Why did you initially choose Rhodes?
I was getting recruited to play soccer, and I played ball at Rhodes for a couple of years. I also wanted to get out of Ohio, where I am originally from, and really wanted to experience something different. The big kicker was that I could study whatever I wanted, like music or computers.
What activities did you participate in at Rhodes?
While at Rhodes, I was in Jazz Ensemble, Rhodes Singers, Master Chorale, Minor 49ers--all over the Music Department, really.
How did you transition from Rhodes to the film score business?
I took a music placement test and I started in Music Theory 101. I really enjoyed the teachers in that department and it was a really enjoyable experience. I ended up having a big passion for it. I was always a big film score nerd and the way they taught helped me figure all that out and it was just so cool. So, I was in Dr. (Courtenay) Harter′s office and we were talking about what I wanted to do after college. Traditionally, the Music Department had always said you could either enter academia or performance fields. I said, “Well, I don′t want to do either of those, I want to write music for movies”. She asked, “Well, have you thought about contacting an alum?” I ended up getting on the database and found Josh Stevens ’96 that worked at 20th Century Fox and just cold-called him one afternoon and said: “Hey, I’m Erick DeVore, I’m interested in working in movies and I was wondering if we could set some time aside and talk about your career at Fox.” And he responded, “Yeah, we should chat sometime.” I sent him my information and ended up getting an internship at Fox that way. That was my first real step in the right direction to get out here to Los Angeles. My second to last day at Fox, I was in a meeting with some people in the film music department and they asked: “What do you want to do, now that you’re near the end of your internship?” And I replied, “Well, I really want to go over and see Hans Zimmer’s place, and maybe just see what it’s like at a film music studio.” Right then and there, the head honcho guy just called up Hans’ assistant and they gave me the information to go over and take a tour. So the next day, I headed over to Santa Monica and after the tour they offered me an internship. Only problem was, I was still a junior at Rhodes, so I had to go back and finish my senior year. After I graduated, I packed up my life and moved to California on a five-week, unpaid trial and hoped for the best. It worked out!
What is the process of creating a score?
First and foremost, you sit down with the director and he shows you the picture and we go through a “spotting session”. Here, you figure out where music is going to go and what the overall tone of the move is supposed to be. You begin to see how you can tell the character’s story with music; how you can supplement the actors through a different medium. After the spotting session, you start sketching themes for the film. Then, you start composing actual suites which you ship back and forth to the director. Also, you start forming the sounds you hear for the protagonist/villain/etc. After we′ve established certain moods, you tailor down the pieces into exactly what the director wants. Overall, it’s a pretty collaborative process; meeting with them at the beginning and then just revising version after version after version. You’ve also worked on a video game.
How does that differ from the movies and TV shows?
Most of the time, they’re not completed by the time I start working (actually they aren′t even close to being completed, in terms of the actual computer graphics). Instead, I’m presented with “block” characters, essentially stick figure animation. They do send a brief; for instance, for Gears of War, they said, “Here are the qualities we want: dark and brooding and ominous and just downright grungy”, and then I just have to go from there. Overall, with video games, it’s really a cool time to be in the industry because they are becoming so much more cinematic. Their cut-scenes and intros (actually called “cinematics”) are becoming so advanced. So for instance, you can take a scene where these Gears of War characters are on trial and write tension and deliberation music, and then it really turns out like a short film. In that way, it’s becoming more similar to scoring a movie or TV show. The major difference between movies and games is how much you can see. It’s great working with a “locked picture” because you can see the whole piece, and even get a sneak peek of what’s going to be on NBC and ABC next fall. Whereas in Gears of War, you’re working off the companies′ PowerPoint or storyboard briefs, and it’s a little more creative and a little more right brain and abstract. You don’t really know what’s going on. You just end up creating this underlying bed of tension and action or excitement and sorrow.
What’s the difference between being a composer (like for the documentary When the Bell Rings) and working as score programmer/coordinator?
On any of the bigger blockbuster stuff, I’m working under the main composer himself. For instance, for about three years when I was with composer Steve Jablonsky, who is probably best known for the Transformers franchise and Desperate Housewives, I was his Score Coordinator and Technical Score Engineer. At first I was in charge of all the technology, computers, and pieces of music that he, himself, would write. I would manipulate them or fix them, separate the music files for music editors, and generally keep him in the loop during all the CGI and post-production so he could tweak the music appropriately. So, basically, all those specific titles just mean working under the composer as his assistant. On When the Bell Rings, I was the sole composer and got to write the music myself--instead of being in the background as a part of a team. How was playing live all through college?
And do you keep it up today?
I definitely have to thank Rhodes for all those opportunities to play live, particularly for Rites of Spring. And I definitely miss “gigging around” Memphis, playing all around Midtown, looking for jazz gigs and house parties. It was just a really fun part of my life. Rhodes was great at getting me a lot more constant playing opportunities, whether it was jazz or commercial. Our band won the Battle of the Bands three times, so I remember opening for Girl Talk, Super Mash Brothers, Better Than Ezra, and Coolio. I even got to play with (jazz soloists) Kirk Whalum and Ellis Marsalis through the Rhodes Jazz Ensemble. They both came in through John Bass for some Master Classes, so learning from them was a wonderful opportunity. We even took Ellis over to BBQ Shop on Madison for dinner and afterwards, and we got to play a show with him! How cool. Sadly, I actually just sold a lot of the stuff I used to play in college, because I don’t have time any more. I now have a completely different musical lifestyle. Now it’s a lot of studio hours, instead of gigging. I still love going and seeing jazz, watching up and coming artists, people who are just trying to make it in LA. But I definitely miss playing live a lot.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring Rhodes music major?
I would have to say, make sure you follow your passion. It was something I did and strive to do every day, and it hasn′t led me astray yet. It’s smart to do something you love in life because it’s what you’ll be doing most of your time. It doesn′t make sense to do something that doesn′t make you happy.