A Muse's Muse Interview with successful composer, Ron Jones
conducted by: Jodi Krangle
Question: What first got you interested in music and composing? Who were your inspirations?
I thought I was going to be an architect as a kid. I was always out in the woods behind our house building forts. I still like building things, so I am a builder or architect with sound instead of lumber. I was first attracted to sound as I recall, when I was about 10 years old. I would hit things; take radios apart and electronic organs to see what made them sound that way. When I was 11, my Mother drove my brother and I over to a Drum and Bugle corps and signed us up. I chose to play brass. When you play in a group like a corps you are immersed into a world of really huge ensemble of brass and percussion. The sound is huge. I got that big sound under my skin and had to learn how to make that myself. I took college classes in music theory while still in high school and wrote for every big band, jazz band, choir and rock band I could find. This was great for helping me to try writing for different combinations. In college, I was so far ahead of the regular music majors they did not require me to attend the classes, I just took the finals. I used the time to compose for the college ensembles. I won a bunch of awards for my writing. I had a wonderful time doing my thing there. After college I went straight to Dick Grove's school for professional arranging and composing in Los Angeles. Star Wars had just been released about this time and I was blown away by John Williams' score. So I sort of concentrated more on the film scoring than the arranging aspects while at Grove's and before I finished the program I was scoring network shows for all the major networks. Kid's don't try this at home.
Question: How did you end up getting paid for what you do? What was your first composing job like? Can you give us some insights into the industry in that regard (ie: how composers usually start out)?
The term "breaking into the business" is a good one. No one invites you in; you have to dive in headfirst. It is like learning to swim, only in this case no one cares if you drown. In my case I worked as a copyist while attending Dick Grove's. I would ask to take the finished scores and parts to the sessions so I could see what was really happening. While there, I noticed that I could do this. So I bugged Hoyt Curtin who was the Music Director for all of Hanna-Barbera's shows, to give me a chance. He did. I nailed it, and I became very busy. When you have to crank out tons of music every week, you learn how to solve problems that schools never teach you. It was a great start for my career and a wonderful way to cut my chops while getting paid. There is no place like that anymore.
Question: There's a big transition between doing something for your own pleasure and doing something for *other* people's pleasure (and getting paid for it!). Do you work on a lot of projects that satisfy both? Is it a challenge to find those projects? How do you pick new ones?
You have to make it your pleasure to compose regardless of whether it is for yourself or someone else. I love creating music and hearing it. So it doesn't make any difference who it is for, I give it my best effort always. That is why I have done so much work. People sense that I care and don't treat any project with less respect. Pleasure comes from doing a great score. I cannot describe the feeling to people. You have to write a score and hear it back to get it. If a project is not exciting, you have to get excited about doing a professional job at least. I have not had very many scoring jobs that were not a lot of fun and personally satisfying. I have not been called to score any commercials for adult diapers or for kitty litter. That is something they do in jingleland (New York and Chicago). I would get into some aspect, maybe the humor of it, if I had to score something offensive. In scoring Family Guy for Fox I had to score a whole bunch of parodies of commercials and popular songs. One that was a lot of fun was a parody of the Double Mint Gum twin commercials, but they used conjoined twins. What a blast.
Question: Tell us a little bit more about the work you do for interactive games. This appears to be an up and coming area of the composing business. What most interests you about this work? What parts of it do you find the most rewarding?
I have worked primarily for producers of Television. I am the guy they call when they need a big sound like a feature but only have a TV sized budget. As things have changed in recent years to giving the composers no live players and tiny budgets, it has become a creative wasteland. After the O.J. Simpson slo-mo car chase, TV networks discovered that tabloid style really is cheaper than hiring screen writers, actors and all the people that create shows. This includes composers. Most top rated shows on the Networks are reality based shows. They pay the poor composers almost minimum wage plus royalties. Also, the growth in cable networks has divided up the audience into smaller chunks. The advertising revenues are way down because the pie has to be divided in so many ways. So, TV is basically a museum. Technology has not helped TV much. However, in the world of games the opposite is true. This area is bigger than films or TV and getting bigger each day. Plus, the non-linear aspect of a game's structure gives much more room for creative development. TV and films are linear. You start here and end there. It is interesting, but it is a spectator sport. Games take the player inside a world. That is very exciting. My training and abilities are more suited to this than the less creative and expressive TV world.
