So I’m not much of a writer (of words that is) and I’m new to the whole blogging scene, but I feel like I’m on the verge of a major life change and I want to start documenting things so I have an idea of where I came from, and if these posts end up helping anyone else along the way, then I’m happy to have made the choice to start this thing.
So let me start with, well . . . me.
Music was always a huge part of my life. At 3 years old my parents bought me one of those guitars with buttons for frets. Just another toy. But then they noticed that I would sit with it and watch TV and play the music that I heard. I can’t thank them enough for noticing so early on. From there it was a crappy electric keyboard, which turned into a real piano, and by 5 years old, I was in piano lessons. Those lessons continued for quite some time. That real piano turned back into an electronic one in middle school when strange sounds and other instruments started to interest me. My parents bought me a digital keyboard from Radioshack. Nothing special, but it had the ability to record things you played, and then record another instrument on top of it. The possibilities were endless for me. That’s when I started writing.
At first I would write little piano tunes and record them into this keyboard, then add strings and flutes and anything else I could think of. So once again my perceptive parents noticed how intensely I was getting into this digital stuff and bought me a MOTU 828. This let me record from my computer what I was writing on the keyboard. I was a PC user then and at that time it wasn’t cheap to do digital music on a PC, so recording was a very raw and clunky experience, but it was something.
And now for a side-note. I love movies. My whole family does. For as long as I can remember, the family activity has been watching movies. In grade school, I would make little video projects for class. Back then it was to get out of writing papers, but it grew into something more. I started making movies all the time. My older brother always used to listen to film soundtracks, and because he was the older brother and I had to be just like him, I started listening to film soundtracks too. Then it hit me. I could write music for the movies I made! A simple revelation, but one of the most important I have ever made. Now back to the music.
So now I knew I wanted to combine my two favorite things: music and film. In high school, the trend continued. I would make movies to get out of writing papers, but my teachers noticed something just like my parents did. They noticed that I was putting more effort into these videos than I ever would have had I written a paper. So they encouraged me, and that’s how you know you’re in a good school; when the teachers don’t try to change you into something you’re not, but build on your strengths and talents. And high school was when I bought my first Mac. Now I won’t get in to the whole Mac/PC war. I bought this computer because of a little program called Garage Band. This program came with the computer and it’s designed to let you write digital music. And write I did. This program let me do what I had been doing on my little Radioshack keyboard for years, but on a grander scale. Not long after, Garage Band was updated so you could play a movie while you wrote music. It was exactly what I was looking for. So my film scoring began in earnest then. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I got my first sign that I was on the right track.
Senior year, you’re thinking about what you want to do as a career and where you want to further your education. I knew I wanted to be somewhere in either music or film, but I hadn’t nailed it down yet. I was in the theater program, so I was thinking about acting, and I loved computer generation, so I was thinking about graphic art, and I still played piano, so I was thinking about being a performer…or a film director…and the list went on. But that year in New York, the Grammy Foundation was hosting a conference of sorts for high school students to talk to people in the music industry. I also found out that students could submit a piece of music and if selected, it would be reviewed by people working in the industry today. Only 8 would be chosen. 800 students submitted music, and I was one of the ones chosen. The panel of judges had on it Ray Chew, of Ray Chew and the Crew, Susan Vega, who wrote the music for ‘Joe’s Diner’ and for the life of me I can’t remember the last guy. Each song was allowed to play for 45 seconds (because they said that’s how long agents listen to songs for, so if you’re not hooked by then, you won’t be). I was to go last. The first 7 were from students who were into music that I knew nothing about. Some songs were rap, and the rest were from bands. Mine was the only orchestral piece there. After 45 seconds the DJ was going to stop my song, but Susan Vega told them to let it play longer. They listened to the whole thing. At the end I was asked questions. I was so nervous and excited, I can’t remember what they were, but I do remember the last thing they said to me. The guy who I can’t remember asked me if I was going to college. I said yes, and he told me the best advice he could give me was to keep doing exactly what I was doing, and don’t let anyone tell me otherwise. I was on cloud nine! After the event when we were waiting for the bus to go home, this woman who worked for the foundation came out and asked me if I was the kid who wrote the orchestral piece of music. She said everyone inside was talking about it and that I had been awarded ‘Best Original Piece’ from the Foundation. I didn’t stop smiling the whole ride home. By the time I was back in my room, I knew. I needed to write music for the rest of my life, or I would never be happy.
