AWFC Membership Spotlight
A Q&A with Top Billboard charting Classical Crossover Composer & Recording Artist Jennifer Thomas
How did you start your composing career?
It was a combination of by accident as well as fate. I was trained in the Classical world as a performer on both piano and violin from the age of 5 all the way through university. I wanted to be a professional concert pianist, but also knew I wasn’t a perfect performer and after graduating wasn’t entirely sure of my future in music. It so happened that a few years after I finished college, I attended a concert of a guitar and oboe duo that incredibly inspired me to try writing my own music – which I had never attempted before. I went home that night after the concert and wrote my first song. And the rest, as they say, is history. I found my place in music.
- What similarities and difference do you find between songwriting and scoring a film?
There are some really exciting aspects to both songwriting and film scoring! I love the freedom that composing for myself gives me as there are no rules or bounds. I can write about whatever I want, there is no one to tell me how to do it. On the contrary, composing for film can almost feel academic in the sense that there is a method to all the madness, a system and outline. I have direction and an immense source of inspiration on how to compose the music. I am writing specifically to evoke a certain emotion and hope it is what the film director wants and envisions as well.
There are many times though, when the methods of one help in the other area. For example, on my last full album, “The Fire Within”, I basically took a cue from film scoring and treated the music I wrote like I was scoring a story of my life. I storyboarded out ideas ahead of time, wrote journals of notes and ideas, song titles – all before even writing one note of music I also thought of music video concepts before the music was written as well. So in the end, I truly “scored” the music for the concept of that album.
- Having worked on the video for your album THE FIRE WITHIN, what lessons did you take away from that experience?
I am actually heavily involved in all of my music videos, everything from helping to move pianos, to finding props, hiring crew, and I also do a lot of my own editing and directing. It is some serious hard work! And it’s always a learning experience.
The biggest lessons that I have learned in the many of videos I’ve produced is to simply treat people with respect, thank them, and FEED them, haha! A happy crew makes for great performers giving their best in the footage. Even if you have a low budget, you feed them. Most important rule ever.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is that things always take longer than you think they will and to be prepared for unforeseen challenges and just roll with them the best that you can.
- You have worked with a collaborator in Sweden for years. How do you work remotely with someone on the other side of the world?
I’ve collaborated with Swedish film composer Glen Gabriel for about 14 years now on various projects – everything from me performing for some of his film scores, and him co-producing and orchestrating my music. The great thing is when you find someone you work well with, you do develop a workflow.
Our process usually begins with my composing and arranging the music on piano. I record it in my home studio into a MIDI file. I then send it to him with my notes and ideas for the orchestration. I also orchestrate, and sometimes I will send him demo orchestration files to process ideas I have. He then works on the orchestration until he gets a rough draft, and we go back and forth with detailed notes perfecting it. Sometimes this takes days, sometimes weeks.
Once we have a final orchestration, the next step is to record live instruments – everything from the real orchestra, do piano, to soloists. Some is done remotely, some in person (we recorded in person at Abbey Road for my last album). Next is mixing (one of the most important steps), then mastering and voila! The great thing though, even live orchestral recordings can be done remotely, which is very common right now during this pandemic.
- What advice would you give a younger Jennifer?
To be open to all the possibilities! Music doesn’t fit into a one-size box. It’s fluid, and there is a place for anyone who wants to do music. Never give up, never quit trying, never stop dreaming.
Interview by Valerie Manahan