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Interview with Ron JonesThe Next Generation
A conversation with composer Ron Jones


"
Music as we know it is dead. It's becoming something else."
» Ron Jones

 
       
   

The Interview - October 10, 2002     

 
   
Starfleet Academy by Ron Jones

 

General Info:


Began playing brass instruments at the age of eleven.

Studied music at the Dick Grove School of Music (1979)

Protegé of composer Lalo Schifirin.

Founder of Emotif University.

Resides in Southern California.

Official Web Site
 

 
 

TV Composition Credits:


Star Trek:  The Next Generation (Paramount)

Family Guy (Fox)

Duck Tales (Disney)

Mission Impossible (Paramount)

Larry and Steve (Hanna Barbera)

A Kid's Live (Nickelodeon)


 

 
 

Other Credits:


Club Dead - Film (New Horizons)

Kidnapped - Film (Hickmar Productions)

The Last Ride - Film (New Horizons)

Star Fleet Command (Interplay/Games Online)

Star Fleet Academy (Interplay/Games Online)
 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracksounds chatted with composer Ron Jones working in his studio in California, who shares about scoring within the realm of network and cable television and the evolution of film music.

CC: Tell me about the school you started, Emotif.

RJ: I had a record label for a while by the name of "Emotif" and there were so
many people trying to figure out how to promote the website and the CDs that
I did that we thought, "Well, let's give away eductation" - which no record labels had done.  I designed a few classes and the next thing you know we have about 170 people signed up for classes from all around the world. I had to design a way to teach film scoring and music courses in a way that would allow them to study in Argentina or Russia or Finland and yet not have a teacher there. So in involved creating a new way of teaching...and this was before the popularity of so many internet-universities being online.


CC: So did the students record their own music and send it to you, send you the
sheet music or what exactly?

RJ: They would send me the finished .aif files. We actually created a film with a scenario and had storyboards made. The student would have to score to those and then they'd send their music in. I actually had two or three Academy Award winning composers actually taking the class. There were also about 5 or 6 Grammy nominees. The high caliber of people who were taking the classes was really amazing. It was really interesting to see what sorts of music would come in. We would also have meetings at my studio in Burbank (CA), where people would fly in from Florida, even from Sweden. We'd spend the day talking about music, listening to their cues, and we'd end the day having pizza and hanging out. So it was nothing really formal, but it was a lot of fun. Several of the people who were in the classes actually moved LA and are now working!

CC: So why was it discontinued?

RJ: Well, we started it out with idea of "well, we'll offer a couple classes here and there,..." but eventually I had to hire a person full time just to handle all the emails. I'd have like 57 emails a day and it was hard to do that AND compose. It became very difficult to run my normal business life and also do the school. This was prior to the days where people felt safe putting their
credit card information on the web and being able to pay for classes that way, so I just found it impossible to meet everyone's needs and do it for nothing. So I basically had to pull the plug on it, but it was fun while it
lasted. Before it got too commercial it really did meet the needs of a lot of people.

CC: Has anyone picked up the baton from that point?

RJ: I don't know if anyone has. I know some universities have tried to do distance-learning, but I imagine that most people feel it is too complex to try to teach it online. But, hey, I found a way to do it.

CC: It surprises me that no entity has seen this need and filled it.

RJ: Well, I'm going to be moving my studio up into the mountains north of LA and one of my goals while I'm up there is to take the whole Emotif-concept and put it all on CDROM and DVD.

CC: As one of the pioneers of utilizing midi and synthesized instruments in scoring, what do you think about groups like Media Ventures bringing heavy synth scores to a-list, Hollywood, movies?

