DesigningMusicNOW would like to give a big congratulations to one of our Editors, Lawson Madlener, for winning first place in the 2016 CINE Marvin Hamlisch Film Scoring Competition (Youth Division). We caught up with him to ask him a few questions about his entry.
The contest is simple: Composers create a new score to a Golden Eagle award-winning short film. Scores are anonymously evaluated, and all composers receive judging comments. The top ranked scores are named as finalists, and a winner is selected by a distinguished jury of noted film-music professionals.
This year, we’ve created a category for youth (under 18) composers to discover and champion the next generation of great composers.
The winners of the Marvin Hamlisch Award in the Youth and Emerging categories will receive a trophy presented at CINE Celebrates: New York.
I have known Lawson since he was 10 years old, and he was already an accomplished violinist at the time. In fact, he contributed some live violin on several of my charity Indaba projects, starting with “The Upanishad Project” and then went on to play several instruments for “The Mystic Poets Society” projects and beyond. We started working on reviews together for this site late last year, and now he contributes regularly to the site as an Editor and by creating fantastic demos for the sample library reviews. Due to his hard work and commitment to the site, he has recently been promoted from Contributor to Editor. We could not be more proud of this rising star on our team!
Lawson’s Winning Entry
Q&A with Lawson
How did you find out about the contest?
I found out about it on vi-control.net which is a website/forum that is the hub for all composers and people that use virtual instruments (v.i.). There is a great community of people on there—great composers and developers—and it’s an all around chill place.
How long did you spend on your composition?
I spent much less time on it than I’d like to admit. Basically, I wanted to fully utilize Orchestral Tools’ products in this score, and so as a result of that I had to add to my template about a 500-1000 tracks worth of Berlin Strings, Berlin Percussion and Berlin Woodwinds. So I probably spent about three weeks working on the template and about two weeks actually writing the music. I was averaging about 35 seconds of music per day, which was pretty disappointing, but I was trying to compose, orchestrate, and midi-mock-up everything at once, so each set of 35 seconds resulted in the final product. Speaking of which, that’s another reason why I only wanted to use Orchestral Tools; all of their products are balanced to each other and recorded in the same room, so I didn’t have to do any mixing and matching whatsoever. Everything in the score that you hear is straight out-of-the-box Orchestral Tools with a slight bit of QL Spaces reverb on the master buss.
How do you go about composing a musical score for this film?
Well, first I went and added markers on pretty much every hit in the film; I think I have over 50 markers total. Markers are points on the timeline of my DAW (which is Digital Performer 8) that indicate where I’d like to have a change in the music. I just watch the film, and when I see a spot that I want the marker, I just hit control-M which adds the marker in that spot. Then, I go and refine that point down to the exact frame that the visuals change to be as accurate as possible. After the markers, I knew that I wanted it to be relatively up-beat and I didn’t have a theme yet, so then I calculated the tempos and time signatures that would get my markers landing on spots that musically made sense. I believe just in the opening 15 seconds alone I go from 5/4 to 3/4 to 4/4 and then back to 3/4 and then back to 4/4. The cool thing is that it isn’t very noticeable, because I think it matches with the visuals pretty well. If there were a metronome going the whole time it would probably sound really odd. A really cool thing in the time signatures, that I’m quite proud of, is that there are a couple of spots, like that quick jazz waltz right after “Lucky Lou” jumps into the puddle and after they’re going into the tunnel where I have hemiolas going on. I didn’t want to move it in 3/4 because my points landed nicely in 4/4, so I attempted a crazy hemiola type thing with lots of triplet off beats and syncopation to give the impression of a standard swung jazz waltz, yet it fits perfectly into 4/4.
What was your most enjoyable experience while writing for this film?
Probably getting to explore all of my new sample libraries. This isn’t trying to be a plug, but I used almost every instrument Orchestral Tools has to offer, and it was so enjoyable to use them. This is the first project where I’ve used Berlin Percussion and Strings, and it just blew me away how good they sounded. For example, as they’re falling down the hill for the first time, I have these crazy string runs going on underneath the xylophone and I barely had to do any editing to it. I just had to write in the parts, put in some CC1 modulation data, and I had perfectly legitimate string runs; no extra programming needed.
What were any big challenges you had to overcome, if any?
Being sick. I actually got the flu about two-thirds the way through the film, and about the last minute and a half I was just feeling awful. Every day I had to drag myself out of bed and tell myself “ok I only have three days to write this, you have to do it now or else.” Other than that it was just really fun and chill and I enjoyed all of it. Another challenge was that I didn’t use any brass. This is partly because I thought I wanted to give myself an orchestration challenge to not use brass because I felt it fit the cartoon better, and it may possibly be because Orchestral Tools doesn’t have a Berlin Brass yet (got my fingers crossed!). I do have other brass libraries, but I was running short on time and I really didn’t want to worry about mixing and mastering everything together. It was actually quite a fun challenge, and I was forced to use pretty much every other instrument from alto flutes to Eb clarinets to vibraphones to even an “auxiliary percussion” foghorn.
Anything else you would like to say?
Yes! I would like to give a big thank you to CINE and the Marvin Hamlisch foundation for hosting this contest, as well as MakeMusic/Finale, MOTU, Soundiron, 8Dio, and Orange Tree Samples for sponsoring. I’d like to make another big shout out towards Orchestral Tools as I used only their libraries in this score. And of course thanks to DesigningMusicNOW and Dale Crowley for the interview, Mari Haig (my violin teacher since I was 3), my family for being awesome, and Nikaela Goodman for actually doing the interviewing and transcription for this article as well as being awesome, too! Last but not least, congrats to everyone who entered and thank you to everyone who was involved. You ALL are awesome!
Lawson Madlener Bio
Lawson Madlener is an award-winning composer/musician who happens to be a college student, He plays many instruments ranging from violin to ukulele to drums to electric bass to viola, and many genres from classical to jazz to bluegrass to rock.
Lawson has been composing for longer than he can remember. He entered and won his first composition competition (boy, that’s a mouthful) at the ripe old age of 9! As with his playing, he can compose in pretty much any style, but his favorite is orchestral/cinematic. As of late, he’s been developing a taste for jazz bands!
In his spare time, you can find Lawson passionately researching new sample libraries. Sometimes he also spends hours and hours delving into older sample libraries too! Actually, you can just find him enjoying any and every sample library ever and whispering under his breath “so many sample libraries so little time so many sample libraries so little money.”