Since the birth of a film score, background music has become one of the most influential industries on the entertainment platform. I spoke to James White, a charmingly charismatic and enthusiastic music technology student at the University of the West of England, who has already established his own start-up company Stopwatch Studios which, according to him, is definitely going to reach the top of Hollywood. Utopian, you say? I do not think so. James has a plan that, besides being the greatest venture of his life so far, is about to shake the United Kingdom’s film music empires. Starting… now.
Stopwatch studios has grown from an abstract idea in James’ head to an increasingly developing company producing background music for mobile apps, TV shows, commercials and video games. Most importantly, however, they offer students and film making beginners a chance to get impeccable quality soundtracks for their projects: “Working with undergraduates is our exclusive selling point. Everyone is trying to get into the BBC and work with the big film guys. As a new company I think it will be more of a waste of time to go straight to them and be like, “Look, we have got no credits and we do not know what we are doing yet.” But we will in five, ten year time and then we will get there,” claims the entrepreneur.
“The way I always think of it is that in film industry directors and composers have to work together for years. Like Steven Spielberg and John Williams. We want to give the film makers an opportunity to get the connection and collaborate with composers early on. Because a lot of the film making students do not actually work with musicians up until they go to the real world. So the idea is to build early collaboration with them. Those people who in five or ten years will go to work in BBC will hopefully take us with them.” One of the most recent and challenging ‘Stopwatch’ projects was writing a soundtrack for ‘Picky Pirates’ – an animation film created by three UWE students: Rory Moreton, Charlotte Joy and Maggie Harp.
“We really had to get out of our comfort zones because we had to write for cheeky animation stuff which is almost cartoon-like, but it was a great fun to do and they were really good fun to work with. I had to write for accordion, which I have never done before,” remembers James who, in fact, got first inspired to start creating film music after watching ‘The Incredibles,’ famous for its brilliant soundtrack composed by Michael Giacchino.
Stopwatch is taking off a lot faster than expected. What is James’ secret? Well, he has got quite a few. Making contacts is one of them: “It is not about how good your music is. It is about how good in networking you are nowadays. There are so many very talented composers, a lot better than I am in writing music, but because they are not networking in a right way they are not getting anywhere.” Determination plays a vital role in sustainable development as well, especially in the early days when no one is hiring you and you are just banging our head against a brick wall, he adds.
Tracks, created by Stopwatch, vary from intense electronic video game background music to multi-instrumental melodies created for commercials. Some of them were recorded by using the Hollywood-acknowledged ‘EastWest’ software plugin or, as James calls it, an orchestra in a box, which allows composers to write music into their computers and tweak around with samples of already pre-recorded instruments to make it sound as realistic as possible. Some of the sounds, on the other hand, were recorded by James himself or his team mates as most of them play trumpet, not to mention other instruments, including violin.
Each one of the guys has a music style they specialise in. James, in his own words, prefers big romantic lovey-dovey stuff as it is more of a challenge for him due to the fact that he comes from a classically trained background (he plays trumpet and is a musician in seven bands): “You know, electronic stuff is nice, but it does not have as much emotion and feeling in it. And I sound so artsy and pretentious, sitting here, stroking my chin and saying that. I like creating other stuff as well, obviously, because it is what we do as a company – we create whatever it is and we make it, not trying to specialise in one genre.”
Stopwatch name has been used as a pretty obvious analogy of timing. “Producing high quality stuff under time constraints is what it stands for,” explains James, admitting, that he has always wanted to clarify the meaning of his company’s name as film and music industries are strongly related to working strictly on time code. The young composers create background music in various time frames, depending on the project: “40 seconds can take a month and 30 minutes can take a week.”
“If you can actually nail a song for a film you know that sound is going to be that good forever. Just being able to enhance the story and emotions by putting some music makes you feel magical,” admits James.
By Auguste Chocianaite