A DECADE OF MOVIE SCORE MEDIA. MMI TALKS TO MIKAEL CARLSSON.

Over the past ten years the soundtrack label Movie Score Media has in my opinion outshone many other such labels that specialise in the release of film music. MSM have been responsible for releasing somewhat obscure but at the same time innovative and groundbreaking film scores. The label has always championed new talent in the film music arena and brought to the attention of collectors numerous composers who would probably not have had their music for film and TV released. Label owner,composer and producer Mikael Carlsson is obviously the driving force behind this practice of releasing fresh and original soundtracks so I asked him about the label and basically how he worked.

MV5BMjMwNzY4MjM5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDI1NDE5NjE@._V1_UY317_CR8,0,214,317_AL_

What inspired you to become a soundtrack label producer?

Excellent music by lesser known composers! Before I launched MovieScore Media a little more than ten years ago, I was making a living as a news editor for 15 years with film music journalism as a hobby, first publishing my own magazine in Swedish – MovieScore – in the early 90s and then being heavily involved in the UK publication Music from the Movies for around a decade. I also formed the Film Music Critics Jury back then, which then turned into the quite prolific International Film Music Critics Assocation. As I was writing hundreds of CD reviews and conducting many composer interviews, I began to take more and more notice of excellent scores from smaller films by up and coming, not very well known, composers. I felt that this music deserved more attention, and that it oftentimes had much more to offer than the blockbuster soundtracks everyone buys. In 2005 I launched MovieScore Media and decided to switch from journalism to a full time devotion to music. The label was not my main focus in the beginning as I was also an aspiring film and television composer, writing music for some Swedish series, but the label soon became the most important part of my activities, and it still is.

HOLLY8

So when you are looking for a score to release, what do you actually look or listen for?

It used to be quality of music only. I have released many scores for films that no one, including myself, actually saw. The music was great, and deserved to be heard by more people. Of course, from a commercial standpoint this is risky business, and I quickly learned two things: I needed to release music on CD – physical product – that would attract soundtrack collectors, and I needed to find a balance between musical quality and commercial appeal in the film title itself. The competition today is very tough, and it’s really difficult to find the right titles to release where all the right criteria are met.

SLEEP 2

What is the first step or steps when you decide that you would like to release a score, do you approach the composer or maybe the film company?

It depends. If it’s a score by a composer I know and maybe have worked with on previous albums, I probably reach out to him or her first. It’s quite rare though that composers are in control of the copyright, so eventually I am going to be in touch with the company that owns the music, usually the film company. It has become far more common in the past years that I am approached by composers too – the other way around.

KISS THE DEVIL

Is it better if the composer of the score is involved when you are working on a release?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve only done a handful of releases where the composer was not involved, usually for rather sad reasons, i.e. the composer not being alive. If that is the case, I still like to have someone who used to work closely with said composer listen to my album cut for feedback. I remember that I was in touch with Eric Colvin on the Basil Poledouris album (”The Legend of Butch and Sundance”) and Blake Neely, Ilan Eshkeri and Steve McLaughlin on the Michael Kamen (”Back to Gaya”), for instance. For a current score, sometimes the composer already has an album cut ready for mastering, but the most common scenario is that I am sent the complete score and do the album cut for the composer to approve.

cd drift

Have there been any scores that you wanted to issue but have been refused access to them by either the composer of the film company, and what were the reasons for this, if you can tell us?

Yes, there are many scores I’d like to release but there are sometimes many obstacles, and the most common one is that the film company simply is not interested. Many of them sit on great scores, but the score album business is generating too little money for them to be interested. Only on a couple of occasions has a composer refused to have a score put out.

securedownload

Many soundtracks are limited to a run of 500 or less, have you ever thought I wish I had produced more, and what titles would you say are the better sellers for your label?

We ran into a problem with our release of ”Let the Right One In” back in 2008. At the time, we usually had our CD releases limited to 500 copies. But this particular title sold out so quickly and the demand was so big, that we decided to lift the limit as there were no contractual reasons for it. To this day, it’s one of our best selling albums and we decided to never do the marketing trick with limited editions again. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the albums we do will be available forever, in fact most of the CDs we do are only 300 units. Should there be a surprise hit, we are able to do more, but in most cases we don’t have that luxury.

