Part 1: The road to music jobs
It’s 12 o’clock at night in Los Angeles, and Isabelle Engman is still working. As a music creator for film, television and games, it is easy to be late at night. It’s about making music in high quality, being able to handle most music genres, keep a close eye on their sounds and tools and work at lightning speed. And it’s a fantastic job, Isabelle thinks. She is 31 years old and has done almost 60 jobs in film and game music. As a composer in Los Angeles, you compose, produce and mix the music into a completely finished product.
Many years of study
Although she was born with only one hand, she decided at a very young age to start playing the piano. However, she needed to find her own way to rearrange the pieces of music she was going to learn, and it also helped her start creating her own music when she was about ten years old.
Recording of the animated film Pulse. John Williams Scoring Stage in Los Angeles.
Isabelle has studied music for almost her entire life. When she was 15, she went to Rytmus. After that there were piano lessons at Bethel Folk High School, and later also studies at Kulturama in Stockholm. At Kulturama she studied music production and got to make music for her first short film in 2007. Every now and then the interest in film was aroused, and she did several projects together with the film students there. Later she studied Music & Media and Film & Composition for five years at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.
A couple of years later, it was off to Los Angeles where she entered one of the world’s most reputable educations in film & television: Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television at the USC Thornton School of Music. They only take in 20 people a year, and Isabelle studied here for a year. It was an intensive education that corresponds to a master’s degree, which is otherwise usually two years.
Can you tell us a little about the education in Los Angeles?
– It was a fantastic education with incredible access to orchestras that are also active here in Los Angeles. You are prepared to work with music professionally directly, and the training really prepares you to learn to work under great time pressure, with up to five different music projects to complete per week.
How do you get your assignments?
– I get half of the jobs through people who contact me, and not infrequently it is through recommendations. I look for the other half of the jobs myself. The education in LA was also attended by film students, and a large part of the way into the industry is contacts you get at school. Ludwig Göransson [kompositör till filmen Creed, som producerats av bland annat Sylvester Stallone] began collaborating with a student. I myself was recommended by Garry Schyman [kompositör till spelen Bioshock och Dante’s Inferno] to get in touch with a gaming company that I currently work for. I have also been a bit lucky and met the right people at the right time.
If you have no education, but want to work with music for film / TV / games, how should you proceed?
– It is important to get a business mindset and be creative when it comes to how to contact and respond to people in the industry. Also, make sure to write music every day and develop all the time. It is important to become really fast and good at music in many types of music genres and know your music tools and sounds properly. Another way may be to specialize in a particular style of music so you become unique that way. Maybe then you will not be hired for all types of assignments, but for more specific projects. When it comes to film, you can also go to various music events to network. There are big game conventions here in LA, and in Sweden there are film festivals where you can come across many directors.
– Perhaps the most valuable approach is to assist other already established composers. I worked in Sweden as an assistant to the composer Uno Helmersson, who in turn works for Johan Söderqvist [bägge kompositörer till bland annat musiken till tv-serien Bron och filmerna Låt den rätte komma in och Kon Tiki]. I learned a lot from that! It is of course important to be interested in film, television or games. It is not only your music that is important, but you are part of a context, and you must know what the context is, not least in games. Ask yourself: What should the music tell you? When and in what way?
Here you will find the remaining parts:
Part 2 – From assignment to finished product
Part 3 – Budget for music for movies and games
Part 4 – Isabelle’s 5 best surfing tips and Checklist – How to get the music jobs