Began playing brass instruments at the age of eleven.
Studied music at the Dick Grove School of
Protegé of composer Lalo Schifirin.
Founder of Emotif University.
Resides in Southern California.
Official Web Site
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Family Guy (Fox)
Duck Tales (Disney)
Mission Impossible (Paramount)
Larry and Steve (Hanna Barbera)
A Kid's Live (Nickelodeon)
Club Dead - Film (New Horizons)
Kidnapped - Film (Hickmar Productions)
The Last Ride - Film (New Horizons)
Star Fleet Command (Interplay/Games
Star Fleet Academy (Interplay/Games
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.
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
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.
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!
So why was it
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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
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!
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:
- one band: John Phillip Souza
- one film: Kodak 100 (laughs)...Grey
- one key: B major
- one acoustic instrument:
brushes on a bundt pan
- one director: Alfred Hitchcock
- one piece of studio equipment:
CC: Very interesting answers! Well, Mr. Jones, thank you for
RJ: Likewise, it was fun to be with you
this evening. Good luck!