K24

Going back just a few years, the horror film score was something of a no go area for record labels, it was not really until films like the OMEN, THE HOWLING, SILVER BULLET, PIRAHNA etc that horror soundtracks started to get released, now we see a landslide of quite low key horror films having their soundtracks released, why is this do you think, film music collectors tastes or a younger audience watching the horror films?

For me personally, horror scores are quite often offering interesting writing. There are of course the whole jungle of ”cheap horror scores” which are just cliche, but the best of the music written for this genre is also some of the most innovative in film music as a whole. I really don’t know if there is a horror ”trend” actually. I think that the scores you mentioned got released more because of the era they come from – the great late 70s early 80s period, which a lot of soundtrack fans are attracted to.

newlogo

You set up a separate label from Movie Score Media to concentrate on scores from horror movies, these have included a lot of works by composers who are relatively unknown to collectors, is this quite risky considering the current financial climate?

Yes, if the ”mother label” – MovieScore Media – is known for putting out some rather obscure scores (and I don’t mean obscure in a negative way), than Screamworks Records is even more of a niche label. The challenge is when you have a small film with music by an unknown composer which happens to be interesting and of high quality. Sometimes I see myself more as an artistic director than a producer, because in those cases the producer in me tells me that the commercial problems with such a product are too many. But the artistic director in me has a stronger voice, and that’s why you see some of these scores being released, even though they are small.

Have you ever embarked on a project and mid way through found that tapes are in such bad condition or there is a technical hitch etc that it becomes a non viable project?

Very rarely do I work with archival materials or vintage scores, so no, that has never happened to me.

Do you compete with other soundtrack labels for soundtracks at all, or do you set your sights upon material you know your customers will appreciate, or do film companies or composers come to you with their scores?

Clearly, I have my own niche, but the market today is oversaturated. When I started out ten years ago, it was much easier to get exposure for a release, and to have it pop up as an ”outsider” among the more high profile score releases. Today, also with the explosion of the digital music market, there are so many film music albums coming out every week. The average number during the first half of 2016 is 45 soundtrack releases per week. So yes, the competition is very tough and for a small niche label it’s a huge challenge to try and motivate the fan base to spend their money on our albums – even though the music is great, it’s only natural that they would first purchase music by the more well-known, perhaps even legendary, composers – and then you have all the new big blockbusters coming out.

eyeoftheeagle

How long does it take to assemble all the music and then produce an actual compact disc of a soundtrack?

It depends. The assembly itself doesn’t take long in most cases – the composer or film company delivers the complete score, usually online in digital format. But the actual editing process – editing, sequencing and mastering – can take at least a couple of days. In most cases I do all of this and the composer is then having a listen to it all, may come back with usually just minor requests which are fixed in a day. In a few rare cases composers are very detail oriented and then, of course, the process is longer. I trust my musical instincts a lot when I do an album cut, and sometimes the composer is surprised by the new shape of the score presentation. In 9 out of 10 cases that surprise is of a positive nature. They are happy to discover that the album has a structure and makes sense musically. But it happens that I go down the wrong path with a score, and then of course the composer has final approval and we tweak it. I would never put out a score without the composer being happy with the presentation.

stakeland

Do you find that collectors are now downloading more than actually buying the physical CD?

iTunes is my biggest source of income, more than CDs, so yes, probably. You also have the streaming services like Spotify which is growing. The market is changing in quite revolutionary ways, but there are still a hardcore collectors segment that would only buy physical product.

WORRY DOLLS was one of your recent projects and releases, a wonderfully dark score by Composer Holly Amber Church, do you think you will release more scores by her, as I understand the CD has already sold out?

No, that’s incorrect, last time I checked there were plenty of those left. I hope that we can do more albums together, WORRY DOLLS was our second project after RITES OF SPRING that came out in 2012.

shrine

Is there any score you would like to release if you were given the green light?

That list would be too long to put in this article…

MOVIE SCORE MEDIA do seem to release newer scores or current soundtracks, would you consider releasing any vintage material like other labels such as KRONOS with their gold series or Hillside with the Italian westerns they release etc or maybe a series like GDI did a number of years back when they issued the Hammer scores?

Well, we have the Discovery Collection where we released almost 20 scores, including the last scores written by Basil Poledouris and Michael Kamen. I don’t know what qualifies as ”vintage”, but those are at least not current – those are mostly scores for films that came out at last a decade ago.

61fMATdPz6L._SL500_AA280_

Would you ever consider releasing a best of MSM collection, like we used to see years ago with labels such as UA?

