Tell us about your upcoming book soundtrack release, First Rider’s Call – how does one get involved with a New York Times Bestselling series, and what was your creative process like? Do you work closely with the author?
Back in 2017, I was a first-time mother and really struggling to make my composing career take off as I followed my husband around to his various legal career requirements and positions. At one point all of my network and projects just evaporated as they moved on to other composers. It was devastating on top of struggling with some postpartum depression. Then I rediscovered a fantasy book series I had started when I was a young girl. As I tore through the pages of the Green Rider series, by Kristen Britain, I was galvanized by the strong female protagonist of the series and the colorful world of Sacoridia where men and women worked alongside each other to save the world. One night, as I laid down to sleep, I heard music. The proud majestic french horns paired with the full and lush strings created a powerful feeling within me that I had to quickly hum it into my phone before I fell asleep and lost it forever. This music became the song “Sacoridia”. I reached out to the author through her agent and thankfully I had two things working for me: experience writing on a previous book soundtrack with my friend Michael Bahnmiller (Kaladin, soundtrack inspired by the Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson) and a lawyer husband who could help me create a contract. After a month of back and forth, I was approved to create a book soundtrack. The next steps were to create the music and to hold a Kickstarter to fund the recording of the album. Over the course of the project, the author and I became friends and we’ve worked on other projects outside of this first album since then.
The music is very colorful, dynamic, rich and cinematic. It evokes a huge range of emotions. Your use of woodwinds as well as ethnic woodwinds is incredible! How do you go about orchestration, what informs your orchestration decisions?
I’m a classically trained french horn player and a self-taught pianist, thus I’m a sucker for a powerful and colorful melody. I grew up moving around a lot because of my father being in the army. We lived in Germany and I got to travel throughout Europe exploring different cultures and ideas. My father had a passion for world cultures and would share music with us from Saudi Arabia, India, Africa, Ireland, Mongolia, Europe, Mexico. That is probably where I got my love of color and incorporating ethnic instruments into our western classical palette. For “First Rider’s Call” I really exploded on ethnic instruments and you’ll get to hear: didgeridoo, Taiko drums, throat singing, Spanish guitar, non-western singing with a Billie Elish vibe, shakahuchi, ukelin, ancient viking horn, and fujara among other sounds as I try to reflect the worlds, textures, and colors from the pages of Britain’s novels. It really feels like I’m playing around with the instruments of the world and it is an incredibly freeing creative process.
When orchestrating, I dive into the scene I want to create musically. I take notes, feel out the environment, and look for the general symbolisms and motifs I need to bring out. The characters and sometimes ideas have their motifs that change and transform based on what the scene needs as well as where it’s at in the whole story because I know how the story of First Rider’s Call ends, so I need to make sure the audience is ready to get there because the musical themes and style have kept up with the maturing transformation that the characters, as well as story, have gone through. Then, having done all of my research, I let that percolate and I sit down and write the feelings and thoughts I have at that moment. I have to travel to the world of First Rider’s Call and discover what the world sounds like as I try out ideas and build off of them. With First Rider’s Call, I actually got to compose with the audience through Twitch, a live streaming platform that allows people to hear the music and the composing process in real time and add their input or suggestions based on questions I would ask along the way. It’s a very rewarding process as the quiet isolating process of composing suddenly turns into a social activity with friends. I don’t do it with every song, but I’ve enjoyed writing with the fans and friends who I’ve connected with during these projects.
Can you talk about crowdfunding for both albums- do you have any tips and tricks for composers and/or filmmakers who are hoping to fundraise as well? How did you allocate the funds? (In terms of music production, recording, mixing, etc…)?
My advice could take a week because there is nothing that replaces experience, but I can definitely give some tips.
- Figure out your intended audience, and then engage, engage, engage. They will dictate how successful you will be. Are you giving them something they want, desire, or do you solve a problem for them? My audience is 95% women and 100% interested in the fantasy genre. They want merchandise and to support women doing awesome things like writing novels, creating art, writing cinematic music for their favorite world.