Question: What are some of the difficulties inherent in composing music for interactive games and how do you overcome them?
There is no rule on how to do something. Riight now the people doing it are writing the book. A composer for games needs to play the picture, the story and dramatic aspects, but has to create a score that flows from scenario to scenario without making the shifts distracting. So you have to solve problems of unity and inconstancy in new ways. This is an additional role a Game composer has to play.
Question: I have to ask since I really enjoy the Star Trek shows: How did you get the opportunity to compose music for them? Was there an audition process? Who approached who, etc?
The best recommendations come from people that notice your good work. I have had the great fortune to write for the very best musicians on earth. These players do a lot of sessions and hear who writes well and who doesn't. Several big breaks have come to me because someone noticed how well I did my work. This was the case in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was not even thinking of the series or submitting anything. I was involved in scoring Duck Tales for Disney. One day after a great session a drummer that played on the session, and most of my other projects, came up and said I should get a tape over to the music director at MGM for this Star Trek project. I put a tape together and called the Drummer. He said that the music director would be conducting at a session at Paramount and that I should come over and bring the demo. I did take it. My friend grabbed the Music director that was advising one of the Producers of the series on music matters. He was listening to the demo on a session break. He stopped halfway through the playing of the tape and started to make a call. I thought he did not like it. When the tape ended he said come back on Thursday to Trailer 29 and meet the Star Trek producer. I had the job. What a shock. I did not put Star Trek-like cues on the tape. I just put cues with energy, mostly from low-budget films I scored. I owe a great deal to people that recommended me for gigs, but I just try to do a good job every time. Eventually, people notice.
Question: Is there a different process involved in writing scores between interactive games, TV and film?
In each medium you are still trying to support a story, to carry the emotions of a scene. The big difference is the non-linear direction the player can take that story and how you will find a way to support that flexibility.
Question: Which do you find the easiest and which do you find the most challenging? Why?
I am always challenged internally. I have a personal as well as professional standard of quality that drives me to do a great job. The genre of a project is not an issue. I don't raise or lower the bar according to the project, I always take things to the highest level. After all, we compose for human consumption. I have great regard for an audience. You can not aim low, for example to kids. I have done a huge amount of scoring for animation. Never do I write 'down'. I consider the audience to be very aware and intelligent. So, nothing is easy to me because I strive for excellence no matter what.
Question: What would your advice be to other songwriters who want to get involved in composing music for film, TV and interactive games?
There is a lot more to it than writing a tune and some lyrics. The music part is tough enough, but when you add the aspect of how to play things emotionally and with all the techniques demanded by this occupation, it is not for the unprepared or inexperienced. If you have that special inner fire to compose for games, great. Just get your craft together, read, listen, watch, ask questions and find ways to get chops.
Question: What's in store for you in the future? What are you working on at the moment and how can people find out more about you and the work you do?
I am working on several projects. Each one is in various stages of completion. I am currently scoring a horror film called Club Dead. It is a lot of fun to work on. There are more ways to stretch out and create than in most genres. Fantasy let's you play with imagination; you can't play it safe or do anything traditional. I am producing a film myself. I am developing a couple of training programs for student film and game composers with a publisher that I hope to get out next year. I can't mention all the projects, but you can imagine I keep busy. I really am excited about what games are becoming and how the technology is improving. I think the audience wants quality game experiences. I hope to score many interactive projects. What I have done so far has wet my appetite for more.
You can hear my music for games, animation, TV and film at http://www.ronjonesproductions.com/
For more information on Ron, have a read through his bio.