I have been giving that some thought, given our ten year anniversary this year. I don’t know yet if there will be any though… the hard part is to choose from over 300 releases!

psalm 21

BEN HUR (2016).

BEN HUR

In cinema history there have been many what people call re-makes of classic movies, one of the latest stories to get a make over is BEN HUR, now the 1959 version of the movie with CHARLTON HESTON,(did you hear the fanfare, and see the cast of thousands, when I said his name, in that booming trailer voice over style) was and still is a remarkable movie, it is a great film, and in fact every thing about it is epic and iconic. Its ironic however that the new version which seems to be annoying cinema goers or watchers of the film rather than entertain them is being compared with the 1959 version, which when you think about it was itself a re-make of the silent version of the story. But, Hey come on guys everything should be given a chance ,right? Hello that’s right isn’t it people? Anybody there? Seriously I don’t expect this new version of BEN HUR to be anything like the 1959 take on the story, it cant be can it? But I was in fact not that interested in the film but was intrigued by the film score by Marco Beltrami, when I saw it announced that he would score the film I was interested to see or hear what he would do with it musically. Beltrami in my opinion is a very talented composer, I have followed his career right from the early days and it was evident right from the off that he was a composer of note that could easily adapt his musical style to any genre of film. He is not as many thought merely a slasher/horror film music smith but can also turn his hand to create rousing themes for westerns, adventure movies and also tender romantic scenarios and when you think about it his scores for the horror genre are pretty operatic and imposing. So BEN HUR, would this be a chariot race to many, well I am pleased to say he has risen to the challenge and created a score that is stirring and filled with strong and melodic thematic material. Ok its not Miklos Rozsa but was he trying to be I doubt it very much, anyone who aspires to outshine Rozsa,s inspirational, gorgeously rich and momentous soundtrack is surely going to be thrown to the lions in the arena. Or given a bad review… Released by Sony Classical BEN HUR (2016) contains a soundtrack that although is suitably periodic in its sound and style evoking images of the pomp and ceremony and brutality of ancient Rome also has to it a somewhat contemporary feel and atmosphere. I am not sure but I think I do detect the use of synthetic strings in certain parts which for me did spoil the effect and the ambience a little, but I suppose in these days of restricted budgets things have to be adapted and also approaches and working practices alter.

MarcoBeltrami_2014_300

The opening track THE BEN HUR THEME is a lilting and highly emotional piece, with layered strings acting as a background to a poignant violin solo, which introduces a pleasant and effecting soprano solo, this in turn acts as an introduction to a more pronounced version of the central theme performed by strings woodwind and brass with choir giving its support. The theme reaches its crescendo and then the track melts away with woodwind taking the cue to its end. Track number two BEN AND ESTHER is a short lived but haunting piece again the composer bringing into play the BEN HUR THEME, performed on woods with subtle support from the string section. Track number three is where for me it all goes a little out of kilter with the subject matter, JERUSALEM 33 AD is dramatic yes, but it is for me too contemporary sounding and it’s a theme that would not be out of place in any one of the thousands of Marvel comic book superhero movies that are doing the rounds at the moment. So moving on we go to track number four, CARRYING JUDAH, the composer re-introduces briefly female solo voice, but this is just a fleeting performance, the cue then transforming into a more down tempo dramatic piece for strings and percussive elements. I once spoke to Gabriel Yared about his score for TROY he said the reason he was given for its rejection was that it was too modern sounding, well I think I have the same problem here with Beltrami,s BEN HUR, its true to say that there are numerous references that can be deemed as being suitable for a story set in this period in history, but for me there are just to many modern sounding nuances and quirks of orchestration. This is a good soundtrack, as in there are many themes and beautiful melodies listen to the cue MESSALA AND TIRZAH and you will hear evidence of the romanticism and delicate colours that the composer employs , but is it suitable for a story set in the times of Ancient Rome? I will leave that up to you to decide, take a listen.

ADIOS GRINGO.

adios-gringo

I have been collecting Italian soundtracks for what seems to be forever now, the Italian or spaghetti western being one of the main genres that I sought out on my regular trips to London and to see Michael Jones in various retail outlets. So as you can imagine I purchased many of the soundtracks on LP record all those years back and the majority of these recordings were on the CAM label, CAM was I think one of the first if not the very first film music speciality labels that concentrated 99 percent of its efforts into releasing film music. One its early releases was from the western ADIOS GRINGO, with an atmospheric and highly innovative score by composer Benedetto Ghiglia. Innovative because it seemed to be an original sounding work within a number of original sounding works, but it was just slightly different the soundtrack contained no strings, it relied heavily upon the utilisation of percussion or at least percussive elements which created a sound and a style which was all on its own.

