Many successful media composers have begun their career working alongside a master of the craft, using this period to gather the skills, mindset and work ethic required to develop a solo career. Trevor Morris is one of several now-prominent media composers who, early in their career, made coffee for Hans Zimmer and, in doing so, secured a coveted apprenticeship from the Remote Control Productions (RCP) school of filmmaking.
In this conversation we uncover how Trevor:
- equipped himself with the skills to get in the door at RCP;
- worked tirelessly to make himself an indispensable asset to Hans;
- gradually earned the trust to be able to make a musical contribution to RCP scores.
We also explore the valuable lessons Trevor learnt during this period, and how he has applied them to his own successful solo scoring career. This has led him to work on a wide variety of films, TV series and video games, earning him two Emmy Awards in the process.
0.00 – Introduction – track: The Yellow Brick Road (Emerald City)
1.56 – Trevor’s musical childhood
3.09 – “Giving up” classical music and transitioning to rock & roll
3:54 – Moving to Toronto / composing for jingles
5:20 – How writing for jingles improved Trevor’s composing chops
6:54 – Moving to Los Angeles
8:34 – Working freelance for James Newton Howard
9:34 – A referral to Hans Zimmer
10:40 – Trevor’s aptitude for technology: learning Hans’s Euphonics System 5 console
11:30 – The work ethic at Remote Control Productions
12:09 – Making coffee at 31 years old: How taking a step back allowed Trevor to propel forward
12:51 – Gaining Hans’s trust to contribute on musical level / writing into the early morning
13:52 – How Hans Zimmer allows apprentices to learn by observing
14:30 – Trevor’s strategies for writing additional music
15:06 – Moving away from RCP / Trevor going “wildly into debt” to build his own studio
16:29 – E-Ring / Music editor Bob Badami’s referral to Jerry Bruckheimer’s TV production company
18:01 – Trevor’s melodic approach to scoring
18:48 – Strategies for finding the musical DNA of a story
20:41 – Convincing Emerald City producers to adopt a thematic musical approach
21:44 – #1 Lesson from Hans Zimmer: Serve the story
23:11 – When to be vulnerable with a director
25:08 – The hardest skill to learn as a composer: Letting go of you ideas
25:38 – JNH analogy: “fishing” for your theme
26:03 – How Trevor has leant to embrace his vocal self critic
26:36 – Managing package deals
28:32 – Delivering under the pressure of a deadline
29:57 – What does Trevor look for when hiring an assistant?
32:07 – Trevor’s advice to his 28-year-old self
34:02 – Outro – track: I’ve Come to Take You Home (Emerald City)
At a glance
Here are a few of my personal take-aways from our conversation:
1) Be careful not to stagnate
Trevor has consistently pushed himself to grow as a composer. Having attended a grade school as a youth, where he became proficient on the double bass, Trevor “gave up” classical music when he moved to high school, as there he was restricted to playing in the junior band (3.09). Rather than remaining comfortable and playing with less experienced musicians, Trevor decided to branch out into new territory – playing synth in pop and rock bands. This established a pattern which he has subsequently repeated at several pivotal moments in his career.
In his early twenties, after graduating from college, Trevor developed a successful career in Toronto composing music for jingles (3:54). This period of his career was integral to his growth as a composer, as it helped expand his musical vocabulary whilst also providing him with a comfortable living. After several years, Trevor felt a desire to write on a larger canvas in order to challenge his long-form musical storytelling capabilities. This led to his moving to Los Angeles and, in the process, initially taking a step backward in terms of financial stability and career status (6:54).
After several years of assisting Hans Zimmer, Trevor once again sensed that he required a change of trajectory in order to continue his growth. He branched out and built his own studio, even though this meant going into “serious debt” (15:06). The gamble once again paid off, as a recommendation from music editor Bob Badami resulted in Trevor’s first solo credit, composing for the TV series, E-Ring, and enabled him to build momentum with his solo career (16:29). With these solid foundations, Trevor soon became an in-demand composer, and he has continued to specialise in writing for TV, flourishing over the past decade in the new golden age of cinematic storytelling in episodic format.
