Interview with Richard Marvin

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Artist Spotlight: Richard Marvin/ Questions by Troels Folmann. December 2012.

Introduction

Richard Marvin is a American film and television composer whose line of work includes hit shows like Grimm (NBC), Six Feet Under (HBO), In Treatment (HBO), The O.C (FOX) and movies like The Surrogates, u571 and over 40 other TV-shows, movies etc.

Tell us a little bit about your musical background- and influences?

As a kid, I played piano, drums, and trombone. I moved to Los Angeles in 1978 after attending Indiana University where I studied piano, jazz and composition. I became a busy studio musician in the ‘80’s as a synthesist, working on many TV/Film scoring sessions. One of my main early influences was Mike Post, with whom I worked on his many TV shows. The other influence was Maurice Jarre. I was part of a small group of musicians that worked on Maurice’s big movies of the 80’s.

You started out as a session player, is that correct? When did you make the transition from player to composer?

Around 1990 I became part of Mike Post’s team of composers, after working as one of his keyboard players for 5-6 years. Shortly after that, I got my first composing job for director Jonathan Mostow.

Is there any particular style of music that you like to write in best?

Not really… I really enjoy writing many styles of music… in fact, I find it difficult to write in one style for too long of a period!

Take us through your process. How do you start when you get a new project?

I start by mocking up musical ideas as soon as possible without writing them to picture. I either read the script or see a rough cut, and then just start brain-storming. At that point I spend some time putting together a pallet of sounds that I think I will need for the project. This process can take a week or two (if I have the time). Then I usually have a chance to invite the director and whoever else is going to be part of the musical process to my studio to hear my ideas. At this point it depends if I’m working on a TV show or a film. If it’s a TV show, there is usually much less time, so I jump in and write the score for an episode. On a film, I might have more of these brain-storming sessions until we all agree on an approach.

I read somewhere that you had the pleasure of working with John Williams at some point in your career? What project was that? And how did you communicate the music with him, since John is all pencil, paper and piano?

I worked as a synthesist on JFK and several other films. John is very organized and knows what he wants, so I merely played the parts with sounds that he had asked for. In contrast, I worked much more extensively with Maurice Jarre, which was much more experimental in regards to the sound pallet he was looking for. It was a very collaborative experience working with Maurice.

What’s it like working on popular TV shows like Grimm or The O.C. or Six Feet Under? And where are deadlines worse, Film or TV?

For sure, the TV schedules are much shorter. On Grimm, I compose about 35 minutes of score every week. There was much less music in The OC and Without A Trace, but still it was an episode a week. Six Feet Under and In Treatment were much more relaxed in terms of the schedule. Usually I would have at least two weeks to score an episode, and there was very little music per episode. The real test is when a composer is juggling multiple TV shows and films at the same time…. That’s when it gets a little crazy. When scoring a film, it really depends on the particular film in terms of how long you have to complete the score. Generally though, I’ve had one to six months to score a film.

You have done music for Film and TV now. Which is your personal favorite? Have you considered doing music for video games?

Again, I really like variety in what kind of work I do. So, although I’ve been in TV land for the last few years, I’d love to do some more features. For some reason, I’ve never been offered or pursued video game work… maybe that’s in my future somewhere…

Of all the projects you got to work on, which one was your favorite?

Six Feet Under, Grimm and a movie called U-571 are among my favorite projects. Also working with Maurice Jarre on numerous movies as a synthesist was a very significant and standout experience.

What changes do you foresee in the world of Movie/TV/Game Music within the next 10 years? Where are we going stylistically?

Mmmmm, crystal ball time… I think the art of scoring is currently in a very stagnant time. There aren’t many scores that stand out to me as fresh or creative. I think mostly that’s because of producers, directors and studios all wanting music that is like the “last hit.” The temping and research screening process already is so confining to a composer. That’s what I’m really enjoying about Grimm. The powers that be are letting me in large part write what I think is best for the show. There is very little direction coming from the producers or the studio. It’s sort of what scoring used to be like in the early days of scoring: let the composer write the music that he/she thinks will enhance the story.

What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?

I work most of the time these days, but I also play a lot of racquetball. When I have time off, I’m usually updating computers and libraries and playing piano. I also love to spend time with my wife and two boys, either when the boys are home from college or when we travel.

What platform are you on (specs of your Mac/PC)? Are you still in Digital Performer and Pro Tools?

I compose in DP 8 on an 8-core MacPro. I have eight slave computers with various libraries on each that feed in to another Pro Tools rig (MacPro) via light pipe, that is slaved to DP. My PT template enables me to record all the stems I need in one record pass.

How important is it these days to have live instruments in your recording? How much of what you do is samples, how much is live?

Currently on Grimm, I am doing most of it all by myself with samples and acoustic piano. On some episodes I bring in solo strings or a string quartet. I would love to have more live musicians, but it’s very difficult with most TV budgets.

What are your most used 8DIO instruments and why? How do you integrate 8DIO samples into the work?

On Grimm, I use the Rhythmic Aura 1+2 and Hybrid Tools extensively. These libraries are probably on 75% of the score each week. They provide the “motor” on a lot of cues. There are all kinds of “motor” libraries out there, but the 8Dio ones fit into the track nicely, especially when they are used in an “orchestral” setting. I’ve also recently purchased and started to use the Adagio Violins and Adagio Cellos on the score. Both of these string libraries are awesome!

What’s next for Richard Marvin? What are you currently working on?

I’m enjoying a month off from Grimm right now. I’ve written around 17 hours of Grimm music in the last year, so I’m trying to recharge the batteries and get ready for another few seasons hopefully!

Any last tips or advice for all the young and upcoming composers out there? How important for example is formal education these days (for example the film scoring programs at USC, Berklee, etc.)?

I just did a Skype interview with the film scoring network at Berklee and they asked me the same question…. My advise to them was to keep writing and improving your craft, of course, but in regards to having a career in the scoring business, make connections with film makers and anyone else who has anything to do with making movies or TV or games. All the success I’ve had comes out of having relationships with people. You never know who might have a positive impact on your career.

Richard Marvin uses the following 8Dio products:
1928 Legacy Scoring Piano, Adagio Violins Vol.1, Adagio Cellos Vol.1, Ambient Guitar, Didgeridoo, Hybrid Tools Vol. 1, Hybrid Rhythms, Music Box, Post-Apocalyptic Guitar, Requiem Professional, Rhythmic Aura Vol.1, Rhythmic Aura Vol.2