Adios_gringo_CDR3315

The score was re-issued on the CAM label on CD which was a straight lifting of the sixteen tracks that were on the original album, this had a running time of around 30 mins or just over, but for this re-issue Digit movies uncovered the mono tapes which yielded a further 30 mins of music including the song GRINGO performed by Fred Bongusto, so in total the re-issue contains over an hour of music from the score and this includes two previously unreleased stereo mixes of one of which is the title song. The composers use of percussion, guitar, choir and castanets creates a driving and infectious sound and although it is from a spaghetti western it has very few musical connections with the rest of the scores from the genre from that period, the style employed is at times similar to that of Gianni Ferrio and to a degree does contain certain rhythms and quirks of orchestration that can be found within scores by Cipriani, but that is where the similarities end as Ghiglia is certainly inventive and original, this inventive use of instruments can also be found within his score for FOR A DOLLAR IN THE TEETH which appeared on the CAM CD.

Adios_gringo_CSE800119

Released in 1965, ADIOS GRINGO is a Giuliano Gemma western that was directed by Giorgio Stegani and although not one of the genres finest or glittering examples it still manages to hold ones attention throughout and entertain at the same time. Ghiglia’s score adds much to the impact of certain scenes within the film and also stands alone as a separate entity to be savoured and enjoyed as just music. There are no saloon cues here no tender little western ditties in fact Ghiglia’s score is quite harsh and brash in places, it oozes a rawness and also has a simplicity to it but it works both on screen and off. Another one for the collection.

MORTE SOSPETTA DI UNA MINORENNE.

morte_sospetta_DGST017 (1)

The releases from Italian record labels continues at pace and seems to gain momentum with each season whether or not these many soundtracks are indeed worth releasing or re-issuing is obviously down to each individual collectors opinion or taste in music and genre of film. Digit movies have over the years a number of soundtracks that in my humble opinion are very worthwhile, whether these be westerns, giallo,s, police dramas, comedies or horror etc, the label always seemed to come up with the goods and give us the film music collecting fraternity something that was enjoyable and entertaining. Alas things changed quite rapidly, and this is not the fault of the label, the producers or indeed the composers of the scores, but it is a case of a natural exhaustion of good scores that are available to release. Well I am pleased to say that recently the label released the score to MORTE SOSPETTA DI UNA MINORENNE or DEATH OF A MINOR which was composed by Italian Maestro Luciano Michelini, the score is certainly an original and interesting one and has within it a number of broad thematic compositions, the soundtrack seems to be one of many styles as in there are a number of sides to the work stylistically, firstly we are treated to a pop orientated style that is fused with a dramatic and slightly darker ambience, the composer utilising infectious rhythms and tracks that are frequented with organ which as it says in the info about the score are very reminiscent of the sound achieved by Italian group GOBLIN when they worked on movies such as PROFUNDO ROSSO. Then we have a more subtle and lighter side to the proceedings in which the composer creates a more carefree and slightly humorous or positive atmosphere within a number of cues, plus there are the many action pieces and chase sequence music tracks so it is a score of variation as well as being original. Released in 1975 the movie was directed by Sergio Martino, with the main roles being taken on by Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer and Lia Tanzi, Set in Milan is focuses upon the disappearance of a number of minors which seem to be baffling the police, Police commissioner Germi, decides to take the investigation to the streets of the city and poses as a thief snatching purses etc in the hope of tracking down the perpetrators. An entertaining movie which moves along briskly keeping the audience interested and absorbed with a soundtrack that is equally as entertaining. This is the first time that the score has been released onto compact disc and as always Digit movies have produced an attractive and well packaged item which has striking art work and very good sound quality. Michelini is in my opinion one of the many Italian composers who worked in film that is so sadly overlooked and at times forgotten. This is a score that I think you will return to many times and with each outing it will surrender up something fresh and new. Please Digit movies more like this,it is with all the releases from Italy very hard to get inspired or excited about anything that comes out these days as there is just so much, but this I Highly recommended.