RJ: Well, we never sat down and said, "Let's make this system." It was like everyone went, "Wow, here's one box," and then another box and then six months later you're using a sequencer and a drum machine and then everyone is going, "Oooo aaaahhh." It happened so gradually, in a very natural way, and for a lot of people. I have always tried to get the most musical result rather than excepting the electronics at a face value. When the box said "violin," if you listen to first DX-7 that came out, it sounds like a dog puking, but it said "violin." I just never trusted that and would start from scratch and tried to find what the most musical thing we can do. So then when I would get a low budget feature and the producers said to give them a John-Williams-score but only give me 10 grand to do it, I'd have to figure out a way to pull it off. So it became a matter of giving them a huge sound for less money. We didn't set out to try to get electronics to replace humans, because they certainly haven't. The use of electronics was really to solve problems and as a result you develop all of these techniques in utilizing them.

That fact that we have dedicated sequencers on the stage with the orchestra
was unique at Paramount and a few other places. Later other composers heard
about it or they were playing in the sessions and then told others about...somehow word gets around. Hollywood is like Mayberry, whatever Goober is doing, everyone knows about it the next day! (laughs).


CC: Do you think the purely orchestral score is doomed?

RJ: Oh it's dead! Music as we know it is dead. It's becoming something else. Just as they figured out the code for the human gene and breaking down what "life" is and can generate new species of plants, the same thing is happening in music. We can't say, "Stop the world. I want to get off!" Music has needed to move on. It sort of became stale since the middle of the 1960s. We really haven't moved much past John Cage and what people like that were doing. We've actually gone a bit backwards. For music to live, it has to break some rules. You know, the deejay stuff is really big and at the big shows, the biggest selling musical instrument was the turntable. Traditional music has a very small market share, as these younger audiences are driving music towards something else.

CC: You compose, conduct, orchestrate, teach - explain the different senses of
satisfaction each provides along with the unique frustrations of each.

RJ: It seems that all film composers have something in common, in that we pursue the dream - meaning somehow writing music that elevates a picture and that our music somehow touches the hearts and minds of the people who are watching...yet it is supporting the picture. When you strive for that and you always hold that dream in your mind, then you are taking down, not just
the notes, but the "dream." So you are always trying to reach that "state" that you have in your mind. When you compose with that in mind, you can go onto the scoring stage, whether it is film or television, and the feedback of those notes coming from those players, it is the most exhilarating
experience. You really can't describe it because it's like trying to describe what riding a roller-coaster is like to someone who has never ridden one before. It doesn't make any difference to me whether it is film or
television. It's that dream of that you were able to create something special or amazing. It becomes grafted in with the texture of the film or story.

CC: So you have no preference of composing over conducting or orchestrating or teaching?

RJ: Well, if you hang out your shingle and say, "I am an orchestrator," you will invariably never get a job as a composer in Hollywood. People only have room in their minds for certain categories and once you categorize yourself, that is what you live and die by. So, I compose but I also orchestrate. I don't need an orchestrator but when certain projects place time constraints on me and the budget allows, then I'll bring on two or three orchestrators.

CC: Some composers like, a James Newton Howard, give up the conducting so they
can be in the mixing booth, while others want the baton in hand. Which do
you prefer?

RJ: I prefer the baton in hand too, because you are shaping the music. It's like having a cesarean versus a natural birth. Both ways the baby gets born, but one is a little more detached. There's something about moving the baton and turning to the French horns and saying "Now!" The musicians know that you know the music and if you have someone else conducting, they may very well be a fine conductor, but they are "reading it" just like the players and they
don't really know it. They haven't lived with it like the composer. I have had, on occasion, others conduct for me and it just doesn't have the same stamp that I feel that I could put into it. I respect the players so much and they respect me, so that I get a lot more out of the notes because of my
relationship with the players. Being in the booth, the players can feel like you don't want to be near them. Your behind these great, big plate glass windows and talking over speakers like being the Wizard of Oz or something. To me the music just doesn't happen until the music is "on the stick."



CC: You've worked for all the major networks and several of the big cable networks.  How have you seen the process of scoring for television change since you first started out?

