Christopher Tin is one of very few composers able to successfully balance activities in both the media and concert worlds.
Following the success of his track Baba Yetu, which was featured in the video game Civilisation IV and subsequently earned Christopher his first Grammy Award, he has continued to build momentum and leverage his successes to create a range of new – and often times unexpected – musical opportunities.
I was fortunate to spend some time with Christopher during his visit to Wales, UK, this past summer, where he headlined an evening at the week-long Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. The concert, entitled Calling All Nations, saw Christopher bring together his two worlds, with a programme that included a selection of his video game music, as well as a full performance of his song cycle, Calling All Dawns.
00.00 – Introduction – track: Dao Zai Fan Ye (from the album, Calling All Dawns);
04:23 – Christopher’s voracious consumption of music during his early years;
06:47 – Writing his first musical at age 14, and breaking into school to rehearse it;
08:20 – Making the most of your academic studies;
10:40 – Honing the skills to write memorable melodies;
12:17 – Christopher’s concert music as a vehicle to vent his need to write emotional melodies;
14:30 – Studying at the Royal College of Music in London;
18:20 – Christopher’s luxurious orchestration training, courtesy of Silva Screen Records;
20:28 – Assisting composers in LA (including Hans Zimmer, Joel McNeely, Michael Brook & more)
21:42 – Reaching out to composers to ask for advice;
25:08 – How Christopher’s track Baba Yetu was featured in Civilisation IV;
26:02 – Manufacturing your own luck;
26:36 – Leveraging your media audience to the needs of classical promoters;
28:27 – An insight into typical sheet music publishing deals;
31:36 – Capitalizing on the success of Baba Yetu with Christopher’s debut artist album;
35:13 – Which album promotional strategies gave Christopher the best ROI;
40:04 – Collaborating with musicians and getting them invested in your music;
41:52 – How to make your music programmable for an ensemble;
44:44 – Christopher’s collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra;
46:24 – Christopher’s orchestral cover of Taylor Swift;
48:30 – The pros/cons of deadlines;
50:38 – Treasure Hunting;
54:28 – Connecting with Richard Kraft at dinner in New York;
57:00 – Christopher’s collaborations with BT;
58:53 – The camaraderie within the composer community;
1:01:26 – How “being a gracious loser can turn you into an eventual winner”;
1:05:17 – The importance of having a team;
1:06:52 – Christopher’s approach to finding a new assistant;
1:12:28 – Advice Christopher would give to his 24-year-old self;
1:15:10 – Outro – track: Baba Yetu (from the album, Calling All Dawns)
Connecting the dots
It is fascinating to observe how Christopher’s hard work and taking initiative have allowed for the dots to be connected throughout his creative journey so far. The flowchart below provides a simplified overview of the career highlights mentioned during our conversation:
A key take away: Be a great Treasure Hunter
With no map to outline the path to a successful career as a composer, in order to generate opportunities one must forge ahead and pick up clues along the way.
Rather than limiting himself to attending the standard networking events, or sending cold emails to contacts gained through IMDB Pro, Christopher prefers to take a more strategic approach and “do what other people aren’t doing”. With this in mind, Christopher encourages upcoming composers to “find the right combination of activities and organisations to get involved with that suit your own personality and way of interacting with people” (49:20).
Rather than aiming to “talk someone into hiring [him]”, Christopher considers that his time is better invested in “making [myself] attractive to people to hire”, and by “cultivating a strong skill set that other people will want to add to their project” (52:10).
Planting treasure of your own
In addition to embracing the ongoing hunt, Christopher also dedicates time to creating treasure of his own: although, rather than burying it, he aims to make it as easy as possible for potential collaborators to find!
This can be traced back to Christopher’s time at college, where he experimented with writing music in a wide variety of styles, utilizing the instrumentalists and singers he had to hand to perform/record it.
Rather than feeling vulnerable about his early musical experiments and hoarding them away, Christopher shared them amongst his network. This caught the ear of his then college roommate, Soren Johnson, who would later use the track in the video game Civilisation IV. It was this ‘luck’, manufactured by Christopher’s hard work and dedication during his studies, that aided in kickstarting his career (24:36).
To this day, Christopher continues to ensure his work is documented for potential future collaborators to find, and so that his successes can be leveraged into future opportunities:
A question Christopher encourages creatives to ask themselves is:
“How can you take what you did yesterday and turn it into what tomorrow brings for you?”