- Build your team. Music merchandise sells better when there is a visual attached to it and so I knew I needed an artist of some kind to help design the album and potentially create an art book because my intended audience would want something like that. I was able to find a fantasy photography artist, Madeline Shayne, who reached out to me when she heard about the project. We ended up becoming partners in the Green Rider projects. I needed influencers so I asked for the author to help and also sought for the support of the admins and moderators of the online fan groups so they could help get the word out as well as add credibility to my project. My music team was built using my old connections over the years to help with orchestration and music prep, and then through them I was led to a recording studio in Salt Lake City which connected me with the talented artists I used on the album.
- Research diligently, look at other successful projects, and make a solid budget, always overestimating what things will cost. Things happen that you can’t foresee and having a cash buffer helps. Also, make sure you allot an amount for your personal fee. I forgot to do that on the first project and got a fraction of what I could have received if I had made a line item to pay myself a specific fee.
- Underpromise and overdeliver. We definitely overpromised and it burnt me and Madeline out at the end of delivering everything to everyone (about 1/4 of the backers were international.) And near the end, I’m sure our quality faltered just so we could get things out to backers. But we did our best to be sincere and invited backers to reach out if they were unsatisfied with what we delivered so that we could make sure they received what they expected.
In your experience, what is the difference between writing book soundtracks in comparison to other visual media projects?
The freedom to create. There is no restriction of time and no Micky mousing at awkward moments to paint the scene musically. And unlike in films and television shows where dialogue is king, in book soundtracks, music gets to be king! Or maybe I’ll say queen! I can musically explore as far as I want to take the world I’m writing for. It also helps that Britain is not heavy handed on what she expects me to write and is instead very much interested to hear how I interpret her story.
Which composer/s or musical works are you inspired by, and what do you like about them?
A girl always remembers her first composer crush, and by that I mean the moment I fell in love with music, specifically soundtrack music. It was Hans Zimmer’s The Prince of Egypt, and that very first intro with the beautiful lone trumpet which is suddenly interrupted with the slamming drums and strings of “Deliver Us” just filled me with wonder and awe. From start to finish that soundtrack is just wonderful. Then James Newton Howard’s Atlantis, Harry Gregson Williams’s Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and John Williams’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone really just made my childhood a magical world of adventure music. I knew I wanted to write epic cinematic music and create worlds like they did when I grew up.
Currently, my influences fluctuate based on what my kids and I can agree on in the car. They can listen to whatever they want, as long as it is actually good music, especially soundtracks. So you could say Germaine Franco is a very big influence in our house right now. Along with Christophe Beck and Alan Menken. On my own time, I listen to video game soundtracks a lot lately. My recent favorite is Gareth Coker’s Ori and the Will of the Wisps because it does a lot of different unique styles, chords, textures, and colors all within the world of Ori. It’s also great music to wash dishes with while being inspired. Favorite classical composers: Nikoli Rimsky-Korsakov, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Arvo Pärt, Aaron Copland, I could name 100 more for sure!
A common struggle in our industry (both for men and women) is finding balance between work and personal life. You seem to do it pretty well! How do you balance between your family and your work?
Easy. Just kidding. Not easy at all. I’m a candle person. Not an early bird, not a night owl, I get the privilege of burning the candle at both ends so that my family life can be first. I am a full-time mother, I have three kids 6, 4, and 10 months. So they take a very high priority on my time as they are so young. To accomplish these projects I’ve had to accept that I won’t and can’t work as fast as usual industry deadlines. I’ve also learned the art of composing in 10-minute intervals, having my computer open throughout the day so I can jump in and add more. When my son is a little more reliable with his naps, I will again start to work on Twitch 1-2 nights a week with any fans who want to work and create music with me. There will come a day when my kids will be grown and I will be able to spend more time on my music career, but for now I’m very much enjoying every moment I get to experience with my little ones (except maybe the seemingly endless sick days in the winter…)
What are your goals for the near future, and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My goals are to continue to write music that I love to write. Probably write more for the Green Rider series because I enjoy it so much. And to stay open to new and exciting opportunities that come. A lot can happen in 10 years.
Check out Kristina’s profile.Listen to a single from Kristina’s new album –
Interview by Nami Melumad
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