Matthew Llewellyn

By Jan Hoeglund

Thank you so much for taking the time Matthew. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Thanks for having me. I grew up playing classical piano from a young age and when I was in high school I started playing guitar as well. Oddly enough I was never in any bands or anything but I did occasionally jam with friends. In school I was always a math and science kid and never really considered the possibility of pursuing music as a career. I kind of always thought that I would go into either mechanical or electrical engineering or some other math/science related field. I was one of those weird people that thoroughly enjoyed architectural drafting and accounting classes. When the time came to look at colleges my parents and I talked at length about what I would possibility study and that was when the idea of going into music was first introduced. We visited various colleges/universities in Minnesota and after doing some research we came upon a music school in Boston called Berklee College of Music. I was very impressed by the programs they offered so we took a little trip out there and visited the campus. Needless to say I was hooked in about four seconds. I knew that this was the place that I had to be. I applied and was thrilled to see that I had gotten accepted. When I first started at Berklee I was set on doing a dual major in Music Business/Management and Music Production/Engineering. It wasn’t until my sophomore when I saw my roommate Kevin, who was a film scoring major, writing music for film. I remember thinking to myself how amazing that was. I signed up for a class called Introduction to Film Scoring and the rest is history. After graduating with a dual major in Film Scoring and Music Business/Management I rolled the dice and moved to Los Angeles. I interned with composer Richard Gibbs for almost a year and then attended the University of Southern California’s Scoring for Motion Picture and Television graduate program. Since graduating from USC I have worked for various composers around town including Walter Murphy, Stacey Hersh, David Schwartz, and most recently Brian Tyler.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a composer? Do you remember a specific moment where it just made "click" in your head?

It has been a serendipitous journey, there wasn’t just one moment when it clicked. Every time I go see John Williams conduct I am reminded why I decided to get into this crazy business. It’s the effect that music has on people, the way it moves people, the way it inspires people. That is something that is endlessly inspirational.

Now, you are part of Brian Tyler's team. How did you got to join the team of a major Hollywood composer and what would you say is your main role on his team?

I was referred by my good friend Bob Lydecker who was a classmate of mine at USC. I was Brian’s assistant for almost three years working on projects such as Thor 2: The Dark World, “Iron Man 3”, “Now You See Me”, “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag”, and “Far Cry 3”. My role has varied over the years, it really depends on the project and what is required. I will say though, I always have a blast working on his projects. He has one of the best teams around.

Take us through a day in your life. Do you have to go into the studio every day? What are usual your hours?

I’m an early riser. I usually start writing around 7:30am, I find that I get way more accomplished that way. When I was assisting Brian the “normal” work day would be from 9:00am­ to 6:30pm but there is almost no such thing as a normal work day over at his studio. Some days I would work 9 hours, some days I would work 12 hours, or my longest shift which was over 50 ("Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3"). The important thing is to be organized and have daily/weekly goals for yourself. It’s easy to get flustered and anxious when starting a project but if you take it day by day and focus on one cue at a time you’ll make it to the finish line and it won’t be a mad dash to the end.

Of all the projects you got to work on, which one was your favorite? Do you prefer scoring movies or video games?

It’s hard to say because each project brings its own unique challenges and rewards. I’m extremely proud of my latest score for Chiller’s (NBCUniversal) film “Deep in the Darkness”. Writing for the orchestra is my favorite thing in the world and I was fortunate to have a pretty good size group for that film. The working process for film and games is pretty different especially when it comes to the quantity of music you have to write. Big games like Assassin’s Creed could have 3­4 hours of music where as the typical film has around 65­70. I feel much closer to the music I write for film because most of the music for video games isn’t written to picture.

You have a pretty wide range of styles? What comes more natural to you and what takes more effort? Where do you draw your inspiration from when you're writing something that takes more effort? Who are your favorite composers?

I’m definitely more of a traditional writer. I still think melodically and harmonically about absolutely everything. I compose most of my music at the piano (unless it’s guitar-­based) sketching themes and chord changes on paper. After whole cues are laid out I jump into Cubase and orchestrate. If I’m recording live musicians I export the midi from Cubase and import into Finale and do any necessary tweaks to the orchestration. My music doesn’t sound like his but John Williams is my biggest source of inspiration. His level of craft and orchestral brilliance always keeps me motivated. There’s just something magical about an orchestra without all the other electronic and massive drums laid over the top. I just love the purity and raw emotion of it.

Writing electronic music is definitely harder for me because so much of it is dependent on really good production chops but I do enjoy it very much. I’m actually working on an electronic (glitch­hop etc.) EP this summer.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished working for composer Brian Tyler as a Score Producer for "The Expendables 3". I will be starting my electronic EP soon, I’m just waiting for some new analog gear to arrive. I will be composing the score for a 1960’s period film titled “Wishin’ and Hopin’” in a month or two.

What does your workstation look like?

I actually have a pretty simple setup. I have two audio interfaces (UA Apollo and Avid HD OMNI) so I can run Cubase and Pro Tools simultaneously on the same machine. These are both to clocked to an Apogee Big Ben. The output of both interfaces goes to a PreSonus Monitor Station so I can switch between each interface and two sets of studio monitors. On the midi side of things I use a MOTU Midi Express XT as a midi interface for all of my analog gear. I have a Behringer BCF­2000 that I use as a midi mixer for Pro Tools. Lastly, I have a Korg padkontrol which I use to do expression mapping (articulation key switches) in Cubase.

I always try to incorporate as much of a live element as possible so I use a various assortment of guitars, ukulele, mandolin, bouzouki, and various small percussion. I modified my walk-­in closet as an isolation booth so when I’m tracking myself I use V-Control on my iPad to control my rig.

Do you guys use a lot of custom samples at the studio? What is your favorite Soundiron instrument?

It depends on the project but if I’m doing something that is very sample heavy I will make sure to include some of my own sounds. I love all of the Soundiron Tuned Percussion instruments, great for adding color.

What do you do when you're NOT working? What helps you to keep a balanced life?

I go to tons and tons of concerts. Going to live shows is still one of my favorite escapes from the real world. I saw Arcade Fire play The Forum a couple days ago and I’m seeing NIN, Soundgarden, FYF Fest, and John Williams later this month. I also go to the gym pretty regularly and go to the cinema as much as possible.

If you were to teach a beginner's class on film scoring, what would you tell those young composers? What would you have liked to know before stepping into the world of composing for media?

I had never heard the term “ghost­writing” until I moved to Los Angeles. It’s a little disappointing to see how much music is ghost written on big projects but that also means there are more opportunities to write on big projects. Stay positive and believe in your craft. It’s very easy to become jaded and cynical especially in Los Angeles. It’s definitely not an easy career path but it can be extremely rewarding. It’s important to eat healthy and get exercise for those moments when you have to stay up for 24 hours or more without sleep.

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