College is where things seemed to take a turn. I went to a state university because I wasn’t sure if college was the right thing for me, but I was sure that I wouldn’t get a job without a degree. So I found a place close to home that was cheap, gritted my teeth and prepared to do whatever it took to get out in 4 years. I’m grateful for the people I met in college, and the professors there really did know their stuff, but I was already driven. I already had a goal and a path and the passion, so college seemed to get in the way more than set me up for the ever-looming ‘real world’, whatever that even meant. Now I’m exaggerating slightly here, but all I really feel I learned from college was that the things I was already learning on my own in music had a name. So in those 4 years, I didn’t do much musically. I made a few films and scored those, but for the most part, that was a very quiet period of my life in terms of music. But when I graduated, I found myself with so much time to write and listen and learn. I feel that’s when my education really began.
I upgraded all my music equipment, started using professional gear and in college, I bought for myself the EastWest brand of sampled instruments, which in my opinion are some of the best out there, and wrote. I wrote for the movies I now had time to make, I wrote for me, my friends and my girlfriend Lauren, who just by being in the room helps me write better. I joined a community of filmmakers called SECT Film. This was a group made mostly of actors and directors and very few technical people. Most importantly (for me, that is) there were no musicians. This was my opportunity to show others what I had learned, and hopefully, make their films better. Fully orchestral music is my style. I love the richness and feel and depth an orchestra provides, and that sound is something very few independent films get, so I wrote for a few of those and got pretty good reviews. But I always wanted to go bigger; to get a big enough film to score that my big music would thrive in. By this point, my family had joined me in making movies, and we turned it into a business. We made our first big (for us) film called ‘A Step in the Wrong Direction’ (http://astepinthewrongdirection.com/trailer.html) and I wrote the music. It felt so good to write music for a film that would benefit from a big sound.
By then it had been a year since I graduated college. Not that long, especially in this economy, but I was tired of working the same retail job I’ve had for the last five years. I wanted a career in film music. Not so easy to get into. The problem is that the film music community is a closed community. Once you’re in, you’re in, but that’s the hard part. What you need, is a break. I found mine last January, and that’s what this blog is all about.
I was scouring the internet for any film music contest I could find. There were plenty out there, but most were only offering cash prizes, not any real scoring opportunities. But then I found one that was different from the others. the BMI sponsored Peter Carpenter Fellowship. The idea was to submit a short piece with a form detailing what genre of film that music could accompany. The winner would receive a $3000 stipend to go out and work with composer Mike Post (A-Team, Quantum Leap, etc.) for six weeks in LA. I had finished a short piece that was inspired by the wonderful music we hear in the PIXAR films.
Here’s the song I wrote:
So after ten minutes of filling out the form and $2 later, I was all set. Then I got a look at the people who had won previous years. One of them already had scored A-list films. Another was a Juliard graduate. These were people who had already made it. I had no shot at this thing. They wouldn’t announce the winners until July anyway, so I proceeded to go on with my life and forget that I ever submitted the thing. A few months later I was driving home on my lunch break from work. I saw that I had a voicemail. It was very simple. This nice girl named Colleen said she worked for Mike Post and wanted me to call back. Mike Post? I was already so far gone, the name didn’t even click with me. So I called back, and Colleen immediately transferred me to Mike. His first words were “Congratulations, you won!” Me, being the idiot that I am replied, I’m sorry to be completely naive here, but what is this in regards to?” He said, “This is Mike Post…You won the Pete Carpenter Fellowship” “Oh God, you’re that Mike Post!” After swallowing my tongue, he told me he loved my piece and how I made the virtual instruments come alive and that my music was ‘spot on’. He told me that no one who has ever won the award has ever NOT gone on and done important things in film scoring. I was beside myself. It still to this day doesn’t feel real.
So arrangements were made, and I am scheduled to go to LA this January, of 2011. I want to write this blog to chronicle what happens there. One, so that I don’t forget a thing, and two, so that this blog might help anyone with a story anything like mine. So I’ll be talking about what I’m working on personally, and with Mike. And if I can figure out how to link audio clips to this thing, I’ll do that too.
So I’m a few weeks away from heading out there. I just got my check in the mail, I’ve updated my resume, and made new business cards . . .Brenton Costa: COMPOSER. I’m hoping to God that this is my ‘in’. That this is what takes me away from the retail job and scoring my own films. Everyone in my life has told me that I’m meant to do this, but it’s always hard to take your friends and family seriously because they want you to succeed. So now I’m ready. I’m right on the edge of something, and I’ll go wherever it takes me.