Day 1: Drowning in Awesome

My God, where to start. I woke up and 7:30 this morning way before my alarm went off just buzzing with energy. Ate some breakfast and got dressed and doodled around online before it was time to start walking. So many things were running through my head as I headed for the studio. What would I be doing? What kind of impression will I make? Where will I go from here?

I got to the studio and got buzzed in. I was greeted by Andy, who is Mike’s assistant. I was the first one there so far, so Andy gave me a tour and then I sat and waited for the rest of the crew to show up. The studio is beautiful. Great wood paneling and an open layout and very bright. The next person to show up was Dave. He’s the sound engineer and does all the mixing and mastering for the shows that come through.  He introduced himself and asked if I was the new Pete Carpenter Fellow and then ran off to get all the gear turned on. Then this man came in and introduced himself and Randy. He could tell right away that I was the fellowship winner and then went on to tell me that he’s the executive producer of Law and Order: SVU. So there that was. He was a real great guy. One of the ladies who worked there, Sandy came in and we all chatted for a little while, waiting for Mike. Then I met the assistant composer, Brandon who runs the virtual instrument computer and composes and designs some of the textures and drum patterns that Mike composes to during a show.

Then Mike Post arrives. He introduced himself and congratulated me and then we were whisked away. There was no time for chatting at that moment because Randy had to leave for another screening of something else he was working on, so I was thrown right in to the spotting process. We went into his scoring studio which was beautiful. For you techies out there, here’s what I can remember:

2 Mac Pros networked together
2 PCs running all the servers
Yamaha and Genelec monitors
Samsung big screen and computer TVs.
A D Command mixing board
lots of physical virus boxes, amps, guitars and routing gear
The Mac was running Logic Pro 9 and the Mixing board had a PC attached running ProTools

So we watched the episode which was cool to see a real TV show before it’s finished and mixed. Randy would simply tell Mike the start and stop (or ‘in’ and ‘out’) points for the music and Dave would write them down and programs those segments, called ‘cues’ into the mixing board. After that, Randy left. Then Mike turned to us and said “Let’s get started” and they began scoring right then! Mike’s been doing Law and Order for 20 years now, so he knows exactly what they want and how to do it, so many of the middle steps weren’t taken on this show because it’s all the same from past episodes and seasons. And then they just went. Mike would ask Brandon for a specific kind of underlying drum pattern which he would build from loop generators, virus generators (which are boxes which generate musical textures with repeating patterns) and drum kits. Then he would get out his guitar and record a track direct into the mix using virtual pedals, delays and amps. Most of it, he wasn’t even playing the video while he recorded. He just knew it that well. Then he would lay down keyboards and synths and build each cue up part by part until it was done, and then move on to the next cue. By tomorrow morning the entire episode will be scored.

He told me the number one thing wasn’t the key, or the instrumentation or the scoring, but it was tempo. He said all the actors speak with a tempo and the editor edits with a tempo even if they don’t know they’re doing it. He said that we need to tune in to that tempo and that’s what makes a score click. So we played it again, and this time I wan’t really watching the scene, but was feeling the rhythm and I must have been bouncing or moving to the scene so when we stopped, turns out Mike was watching me and said that I was moving to exactly the right rhythm. So we did a few more cues and then Mike took us out to lunch.

We went to the amazing upscale place and Mike treated us all. He told me what I should expect here. He said the first 10 days, I’ll be drowning, just learning everything and absorbing. Then he’ll start me writing. Later on, he’ll send me to another composer for a week to learn from him. And then, if he’s not busy, he’s planning on sending me to one of Hanz Zimmer’s assistant composers. It just keeps getting overwhelming like this and I love it! He said the people who get the most out of this fellowship are the ones who ‘fuck up’. He said ‘ the more you fuck up, the more you’ll learn.’ He tells the people who come and just instantly write good music that they should be looking for jobs and not fellowships. So he said not to be afraid to screw things up, no matter how big. He’s never had a fellowship winner who didn’t go on and be successful (at least as far as I know). So he asked me how I’m getting around out here. I told him that he’s right down the street from my apartment so I’m just walking. He said ‘Oh that’s no good. You won’t see anything. We’ll get you a car’. So they’re renting me a car so I can get around!

Mike is such a stand up guy and takes care of everyone and is just so easy to hang out with. Everyone in the studio busts each others chops and goofs around but they’re crazy professional and so much work still gets done so fast and so well,  it’s incredible. Then he told me what I’ll be doing.

So my homework for the next couple days is to watch a bunch of screener copies of Law and Order they gave me and learn Mike’s style of writing for the show. The music is always minor and modal and never deviates from that. This is good for me, and he picked up on it telling me that I have a big sound and write story music, which is great and difficult but wouldn’t work on this show. He says I need to learn how to write like him. He said it’s also how you get jobs out here. You network through other composers and show that you can write music like them, and then show them your own voice. So after I watch these episodes, he’s going to give me a recently aired episode without the music and I have to score it and try to make it sound like Mike Post without hearing what he did for that episode. Then I go from there. Depending on how I do, I’ll get more challenging projects and could potentially write  a few cues for the show.

So if it wasn’t crazy cool already, here’s where it gets better. They gave me a key to the building and said I can come in by myself anytime after everyone’s gone home because he wants to to use and learn all their equipment, so I get to use all of Mike Post’s studio to score this episode! I don’t even know what to think. So we called it a day around 5pm and then I got to go home and process. But I didn’t get to process just yet.

Before I left, I found out a couple of interesting facts. First, it turns out over a thousand people applied for the fellowship. I had no idea it was that many, and out of all those songs submitted, Mike picked me. What boggles my mind about that is that I write music in a style that Mike doesn’t. He’s not huge on the story music, at least not for TV but saw my talent and gave me a shot. He asked mw my age, and when I said 23 he said that was perfect. He didn’t elaborate, but it sure made me feel good. The last thing I found out is that I am the last Pete Carpenter Fellowship winner ever. After me, Mike is not doing the fellowship anymore. It’s unclear right now if the fellowship will continue in a different form or with another composer, but I will be the last Pete Carpenter winner to ever work with Mike Post. I don’t know what to say.

So tomorrow will be an early day, but I can’t wait and all I can say is that this is better than I ever expected it would be.

6 thoughts on “Day 1: Drowning in Awesome

  1. Ansel

    Wow… Brenton this is incredible. I can’t even imagine what you’re feeling. You’re going to hook me up with movie passes in a couple years when you’re famous right?

  2. Susan

    WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW! I am soooooooo impressed! I can only imagine the thrill of it all for you AND to have access to the studio after hours, that is so cool. And this is not a dream, it’s REAL. Have fun.

  3. Jeremy

    It’s interesting that Mike referred to your characteristic style as “story” music…I wonder if he has a term for what he does? Affective rather than programmatic music?

  4. Brenton Costa

    Mike described his music to me as heightening whatever was going on in the scene by 40%. If it’s sad, he makes it sadder, etc. In his words “I want you to never know I’m in the room with you until i say ‘Got your wallet!”‘


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