2) Expand your pool of influence
Trevor started out immersed in the world of classical music, playing double bass in the orchestra and singing in a choir. This gave him a solid grounding in the classical repertoire.
Throughout his teens, he supplemented his formal training with synth and began developing an aptitude for technology. On graduating from college, Trevor worked as a jingle composer – giving him the opportunity to explore new musical worlds on a daily basis. This has provided Trevor with a wide musical vocabulary, as well as the fluency to generate ideas very quickly (5:20) – a vital skill when working in the world of media music.
Not only has Trevor’s work been informed by a wide variety of musical influences, but he has also spent invaluable time working alongside several of the greatest music producers in the business: Jim Hill, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer. Observing how these masters realize their work to the highest possible sonic standards has given Trevor the knowledge and ability to produce his own music with a pristine aesthetic.
3) Take initiative as an assistant
It is interesting to note that it was Trevor’s technical skills that got him in the door at RCP. There is certainly no shortage of composing talent at RCP, and these busy professionals often require support from those with virtuoso programming and engineering skills to help realise their music with optimal efficiency.
When Trevor first began his position working at RCP, he worked around the clock to ensure that, within his first week, he had mastered the newly installed Euphonics System 5 mixing console in Hans Zimmer’s studio (10:40). This proficiency and knowledge of the complex set-up would soon make him an indispensable asset.
Further into his assistantship, without being asked, Trevor would stay behind after Hans finished (typically around 3AM!) and continue writing into the early morning (12:51). The music Trevor had written would be deleted, but he did not let this dishearten him. Trevor would then be able to observe the solution Hans would compose for a scene, and, little by little, Trevor could refine his picture sense and storytelling ability until one day his work didn’t get deleted.
Now that Trevor is in the position of hiring assistants, he gravitates toward those with technical competence (fluency in Cubase and Pro Tools), as well as those who possess a positive attitude (29:57). He also looks for assistants who strive to add value to his operation, rather than those approaching the position with a “what can you do for me?” mindset. Trevor considers that those aspiring to rise through the ranks via the apprenticeship model need an awareness and acceptance of the long road to success: he considers that the “only shortcut to success is hard work”, and that “six months of hard work is not hard work”.
How to Create a Big Cue From Scratch
In addition to having his music featured in the Gala concert at the Krakow Film Music Festival, Trevor participated in the educational aspect of the festival, and gave several masterclasses to the emerging composers in attendance. The first of Trevor’s masterclasses was entitled How to Create a Big Cue From Scratch. During this presentation, Trevor walked us through his process developing musical ideas for Emerald City. With it being a classic story based on The Wizard of Oz, he wanted to take a thematic approach and develop several melodies that could provide a musical arc in order to enhance the narrative over the 10-episode series.
The masterclass focussed on Trevor’s character theme for Dorothy. He explained that he wanted to achieve a memorable melody, like a lullaby, that was simple enough for his young daughter to be able to sing. Trevor considers that uncovering melodies which are both strong and versatile enough to “go the distance” is an important part of the craft of scoring, and is something that “took [him] forever to learn”.
Trevor demonstrated that his theme for Dorothy could then be broken down into three key elements:
• Chord Progression
• Texture (synths/ostinato)
Having these three distinctive layers to a theme gives Trevor the flexibility to adapt the material for a variety of different scenes. For example, when Dorothy isn’t present on screen, but other characters are talking about her, either the chord progression or synth texture can be used subtly in the background to reference her. Whilst this effect may only be subconscious in the mind of the audience, it can be effective at framing the story and clarifying the overall narrative.
During the Gala concert we were able to hear this theme come to life, as Trevor conducted a 10-minute suite of his score to Emerald City, which was newly orchestrated by Trevor’s collaborator, David Shipps, to utilize the full orchestra and choir available for the concert.
Connect with Trevor