RJ: There used to be more freedom. Now its become more like an advertising agency. Things are done by committee and you can feel like you're working for accountants, as opposed to creative producers. There have been a few people that have come through that I really enjoy working with like Seth
McFarland, who I did FAMILY GUY for. There seems to be a group of young, sharp, people coming up who just eat, sleep and drink music, who are now doing films. They just aren't the power players yet. Because television has become frightened of all the breakdown in its market share, it has had to
become much more like an advertising agency. They say, "Ok. How are we
going to sell this product." So instead of going with their intuition and bringing on people who bring intuitive ideas, they go with the "patented format." And its just sad because they are just killing the little audience that's there. People can smell a dead fish.

The more the independent the company is from that sort of mentality, the more fun it is. I'm doing an independent feature film right now and it is a blast! Now, if you get on a network show its like someone has a voodoo doll and are saying, "Now that there is a pin in your eyeball, now write!" So, I
don't even really pursue that avenue right now.


CC: Did you feel any pressure in living up to the music of Jerry Goldsmith or even James Horner when writing for the Star Trek:  The Next Generation TV series or the video games?

RJ: Of course! There had been the success of the feature films and the years and years of re-runs of the original series and Paramount was very concerned about that franchise. Dennis McCarthy did the pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint", but I actually did episode 3 first, which was "The Naked Now." I had twenty suited, Paramount, guys standing in two ranks, like a choir, in the booth. From the very first downbeat, the music just had to rip, but they don't give you very long to do them, and the circumstance as just so different from the feature film environment. Jerry Goldsmith can spend an entire session on five minutes of music, while we had to crank out 35 minutes of music, yet we had to maintain and deliver that sort of sound. So somehow Dennis (McCarthy) and I could incorporate the energy of the series and make it like the feature films was a big accomplishment. I actually get nightmares when I think about how we did it!

CC: Where these executives aware or care about the different constraints you had
than what existed for the feature films?

RJ: No. They really only care about themselves and looking good, so if we did a
good job, then they would say, "Wow, look at the job that WE did with our smart decisions and great planning!" Now if we failed, they would say, "It's a bunch of crap and this guy will never work again." It's really hard to describe.

CC: What about your experience with Hanna Barbera cartoons?

RJ: Well that was my school. When I got here to attend the Dick Groves School, I was copying music all night long to make my living. I'd go to my classes all day long with all of these studio-guys and Dick Grove. Later on I'd go to the sessions and one the accounts for the copy office was Hanna
Barbera, so we'd have millions of shows coming through. I'd say to myself, "You know, I'd like to write this stuff."

I was analyzing this stuff as I as was copying it and even circling parts that I thought were "wrong." - like the cocky, little, 22-year-old that I was. So I'd take over the music myself, instead of a messenger so I could get in and listen to it. One day I got the music director in the hall and told him that I could do this music.  Eventually, I was handed some cassette tapes for Casper the Friendly Ghost or something like that, along with some storyboards and the commission to, "go do it!"  Of course, I didn't understand that all I was getting was footage and no cue-sheet from a music editor!  It was like trying to learn the French language in two days!

CC:  How would you summarize your career up to this point?

My career could be summed up as "How to solve problems." They offer you the biggest obstacles and then you see if you can solve them. I don't think that I'm that smart or any more musical than anyone walking down the street, but I have abilities to "figure things out," and to crank out 2 million notes
a week! I've counted them!

CC: To conclude I'd like you to just give me your gut-response to the series of categories that I'm going to list.

- one film score:
no answer
- one classical or film music composer:

Aaron Copland

- one band:
John Phillip Souza
- one film:
Kodak 100 (laughs)...Grey Gardens
- one key:
B major
- one acoustic instrument:
brushes on a bundt pan
- one director:
Alfred Hitchcock
- one piece of studio equipment:
the metronome

CC: Very interesting answers!  Well, Mr. Jones, thank you for your time.

RJ: Likewise, it was fun to be with you this evening.  Good luck!

 

 
       

  

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