We spoke with BIMM Dublin’s Music Theory tutor Sarah Lynch about her film scoring career and her recent invitation to attend the esteemed ASCAP Workshop in L.A.
You’ve been invited to ASCAP Workshop. Tell us a little about what it is.
The ASCAP film scoring workshop is a well-known, prestigious training programme for emerging composers of film, TV and other visual media. During the month-long programme, 12 composers selected from around the world are offered the chance to work with top-tier composers and “A List” Hollywood studio executives, agents, music editors and music supervisors. Each composer composes an original cue from a blockbuster movie, and in the final week, they will record and conduct this cue at the historic Newman Scoring Stage of Fox Studios, in front of a 64-piece orchestra.
All I know about the selection process (they keep it quite tight lipped!) is that participants are chosen from more than 400 applicants worldwide by a team of 20 professional composers.
I think that workshop has come to serve as a ‘rite of passage’ for emerging composers into full-time immersion, so, aside from the professional benefits of attending the programme, it was a relief and a confidence booster to be chosen, as the competition is really fierce. Just to note: it was my 3rd time applying too!
What inspired you to become a composer?
From a very young age, I always loved learning about film scores, and I remember buying piano scores of soundtracks, and learning many of my favourite film themes by ear on piano and violin, but it never occurred to me until I had finished my undergrad and first MA degree that it would be a viable career path. And it happened very much by chance, which is part of the beauty of working in music: often times, you don’t really know where you will end up when you are younger, which is normal, though a daunting thought nonetheless.
I decided about 5 years ago to attend a summer programme in Varna, Bulgaria (called the Fundamentals of Film Scoring) with my good friend and BIMM colleague Cormac Curran, and it really opened our eyes and ears to a new found creative outlet. We recorded our music for orchestra there, learned about the basics of film scoring, and totally caught the bug. So much so, we continued our training and then completed an MA in Scoring for Film and Visual Media at Pulse College, which really opened pathways for me on a professional level. It was such a daunting experience going back to study something new, and I really was thrown into the deep end and had so much to learn. But I was motivated because I really enjoyed the process of scoring for film.
What’s the proudest moment of your career so far?
I think the proudest moment is probably being accepted onto the ASCAP workshop, because there is a sense of a ‘seal of approval’ when you are chosen from top-tier industry professionals. It’s also a little indicator to keep going and not give up! It can be a highly stressful job at times, especially when deadlines are looming.
What do you teach at BIMM Institute Dublin?
In BIMM, I look after the Music for Image 2 module. The students work really hard. They’re passionate about scoring to moving picture (whether it be for film/games/animation) and this can be heard in the improvements in quality of the work as the months go on. Many of the students will pursue this area of composition after college, which I’m delighted about, as there are many avenues to explore in scoring for the audio visual sector.
I also teach Advanced Music Theory & Arrangement to the BA 3 students and likewise, I have heard some really strong arrangements and improvements coming from some of the students this year!
Finally, I am module leader on the BA2 Applied Theory and Transcription module, which is essentially a skill-based development module, where there is a large focus on ear training and keyboard skills. Learning keyboard is a skill that will stand to a student for life (and a great introduction to arranging in BA3). Many students come into BIMM with no keyboard background, which is absolutely fine, of course. By the end of year two, it is amazing to see and hear the developments that come about when the students really apply themselves.
Do you have any advice for first year BIMM students that are looking to pursue scoring/arranging?
While I am still learning so much, and have so far to go, if I was to offer some advise based on my own experience so far, I would say:
Collaborate! Seek out film, game and animation students and start working on student projects early, while you are in college. It’s a glorious time to make mistakes and learn and grow because you have help at hand from your tutors if you are ever stuck. Also film music is not like songwriting, in the sense that, when you are composing for film, you are generally always collaborating with a director. Therefore, it’s good to begin this process as early as you can too.
You don’t need to sound like John Williams to be a film composer, but you do need to learn how to tell a story through your music, and serve the picture. So, equipping yourself with musical skills can really help you express your creative ideas. Do make an effort to make sure that you are continually working on your craft: learn how to compose themes, learn about harmony, study classical and hybrid scoring: anything you can do to help you communicate your ideas through your music.
Demos: we all need to write professional sounding demos, but luckily, this isn’t a problem for students at BIMM because there are so many resources available to students to develop their production skills.
Finally, if you do want to pursue scoring – there is so much help available to you at BIMM to help you so don’t be afraid to ask your tutors for help if you are curious or want to know more about the process of scoring/arranging.