 1 year of living expenses before making any significant costly changes to one’s lifestyle. And when you get there and it’s time for the bigger apartment, or house, or the new car and now your monthly expenses are higher than they used to be, make sure you’re adding to those savings so they add up to a year’s worth again, because the business is filled with ups and downs. But if you have those savings you can navigate the downs much better.
I also encourage everyone to find his or her own voice and style. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself, develop relationships with people who can appreciate you for who you are. Not everybody is going to like you, and that’s OK. But if you’re genuine and true to yourself then the people who like you will LOVE you and come back to you over and over and enthusiastically recommend you to their friends and colleagues. If you’re not genuine, If you’re trying to be someone you’re not, it comes through and in my experience it is a turn off.
Finally for those who are coming from outside of the US, get a good immigration lawyer as soon as possible and figure out a strategy to take care of your legal status – for people like us that often means an Artist visa (O-1). One of the things you’ll need for your O-1 visa is recommendation letters, so develop relationships with people that can provide them. I’m happy to recommend my lawyer who has done a great job for me and many others. If you need a recommendation reach out and I’ll be happy to get you her info.
4) THERE IS A DEBATE GOING ON ABOUT THE USEFULNESS OF ATTENDING MUSIC COLLEGES FOR FILM SCORING. AS A BERKLEE GRADUATE, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
I got a lot out of going to Berklee. But I also put a lot into it. I had classmates who didn’t and accordingly didn’t get much out of it. I think no matter what you’re studying or where, you can only get out of it what you’re willing to put into it. I think an education can help a lot for a variety of reasons. But as a Berklee grad I think the biggest advantage is that there is a very strong alumni presence here and the school works very hard to help new graduates meet working alums such as myself (I probably meet 10 or so students or recent grads a year). I believe USC and UCLA have a similar advantage.
That said, I don’t think a formal education is a must. Talent, hard work and the right attitude are a must. Everything else can be learned as you go. I think depending on where you go to school it can be more or less helpful depending on how good the program is, how much you put into it, and the strength of the alumni network. It can be very advantageous and I’m extremely grateful for my Berklee education, but I don’t think it’s absolutely essential. One can still make it even without a film scoring degree.
5) YOU ARE A PARENT AND A CONSUMMATE PROFESSIONAL. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE TWO?
Thank you for the kind words. Balance? What’s that? I think first and foremost I married an amazing woman who somehow puts up with me and the crazy schedules and the uncertainty and everything else. I don’t know how it is for anyone else, but I’ve long since given up on the idea of balance on a day to day basis. When I’m working, work comes first (barring any family emergencies), and that’s just the way it is. For me a short workweek is 60 hours. 100+ hours and 7-day weeks aren’t uncommon. There’s nothing balanced about it. But I try to be home whenever I can to tuck my kids in to bed at night. When I’m in crazy work mode I try to find a few minutes to spend with each of them and my wife, if not in person then by phone.
Also when working from home, often things are needed by a deadline. It doesn’t matter if I do them in the morning, afternoon or evening, it just matters that they’re ready when they are needed. So if I can afford the time, I’ll try to take a break for a few hours in the afternoon/evening to have dinner with the family and spend some time with the kids, but then after they go to bed I go back to my home studio and work until midnight or later.
When I’m not working I’m 100% theirs. They get my full attention and nothing else is more important. I try to catch up on my honey-do list and be as involved in their lives as I possibly can. For example, I just finished a couple of projects right as my eldest son entered his final week of 1st grade, so that final week I volunteered in his classroom every day. My boys are on summer vacation and I had a few weeks off between projects so I spent as much time as I possibly could with them. We just got back from a family vacation. And when I’m with them, I put the cellphone away, I turn the computer off and I’m just there with them, focused on them. And when work starts up again, it’s back to work mode.
So I don’t really have much balance on a daily basis, or even a weekly basis. But thanks to my incredible family who is so amazingly supportive and understanding it works. I guess balance for me is over the span of several months or a year rather than daily.